June 09, 2003
Bloodied, Not Bowed
Ok, so my apron and dishcloth was actually stained with the juice of canned tomatoes, but I got through my pizza class with my pride barely intact. Even Jen, who's no novice in the kitchen, felt a bit of pressure during the five-hour class, so I don't feel so bad. I'm rarin' to try again, in the comfort and anonymity of home.
There were different levels of experience in the class. I was probably the only true newbie. While I was still working on my first dough (thin crust), it seemed that everybody else had finished both types of dough (thin and thick) and were happily working away on their toppings, sauteeing portabello mushrooms and onions, slicing and crumbling pancetta, bacon, or anchovies, roasting peppers, grating parmesan, mozzarella or smushing strategic bits of feta. It didn't exactly boost my morale to be at the same work station as Tom&Meghan, a super-nice couple who were these creative, über-gourmands. They must've used up all their dough, they made so many varieties of pizza.
I know I'm not a stupid person, but my cooking skills are extremely rudimentary. I hardly know how to prep ingredients, let alone knead dough. My evening was full of tiny mortifications. For instance, in hunting around for salt and pepper, I managed to knock down a cup full of coffee stirrers. Good going, Lady C. My lowest moment came as I struggled to peel my rolled-out dough off of the 12" cardboard round (for sizing purposes) so that I could then top the dough and then slide the pizza into the oven.
I hadn't floured the round enough. The dough wouldn't come off, and it was like a piece of gum messily stuck to one's shoe. Just as all seemed hopeless, Jen insisted we take a break. So down to the street in our dirty aprons, Jen for a much-needed smoke, and me to take some deep breaths and vigorously brush away some unexpected tears of embarrassment and frustration. Honestly, the class was really, really good, and I've learned a lot. It was simply the pressure of being surrounded by more accomplished cooks. It's one thing to make a jolly old mess in the privacy of one's kitchen; it's another to muck things up in front of others. As Darcy says to Elizabeth, and I said to Jen, "We neither of us perform to strangers." (Yes, Jane Austen comes in handy in life!)
The bit of air did wonders for my resolve. Plus, I'd completely forgotten the instruction that if one's dough is resisting handling, let it sit for a few minutes, after which it becomes much more cooperative. So I was able to rescue my mangled dough and forge ahead with my margherita pizza (tomatoes, salt, pepper, mozzarella, olive oil, then basil after baking). I gave Jen the other half of my dough, and she made a roasted pepper and feta pie. We saved the rest of our doughs for the freezer - the thick crust pizza actually seems much easier to make, because you don't have to roll it out, just press it around to fill your pan and then top it, etc.
By then, there were plenty of good smells wafting around the kitchen. We traded tips (receiving more than giving, of course), sampled other people's pizzas (Note to self: must remember to try making carmelized onion & crumbled bacon, maybe with feta, on thick crust) and drank scads of red and white wine, which had been uncorked in our absence. Yes, wine and music and the understanding company of good friends should do much to ease the pressure of cooking. Jen remarked that the best part of the evening was the elevator ride afterwards, where we shared an easy camaraderie with our classmates and ran into people who were getting out of theSouthern Cooking or Birthday Parties classes.
Ultimately, my evening was a good experience, and a fantastic birthday present. (Thanks again, Jen!) And a bruised ego is nothing next to making some really good pizza! Of course, Scott and I have yet to try my handiwork, but perhaps tonight.