Welcome to week two of the writing project I’m calling “Fatherhood at Fifty.” As I said last week, I have a strong vibration that I need to write and share my feelings and experiences as this amazing life gift unfolds for my wife Christiana and I. My goal is to post once a week. If the energy shifts my frequency may increase or decrease. I’ll try to let the ideas and emotions flow organically and see what we create.
It’s week 11 of our pregnancy. So far we’ve had no unusual cravings in the early stages. “I have a taste for chicken” or “I’m not in the mood for meat tonight” are the closest thing my wife Christiana has shown to needing any particular type of food. There have been no midnight runs for pickles and ice cream. I’ve prepared no bowls of pasta with maple syrup and mini- marshmallows. There has of course been plenty of what we now affectionately call Emergency pizza….Emergency pizza is that single slice that is always available to her to fill in the gap between meals.
Christiana and I both try to eat a diet that is limited in gluten and dairy, which makes traditional pizza public enemy number one: she is very appropriately living by a different set of rules for the next 30 weeks. I on the other hand do not have an organic reason for my bump to increase in size, so I usually still try to refrain from too many starchy carbs. Note that the word usually is stated with emphasis!
Last Monday night after my chiropractor appointment I had one mission in mind. I wanted to treat myself to my favorite pizza for my birthday, which happened to be the following day. On the very special occasion of announcing our pregnancy to the world over the weekend and my birthday in combination, I figured it was the perfect day to bend the rules.
My plan was perfectly crafted. I had a rare night off with nothing on the agenda. No Toastmasters meeting. No coaching sessions. No social plans with friends or family. No task list to attend to. Just me and myself and the perfect 16″ pie after my massage and chiropractor appointment. The best part of the whole plan was that my favorite pizza joint – ORD Pizza – is on Montrose Avenue just blocks from my chiropractor. I could order and pick up my perfect pie on the way home and be nestled into my happy place by 7:00 pm with a glass of wine and some chill music.
I got off the brown line train at Montrose and walked anxiously to the East, getting ready to stop at ORD and place my order for pickup after my appointment. I could already feel the perfectly crisp crust in my mouth. I could already taste the sweet, salty and spicy NY style sauce on my tongue. I imaginarily savored the Italian herb chicken and spinach and special cheese blend as if I was already eating it in the moment. As I got closer to the entryway, I noticed it was unusually dark inside. When I arrived at the door I saw a sign taped to the window. The horror started to set in…
I stood in front of the dark ORD pizza and read the saddest words I ever could have read:
“ORD will be closed today for special circumstances. We look forward to serving you in the future. Sorry for any inconvenience.”
Sorry for any inconvenience!!! I had planned my entire life of 53 years around eating this particular pizza on this very special day. I was dismayed. I was confused. I was broken in the worst possible pizza needing way. I went to my appointment and pondered all the lesser possibilities for dinner.
As I benefitted from the talented hands of my healing practitioners, I slowly began to realize that the world was not likely to end if I didn’t have ORD pizza tonight. I considered the option of ordering from Jimmy’s in Lincoln square, my second favorite pizzeria. The only problem was that they did not offer Italian herb chicken as an ingredient. I considered eating the leftover fajitas I had in the fridge. Not a bad choice, but certainly not the choice I was longing for on this night. Then I suddenly remembered how I used to make pizza at home so often in the past.
I started to wonder how long it had been since made a homemade pizza? The Kitchenaid mixer was still in the storage locker since we had moved to our new place over three years ago. I hadn’t bought a packet of yeast in I don’t know how long. I concluded that it must have been at least three years since I had made a pizza from scratch. Never afraid of a culinary challenge, I decided I would make Baby Herbert their first homemade pizza!
I didn’t just want this chicken and spinach and sausage pizza that I was about to undertake. I NEEDED this pizza. It was official. I was having my very first insatiable Daddy craving! Without any further hesitation I was off to Tony’s Fresh Market!
