Friday, June 25, 2010

In Full Flour

To make pizza at home requires some equipment that you won’t otherwise have much call for. (Not that I have much call for madeleines and I’ve got a pan for those, and a cast iron one that makes little corn breads in little corn cob shapes; it weighs a ton as one of my less fortunate toes can attest – but I wouldn’t be without either of them.) So if you are thinking about making pizza think about getting a peel and a baking stone.

Then there is the question of heat. The classic wood fired pizza oven reaches temperatures the domestic oven only dreams of in a rage. I read recently that some people use the self-cleaning setting to bake pizzas at home. The whole idea of “self-cleaning” is as ludicrous to me as scrubbing bubbles and age defying creams, I mean, don’t you just wish inanimate objects had such good intentions? Yes, I mean you, roll of tape with no apparent beginning. Anyway, I say 550◦ is plenty hot.

Great pizza starts from the bottom up and the night before (true of so many things, no?) though I began the pizza pictured here at 7:30 in the a.m. I am told that really good pizza dough rests over night in the fridge. This was pretty darn good, which I attribute to the flour, Antimo Caputo tipo 00. My friend Elizabeth says it is available in Little Italy, but I ordered it from Forno Bravo.

My previous attempts at pizza have been stymied by the dough’s elasticity. I’d shape it, turn my back to gather my toppings and discover my circle of dough had gathered itself back into ball with a yeasty harrumph.

I let this dough rise in the fridge about nine hours, then divided it and let it come to room temperature for about an hour and a half before shaping it. Here’s where I need to improve my technique. My pizzas were thin in the middle almost to the point of tearing, but still too thick at the edges. I’ve since watched a couple of You Tube videos and will take up the dough again shortly. As soon as those bubbles have tidied up the kitchen . . .

Me, Impressed
Last October I had a delightfully spooky experience. I got to swim lengths in Johnny Weismuller’s favourite pool in his hometown, Chicago. The present day Intercontinental Hotel embraces an earlier hotel built in 1929 which included the pool at the then dazzling elevation of 13 storeys. Salad or fries? How many times have you watched someone virtuously choose salad and then not eat it? Hotel pools are like that. That’s why I love them.

Entering this Art Deco playground is like walking into an amphitheatre made of Spanish tiles instead of marble. At one side of the pool is a ceramic fountain filled with ferns. The other side is raked and fitted with tables and chairs so the audience can watch swimmers while getting watered. Except no one is there. Send in the Sandra.

I kept thinking of that setting as I made my way through Me, Cheeta the autobiography of Tarzan’s best friend. Yes, I said autobiography. The story is told by the chimp to complex effect. Scientists tell us that the act of observation influences the outcome of experiments, but this Hollywood insider has the animal advantage of in no way inhibiting the behaviour of those he observes. His misunderstandings of human motivation are funny and poignant by turns. Or does he misunderstand?

Cheeta sees human hierarchies as paralleling that of the chimp pack, hard to argue with; and always refers to Jane Goodall as attractive. Cheeta dislikes Chaplin, Rex Harrison, and Maureen O’Sullivan. He views himself as ground breaking comic actor, deserving of the Academy’s first Oscar for Best Animal in a Comic Role – one of the most powerful parts of the book is his imagined acceptance speech. The heartbeat of the book is Cheeta’s love for Tarzan/Weismuller. That you believe in with aching certainty.

I wish I had time to read this book again and eventually I will in the vain hope of puzzling out just how he did it.

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