Placating Pizza

“Tag, you’re it!”

Something we’ve all heard before. Frozen in the moment, eyes wildly scanning as time slows down and you completely rearrange your position in a game. Burning with the fact that you got caught, there is another fire that is lit inside you: the thought that you now hold power, and that’s something that nobody else has. I’ve recently been hit with something that has me a little frozen, and that’s a reoccurrence of my heart arrhythmia. I mentioned earlier that I recently had a surgery to correct the arrhythmia, but I guess “correct” was a strong use of the word. Turns out I’m one of the now two patients that my cardiologist has seen a reoccurrence of this particular type of arrhythmia, which is bad luck to say the least. What hit me, more than the physical reaction of having my heart beating out of my chest and having to go to the hospital, is the disappointment. I have gotten so tired of being taken out time after time from my regular life for a medical reason, and this was the once big problem that was supposed to be an easy fix. It’s easy to curl into self-pity, standing uselessly in the middle watching the storm go by when things come down to simple, relentless chance. Here’s the thing though: you can quit the game because you got caught and it wasn’t fair because you didn’t see it coming, or you can figure out where the power is and how you can use it. There are more important things on the go, like the excitement of learning new things, the pitter-patter of little feet (in my case, rat feet, that are currently trying to take over my keyboard), mountains, rivers, and the whole living, breathing world. We only have a finite amount of time to take all these things in, and that leaves very little room for self-pity. When we’re hit with something that slows time down, we have the power to see this fact, and really believe it, which makes those little occurrences pretty special.

Of course, we do have our moments where you want to pause the whole world and just wallow in our own self, whether it be from an arrhythmia, bad grade, sad news, or just the plain old blues. When this happens, and we feel a little giddy from our self-indulgence, we can always turn to comfort food. You know what kind of person you are: sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy, or all of those, food is one of those things that takes us back to the basics- it gives us immediate pleasure, and brings with it a whole slew of memories through smells, tastes, and textures. Food is a great place to surrender to just feeling good. It doesn’t have to be over the top or excessive- simply enjoying the smell of cinnamon coming from a mug of apple cider, the crunch of a pickle, the decadence of a truffle, or the simplicity of a warm, heavenly pizza.

I am generally one to turn to sweet foods, but if I move towards the savory, it’s got to be pizza. Not only does the crunchy, chewy, salty taste take all the cares away, it brings back all kinds of memories. In our household, Friday night was pizza and candy day. It was the one day a week we were allowed sugary treats, which were obtained from Cowichan Bay’s Pier 66. My brother and I traded off piano lessons down there- while one did half an hour of keyboard bashing, the other got to walk down and select their 5 cent candies. It always seemed like a big walk up and down the hill, but boy was it worth it. Foamy little fake bananas, sugar coated strawberry marshmallows, fuzzy peaches…I usually went for the sour candies. I was quite well known for eating whole lemons and limes, so it only seemed natural that my talents extend to the realm of candies as well. After that sweaty walk on our little legs, we were loaded up in a van and trucked back home for pizza. Not just any pizza: my mom’s pizza. Proclaimed as “better then take out”, it was a battle for who got to spread the sauce, sprinkle the cheese, and claim topping supreme. One was always plain cheese or Hawaiian, which satisfied my little brother and I. The other was more adventurous, grown-up toppings for my older brother and parents. It was a time where, no matter what my heart was doing, pizza would always be there on the a Friday night. The excitement of pizza is with a lot of us- it combines some of the best parts of individual meals in a convenient, hand-held slab. It is also comforting. In a world where we can’t always control the outcomes of certain aspects of our lives, we can always pick what goes on our pizza. One bite brings memories, big flavour, and satisfaction. So here is a family recipe, finished off with our all-ages Caesar salad, enjoyed by many a picky eater. Hopefully it brings a little coziness to your corner of the world, wherever that may be.

Quick Pizza Dough

Done in 30-35 minutes, you can have this pizza done before take out could possibly be delivered. Turn this into a ritual meal, enjoyed when surrounded by friends and family, or indulge on a quiet night in.

¾ c semolina
2 ¼ c flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp quick rise yeast
1 ½ tsp salt
1 c warm water
2 Tbsp olive oil

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the semolina, flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Grab a wooden spoon and start to drizzle in the water and olive oil as you constantly run the spoon in big, gentle circles. Try adding a tablespoon of oil, half a cup of water, then another tablespoon of oil. With the last half a cup, add it slowly- if the dough comes together easily into a ball and seems moist, don’t feel like you need to add all of the water.
2) Push dough into a ball, and turn out on counter. Knead a few times, just to moisten thoroughly and get a nice uniform consistency. When it looks good, get a clean bowl and rub it with a little olive oil. Put the dough in and roll around to coat lightly in the oil. Cover in plastic wrap Put in a warm place to rise for 20 minutes.
3) While dough is rising, prepare pizza toppings. See below for a few ideas.
4) When twenty minutes is up and you can see that your dough has expanded, turn out the dough onto a floured surface. Using a rolling pin, a wine bottle, or a pair of large hands (yours or a useful friend), push the dough into a nice round circle. Place onto your greased pizza pan, and push to fit into the edges. Make sure its nice and even, so it cooks uniformly.
5) Add your favourite toppings, and place in the oven to bake for 10-15 minutes.

All-Ages Caesar Salad

This is a seriously stripped down Caesar salad recipe that I have been enjoying since elementary school. It is easy on both kids an adults if you use great quality, flavourful ingredients. If you miss the addition of anchovy in this recipe, you can finely chop 4-6 anchovies and stir in, or add a little bit of anchovy paste at a time to taste (read little bit as half the size of your pinky fingernail at a time).

4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 c olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 c finely grated parmesan

1) Blend all ingredients in a blender, or whisk vigorously. Serve with fresh lemon wedges, your favourite croutons, and romaine lettuce.

Better-Day Pizza Toppings

The sweet and salty ingredients in this pizza provide a gentle pick-me-up. Don’t be scared to try out prunes on your pizza, because they truly are delicious. I know that you feel as though you can’t eat them without being judged on your internal workings, so don’t say a thing until after everyone has complimented you on your fabulous choice of toppings.

1 yellow onion, chopped into thin rings
1 Tbsp butter
Small handful of chopped figs or prunes, finely chopped
2-3 links chicken sausage, sliced into rounds
Mozzarella cheese, enough to lightly cover the pizza surface
Crumbled goat cheese

1) Heat butter in a medium-hot pan until beginning to foam, and add onions. Stir well to coat, and reduce heat to low. Cook for twenty minutes at this temperature, stirring very occasionally, to allow the onions to caramelize. Optional: At this point you can add dried herbs of your choice if you are using a plain tomato sauce. I like to add a generous dash of oregano, sweet basil, thyme, and little bit of rosemary.
2) Scrape out of pan into a bowl. To the same pan, add the chicken sausage, turning the heat up to medium-high. Brown all sides of the rounds, and turn the heat down to allow to cook through. When just cooked (don’t overdo it, they are going into the oven shortly), scrape into a bowl.
3) Spread pizza dough with a thin layer of tomato sauce (not a fan? Cut out the herbs from the onions and use pesto as your pizza base). Arrange caramelized onions in a thin layer on top. Scatter with figs or prunes and mozzerella. Dot the top with the sausage rounds and goat cheese. Cook 10-15 minutes until cheese and pizza edges just begin to brown.


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