When in Doubt… Pizza

THE EQUIPMENT:

1 pizza stone (any size or shape – it doesn’t matter. I have a square one. It looks like a one-inch thick big ceramic square). Keep it in the oven at all times. But measure your oven prior to buying it to make sure it will fit!

1 pizza peel – that’s the wood plank thing with a handle you assemble the pizza on, slide it onto the stone with and then use to pull it out of the oven.

1-2 sheets of parchment paper – it looks like wax paper but it isn’t waxy and you can get it at ANY grocery store (usually next to aluminum foil). You put it on top of the pizza peel when you assemble the pizza dough/ingredients and then slide the paper/pizza via the peel into the oven when the pizza bakes so the pizza dough won’t stick to the stone.

1 pizza cutter – That round wheel cutter thing with a small handle on the end. You’ve seen it at every pizza place on EARTH and can buy it at any grocery store inexpensively. But if you don’t have one, just use a knife.

But DEFINITELY NO FORKS! #sosowrong

THE INGREDIENTS:

1 pack Trader Joe’s pizza dough (wheat or plain)

1/4  jar of Mario Batali’s tomato basil sauce warmed up slightly

A few handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese  (I often used Trader Joe’s organic low-fat mozzarella or FRESH mozzarella cheese from any grocery – or sometimes a combination of both)

A few handfuls of cherry tomatoes in different colors cut in half

A few handfuls of fresh mushrooms (I prefer crimini but regular button mushrooms work)

1 – 1 1/2 pre-cooked turkey/chicken sausages (Most markets like Trader Joe’s Whole Foods, Gelsons, etc. carry them) sliced

1/2 to one full cup of fresh basil leaves

1-2 tablespoons of oregano

You can assemble and cook this pizza A LOT quicker than you can get it delivered and it will taste twice as good.

  1. Crank up your oven as HIGH as it goes. For most HOME ovens this is 450-500 degrees plus. Depending on your oven this could take up to 10-15 mins. (Note: The higher the heat the crispier the crust).

USE CAUTION #obviously

  1. At the same time, take the dough out of the refrigerator.   You can keep the Trader Joe’s dough in the fridge for a few days prior to cooking and they sell it all the time. You can also buy fresh or frozen dough at many supermarkets ( e.g. Whole Foods) these days.
  2. Now take out the pizza peel and put 1-2 pieces of parchment paper on top of it that covers its flat section (mine is wood but they also come in metal).
  3. After 10-15 mins. resting out of the fridge, the dough will be more malleable. Begin to move the dough back and forth in your hands so it widens a bit to a bigger circle. Then place it on the parchment paper and with your fingers slowly widen it as much as you can to cover the paper. You can even use a rolling pin to spread it further even though veteran pizza cookers HATE when I say this. But screw them. (Note: You can rub some olive oil on parchment paper prior to laying the dough on it to make it less sticky. But you don’t need to. Once the paper is in the oven it usually releases the dough).

If you can’t press the olives yourself, store bought is fine. #barefootcontessarules

  1. Once the dough looks like a raw pizza pie, ladle or slowly pour the sauce onto the dough. Then spread it around with a ladle or spoon. You might not need ¼ or a jar but I like it saucy (no surprise there). Yes, you can make your own sauce but you will NOT do better that Mario’s. And it keeps in the refrigerator for at least several weeks after using it –so you can make another pie.

or if you’re in the mood for a cocktail #um #sure

  1. Now sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the dough. If you’re using fresh you can place small pieces of it in various spots and it will spread. I don’t like it overly cheesy (pizza, that is) but do it to YOUR taste.
  2. Now place/sprinkle on the shrooms, tomatoes and sausage. Try to alternate the ingredients around the pie so each slice gets you a bit of each. No, you don’ t have to use all three. It’s YOUR pizza. This is what I do. Or feel free to add other ingredients. But please, No PINEAPPLE chunks! I can’t even…

JUST SAY NO

  1. Now place fresh basil leaves between the ingredients all over the pie. It will look festive!
  2. Now sprinkle dry oregano over the pie. It’s the final touch.
  3. Okay – don’t be afraid. Just pick up the pizza peel that has the pie on it. Walk to the oven. Open the oven. Then quickly, with a thrusting motion, slide the parchment paper with the pizza on top onto the pizza stone and quickly close the oven door.

Is it ready yet???

  1. If you’re using wheat pizza dough it should take about 10-11 mins. With plain dough it’s usually between 7-8 mins. But EVERY oven is different. So periodically check to make sure it’s not burning. But DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN CONSTANTLY. This lets the heat out and the pie will get screwed up.

It’s happening

  1. Okay – when time’s up, open the oven door wearing an oven mitt. Hold the pizza peel and slide it under the pizza or the parchment paper and when it’s securely on the peel, pull that sucker out of the oven.
  2. Give it a minute and then slice. Oh, and turn off the oven and give it an hour to cool down before you touch anything.

