the glorious life of a food columnist

I used to think my words were destined to carry heavy burdens, but time has swept along and I find them dancing around in the kitchen, tasting and experiencing and then telling the small part of the world that gets all the way to page 18 in the newspaper all about it.

The pay isn’t much (free newspapers to clip my column out of and send to Grandma down in Connecticut) but I’m going to write anyway, right? Why not write for somebody? Anybody? The people who get past police reports, campaign news and high school sports and still want a little bit more- let me write for them.

This evening found me feverishly wandering over to the grocery store in order to pick up some ingredients to make a last minute dish for a last minute column that was due in 45 minutes. I had already wasted 45 minutes pounding my empty head against a blank white screen, staring at the blinking black line – blinking, blinking, blinking – nothing.

Nothing. I had nothing and about 45 minutes to change it into a real Something.

Dressed in my best ‘don’t-you-dare-leave-the-house-in-that’ jeans and t-shirt, I stumbled across the street and parking lots, running through first lines and meal ideas – I had a general direction to move in, but all the roads seemed blocked. Nothing still. Nothing.

I entered the grocery store and headed for produce and as I took the first step in that direction, inspiration HIT me- and Hard. I stopped in my tracks, rummaged around in my oversized bag and found the only paper in there – an old bookmark. I tore it out of the book it was stuck in and started to scribble right there. I was utterly oblivious to the people coming in after me and having to now walk around the place where I stood fast, mumbling loudly about long underwear and strawberries and writing frantically.

The afternoon produce clerk walked over and said, “Are you ok? You look funny…”

Funny indeed, hunched over and talking to myself while scratching on a paper three inches wide – crazy is more like it.

Welcome to my glorious world of food writing. Sometimes it looks like a well-prepared meal with witty commentary, sometimes it looks like raging insanity.

“Yes, I’m fine – I’m trying to write this column and it’s due in a little bit and what do you think about strawberry vinaigrette? Strawberry vinaigrette and spring greens… does that sound good to you? What if I said burgers, added burgers… or chicken” I pressed. The poor woman seemed intrigued, and terrified all at once…

“Oh yeah it does…” she said. Good enough.

I grabbed the ingredients, rushed home and whipped up my strawberry vinaigrette idea then ate it while I pounded out the column. That really is the best way to write about food, you know, while you’re either cooking or eating it. I hit SEND fifteen minutes before the deadline. Success.

Now I’m going to go do something mindless…

Pizza revisited

Howdy, folks…. As you may or may not know, I am a sales clerk by day, knitter/blogger by night and a food columnist every other week on Sundays. I usually use blog posts from the week cleaned up for the columns, and I thought I would repost this one on Pizza, since it tidied up rather decent-like 😉 Enjoy!

Pizza Love

I don’t think I’ve ever met a pizza I didn’t like, unless you are talking about the pizza-flavored food they served at my old elementary school. I think taking a surprise math test was preferable to Pizza Wednesdays.

Happily, I’ve been done with elementary school for some time now and have more than made up for my negative pizza memories with many happy ones. I’ve had enough good pizza to satisfy any rational person for a lifetime, but I am ever seeking another excellent pizza experience.

My latest pizza revelation came in my own kitchen, when I decided to buck up and make my own. You can insert your own dramatic background music, if you please. I’ve had everyone else’s pizza, but had no idea what my own might taste like, so the other night I got out my big baking sheet and mozzarella cheese and made pizza for the first time.

The Dough

In a bowl, put 1/4 cup of warm water. Add 2 teaspoons of dry yeast (or two packages, if you are using it pre-measured) and then let it ‘proof’ for five minutes, or until the yeast is bubbling a little bit.

Add 1 1/2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 cup more warm water. In another larger bowl, mix together 2 1/4 cups of flour with 1 teaspoon of salt. I like using half whole wheat and half all purpose white flour, but feel free to use all white or all wheat or whatever combination suits you.

Mound up the flour in your bowl and make an indentation in the middle, then pour the liquid into the mound. Using your fingers, or a strong spatula, begin to mix the flour into the liquid. It’s going to seem too dry, but mix a while longer then dump it onto a clean work surface and begin to knead. It will soon become a smooth and tidy ball of dough. Keep kneading until the dough is quite elastic – this is the bonus therapeutic aspect to pizza making, and then cover it with a piece of plastic and set it aside for 30 minutes so that it can rest and recuperate.

