I went home last week for Christmas. Home will always be Melbourne, Florida where I grew up. My childhood days were filled with sunshine, swimming, golf cart rides and trips to the beach. It was a charmed life indeed, not without the normal teenage angst and family drama, but considering all that I know of the world now, I can say I was and am very, very blessed.
I was an incredibly strong-willed adolescent. Which is really just a nice way of saying I was a huge pain in the ass. At that point, my parents, like many, adopted the philosophy of “choosing your battles.” One battle, they did not pick was over meal time. They did not force my brother and I to sit and eat dinner at the table every night as a family. As a result, I would float about, joining my parents at the dinner table when I felt like it. My growing teenage anxieties about my body made these occasions more and more infrequent as I started to see food as something to be avoided rather than something good and nourishing. I mean, I lived in a town where bathing suit season was year-round. Brutal. Needless to say, my mother and step-father were doing their best, trying to blend two families and create the least amount of emotional damage in the process. If we were doing poorly in school, this was a battle. If we were using illegal substances, this was a battle. Sitting down for a dinner every night was not a battle they chose. I can’t blame them. We were punk kids and they loved us fiercely. They must have been so very tired.
So now, twenty years later, there is nothing I love more than cooking meals for my family when I go home. Savory, nourishing, lovely meals. Meals that ask for lingering and conversation. Meals that bring our quirky, loving, imperfect family together. While my mom was sick, I could think of nothing else to do other than cook. It’s human nature really, to do something we can control when so much is happening that we can’t. In many ways, I am making up for lost time. Anxiety-ridden, distorted time when I believed food was the opposite of something savory, nourishing, and lovely.
My CSA lovin’, home-cooking, granola making self can hardly believe that girl was me. I got a Le Creuset casserole dish for Christmas because I asked for it. If anyone is doubting the possibility of self-transformation, we should chat.
So when I arrived home last week, I happily planned the menu for our time there. On the menu to have midweek was homemade pizza with artichokes and ricotta cheese. I went to the store that day, gathering all the needed ingredients, only to find they were out of pizza dough. My industrious husband signed on to make it himself. Bless his little baking, bread-loving soul. Want to meet someone who’s never had a bad thought towards food in his entire life? Enter, my husband.
With beers in hand and music on, we embarked on creating our first, “from scratch” pizza. Flour was poured generously on the counter tops as the boys helped Christian roll out the dough. My brother oversaw the operation from his seat at the kitchen island. My mom came in to whisk the boys outside and dust them off after they were amply covered in flour. They returned to build a fort in the family room while the dough was left to rise for an hour. Christian, my brother and I talked and laughed as we chopped and prepared the toppings- slicing the olives and tomatoes, quartering the artichokes, grating the cheese.
We called the boys in to sing to the pizza. “Help it rise boys. It needs a little encouragement.” I said. They sang Jingle Bells softly, gently, beckoning the dough to rise. Their eyes shone, feeling proud of their role in the process, in the task of creating the meal we would soon eat. The adults smiled back. We were entertained and delighted by such a silly, invented task being taken so seriously. We wouldn’t always have such eager participants in our charades. It made the moment that much sweeter- the joyful innocence.
The dough was soon ready and on went the toppings. We debated about the order and placement of each tomato, each olive and artichoke. We were passionate about this pizza. We thought about what we wanted each bite to taste like. A little salt and pepper and in the oven they went. A short while later the pizzas were done and we sat down to eat, finally. It was later than we had hoped. An hour later perhaps.
It doesn’t matter because what we had created was nothing short of a miracle. Every last bite. Around the table were nods and satisfied grunts and “mmm, mmm’s”.
This seemingly small task had become a blessed event. We were united in our blissful satisfaction. The fruits of our labor bringing to beautiful creation this savory home-made pizza. Even my picky children were under the spell. Because they too, had a part and because it was, in fact, damn good pizza. (So good in fact, that my little one ate himself into a coma and fell asleep in his chair).
We shopped for, shaped and sang to this pizza.
We visualized this pizza- the way it would look, the way it would taste.
It nourished us in ways I didn’t see coming. But I suppose this is what happens in the process of making dinner together- an event that is so often rushed, and yet, when slowed to a simmer, we make room for so much more than the meal in front of us. The love is in the lingering, or something like that.
*A few side notes:
- We used Emeril Lagasse’s Pizza dough recipe instead of buying store bought and we threw aside the recommendation for whole wheat. Trust me, it was worth it.
- Also, it didn’t need as much time in the oven as the recipe calls for so watch the pizza- it will vary depending on your oven.
- Don’t forget to sing to your dough- or enlist others to do so for you. 🙂