Serve with green salad and lots of red wine. Or not.

Often pizza is enough.

Wear a bib!

This might look like a lot of steps but is incredibly simple.

DO NOT ORDER FROM PIZZA HUT.

NEVER STOP THERE AGAIN.

DON’T EVEN LOOK AT THE SIGN.

You’re welcome.

Dean Martin – “That’s Amore”

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A Comfy Old Chair

Sunday, Nov. 18th, 2012   Today is my birthday and it just so happens to  fall on the day of the 99th weekly blog post of Notes From A Chair.  Perfect symmetry would dictate that my birthday land on a nice round number like my 100th post and I could bask in the serendipity of it all.  It might even prompt some clever musings from me about inevitability and numerology — or perhaps their absence and meaninglessness in the world.  Depending on the year of my life and my age I have gone both ways.  On any given subject, that is.

However, if I had not skipped one week of blogging in 2011 this would indeed actually be my 100th consecutive post in as many weeks (rather than merely 99 out of 100) and I would’ve gotten some small amount of the absolute perfect symmetry in life I’ve so long desired – at least among the things I’ve written.  There is both irony and real birthday meaning in this fact.  Because the one thing I know for sure (not to pull an Oprah here) and have finally learned on this day of all days is that no such perfect symmetry truly exists in fact or fiction.  And, even if it did, I’m not sure it’s what I would desire.

After living more than half a century and then some (oh, don’t look so surprised), I finally do realize what I (and you) could have greatly benefited from decades earlier – that 99 out of 100 is a hell of an average and that no one EVER achieves 100% at anything 100% of the time.

At any given point in my first half-century I would take the odd number 99 as being absolute proof that my one weak moment of blog writing “laziness” was throwing off all chance I had of being part of that rare, finite group of exceptional people that I aspired to be.  I would have also concluded that if I had indeed worked “just a little harder,” perfection would have been achieved and I would’ve gotten — uh — admittance to a secretly successful and magically elite group?  Revenge on all the people who ever doubted me?  A free blender?  Or, let’s go crazy, all of the above?   Hmmm, if not all of those, at the very least I certainly would have at one time gotten depressed that once again I somehow missed grabbing the brass ring on life’s ever spinning merry-go-ride of solid gold achievement scale and was ever destined to come in an admirable but certainly not exceptional second place.

However, I am now on the other side of a half-century and living here I see that doing 99 out of 100 consecutive weeks of pretty good and sometimes exceptional essay writing as proof that, in this area, I have a better batting average than my childhood baseball hero Mickey Mantle (oh, again, don’t look so surprised!) and, actually, an even better one than then all-time Yankee home run king Babe Ruth (Yeah, I thought he was cool too, so get over it).  I attribute my healthy reaction on this side of the age hump to one of the great perks of knowledge you get in living to this age.  And that is – with a lot of experience, failures, successes and intensive psychotherapy you can actually get to the point in your life where you can beam at the work you’re capable of and be excited about what the future holds and how it will all turn out.  And that not only applies to professional work but in other areas of existence as well.  As John Lennon once said: “Imagine.”

This is not to say that wisdom, talent or good batting averages are limited to the middle or old aged.  That was clear to me this week when I caught up with the movie that one too many people urged me to see this year called “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Fierce.

The idea that an 8-year-old actress can pull off the lead role in a dramatic independent film so honestly and without striking one false note reminded me that talent doesn’t discriminate on the basis of years and that one of the perks of the talented who are very young is being fearless enough to jump into the trickiest of situations with absolute natural assurance and grace.  Even for those without the practically super human talent of “Beasts’” young heroine Quvenzhane Walli, the thought of failure often never even enters the mind.  You’re too young and unspoiled to have a concept of what failure is and are sometimes lifted up by that to unimaginable heights.

On the other end of the age spectrum there are different but no less impressive benefits to be had.  This week I attended a concert at Disney Hall by Broadway legend and consummate nightclub singer Barbara Cook.  Backed by the LA Philharmonic, the 85-year-old Ms. Cook mostly sat in a chair center stage (“I wish I can stand but I need back surgery so there it is,” she lamented) and sang an eclectic group of songs so impressively and with such deep and effortless understanding for 90 minutes straight that her talent felt every bit as superhuman as an actress almost eighty (that’s 8-0) years her junior.  It’s not as if Ms. Cook hasn’t known failure, defeat or whatever you want to call it.  It’s just that she’s reached the point in life where it’s not even on her radar.  This was never more apparent than when she sang a brilliant a cappella version of “House of the Rising Sun” – a tune we all best know from the classic rock record done by “The Animals” in 1964 that’s been played endlessly in movies, on the radio and in cover versions by about 100 different artists.

Yeah, that’s the one.  You recognize the electric guitar.  And the last person you’d think you want to hear do that song (which is about a New Orleans whorehouse) is an 85-year-old woman who is best known to audiences as the original Marion the Librarian in the classic Broadway musical, “The Music Man.”  But that’s exactly what made Ms. Cook’s no holds barred version of it uniquely great.

