Friday, January 20, 2012

that's amore




Long ago, I was sent by a former employer to a few workshops on fundraising, in the hope that I might do some. Speaking in grossly oversimplified and unfairly general terms, workshops of that type can be appallingly goofy sometimes, and are generally boring enough to make your teeth itch. I don’t remember a lot of what was laid out for me in the ones I took, but I do remember the concept one fellow touted: the Personally Significant Gift. Fundraising pyramids, he said, are built on a base of gifts that are small in absolute terms, but don’t necessarily feel small to the givers. What you want from each donor you cultivate, he said, is not the same amount, but the same idea: the number of dollars that if their friends were to hear about it, would make them say “gosh, you must really believe in this place.” For some people this will be $10, while others will have the new wing named in their honor.


I’m sorry, have I made your teeth itch?


Let me come at this another way. In the British novel I Don’t Know How She Does It, the main character is a working mom with a high-powered executive job. Returning home late one night from a business trip, she is reminded that there is a bake sale at her child’s school the next day, to which she must bring something home-made. She unwraps a package of mince pies from the grocery store, whacks them with a rolling pin, and dusts powdered sugar on top. Voilá.


Here’s where I am going with this. Home-made can take many forms. It is never my intention to suggest life has to be home-made or the highway. Making food is supposed to be satisfying and not stressful, goes my thinking. Bless the pie-whackers and the wheat-threshers both.


Hang on while I swap a lunchbox for my soapbox. In grossly oversimplified but largely accurate terms, almost all children like pizza. Almost all mothers (but perhaps not fathers) who find their children eating cold pizza will suggest they heat it up, but almost all children like cold pizza too, and way more than they like any number of other things we might earnestly prepare for their lunch.


Making your own pizza has its own sliding scale, thanks to the fact that every grocery store in the land these days seems to sell pizza dough in the refrigerated section. Buying a lump of this (try to stick to the ones that say “flour, water, yeast, salt” on the ingredients, and don’t offer a long, dense paragraph that includes “dicronomitosalglyceridalates added for shelf life,” or words to that effect) can help you to see your approval ratings soar in a key demographic.


You can make the little pizzas the night before, or in the morning. I have clocked it, and no matter what you think when I suggest it (try to keep it clean), it just doesn’t take very long to make them. Cut the dough, poink it out flat, smear and adorn it, and I bet you a nickel the pizzas will have time to rest and rise because you will be done constructing them before the oven is heated. No matter if they don't--this is not supposed to be Old Napoli, after all--if the oven is hot already, stick them in. Bake them for ten minutes. Keep the amount of toppings spare, so it is more of a pizzafied bread, and then it travels neatly, and lunch gets gobbled up.


If you like, you can hyperextend and make the dough yourself, thanks to a mickey mouse version of the miracle known as Jim Lahey's no-knead bread. If so, you add FIVE MINUTES to the process. That’s all. I TIMED IT. But maybe you never get there. Maybe you keep buying the lumps of dough, and pre-grated cheese, and that is enough for you. It ought to be. It’s home-made.


lunchbox pizza


1 lump of pizza dough

tomato sauce or tomato paste

a firm, fresh mozzarella or any cheese you like (cheddar, feta, goat), thinly sliced or grated

some shredded parmesan

olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450. Maybe it is your toaster oven you will be using; in that case, a slightly lower temperature or it will burn.


Put a sheet of parchment paper on your baking sheet. Cut the dough lump into equal sections (I cut six from a pound of dough). Try not to over-handle the dough or it gets the gluten all excited and makes it hard to spread out. Put the small lump of dough on the parchment and poink it out flat and thin (less than ½ “) in a shape that suits the container it will ride in. Repeat for as many little pizzas as you plan to make; reserve remaining dough balls in bag or container for tomorrow, or bake them all at once). Drop a few drops of olive oil on the dough and spread that out, especially on the edges. Thinly spread about a teaspoon of sauce on the dough, then fling on the melting cheese (you could add chopped sausage or chiken or olives at this point, if you like), leaving some areas of sauce visible, and scratch some parmesan on top. When the oven is heated completely, put the tray in and bake for about 10 minutes, while you dash around making breakfast. The cheese should be lightly browned and the crust, too. Bingo bango bongo, into the lunchbox it goes. The leftover dough keeps in the fridge for days, should it come to that.


For poops and giggles, you can also fold the dough over the filling, like a little calzone, and scratch some more parmesan on top. These need to bake a little longer. This one had some pesto in it, because there was some pesto in the fridge:



If you want to go further:


quick and dirty pizza dough


3 c flour (white, or a mixture of white and whole wheat)

1 tsp salt

½ t yeast

2T olive oil

1 ¼ c water

optional: 2T ground flax meal or wheat germ


Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a medium bowl. Stir in 1c of water and the olive oil, and mix until a wet dough ball has formed. You may need the remaining water to complete this, or not. You want a ball of dough, but a sticky one, not too dry. Cover the bowl and let rest overnight. In the morning, use a spatula to scrape the dough onto a very lightly floured surface, gather it into a ball and proceed as above.

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