Let’s talk about high school. I wasn’t nearly as studious as I was in elementary school, but that didn’t dampen my love for reading. I still visited you regularly, although I mostly left behind my Nancy Drew in favor of more grown-up books. I never knew what I would find in your shelves, and I liked it that way; quite often, I would wander through your book-stacked aisles and grab what looked interesting. I found Barbara Kingsolver and Ellen Gilchrist this way, both before they were popular. I still read books by those two, and other authors I discovered purely by chance, to this day.
Although I still lived near the Cliff Cave branch, Headquarters was my branch during high school, as it was just a few minutes away from where I attended. I don’t necessarily condone this, Library, but on days when I would skip class, I would come visit you. Nerdy? Perhaps, but you were such a peaceful alternative to school, and I promise, I did quite a bit of my homework and test-studying there to make up for missing class. This is when I feel in love with you, Library; because, truly, Headquarters is every bibliophile’s dream come true. The miles of books! The low-ceilinged stacks! The microfiche! You have it all at Headquarters, and you know it. Any library which has a research room where you have to be “extra quiet” is awesome in my book; sometimes I would go in there just to see how quiet I could be. It was like extreme librarying.
Library, do you know I still have my original library card? I do. I feel like I was supposed to turn it I when you switched to your fancy new format, but I’m not giving this up either. It says “Renew Feb 96,” which would seem to place this in active use around my junior and senior if high school.
I believe this is the era when you first began carrying cassette and VHS tapes to borrow. What pioneers you were! I don’t know if any other library was doing that at the time, but for a high school kid who loved music but had no money most of the time, renting cassettes was everything. Sure, I had to dig through some castoff Barry Manilow classics, but overall, you had a nice selection. I found PJ Harvey there once, along with a few others I never expected to see.
But let’s be honest, Library; it wasn’t just about extracurricular reading and sweet tunes, was it? No, it wasn’t. You helped me graduate high school, and not just in a “oh I used you to study” way. You see, I was a really smart student with a really snarky attitude, and I was far too concerned at that point in my life with other things to be concerned with homework. So I crammed for tests at your branches, mere hours before they happened, without distraction. Lots of times, that worked out well for me. At some point, I had a few extremely long, extremely critical papers I needed to turn in, and they made the difference in passing or failing a class. I remember standing at your blue-screened, white-font computers desperately trying to find research material (and you always had it), scribbling Dewey Decimal code numbers down with the tiny pencils you kept in abundance (I never once took any of those, although I super wanted to) and then racing to find it in your shelves.
Library, you are what made learning the most fun. I had some incredible teachers I probably owe my life to, but you made the entire process of researching, brainstorming, rough-drafting, and finally writing things really, really exciting to me. I started to love it, or fall in love with it, while my backpack lay sprawled across your exceedingly neutral-colored tables. I felt smart. I felt confident. I felt like If I could just research things forever, I would have the best job in the world. I was good at it, and between you and those teachers, I figured out – in a pretty obtuse way at the time – what I wanted to do with my life, although I didn’t know it at the time. I wanted to look things up and then I wanted to write about them. A lot. And you were always there to help me do just that. Thanks, Library, for being there probably when I needed you most. Probably when every kid needs you the most, because outside your book-filled walls? Things get pretty complicated for high schoolers; certainly more today than they did almost 20 years ago.
I see you doing lots of things now on your Facebook page with and for kids, especially middle and high school kids, and it makes me really happy. I see special areas being added to branches, programs being offered, and doors being opened, and that’s an incredible thing to a child; especially one who maybe just doesn’t know what they want to do yet. I want kids to feel the way I do about books, and music (although maybe not cassette tapes) and other things they can explore within your buildings. Certainly it’s not always easy to gauge the difference you’re making in children’s lives, because so often they don’t even realize it, but you are. And that’s big. Thanks, Library.
So you see, it’s a big thing me and the library have going. Tomorrow we’ll talk about my college years, and how the library and I both discovered the internet, for better or for worse. But we’ll get to that tomorrow. For now, we have risotto! My second course, following yesterday’s spinach and ricotta turnovers. It’s from Nigella Lawson’s latest, Nigellissima, which (gasp!) I haven’t purchased yet! For those of you who know me, you must realize that this particular library rental was less about test-driving and more about me knowing I’ll purchase the book but being lazy and not doing it yet. It also works to dispel the myth that the library only has “old” books and that they don’t get new releases. Not so! Nigellisima just came out, and already it’s in my hands, thanks to the library and it’s fine, fine online request system. We’ll talk more about that, too.
There are a large amount of things I wanted to make you from this book, but this one sounded the most appropriate, because Nigella taught me how to make a proper risotto. Mostly, she taught me how not to rush it, but rather to sit back and enjoy the 20 minutes or so of lazy stirring which goes along with making a good risotto. Biggest thing? Be sure to do this:
…and you’ll be fine. Prepping everything ahead of time so you can simply stand and stir is the only way to go, in Nigella’s book and in mine (I do not have a “book” but in my head, it’s the same.) To this day, my favorite go-to risotto recipes are from her cookbooks, and this one is no exception. It’s filled with red chile, green onions, and crab, and swirled with arugula and a spritz of lemon just before serving. I love it when risotto is filled with things, and this makes a wonderfully satisfying lunch or dinner for two on a chilly, dreary day. Enjoy.
Adapted from Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes by Nigella Lawson. Who makes an incredible risotto, by the way. Also an incredible everything else.
Crab + Chile Risotto
- 2 cups unsalted chicken stock (I like Kitchen Basics brand)
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron strands*
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 5-6 scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
- 2 red chiles, seeded and finely diced (I like Fresno chiles for this)
- 1 cup arborio (risotto) rice
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 8 ounces crabmeat
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- juice of 1 lemon
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 cups arugula or baby arugula, packed
Add the chicken stock, water, and saffron threads to a medium saucepan and heat to a simmer. Keep simmering over low heat, stirring occasionally.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan which has a lid (you’ll use this later), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the smashed garlic clove to the oil and use a wooden spoon to press around in the oil, getting the flavor all around the pan. Remove after around 30 seconds, once garlic is fragrant. Add the scallions and chiles and cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 1 minute.
Turn up the heat to medium-high, add the rice, and stir to absorb the oil, 1 minute. Add the wine and stir to allow it to absorb into the rice, another minute or so. Once the liquid is mostly gone, add a ladleful of your hot saffron-chicken broth, stirring continually until it is absorbed into the rice. Once the liquid is absorbed, add your next ladleful and repeat the process, over and over again, until all your broth is gone; this should take around 20 minutes or so. I like to set my oven timer for 20 minutes just to keep an eye on how I’m doing; it calming to know exactly where I am at in the task. Don’t rush it; you will be able to tell as you stir when it’s time to add the next bit.
Once all your broth is absorbed and your risotto is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and add the crabmeat, lemon zest, and juice. Stir in gently, season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Add the arugula and put the lid on the saucepan, and let it stand away from the heat for 1 minute. Stir in and serve between two low bowls or on plates (I like a low bowl.)
Serves two generous portions, although you could easily squeeze three out of this, I think.