"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: NYTimes

the worst and the best . . .

DSC_0197I’ve begun to notice how impressionable I am in the moods that come over me as I begin my day. For instance, I often look forward to reading the “Food” section of the NYTimes on Wednesdays and the “Home” section on Thursday mornings while eating my breakfast.

“the worst”: This morning, I read a very long article about a woman who wanted to open a Yaddo-like cultural retreat at her beautiful stone dwelling in North Stamford, CT. The trouble is, the writer of the article, Penelope Green, was so disdainful of her subject and her topic that her descriptions were sarcastic and demeaning throughout the piece. I had a rare reaction, one almost of disgust at the lack of objectivity and writing integrity that I have come to expect from this newspaper which is my daily bread. There was such a heavy, dispiriting tone throughout the entire spread that I wrote to PG as well as to the NYTimes Editorial comment section asking why they would think we readers might be enlightened by such presumptuous writing.

In a bad mood, I cast about for a way to start my real day of wanting to make some progress here at home and was reminded of a cookery book soon to be published this Fall in October by Mimi Thorissen. I looked up her blog to catch up on what was going on and was surprised to learn she had recently given birth to a daughter named Audrey and also had found a new/old house of her dreams which they would move into and also turn into a small bistro restaurant which she had always wanted to run.

“the best”: Her blog, Manger, is filled with incredibly sumptuous photographs of cooking, house and home, her children and the countryside. What a welcome antidote to the poison of the cynical and smug Penelope Green article earlier in the day!

So, there you have it in two extremes: the very worst in human nature, making fun of someone who’s naive intentions are held up as the ultimate in pretentiousness and across the world, someone who is so beautiful (even post-partum) and creative (e.g., stuffing potatoes with beef and tying them back together with string!) whose passions inspire us to reach for what’s best in ourselves rather than settling for the worst.

Which will it be?


homemade pizza . . .

homemade mushroom pizza . . .

homemade mushroom pizza . . .

For the past few years, I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making home-made pizzas. When we had a winter rental more than two years ago in Rockport, MA., I ordered Jim Lahey’s book on making pizzas along with a pizza stone but never got around to following up. We are still looking for that pizza stone downstairs somewhere, but I ordered a second one which arrived last night. (If the first one turns up, I’ll give it to C.) My interest to make homemade pizza was piqued once again last week when a full page article by Sam Sifton appeared in the  NYTimes food section. In the online article, there was a video that showed a Brooklyn pizza maker handling the dough (gently,) putting on tomato sauce (sparingly) that was made just from canned tomatoes, not a prepared salty-full-of-additives-and-preservatives-jarred-pizza sauce; and thin slabs of fresh mozzarella cheese. Fresh basil leaves were placed on top of the baked pizza after it came out of the oven.

an online margherita pizza photo

an online margherita pizza photo

Simple tomato/cheese pizzas (Margherita) are my favorite kind of pizza, I think–just very simple and clean, chewy but not heavy. So this morning, I followed the NYTimes recipe for pizza dough that combines Italian pizza flour (00) and regular flour with yeast, water, salt and olive oil. Jim Lahey just uses all-purpose flour.

The key to making tender pizza dough is the same instruction for making tender scones, rolls or bread: handle gently and as little as possible. When you push out the dough, or let it stretch to make the pizza later on, you’re supposed to handle it “like a baby.” Gently does it. A very little bit of tomato sauce is added, then fresh cheese. Flour the surface that you make the pizza on so you can transfer it easily onto a wooden or bamboo peel (a flat surface with a long handle.)DSCN6364

fresh basil and pizza dough

fresh basil and pizza dough

In the meantime, a pizza stone is gradually heating up in an oven turned up from an initial heat of 350 degrees to 400 and then finally to 500 degrees. Open the oven, stand back and slide the pizza from the peel to the heated stone. Some recipes say to turn off the oven and turn on the broiler on high to “broil” the pizza (Lahey) if you have an electric stove. Sam Sifton in the NYTimes article says to just let it bake at 500 degrees for five to eight minutes, watching it carefully. When the pizza is baked, use the peel to remove it from the stone and onto a board where you can add fresh basil leaves and cut it into serving pieces.

