Risotto by osmosis and other small triumphs

‘Photo foodies’ – Vodafone is now using you in its latest ad campaign. You are now officially uncool. Happily, I believe this signifies – marvellously, gloriously, inevitably (sorry, my needle got stuck on Nikki Gemmell) – the end of uncivilisation as we know it. At last, we can go back to just saying grace, tucking in our bibs and hoeing in amid the merry screech and clatter of cutlery against crockery. It’s only Marco Pierre White who “tastes with his eyes”, folks (so god knows what he cooks with…), so use your mouth like the rest of us and put down that bloody digital SLR smartphone. End our pre-dinner hell now, people.

Which allows me to not-so-neatly segue to the mushroom risotto I made last night. As you may have already surmised, there is no sumptuous visual reference to it gracing this post. Too lazy, too greedy; I ate it before I remembered I was a blogger.

So, risotto… For the aeons I have been involved in food publishing, it has only been about a year since I realised that I’d mastered the art of risotto-cooking by sheer editorial osmosis. Like those plump little buds of rice, sucking up all that simmering, shimmering chicken stock, I have simply absorbed the (granted, minimal) information required to achieve the desired risotto-esque outcome without even thinking about it – sort of like how children learn languages before they get to that horrible, self-conscious, eye-rolling stage.

Recipes make me anxious. And as anxiety (plus a lousy, three-week-long respiratory malady) has drained much of my energy recently (what with the recent demise of that li’l ol’ magazine an’ all), risotto has become my culinary Xanax. And no, it’s not about the stirring – no matter how sensuously, rhythmically, giddily (sorry – I’m Gemmelling again) the task is undertaken; nor the busy hiss of olive oil, the glug and slosh of wine or the gooey swirl of melting parmesan. Nope – it’s because I can make it without having to read a recipe.

Food magazines have a lot to answer for.

In fact, I’ve cooked very little of anything for the past few weeks, unlike my much-missed former colleagues, who all seem to be busily outdoing themselves and each other with matters epicurean. Ah, Facebook, what a double-edged little addiction you are. All that exuberant flour sieving, batter stirring and beetroot shaving going on; celebrity chef recipes being knocked over in an afternoon (not that that should surprise anyone); seasonal ingredients proffered like little temple offerings to true believers; perky foodie questions fired at (so many) enthusiastic friends. I’m still working on my numbers. I’ve not yet scored my social media century – quelle surprise – although the past week or so has seen a few new friends come over to the dark side… and one ‘friend’ unfriended, banished forever to Facebook’s naughty corner.

In much the same way, I have been torturing myself with LinkedIn, as I self-harm by recklessly updating my profile (alas, without the aid of plastic surgery). This entails further humiliation as I witness the relentlessly high-achieving exploits of my squillions of LinkedIn associates (and associates-to-be, if they ever get round to ticking the ‘accept’ tag, which they won’t, as they’ve already seen through my cunning networking ploy). Oh, the groups I could join, the insights I could share, the recommendations I could request… This last one unnerves me the most, as I’m too afraid of what kind of recommendations I’d receive. ‘Get a life’ springs to mind.

I definitely need to get out more.

Which I did, actually, throwing caution and my chest infection to the wind.

Wednesday
Rushcutters Bay park cafe with Robert, my friend of 30 years. Plastic chairs and tables under cathedrals of Moreton Bay figs; batting away scary pigeons and being blinded by scarier fluoro running shoes (now there’s a fashion statement that needs a sound thrashing). We met when he was a student at Sydney College of the Arts in Balmain and I was painting shop window mannequins for a living. He was doing this brilliant surfie chick impersonation. How could it not last?

Robert’s designing my latest CV (previous update, circa 1997). As this is the kind of task guaranteed to further augment my anxiety, I thought it best to stare down the beast by asking someone else to deal with it. It seems to be working. That and the inhaler the doctor gave me for my inflamed bronchial tubes.

Thursday
An afternoon of delight and pain in equal measure with my mother at Peter’s of Kensington. Speed-eating big sandwiches on banquettes in the café, spurred on by the imminent danger of being buried under an avalanche of Christmas packages propped above our heads, or else driven to madness by the strains of Rod Stewart murdering Gershwin and Cole Porter classics. An almost-life-size white leather polar bear took my fancy for a while, but then I was quickly seduced away by the Laguiole steak knives, which my mother bought us because she’s sick of not being able to cut anything when she comes over for lunch. That’s them up the top. No flies on me, eh?

The pain comes with the tearing oneself away from all that stuff. At least for me; hers comes from chronic arthritis. We were lucky to get out of there alive. I was lost among the placemats for so long she had to text me: “Im at nigella”. Motivation enough for a swift exit.

Friday
Cornersmith café in Marrickville with another friend of equal import, though of more tender years and with no history of surfie-chick impersonation. Sophie bought me a book to congratulate/console me on my new career status. It’s by Dublin-based Anne Enright, titled The Forgotten Waltz, and is full of unpronounceable Irish names, clever, too-close-to-the-bone insights and houses by the sea. I’m swallowing it in great gulps, much like I did the delicious, nourishing food at Cornersmith.

Just the kind of food I like to cook in fact – the sort of thing you can go home and pretty much re-create without a recipe. No wonder I felt so much better after lunch.