Pie From the Oven (with salad)

The first time I pulled this pizza from the oven, mid-bake, the gorgonzola had melted into bubbles and the puffed dough had turned a golden hue. The smell, sharp and pungent, wafted around my kitchen like some kind of olfactory nymph.

As I stared at the bubbling crust and inhaled the baked cheese I thought: if you could pull sex from the oven, this is what it would look and smell like.

So before I’d even finished baking the first pie, I knew I’d have to make another one and take pictures so you could see just what I’m talking about. I guess there’s a new phone that can kiss you, but what I want is a computer that transmits smell. A scratch and sniff computer. The smell, salty and aromatic, like heavy cream and like the blue cheese we used to dip our fries in at Bob’s Big Boy. And that was before the addition of the figs.

I always jump at the fleeting fig season. I adore the end of summer fruit, the tender purple skin of the turkey variety, the little seeds surrounded by the fleshy, stringy inside. After eating four baskets of them straight, I decided I needed to do something else with them. Pizza.

This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit. The call for two cups of cheese sounds over-indulgent, but I can see now that after it melted that I really should have used all two cups. But hey, you’re going to make this twice, right, so try a little bit of cheese and then the whole amount; tell me what you think. (Note: after round two, I say use the whole damn block. It looks like a ton, but oh! OH! And buy the best gorgonzola  you can afford–the bluer and stinkier, the better.)

You’ll have to restrain yourself in every step of this recipe: when you slice the figs, when you add the balslamic, when the pizza comes out in round one in a come hither way, and finally, when the whole pizza come out, figs steaming and the pie pulsing with fragrance. I suggest cracking a beer to buy your time to the cool down. It’s worth every second of the wait.

 

Pizza with Figs, Gorgonzola and Arugula

From Bon Appetite

  • Cornmeal (for sprinkling)
  • 1 1-pound package TJ’s pizza dough
  • 2 cups (generous) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 8 ounces)
  • 6 small fresh figs, cut into 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 cups arugula

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 450°F. Sprinkle large rimless baking sheet generously with cornmeal. Roll out dough on floured work surface to 12×10-inch rectangle; transfer to prepared sheet. Sprinkle Gorgonzola over dough. Sprinkle with pepper. Place figs in medium bowl; drizzle 1 tablespoon vinegar over. Set aside.
  • Bake pizza until crust is golden brown on bottom, 15 to 20 minutes. Arrange fig slices atop cheese. Bake until figs are just heated through, about 1 minute. Transfer pizza to cutting board. Whisk remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar and oil in large bowl; add arugula. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Mound salad atop pizza. Cut into pieces and serve.

Do It for Betty

Loot from Betty

The neighborhood cats and I set out at the same time for an evening prowl.

I didn’t want to go. In fact, I was half-way through a completely different blog post when I realized that I had to move my booty, lest it be glued to the sofa for the next 30 years. Begrudgingly, I traipsed outside.

The sun was giving way to gravity and a whiff of forest fire scented the air. I cruised up and down alleys, peered into gardens, admired leaning sunflowers, pompomed zinnias, the fact that even the best looking squashes had powdery mildew. I found another secret patch of wild blackberries and a plum tree. My old haunt called me, so I crossed Division Street and wandered over to my favorite gardens by my little house of yesteryear.

A man reshingled his garage while his trusty dog watched on. Two kittens–a grey and a black–crouched in the gutter, stalking the bugs of twilight. A garden sign announced: “In Bloom’s Color Winner” amidst explosions of hydrangeas and fuchsias.  Another house boasted royal purple dahlias big as a dinner plate.

I saw an older woman cross behind the house. “Your garden is beautiful,” I called out, pointing to the spiky blossoms.

Her name is Betty, and the little guy at her feet, Mr. Chips. His girlfriend lives next door and when he goes to visit her, all Betty sees is his “hiney wiggle under the fence.” She’s lived on the corner for twenty-nine years and she has friends who retired from Sedro Woolley High School and they’re traveling the world now, and she works to raise money for cancer awareness, and all the while, she’s piling these huge dahlias in my hands–a bouquet for your kitchen table, she’s saying–and her gold capped teeth are flashing and I can’t believe she’s not exhausted after weeding all day in the sun. “Someone must have taken the big yellow guy,” she ponders out loud, “But that’s okay, so long as it’s bringing a smile to someone’s face. I garden for the neighborhood, and no one thinks twice about seeing folks in my yard. You bring your scissors by next week and get some asters,” and next thing I know there are two yellow zucchini, long as my forearm, piled in my open hand.