DSCN6366I guess it seemed daunting to make pizzas from scratch because of the equipment required: having to bake it on a pizza stone so that the crust would be light and crispy; transferring it with the use of a large peel, etc. etc. In fact, dear reader, the stone was about $15 and the bamboo peel cost about $12 on with free shipping (I have Amazon Prime.) Oh, and I ordered the special Italian pizza flour (00) last week online too. These three ingredients/tools are what I have been waiting for to make pizzas that will hopefully taste like those $18-$22 babies in specialty pizza restaurants (of which there are NONE in the working-class town that I live in–but I have been treated to them in Minneapolis when I visit family there.)

When it came time to assemble the pizzas, I was surprised (chagrined) to find the plastic wrap sticking to the dough. I had to peel it off and knead the dough a little with some extra flour. Then, the hardest part was getting the “baby” yeast dough to thin out and stay stretched out rather than shrinking back again as soon as you let go of it. So, I ended up with a pizza about ten inches in diameter, not twelve. I added a little tomato sauce made from pureeing San Marzano tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in the Vitamix. There’s plenty of this tomato “sauce” to use later in the week on cappellini pasta with shrimp or to decorate another round of eggplant parmigiana.

The pizza on the stone in a 500 degree oven didn’t bake as fast as the experts said it would. After fifteen minutes, I turned off the oven and turned on the broiler to finish cooking the mushrooms and cheese on top of the pizza. Meanwhile, there were crumbs, flour and basil leaves decorating the front of my clothes and all over the kitchen floor. By the time G. returned home, I was more than a little cranky, mollified later only by the clean taste of the pizza once we got it off the stone and onto a board. Half a glass of ice-cold Miller Lite beer helped a little too. Was it worth it?

Sort of, I would respond, knowing that there’s another pizza dough resting in the fridge for a second trial run at this sometime later this week!

a slice of mushroom pizza . . .

a slice of mushroom pizza . . .

go gently . . .

1c4c5300a937da6d62bfa45828a8a475Yesterday, as I was waiting to hear whether G.’s 95-year old mother would be well enough to go home, I picked up the Sunday NYTimes and read this article about being gentle. We Americans so want things to be under our control: things that happen to us as a result of other people’s actions or non-actions. We want to control or at least influence the outcome of matters which are also outside of our control. Old Asian attitudes counsel us instead to meditate and to become aware of our energy, especially how we use it in ways that help us rather than hurt us.

In this article, it was interesting to notice how the husband made things better by going with the flow: building by hand the coffin for her mother when she died and then building one for his own when his mother passed away. He was more philosophical than I could be about his eldest daughter getting pregnant and having a child out of wedlock. But even more accepting when she became pregnant again! Now, they have two young children in their care at home. While reading about these lives, I was thinking to myself how he seems to be able to distinguish what he could do something about, and what he couldn’t, thereby making the best of events outside of his control. A very wise man. In contrast, I often allow myself to be saddened or frustrated by things that happen that are outside my control.

Then, there’s an opposite view voiced by a Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas who railed against the onset of old age and, of course, dying. His poem is entitled, “Do Not Go Gently Into This Good Night.” Here it is:

Do not go gentle into that good night,Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Instead of “rage, rage, raging against the dying of the light,” I’m going to enjoy the light, whatever it happens to be. And to go gently, wherever I may.

special . . .

David McCollough Jr. got into some hot water when people misunderstood his commencement speech at Wellesley High School a few weeks ago when he told the graduates that they weren’t “special.” What an uproar ensued! It was even featured a couple of times on the national evening news. Humph! How could anyone tell graduates that they’re not special? Well, because the second part of his message was: “because everyone is.” He went on to encourage the young to do things for their own sake, rather than for the glory of it. “Nice work if you can get it,” as the song goes.

I also read a piece in the NYTimes Magazine yesterday in which someone said, “everyone has had a bad boyfriend,” “everyone has fantasized about a different life than the one they’ve led” and I realized then and there that we aren’t special about the bad things that happen to us either. In fact, Isabel Gillies’s memoir about her husband leaving her for a colleague who was more his style is called, “Happens All the Time.” [Later, Gillies married a second husband who shared her values and was apparently more her style.]

So, we’re not special in being good because everyone is special in their unique way. And we’re also not special in the bad things that happen to us or in the stupid ways that we sometimes fool ourselves. Isn’t it a relief, actually? To drop the notion that somehow we’re singled out either for trying too hard or by not trying hard enough? Why not stop trying and just DO, as Yoda was famous for saying? Or even better, just BE?

The one caveat McCollough encouraged the young to be was to become readers and to keep on reading. Because that is where you learn. I’ll buy that.