Protected: Pizza for Twenty

Sunday is the staff's day off at BMC, which means that meals are as you find them. Soon after arriving, I helped make hamburgers for the grill & got to work in the kitchen, which I liked a lot. I like kitchens & BMC's is an old-fashioned, but large working space, so I volunteered to make a Sunday dinner. At first I thought I might to Vietnamese spring rolls, but managing ingredients & the amount of labor was just too daunting, so I settled on making individual pizzas. I got a volunteer to make a big salad. Yesterday was the day. I went down to the kitchen about 2:00, planning to have everything ready to eat at 6:30, the usual dinner hour. Cut red onions, smashed olives, minced garlic, used the food processor to grate mozzarella & put everything in bowls for later. Then I made a simple pizza sauce with onions, red wine, spices, & tomato sauce. While I was doing this one of my fellow residents who does not eat garlic or dairy products came through the kitchen & I mentioned that I was leaving the garlic out of the sauce & would make her a pizza sans garlic. "Oh, all that sauce has garlic in it anyway," she said. So, since she wasn't going to eat it, I dropped the garlic into the sauce since that would save a step during construction. (I had already planned to make four or five pizzas without cheese since I know there are some people here who don't eat dairy.) After the prep work, I made a big bowl of dough (10 cups of flour), then went & took a nap while it rose. When I came back down around 4:30 the dough was ready to be punched down, so I began making individual balls of dough, let them rest & began rolling them out & putting them on parchment-lined sheet pans. About this time, an emissary arrived from a group planning on going to the movies, who wanted to know if dinner could be served at 6:00 rather than 6:30. I said that would be all right, though some people might not get fed right at 6:00 because I could only bake 12 pizzas at a time -- I agreed to serve the movie-goers first & to shoot for six, though it would mean rushing a bit. My salad maker arrived & I began assembling the first 12 pies on the sheet pans, turned on the ovens, etc. About that time, the non-garlic eater returned & wondered aloud whether, maybe, the tomato sauce didn't have garlic in it & maybe she could eat it after all -- I said that, based on her earlier statement I'd gone ahead & put garlic in the pizza sauce, at which point she said she'd just defrost some tempeh. Well, all right, then. I was feeling very calm & together, having a great time, actually. At a quarter of six I put the first two trays of pizzas in the ovens, checking them every couple of minutes because I had never baked anything in them before. They were done at six & ready to come out. But when I reached in to pull the first sheet pan out, I discovered there was a small hole in the oven mitt I was using, right in the webbing between thumb & forefinger. When the hot metal touched my skin I pulled back instinctively & the try fell on the floor, three pizzas sliding off & going face down. It took me abnout five minutes to recover & get the other pizzas out & ready to serve, but I only had nine instead of the intended 12. Got those out the door when non-garlic girl came back & asked me if I could put a pot of water on to boil for her pasta, then she left to meditate! I had just gotten another 12 pizzas in the oven when one of my fellow-campers came in and said, "People are asking when the rest of the pizzas will be done." "In about 15 minutes," replied -- which would put them at exactly my original serving time of 6:30. When he left, my salad-maker, who had considered volunteering for next Sunday, looked at me & said, "No way I'm doing this next week." By the time non-garlic girl came back & began working at the stove & using the prep table I was working at, I was doing fine. Nothing could phase me & I put out another twenty pizzas in the next half hour. To great applause, I might add. Most of my fellow-campers were completely clueless about how such cooking works, but they were grateful & appreciative of the results. The above account is a little snarky, I realize, but it was a great joy to undertake the job & pull it off (almost) without a hitch. I should also add that the woman who does not eat garlic is perfectly sweet in other contexts, a talented artist, with many fine qualities. She, like many people, simply couldn't enter into what was going on around her except from her own solo perspective. That is, she really couldn't see what I was doing in any meaningful way. In the end, I got to go out & sit down to my own pizza & salad to great applause & approbation. I'd gotten a lot of praise after my poetry reading the night before, but I think I was more grateful for the response to my food. I know I can write a poem, but until I did it, I wasn't perfectly sure I could make pizza for 20 people. Rolling out the dough.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.