Interestingly, Jimmy’s Pizza Cafe is directly across the street from the Tony’s Fresh Market in our neighborhood. When I got off the #11 Lincoln Avenue bus and started to head to Tony’s I had that classic second thought moment….
“I probably will spend just as much on ingredients as I will on a large pizza and it will take me a lot longer until I’m eating if I do it from scratch instead of just….”
NO! I stopped myself mid-thought and remembered this was going to be the first ever homemade pizza for Baby Herbert AND that I wanted herb chicken on my pizza AND that it would be worth the expense and the effort. I walked into Tony’s and began to fill my basket.
Organic free range chicken breasts; sweet Italian turkey sausage; crushed San Marzano tomatoes; good quality part skim mozzarella; aged asiago; fresh organic spinach; King Arthur brand specialty bread flour; a bottle of decent red wine; sliced at the deli pepperoni; mozzarella di bufala; fresh basil; onions and garlic and many other odds and ends later I arrived at the checkout to purchase the ingredients to make the most amazing homemade pizza.
“$67.43. Oh my…This better turn out good!”
When I arrived at home I fired up the charcoal grill and poured myself that glass of wine that I was going to enjoy when I sat down to eat the pizza I would have otherwise bought. As it turned out, I would have time for a few glasses of wine over the next several hours.
I made the dough and kneaded it to smooth before letting it it double in size over the next hour. I slow roasted the Italian sausage in the oven, just the way the old Italian ladies from the market in Little Italy taught me dozens of years ago. I made the sauce and let it simmer with the whole onion cut in half so it flavored the sauce without becoming a part of it. I seasoned the chicken breast with oregano, basil, olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper before grilling it to juicy perfection. I grated the cheeses and blended them together. When all the components were ready I rolled out the dough and started assembling the pies.
Now you may note that I just said pies, as in plural. If you know anything about making pizza dough, then you know that in order to get a good dough consistency you have to make a large enough batch. In the past I would often save half the dough for a later day, but this time around I was going all in. I was going to make my favorite pizza AND Christiana’s favorite pizza on the same night. The only question that now remained was whether or not I would finish these pies before Christiana got home from work around midnight.
Picture a scene from the Food TV network show called Iron Chef where individuals compete to complete a meal with a time limit . By the time I was done assembling the pizzas, I had flour on every flat surface of the kitchen and many parts of my body. Various cooking utensils and other random items had hit the floor. Dishes and pans were strewn from end to end of our various counters. I even dropped and entire box of 1000 toothpicks into the sausage roasting pan and all over the range. Some would argue that I would have been better off to make that stop at Jimmy’s on the way home instead of going to all this trouble. More than a few times I pondered that same question myself!
In the end I wound up having the most amazing night. Yes, both I and the kitchen got a bit messy. Yes, By the time I finally ate at 11:00 pm I was light headed from hunger, and perhaps a few too many glasses of wine? Yes, it may have cost twice as much as if I bought the pizzas. Yes, my crust was a little too thick for my preference. None of those things mattered.
Over the years people have always asked me why I love cooking so much. I have many answers. I find cooking relaxing. I love the art of cooking and being able to create something special from a collection of ingredients. I love to eat well and I love pairing food and wine. Mostly I enjoy cooking because it provides a platform for me to nurture the ones I love by giving them a piece of myself in the form of home prepared food. In short, Food is one of my Love Languages….
I’ve had so much fun and spread so much love in cooking for family members and friends over the years. Until last week’s homemade pizza night, I had never even considered how much love one might have to give in cooking for their own child. I may have thought that my first ever Daddy craving was driven by the idea of eating pizza with chicken and spinach. In reality it was created by my insatiable desire to share my love through food.
By midnight Christiana had made it home from work. I had cleaned up pretty well, but some of the evidence of the chaos still remained. I reheated a few pieces of her pepperoni, green pepper and mushroom pizza, put them on a plate and then put myself to bed with the knowing that a new generation of Herberts was about to get their first taste of Daddy’s love via food. Tomorrow I would wake up and it would be my birthday. I had already received the greatest gift I have ever known…