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Blogging, the Steelers, and Pizza

One of the great things about blogging on the WordPress platform is the community.  It’s kind of like Spotify — the ability to find music you never heard of that becomes today’s song you can’t live without.  Same with WordPress — finding bloggers who you connect to in different ways and you wish you could find a way to sit down with them for an afternoon and talk about life.  A couple of months ago I discovered Old Road Apples.

I’ll skip ahead to what really matters.  He’s a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.  And he makes his own pizza.  This is the beauty of WordPress.  Finding somebody I’ll never meet who shares two things that matter to me.

Yes.  I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.  I’ve lived in Northern California since I was one.  I’m supposed to be a 49ers fan.  Or the Raiders.  Sigh.  No.  I’m not.  I grew up in the 70s when the 49ers were horrible and the Raiders were all that was evil.  I didn’t grow up in a family where you could be a fan of the bad guy.

So, I looked around.  There was one team that stood above the rest back then.  The Steelers won four Super Bowls during the decade of the 70s.  And a fan was born.

I have a love-hate relationship with the NFL.  If the league and game were to disappear tomorrow I wouldn’t really care.  There are so many things wrong with it.  But, as long as the sport exists, I’m going to follow it.  Kind of like I follow most sports.  The idea of athletics and competition will always be compelling to me.  I mean, hell, last weekend, I actually watched NASCAR for an hour or so to see who made it into the next stage of the “Chase for the Cup.”  Left turn, left turn, left turn, left turn.  Over and over.  We have a winner.  And if you don’t know what the Chase for the Cup is — don’t ask.  You’re better off that way.

I have followed the Steelers ever since I was a wee tadpole of a lad.  It’s been relatively easy even though I live on the other side of the country.  They have consistently been a competitive team.  While all other teams have risen and fallen, risen and fallen, the Steelers have generally been a team in the hunt year after year.  So, they are my team.  As they will be to the extent I follow the NFL and care.

The host of Old Road Apples has a deeper connection since he lives in Pennsylvania and learned how to be a Steelers fan at the knee of his grandma.  Which is such a cool, cool thing.

But …

He also makes his own pizza.  Even has his own recipe, which is slightly different than most I’ve ever heard of.  And for tomorrow, he has thrown the challenge down.  With the Steelers playing a late afternoon game, he’s planning on making pizza and is challenging his readers to do the same.

I’d love to do this, but there’s a slight problem.  Tomorrow is the family dinner for a birthday.  Yes.  Mine.  So, I can’t make pizza tomorrow.

But, I can make it tonight.  While the San Francisco Giants — a local team I have loved more than any sports team for the past 45 years — fight it out in their third World Series in five years, I did this thing…

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Here’s the Queen Midget’s.  This is her standard.  Olive oil and garlic.  A mozzarella-provolone cheese mix.  Mushrooms.  Olives.  Tomatoes.  Prosciutto and pepperoni.  At the grocery store today I saw some linguica so I bought it and added it to the pizza pie.  A dusting of parmesan.  A little dried oregano.  And here it is…

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And then there was the senior most Prince Midget…

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His is basically the same as his mother’s.  Except there aren’t any tomatoes or mushrooms.

Those two pizzas out of the way, time to turn to my own.  Given the challenge laid down by Mr. Old Road Apples I had to kick it up a notch.  It began with this…

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There was a time when I made a lot of pizza and I regularly had roasted garlic in the fridge.  It really is an incredible thing to have on pizza.  It’s been awhile though since I did the roasted garlic thing.  So, after we got back from the junior most Prince Midget’s soccer game …

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That’s him.  The kid in the yellow shirt.  Playing goalie.  I’ll never figure out how I raised two sons who want to play a position like goalie.  So much pressure, so much attention — exactly the kind of position I would have fled when I was a kid.  Maybe the fact that I raised two sons who embraced such challenges is a good thing.

… I put a head of garlic in the toaster oven to get me some roasted garlic for my pizza.  Those little nuggets of goodness hidden in each piece of pizza are truly remarkable.