How to be a Legend 101

I could go on and on about all of the other age-related stories during this and any other week.  Like the broo-ha-hah 27-year-old NBC political news reporter Luke Russert caused when he asked 72-year-old House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi whether her decision to not retire next year presents a roadblock to “younger leadership and hurts the (Democratic) party in the long term.”  Or all the lamenting about the 18-25 youth vote going overwhelmingly to Barack Obama merely because he’s guaranteed them free “gifts” like a college education without inflated student loan interest rates.  Or people griping that over-50 Madonna is too much of an old hag to be a singing and dancing rock star.   Or that 25-year-old Lady Gaga is a fat, poser for appropriating Madge’s music.  Or sheer horror at the breakup of 18-year-old Justin Bieber and 20-year-old Selena Gomez (Question:  Do the majority of you really want to marry the person you dated prior to being 21?).  Or the strange bliss at the fact that “Twilight” teen Bella hooked up with a vampire many centuries older for all eternity prior to HER 21st birthday.

I could go on and on.  But I won’t.  Instead, I’m going to do something else.   I’m going to close with:

Some Things I Have Learned At My Age:

Practice and you will get better.  Age can physically and mentally increase and decrease expertise.  For instance, you will probably not be as good a ballet dancer at 50 as you were at 25 no matter how much you train.  But if you practice incessantly from the age of 18 you will be much better when you are 25, 26 or 27 until you reach your physical and mental and/or emotional peak.

Keep rockin’

You can only change your own behavior.  For the Love of God (or whoever) do not stay in or enter a relationship thinking you can change someone.  You never will.  And if you could, chances are you won’t want each other when you do.  You can, however, change some people’s minds on issues or at least get them to understand the other side and soften their own thinking.  If you read even one contemporary American history book you will know I am right on this.

Humor is not overrated in any circumstance.  But if everyone is laughing and you’re not it doesn’t mean you’re humorless.  To put it another way, the fact that I never liked mashed potatoes or Desperate Housewives doesn’t mean there was or is anything wrong with my taste.

Colors that look good on you can change with ageAnd wardrobe absolutely should.  Meaning, unless you’re a guy on a farm stop wearing overalls after your 25th birthday.  And if you’ve female and under 25, you don’t need as much makeup and hair product as you (or they) think you do.   This might change decades later for both sexes but I doubt it.

You parents’ job is to worry about you This makes them impossible sometimes (or even all the time) no matter what age you are.  Your parents are also just like the rest of us — greatly flawed and sometimes even flawlessly great people.  So the sooner you accept that and also that in some fundamental ways you are inclined to be exactly like them – the happier you’ll be.   This doesn’t mean you will inevitably become them.  Only that you are uncontrollably predisposed to do a lot of their “stuff.”  Sort of like a dog who finds it difficult to refuse a second helping of — anything.

Luck + timing + expertise + talent = Financial Success.  If anyone knew what percentage of each, they’d be rich.

Luck + timing + expertise + talent ≠ Happiness.  That is something else entirely.

Pizza is the perfect food.  This is non-negotiable.

That’s Amore

Listen to your body but don’t be a slave to it.  It is no different than the withholding person you had a crush on in high school.  If you pay it too much mind it will consume you.  But if you don’t pay attention to it at all, you have no shot at all scoring the way you really want to.

Staying relevant to everyone is impossible.  But staying relevant to yourself is a requirement.  No joke there.

Some people know you better than you think and some people who think they know you don’t know you at all.  It’s really, really tricky.  And depends what period of life you’re in and with whom. (who?)

Start saving a little bit of money each month in your twenties that you will never ever touch (except in dire illness) because you’ll either live longer than you think or shorter than you hoped.  If you do get old, consider this essential karmic payment for ensuring happy longevity.  Or if you don’t happen to make it very far, think of it as largesse to a loved one or to a worthy charitable cause that might remember you were here with a plaque on their wall.

This advice is approved by Suze.

No animal is innately mean.  But in my experience that is only 98% true of humans.

Like the way you look. Take the moment you looked the best in every decade of your life and you will probably most prefer your 20s or 30s despite how displeased you might be with your physical appearance at the time.  You will not accept this as truth until you get a lot older.  Which does not mean you will not be happy with the way you look then and won’t greatly prefer your older life to your younger one.

No one stays at the peak of his or her professional talents forever.  This is true either because you need a break to live your personal life or the world will decide it needs a break from you and your talent.

There are some things you will never ever get the appeal of.  For me, it’s Ronald Reagan, Katherine Heigl, skydiving, suburbia, sweet pickles, Members Only jackets, our worldwide obsession with the British Royal Family and the color lime green.  So don’t even try.

Every birthday is to be celebrated.  Because the alternative sucks.  Or as my 84-year-old father has often told me, (his birthday was 3 days before mine) when I ask him how he is:  “I woke up today.  So I’m great.”