On Saturday I made risotto for the first time. I know, I know – I’ve been cooking for fifty years, and I’d never made risotto before. There must be a first time for everything though, and Saturday was my first time for risotto.
“Fry the leek until it is transparent and add the rice, turning it so the grains are evenly coated with the oil.”
What the recipe didn’t say in these instructions was “gently.” I stared at my blackened leek and dark brown rice in consternation. It was a school-girl error, and I was mortified. I carried on regardless and the resulting meal, although an unappetising beige, rather than the creamy white it should have been, was at least edible.
I will cook risotto again and this time I will have learned my lesson and use a low heat. I will, however, never forget that moment of black leek and brown rice. That memory will haunt me no matter how many perfect risottos I cook from now on.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of these kind of memories. These are the memories that pop up at 3am when you can’t sleep, and make you squirm with remembered shame. Sometimes they are memories of what you said or did when you didn’t know better. One of mine is the time I chatted merrily to a mere acquaintance on the train all the way from London to Cambridge; I didn’t know the convention that you talk only until the first stop, after which you politely open your newspaper or book and stay quiet. That memory is of the type, “What must they have thought of me?” I saw a meme that said, “I don’t think before I speak. I prefer to speak and then agonise over my words for the next forty years.” Oh yes, I can recognise that one.
These are minor instances. There are major mistakes too, of the type I am too embarrassed to reveal here. I feel I have more than my fair share of them but logically I know that’s not true. I’m sure you have them too.
But what of those times you got it right? Do those memories turn up at 3am to comfort you? Hardly ever. Unlike sundials, which only record only sunny moments, we give undue weight to those times we got it wrong.
How many times, however, do we get the same thing wrong? Yes, there are some mistakes we repeat – often because we either don’t realise they are mistakes, or because we don’t know how to get them right, but mostly, we learn.
We do learn lessons; we do get things right. We need to consciously note those things, so we can triumphantly trot them out at 3am to defeat the demons of shame and humiliation.
I think I will cook risotto again next Saturday, and this time I’ll get it right. And this will be the time I consciously remember. Especially at 3am.