I’ve been on break from school for a while. I wish I could say that I did something truly amazing with my time, but I mostly focused on watching Twin Peaks, doing yoga, and finally figuring out how to make brown rice properly on a stovetop. There are a lot of ways to do this, but I seem to finally have discovered the method that works for me. The secret is washing the rice. Over and over. Three times, at least. You drop the rice in a bowl, run cold water over it, then polish it between your fingers like Ebenezer Scrooge counting the last of the day’s shillings on a cold December afternoon. When the water becomes cloudy, use your hand like a sieve and tip the bowl over, draining out the water between your fingers without losing too many grains. Lather, rinse, repeat. You are finished when the water runs clear. It’s slow, but it works. For one cup of rice, I use 1 1/4 cup water. I bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to the lowest possible setting, and do my best to wait patiently. It’s hard not to open up the pot and meddle with the process. But nothing destroys rice faster than over-attention; too much stirring and you have risotto instead of sushi.
This break I’ve also finally learned how to sear a perfectly moist chicken breast, and how to make the right macaroni and cheese. (I love macaroni and cheese. Without those crucial bits of butter and milk during my growing years, I’d have wound up even shorter. But now I make mine with broccoli, Worcestershire sauce, and my all-important Calphalon saucepan.) Nothing fancy, just techniques that make things easier later. It feels good, getting these small things right.
I also received Peter and Caitlin’s notes on the novel. I suspect that they had several “spare the rod, spoil the child” discussions before giving me those notes. For two people who approach their craft from such different points, they wound up agreeing on a number of issues. And for the first time in a long time, I feel like I have a plan. I’m thinking of the story as a story again, and not a checklist, and remembering what made me want to write it in the first place. All the decisions I was loath to make earlier on are much easier and clearer, now, and it feels good to have it under my hands, polishing it, clarifying it.
It’s there when I go to sleep and it’s still there when I wake up. I missed it.