An ode to pizza and love.

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At least once a week, we make pizza. We use leftover veggies, meats, and whatever else we have in the fridge, and whip up pizza in our oven. We tear it apart and often eat too much. Now, pizza is old. It was imported to Italy from Greece way back in the day (i.e. thousands of years ago), and the epic combination of dough + sauce + toppings has reveled in our mouths ever since.

For me, pizza brings back so many memories. Ordering a pizza from Domino’s for a sleepover or those rare evenings when my parents just gave up, which was a treat in my childhood, brings back memories of having the warm box heat up my lap in the car, and opening it in the kitchen to waft in the rich smells. I would play with the plastic stands that came in the boxes and make them into tables for my little animals and toys. Later, pizza became a menace- a fattening monster that was delicious and ominous, full of grease and guilt, something my more-and-more aware teenage girl self was terrified of. Fat, grease, oil, calories. I watched my mother soak up the grease on napkins, and I knew that if I wanted to be attractive, pizza would fuck me over. Self-loathing made me loath pizza, and whenever it was at a party or a celebration of some sort, I remember skirting around it nearby, fearing what it would do to me. I hate thinking about those times, when my relationship with my body was so negative and full of awareness of being watched and policed.

Then, when I moved to Switzerland, I realized I never knew what real pizza was. I knew doughy, overly cheesy creations laced with slightly artificial smells. I knew of chains in the mall, slices simmering from hot surfaces next to the Dillards department store. Now, my friends and I would walk to the Spaghetti Store in downtown Lugano, where we could literally see the lights from an Italian town across the lake. We ordered pizza con mascarpone, prosciutto, e rocket, and un litro di vino tavolo, sharing chewy slices of pizza and sipping cheap wine, and letting the prosciutto and mascarpone do a dance with my taste buds. I remember fondly feeling warm, loved, and so so happy.

Now, in Montana, I watch Logan make dough, twisting and stretching and rolling it, flour on his sleeves. We chop garlic, lots and lots of garlic, and get out semolina flour to coat the pizza stone. Tomato sauce and a fresh ball of mozzarella lie nearby, and I occasionally tear off a small bit of the cheese to taste while Logan preps. We have cheap wine in odd glasses now, as our wine glasses have been broken by a clumsy gesture or two. We usually make two pizzas, thin-crusted and beautifully covered with onions, mushrooms, arugula, sardines, olives, and whatever else we want.

Ultimately, after having made dozens of pizzas with friends and family, I would narrow what makes good pizza down to a few things:

-Good dough, preferably made fresh.

-Good tomato sauce (Cento and Pomi both make good canned/boxed tomato sauces) that you can salt/pepper/flavor yoursef.

-Garlic, lots of garlic.

-Somebody you care about a lot nearby, and more people you love waiting to feast also nearby. You can also make pizza alone but you are not allowed to feel sad about it. It will ruin the taste of the pizza.

-A hot oven.

-Love and respect for yourself and the food you’re making with your two capable hands.

There you go. Now go make some pizza!

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Blackberry pie: The South meets Montana.

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Hey y’all! In the midst of it all, I made a blackberry pie! When we moved into our home I found a tangled bush/vine monster that was climbing up the back shed, and I suspected it would have blackberries. Sure enough, it did! Apparently, blackberry pie is a very Southern thing, which I did not know (my grandma is from Texas but hot damn is that the South? Or is Texas it’s own thing? I suspect the latter!) Anyway, I got to pick blackberries and take them into my kitchen literally just a few feet away! Some of them were small, other blackberries were as big as half my thumb and heavy as hell! Unfortunately there are lots of wasps hanging about (I loathe them), probably because I haven’t sprayed the three or four tiny new nests that have sprung up since we moved in. Ugh.

Now, here’s the truth: My pie didn’t turn out that aesthetically pleasing. I know that whoever reads this is probably more used to the gorgeous baking and cooking images that lace our everyday Instagram and Facebook feeds, but this pie is GENUINE! It was made with love and it tastes GREAT! Screw using all the props and the nice marble countertops if you don’t have them, because food is made for eating as well as visual enjoyment. So yes, my pie is ugly. My lattice work is hideous. But my taste buds and stomach are happy. ūüôā

Having never made a blackberry pie, I searched the internet and used an excellent recipe from The Country Contessa¬†My one change to her recipe would be that if your blackberries are juicy, your pie is going to be super juicy too- mine literally is standing in about 1/2 inch of delicious blackberry juices, which I plan to save.¬†If you want a more firm pie, I’d increase the flour a tiny bit (something less than another 1/4 cup) and probably add a tiny pinch or two of corn starch. Rhubarb pie recipes have you lay down a sugar/flour mix at the bottom to soak up some of the juice, and you could give that a try if you wanted to. If you choose to use cornstarch, be really careful, as it can overwhelm the taste of your fruit (I did that to a raspberry pie about two years ago and still regret it). I know that baking is something close to an exact science but when you’re working with quality pie dough and good fruit I feel like there is more leeway.