Keeping with the “kicking it up a notch” challenge, I went on.  It being October in Northern California, there are still jalapenos in the garden.  I went and picked a few.  My pizza ended up with … the roasted garlic, the provolone and mozzarella mix, prosciutto and linguica, fresh jalapeno, parmesan and a little dried oregano.  Let me just say that if you like spicy, if you haven’t had fresh jalapeno on a pizza, you don’t know what you’re missing.  There’s something about jalapeno getting fired in a 550 degree oven that … yes, kicks it up a notch.  Here it is before it went in the oven…

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I’ve started doing this thing with the pizzas I make for myself.  I turn the edge of the crust up and over the toppings.  It creates this really nice edge to the crust.  It almost … almost … turns it into a pizza pie and creates some pockets of fillings in the crust.  It ends up looking like this…

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Wait.  What’s that?  In the middle?  Yes, it’s an egg.

And there you have it, Mr. Old Road Apples.  Pizza.  It’s a beautiful thing.  I try very hard not to be arrogant or obnoxious or too proud of my own work.  That said … my pizza is the best.  I don’t make it as frequently as I was a few years ago.  Which makes it all the better.  It’s the perfect food and I have mastered it.  Allow me that little bit of arrogance.  🙂

 

Whispering Pizza

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A thing I’ve “known” for some time is that refrigerating bread dough for some period of time during the rise can improve the flavor, the crumb, the crust — pretty much everything about the bread.  But it is something I rarely do.  I’m impatient and generally don’t plan that far ahead.  Unless I’m making sourdough, which requires refreshing my starter days ahead of time and then a two day mixing, kneading, rising process, I generally make bread as quickly as I can.

Then I read the NY Times this week.  Their Wednesday Food Section was dedicated to all things bread.  There I learned about Josey Baker and his new bread book.  He refrigerates his dough for days before baking it.  The description intrigued me.  I started poking around the internet and found this article about refrigerating pizza dough.  The writer made enough dough for ten pizzas and stuck in the fridge.  Every day for the next ten days, he took out enough dough to make one pizza and recorded the results.  His verdict was that refrigerating the dough for 3-5 days produced the best results.

What did I do?  I raced home and made pizza dough Friday evening, stuck it in a baggy and put it in the fridge.  I was planning on making pizza today anyway, so why not try it.  The dough was only the fridge for about 40 hours before I took it out this morning, but that’s certainly longer than I’ve refrigerated dough in the past.  I made five pizzas.  They have two different kind of sausage on them.  Whiskey fennel and green chile.

How did they turn out?  Well, I don’t know.  I was making these pizzas to put away for lunches at work in the next week or two.  As much as I really wanted to have one today, I resisted.  I do know this, however.  I don’t think I’ve ever had my crust look like this…

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See those pockets of air.  That’s a good thing.  There was also more blistering around the edges of the crust than usual and the bottom was well charred.  Not burnt, but charred and crispy.  So, I’ll be doing this more often in the future.  And, hopefully add a day or two to the refrigeration.  Not just for pizza but for bread as well.

What you ask does this have to do with whispering?

Absolutely nothing.  The whispering refers to something wholly unrelated.  I’m in need of a writing whisperer.  I haven’t written much in the last couple of weeks.  Haven’t blogged much either.  I worry that I’m falling into the thing I didn’t want to.  Unlike many writers, I haven’t been writing since I was knee high to a grasshopper.  I didn’t spend my teen years journaling.  I didn’t take creative writing classes in college.  I have not spent my life as a writer.

What I have done is spend most of my life looking for things to motivate me, to challenge me, to stretch my limits.  In sports, I’ve played baseball, softball, golf, tennis, and who knows what else, including playing organized soccer for the first time at the age of 45.  In other areas, cooking is a constant source of opportunities and possibilities to experience something new.  I have tried to learn the violin, classical guitar, saxophone, and harmonica.  In other words, I am constantly in a search for something, that thing that I can do well and take to a different level.

Writing is the thing that has stuck with me longer than any of those other activities and I think I have, as a result, got better at it than anything else I have tried.  Here’s the problem though.  I think I’m getting stuck.  I’m not sure if I’m moving forward anymore and, maybe even, I’m moving backwards.