Take this time to decide what you want on your pizza. Are you are you a plain-Jane, classic, mozzarella and pepperoni type? Are you an eclectic, buffalo chicken with blue cheese sauce type? Or maybe you are a comfortable in-between, tomato slices with bits of bacon and sauteed onions. Whatever you have decided, prep it now while the dough is rising. I made two pizzas, one with three cheeses (parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella) and the other with sausage, onion and mozzarella. Oh my. The possibilities are so numerous, so enticing, I declare you could make pizza every night for a month and not exhaust the options, nor tire of pizza in general.

Now that you have decided how to decorate your pie and 30 minutes have run out, look at your lovely dough, all swollen and ready to be formed. This is the fun part, the part where children and spouses and next door neighbors appear out of thin air to try their hand at pizza tossing. With any luck, you will end up with a flattish piece of dough that looks something like a pizza. Perfect is not the goal – fun is. People who want symmetrical pizzas can get them in the freezer aisle – we are not those people. Freeform pizza *IS* the best pizza.

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees and grease a baking sheet with some olive oil. Place your formed dough on the sheet and then adorn it with deliciousness. Layer it up with sauces, meats, veggies, cheeses, fruit – anything your heart desires. There is no right or wrong way to do this, as a home chef you have the right to freedom in culinary pursuits.

The pizza gets sent to bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and the crust has browned. Then – it’s time to eat, and I don’t think you’ll be needing me to tell you how to do that!  Enjoy!

a very scary story in which the publicity is just too much

It was a dark and stormy night.

That’s the way most scary stories have to start, right?

Well, this story – in which I am scared out of my wits by a genuine fan – does take place at night (that’s the dark part) but there is no storm involved. Sorry.

It was dark though, very dark, and my husband and I were strolling down the sidewalk, arm in arm, headed home after an unsuccessful trip to the movie store downtown. (The movie store closes at seven, not nine, Ann. Duh.) We were talking about something, I am sure, or maybe just walking along in love-struck silence under the orange glow of the streetlights when we were approached by a woman who was leading along a little, fuzzy white dog on a leash. She didn’t seem to notice us as we walked closer to her, and we certainly didn’t pay much attention to her when she was suddenly right in front of us, the little dog sniffing around in the leaves on the edge of the sidewalk, she looked up at me and yelled,

“SWEET POTATO PIE!!!”

She had a huge smile on her face, but I jumped back and immediately tried to hide behind my husband, who was now looking at the lady and the dog – determinedly pawing in the sidelines. She seemed to be about middle age, short brown hair with a happy laugh and not too dangerous a build – the dog was nothing to fear either but my voice and breath were stuck somewhere between my heart and my stomach. Why was she yelling foods at us? Did she want me to respond with another type of pie? Were we doing desserts, or any food, or ones that have to do with potatoes? Or was she just crazy? Or was I sleeping? I stood there, staring at her, mouth open, cutting off the blood to my husband’s hand with my grip on his arm, wondering if I should just run.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to scare you. You wrote that recipe for sweet potato pie in the Reporter. I love your articles, I read them in the paper….. “

I had absolutely forgotten that my column with the sweet potato pie recipe had been published that day. I can’t really remember the rest of what she said because I was so relieved we weren’t about to be killed by someone with an obsession about sweet potatoes. How creepy would that have been? I think I nodded and I must have smiled a little because she kept talking as she walked on, followed by her small dog, apologizing for scaring me and promising to be more discreet should we ever meet in the daylight. I don’t think I had said a single intelligible thing.

Alex and I turned to continue home and he said, “Babe, we need to work on your people skills…. especially if strangers are going to keep coming up to you and saying how much they like to read your column in the paper….”

The next day, when I wandered across the street to the library to pick up a book, the librarian took one look at me and hollered, seasoned with a terrific amount of glee,

“Hey! SWEET POTATO PIE!”

This time I was ready for it and laughed as I said, “Oh, you saw the column yesterday, eh?” The delights of living in a small town. I did much better in the daylight as we talked a little bit about sweet potatoes and pies and books and the freelancing course I took a month ago- Alex would have been proud of my people skills.

I think I am going to start giving my columns more interesting names so that when people scream them back at me, I will have a better idea that they are not threatening me, but simply quoting me. Here are some ideas…

“Hey! YOU’RE GORGEOUS!”

“Hey! REVENGE OF THE SPIDER SPINSTER!”

“Hey – 200 THINGS TO DO WITH BLUE YARN!”

“Hey! I MARRIED A YANKEE COP!”

“Hey! RIDING THE BUS WITH MY APPLE!”

And we all lived happily ever after,

The End.