I walked home with a grin on my face and produce in my arms. I stopped to pet the kittens and watched the last glow of light leave the sky. Yes, I did walk through a few gossamer spider webs, and no, I did not get my heart rate up high enough to make up for the pile of brownies I had eaten earlier in the day.

But the next time I lack any motivation, say…tomorrow, I’m going to conjure Betty’s gold-toothed smile. And I’m going to put on my exercise clothes and head outside. Because you never know what awaits.

Settle In

Room With a View

We’re losing light up here fast, by almost three minutes a day. These final weeks of summer–brilliantly cloud-free summer–are pulling out all the stops to make up for its tardiness.

Soon, it will be dark by 5 p.m. Then 4:15. Mornings, I’ll watch the sun rise over the Cascades on my way to work. A few weeks later, headlights and coffee alone will signal morning. The geese sailing overhead are a harbinger of routines, rain and all.

Years ago, Erin (beloved teaching partner/running mate) and I developed mantras to get our asses up the hill behind Valhalla High School. It was glorious to run down the hill, then out into the brushland and scrub. But the way back–oh, the way back. A Goliath of a hill. I knew to put my head down and not look to the top of the hill. But the burning in my lungs and legs unnerved me. Then it dawned on me: that’s exactly where I was–running up hill, out of breath, about to die, blood pumping, pumping, pumping. And the feeling wasn’t going away unless I simply gave up on the running. My mantra was born: Settle in. I remember that moment of discovery: the hill did not shrink nor did my legs find some new source of power, but my mind did. For many agonizing blocks and minutes, I ran with my pain, not beside it.

And contrary to my belief in those moments, I did not die.

Erin soon found her own mantra: Easy. (As in eeeeaaaassssyyyyy. And there’s a hand gesture too, like a pushing down of the air with both hands.)

So we charged up hills, mantra in mind.

Years and continents and states later, Settle in has not left me. I summoned the saying while in India, riding the bus back to Kolkata in the sticky, swampy heat only India can manufacture. A herd of uniformed school girls sang songs in Hindi at the top of their lungs and the bus paused, then sat, then turned off its engine in the middle of a traffic jam. It had been a long day. Men in kurtai’s with scraggly beards peered into our parked bus. Despite the green light, not a single car moved across the intersection. The smell of too many pre-pubescent girls on one bus wafted down the aisle. Sweat beaded under my salwar kameez. The other white girl on our school expedition consulted her watch: “We’ve been sitting here for 27 minutes” she said. The bus windows only cracked open halfway. The nun on the bus wouldn’t let us open the door or let us out in the middle of the city. Undoubtedly, in an ironic twist of fate, I found myself in Dante’s Inferno while volunteering at a religious school. The girl in front of me kept checking her watch. And I thought about running the hill behind Valhalla–I decided to settle in. It was perhaps the second time in my life where I didn’t let the overwhelming nature of the situation consume me–where I found a bit of zen–nah, “zen” is too nirvana sounding, and believe me, there is not an ounce of nirvana to be found when 49 adolescent girls, rife with body odor squeal a rendition of Britany Spears at the top of their lungs for twenty minutes in stopped traffic. No, decidedly not zen. Peace? Acceptance? Yes, I found acceptance  with my surroundings.

So, up here in the PNW, I am getting ready to settle in. I am squeeing at the prospect of the rain forcing me inside to read a book, to graph out the raised garden beds, of researching and interviewing for the new book idea I’m so fired up about. I can’t wait to drive towards the sunrise. Can’t imagine how simple life might be: no moving! no monumental life-event to plan! no commuting via plane to see my honey! no world trip to plan! no world trip to pay off! For the first time in perhaps four years, I am ready to settle into serious routine.

Alley Berry Breakfast

But first, with what may be the final glory days of summer, I must pick the ripe blackberries down the alley and paint the garage.

Respirators always help while settling in--(before)

Remind me, will ya, when I start bitching (around the second coat) to settle in.