I discovered something about where I’m at with my writing this week.  I tried through the last few days to write a short story, a couple of different variations.  I kept falling back on the same kind of idea, which is a repeat of so many things I’ve written, and worse than that — I was writing in the same style.  The short, choppy sentences, frequently incomplete, that has started to fill my writing.  And I don’t want to do that with every story I write.  Doing so would mean I’m getting lazy, falling back on a gimmick.

A few years ago I read The Book Thief.  The author had this thing in that where he would describe somebody making a statement and how the words of the statement would flow into the room and do something there.  At first, I didn’t think too much of it, but by the end of the story, it was one of the things that made the story so incredible.  Much to my disappointment, I then read another book written by the same author and he did the same thing in that book.  So, it wasn’t something particular to The Book Thief, it was this author’s gimmick.

Stephen King has a gimmick or two as well.  One of them is his voice — the kind of snotty, know-it-all, teenage smart aleck voice.  I think that’s what bothers me the most about what he has been doing for years now — it’s always that voice.  Why can’t he ever write in a different voice.

Now I’m doing the same thing.  Or at least I feel that way.  I need a writing whisperer to coax me out of this.

That’s one thing I need.  Here’s another — something good to happen with my writing.  Something to tell me that all of the mental and emotional energy I invest in this, the time commitment, and everything else that goes into being a writer is worth it.  Because there are very few things I do just to do.  As much as I may not want to be like this, there has to be a reason for doing what I do with my time.  Particularly something like writing.  I enjoy when I write, when I’m spinning words into a story.  When I get that feeling that I figured out something and got it done.  When I feel like I’ve done something special.  But there needs to be something more than that.  I’m not even sure what that “something more” is.  I just know that I don’t write just for me, just for the sake of writing stories.

Anybody know a writing whisperer?  Anybody know the reason why I write?  Why do you write?

A Peek Inside

I finished reading The Long Walk a couple of days ago.  It’s a story that will stay with me for awhile.  Written by Brian Castner, the story is about his experience as an EOD in Iraq and his life once he returned home to America.  What’s an EOD?  I forget exactly what the acronym stands for, but he’s the guy who went out and defused all of the bombs and booby traps laid out to kill American soldiers.

I don’t know why it is that I’m drawn to war stories, but I am.  I never served, nor will I (I’m not sure how many 50-year-0lds with groin injuries the military would want).  Nor did I ever have the desire.  But, there is something so real about true stories of life as a soldier.  As far as I’m concerned there is no fiction that rivals those true stories.  As Mr. Castner states (and I’m paraphrasing), it is only when you are being fired on that life becomes real.  I’ll never experience that sensation, but the stories of those who have served are some of the best out there.

Just his description of the impact blast waves have on the human body is worth the read.

* * * * *

I’ve come up with a new cause for my avoidance of writing.  Screen fatigue.  Yes, I’m growing tired of devoting so much of my time to activities that revolve around a screen.  I spend my work day writing and reading emails, researching on-line, writing documents in the ol’ computer word processor, and who knows what else — so much of it based around the screen that sits on my desk.  Then, I come home, have dinner, and I’m supposed to spend more time in front of the screen?  Writing?

Lately, I’ve really struggled with opening the laptop after dinner.  I just do not want to spend yet more time in front of a screen.  And yet … I’m here.  Here’s what today was for me … I read the paper, then I opened my laptop.  Checked my email, checked a few other things, then I did some work on finishing my taxes — all screen-based.  This afternoon, I spent time working on a legal document for a friend — again, all screen-based.  And, yes, I’ve checked Facebook, and WordPress, and my email, and all sorts of other things.  And, then, when it comes time to write, I’m tired of looking at a screen.

I’ve decided this.  The next new project I come up with, whether it be a short story or novel, I’m going to write the old way.  Paper and pencil.  What I really wish I had was a manual typewriter.  But I don’t, so paper and pencil or pen it is.  Anybody out there still try to write by hand?  Got any suggestions?  Pad of paper?  Journal?  What do you write on if you write by hand?

Of course, if I’m so tired of the screen, why am I here?  Writing a post for my blog?  Sssshhhh, let’s not discuss that.

Okay.  Let’s.