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Ingredients (from recipe by the Country Contessa)

  • Dough for a double crust pie
  • 6 cups of blackberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 of a lemon’s juice (I used a lime!)¬†
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 tablespoon beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water (I never do a wash on my pies, that’s just me!)¬†

Roll out your bottom crust and lay in the bottom of your pie tin. Punch small holes in the bottom with your fork. This helps lessen the chance of burning or overcooking the bottom of your pie.

Mix together blackberries, sugar, flour, salt, and lemon juice. Put the mixture in your pie tin with the bottom crust laid out. Then, roll out the top crust. You can fold it in half and place on top and unfold, or do a lattice pie, or do whatever you damn please! It’s going to taste great.

Bake at 350F for 50-55 minutes. Remember to put tin foil or a pie plate protector on the edges so that the crust doesn’t cook faster than the rest of the pie dough!

Remove, let cool and set for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best! I like it with coffee in the morning.

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Rhubarb pie

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My mother has a beautiful healthy rhubarb plant in her backyard. It’s grown from cuttings of a rhubarb plant that she had at our childhood home. The rhubarb that she grows is descended from a rhubarb plant that our family grew over one hundred years ago after my ancestors emigrated from Scotland to New Brunswick, and I love that it’s still growing in Montana and has been a part of our family.

Rhubarb is one of my favorite things to bake with and eat in general. It’s great in jams, in chutneys, in pies, crisps, tarts, and lots of other things. I even like eating thin slices raw- but that’s perhaps not everybody’s cup of tea.

This recipe is from one at AllRecipes, but I used less sugar:

4 cups chopped rhubarb

1 and 1/3 cups sugar (I used about 3/4 of a cup- I like my pies tart)

6 tablespoons white flour

1 tablespoon butter

1 recipe for two 9 inch crusts

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Roll out your first pie crust over flour and put in pie plate. Preheat oven at 450F. Mix together the flour and sugar until mixed well, then sprinkle about 1/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the crust. Then, heap your chopped rhubarb on top (isn’t it beautiful?!). Sprinkle the rest of the flour/sugar mixture over the rhubarb and dot with little pats of butter.

(If you’re feeling adventurous you can also mix a tiny bit of lemon juice in with your rhubarb! I meant to do this but forgot…)

Lay your other pie crust over the top and pinch the edges of the two crusts together. Poke holes with a fork in the top crust so that air can escape. Cover the edges of the crust with tin foil so that the crust doesn’t get over-cooked.

Put in oven at 450F for 15 minutes, then cook at 350 for another 40-45 minutes. Take out, let cool for a few hours, and enjoy!

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I like serving mine with ice cream or having it in the morning for breakfast with black coffee. A sweet and sour pie with a buttery crust is the best combination, in my opinion! What’s great about this pie is it’s amazing cold, which is perfect for summer when cold and tart things are ideal.

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Parmigiana di Melanzane

I grew up in a family that didn’t relish cooking. My mum is an incredible baker, whipping out apple pies, cookies, brownies, and other oven-based confections to perfection. She can cook, and I know that she and my father do more now that their spawn are out of the house. My father today makes curries, cans carrots, makes his own cider, and butchers the animals he hunts.

However, growing up, I don’t remember food being so prominent. My mother explained it in the most reasonable way when I asked her once, telling me that after getting us out the door to school, working full time, then coming home to make dinner, making dinner was a chore, not a gleeful reprieve, as I’m sure many women can attest to. I do not begrudge her this in any way, understanding and loathing the idea that women can and should have it all, including cooking skills that come out as soon as you close the office door, because you love slaving over a hot stove for hungry, picky kids.

However, my only living grandmother doesn’t cook. My remaining grandfather doesn’t either. My aunts in Connecticut cook, often reporting what they’re whipping up, but in my immediate family food is appreciated but not often lovingly made except on holidays or special occasions.

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Perhaps this is why I love cooking with Logan so much. I hear stories of family members spending all day in kitchens, of special pizza ovens, of flavors and ideas I’ve never known before. Bottles of red palm oil, special coconut milks, and dende milk can be found tucked away on his shelves, things I’ve never used or known. The cuts of meat are different here in America, which I had never thought about before. He teaches me how to do ridiculously simple things like how to properly cook rice and that cooking can be a joyful, organic process. We listen to music and have a glass of wine or two and taste as we go.