There’s also the emotional side of writing.  The need, sometimes, or maybe all of the time, for some type of equilibrium, to be able to write.  I don’t have it these days.  I so don’t have it.  So, I struggle with writing a lot of the time just because I’m so pissed or frustrated.  It’s really hard to put yourself into a story, a work in progress, and let things go, when you’re in the place I am on an all too frequent basis.  At least for me anyway.

* * * * *

Did somebody say deep dish?

Yesterday, while I practiced writing avoidance and obligation avoidance, I spent a few hours watching re-runs of the Food Network’s 2013 Food Truck Race.  During one of the episodes, each of the contestants had to produce their version of a Chicago Deep Dish Pizza.  I knew what I would be making for dinner tonight as soon as I saw the results.  I’ve wanted to make my own deep dish pie for quite awhile, but haven’t.  Today, I did.

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I’d offer you a photo of the finished product but it came out blurry for some reason.  That there is a pizza pie with mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, a little fresh spinach, sausage, sauce that simmered for a couple of hours, and a sprinkling of parmesan.  I think I’ll be making this again.  However … I’m not happy with the crust.  In my experience, Chicago Deep Dish Pizza has a crust that is different than your typical pizza.  Although this crust had some corn meal in it, I don’t think it was enough.  The crust was still far too much like regular pizza crust.

 

 

This is How I Stretch My Boundaries

Yesterday, I posted a ramble that included a promise to share pictures of the pizza I made.  You know, the one that was going to break down my traditional pizza making and eating ways.  So, without further ado … well, let me explain.  This isn’t completely groundbreaking for me, but it certainly isn’t a pizza you’ll find at any Round Table or Pizza Hut near you.  I kind of combined two recipes from the cookbook I mentioned and came up with this.  On the crust, olive oil, garlic and a little fresh parsley.  Mozzarella cheese (but not a lot — which is a transition for me, less cheese isn’t necessarily a bad thing).  Then pancetta and two whole eggs.  Bake.  When done, sprinkle some more fresh parsley on top.  Add some dabs of homemade pesto.  Dust with parmesan.  And there you go…

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Verdict?  Yummy.

You Know You Want It

What you might ask am I talking about?  What could I know about you that you may not even be willing to admit about yourself?  What do I know that you don’t?  It’s rather simple.  It should be obvious.  Please, seriously, you don’t know what I’m talking about.  Fine, what you want, what you need, what you’ve been begging for without realizing you were doing it, is another post about pizza.  And, if nothing else, I am here to serve your needs and wants.  So …

I learned a couple of weeks ago about a different way to make a pizza.  You prepare it in a skillet or frying pan, cook on the stovetop for a couple of minutes and then put it in a very hot oven to finish.  Staying at a cabin with limited kitchen resources (I mean, when are these cabin owners going to recognize they need to have a baking stone in place).  Well, this cabin doesn’t even have a regular oven.  Just a toaster oven.  It’s larger than most, but still, not an oven.  Not a baking stone.

But there was a cast iron skillet that was the right size for an individual pizza that fit in that toaster oven.  I gave it a whirl.

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I didn’t get it quite right.  I made my usual pizza dough.  Recipe you ask.  Well, I don’t know anymore.  It’s basically an incredibly small amount of yeast, a bit of salt and another bit of sugar.  For this one person crust, I used a little more than 1/2 cup warm water and then added flour until I got dough of the right consistency.  If you’re a breadmaker, you’ll know what I mean.  If you’re not, I’m not sure how to explain it further.  The dough spent a couple of hours rising while I … now, don’t be shocked by this … worked on The Irrepairable Past, producing almost 1,000 words.

I oiled the pan, heated it.  And I mean really heated it.  Flipped the dough in.  Drizzled some olive oil on it, added some minced garlic.  Then mozzarella, sausage, tomatoes and red onions.  The pizza stays in the pan on the stovetop for a couple of minutes before it goes in the oven at a high temperature.  I had it at 450 degrees before I switched it to Broil to get it up to 500 degrees.

It came out pretty good.  The only problem is that I think I had it on the stovetop too long.  The bottom crust in the center was more than just suitable charred.  So, lesson learned.  Less time on the stovetop.  I do think this method of making a pizza has the potential to produce a perfect crust.  I’m going to keep experimenting with it.

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