My brief sojourn home was spent in his kitchen with him, helping keep odds and ends going- soaking the starch of jasmine rice, grating parmesan cheese, scraping out small meaty pumpkins, stirring onions in olive oil for flavors, helping strain broth- and whenever I play sous chef I learn.

The best dish we made this weekend was a parmigiana di melanzane, which Logan found by watching Gennaro Contaldo videos online. It. Was. AMAZING.

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We picked out a beautiful, fat eggplant in the most gorgeous purple sheen at the grocery store. I had never actually handled an eggplant but it was really lovely and lighter than I expected. Logan sliced it up, beat an egg in a bowl, put flour in another, and got some oil frying, and it all began. We sipped Czech pilsners we’d picked up at a local beer and wine import shop, and a breeze came in from outside, crisp leaves on the back porch telling me that it was fall.

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After the eggplant fried we tore pieces of prosciutto and mozzarella and basil and rolled them up inside, laying down a bed of tomato sauce in a ceramic dish and then carefully placing the rolled tubes down. Covering them in more sauce, Logan piled on more mozzarella, some parmesan, sprinkles of basil, and put it all in to bake.

Trying to describe how good it was would be a waste of English. It was rich and perfect. We were the happiest, most full creatures after we ate it. It wasn’t difficult, and it was damn delicious.

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I made a thing. A thing made of Brie, butternut squash, and apples. A galette!

 

I tried to go to work today but I threw my back out of wack taking peanut butter chocolate chip toffee cookies out of the oven. I went to work for an hour and after realizing I couldn’t even sit comfortably I went home, put a hot pad on my back, and slept for a few more hours.

I feel so restless lately. I walk up and down the same streets. I’ve been devouring books, so many books, and they make me even more restless, because when I am done with them I am back to my life, not on a beach in Normandy or in the Carpathian mountains. I decided to foster some creativity and cook, which for me is always a test of my ability to read directions closely and not get too neurotic if it doesn’t come out well.

I have a folder on my computer that holds recipes for everything from Vietnamese spring rolls to sloppy joe sandwiches. However, one thing that I have wanted to try for months was a recipe that Happyolk posted. The recipe below is entirely from her, I take no credit!

She’s an amazing blogger in Colorado who posts beautiful photographs and recipes that make me want to drool. A lot of her posts are accompanied by gorgeous swaths of text. It’s more than a recipe- it’s a little mini story. She gets creative in clever ways, and this galette didn’t look too difficult to put together!

I’m not defective in the kitchen, but to be honest I don’t try. I’m exhausted after work and the gym, and the last thing I want to do is devote 1 or 2 hours to putting together meals.

However, lately I’ve been feeling very antsy and very disconnected to myself. I think cooking, or trying to, will give me a chance to listen to my body more and give it better things than something frozen or quickly, hastily put together. I’m trying all sorts of things to listen to myself more, because it’s hard sometimes to know what’s really wrong. Is anything really wrong?

Anyway, I followed her recipe pretty closely, except I already had pre-chopped butternut squash, so I sliced the small chunks pretty thin. I think getting a whole squash, peeling it, and then slicing much bigger slices would work better!

For the pastry dough you need: 

1 tsp sugar

Pinch of salt

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup ice water

12 tbs unsalted butter, cold

Mix flour + sugar + salt, then use the pastry chopper thing (ugh I have no idea what it’s actually called) or your fingers and break the butter apart and blend with flour until the mixture is course. Mix in the rest of the butter the same way. Pour in the ice water and mix dough into a ball. Roll dough flat, put in the fridge for 30+ minutes.

 

For the inside things (butternut squash, apples, cheese):

3 lb butternut squash

2 cups brie cheese w/o rind

2 apples, preferably Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, or Fuji (I used Pink Lady)

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

1 egg

Peel and slice butternut squash. Lay flat on a baking tray; drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Put in oven at 400 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, then take out and let cool. Slice apples into 1/4 inch pieces with the peel on. Pull or slice apart the brie.

Take the dough from the fridge, and put on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Have it be about 12″ or so in a disc shape. Then begin layering cool squash, apples, and brie cheese as you want! Use all your ingredients, leaving a 1 1/2″ empty edge on the dough disc for pulling it up and securing the delicious filling inside!

Gently fold the edges up around the filling. Pinch edges. Put an egg wash on the outside, then put back into the 400 degree F oven for 30-40 minutes! Then consume the delicious concoction you just made and swell with pride that you did it. YAY!

I made this for myself, and I have plenty leftover for lunch at the office! No more sandwiches!

Again, all recipe content from Happyolk.