Gifts That Matter

Gifts That MatterThis time of year when we’re all a bit stressed over the holiday shopping it might be worthwhile to consider some alternatives to the standard “shop ’til you drop” thing. For example, Gifts That Matter, run by CHF (which calls itself “formerly the Canadian Hunger Foundation” and is one of Canada’s longest standing non-governmental organizations) uses your donations to buy life sustaining “gifts” for people in developing countries around the world.

For example, for $50 you can buy a pair of goats for an impoverished family in Bangladesh. Feeling a bit more generous? $100 buys the gear required to provide a rural Vietnamese family with a source of clean water. For $500 (less than the price of that crappy ACER laptop you’re considering) you can buy a whole camel for a family in Ethiopia.

The idea is that you buy one of these gifts for someone in a developing country, and Gifts That Matter sends a greeting card (in a style you choose on their Web site) to someone on your Christmas list. That way, a family who really needs it gets something, and your Aunt Mabel doesn’t have to clear space for another box of doilies.

Although I couldn’t find anything about it on the Web site, as far as I know your gifts are tax deductible. So? What are you waiting for?

Redemption

Wait! Don’t take me out of your RSS feeds just because of last weekend’s pizza FAIL. I had two small balls of dough left over, so tonight I redeemed myself by making two small but beautiful pizzas.

This time I let the dough rest out of the fridge all day long. (I had no choice, as both Martine and I were out of the house all day). It worked perfectly; the dough was soft and elastic in only one direction — as in, it didn’t insist on springing back from every stretch.

I fired up the oven and after about an hour of pre-heating, assembled the first pie. It was a re-make of Saturday night’s prosciutto and arugula pizza (with simple tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, of course). It was pretty small (about 10 inches), but significantly thinner than Saturday night’s version . In other words, it was the appropriate size for the amount of dough I was working with. As usual, I added the arugula and the sprinkle of Parmesan cheese after the pizza came out of the oven.

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The second pizza was composed of the usual simple sauce, some oregano, mozzarella cheese, and Moroccan black olives and white onions. (This is the only arrangement in which I like olives on a pizza, but that’s a whole other discussion.) Voilà!

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I’m back in the saddle again.

Pizza Night Partial FAIL

Those who may think that pizza night chez Blork comes off without a hitch should prepare themselves for disillusionment.

Saturday was not only pizza night, it was pizza night for four, as we were “entertaining” the nephews. I never know how much food to prepare for a 10- and 12-year old, and I’m always surprised at how little they eat (an observation that I choose to not take personally). So I figured I’d make the usual two 12-inch pies for Martine and I, and make two similar sized pies for the boys — with the expectation that there would be leftovers. (It’s better to have more than you need than less than you need.)

The first order of business was to feed the boys. Being 21st century children, they are naturally entitled to receive that which pleases them and to reject that which doesn’t. As such, there was no point in adding mushrooms, peppers, arugula, or a host of other things that I would consider normal pizza ingredients. Fortunately, that old standby, pepperoni, was acceptable (as was olives, but a pepperoni and olive pizza is just wrong). So I planned for two pepperoni and cheese pizzas for the boys (made one after the other, as I can only make one at a time), followed by a classic Margherita with mozzerela di bufala to be shared by Martine and I, followed by a prosciutto and arugula pie which we would also share.

The problems started with the dough, which I bought fresh from Chez Milano that afternoon. As you may be aware, it is winter, so the kitchen is not as warm as bread dough would like it to be. That means a long, slow rise. But kids eat earlier than we’re used to, so I had to try to stretch out the dough before it was ready.

Unready dough is highly elastic. Elastic in that when you stretch it out, it springs back. After fighting with the first piece of dough, I ended up with a nine-inch, fairly thick pie instead of the hoped-for 12-inch thinner one.

Whatever. I dressed it with my simple sauce*, a sprinkle of oregano, a nice layer of pepperoni, and a good pile of freshly grated mozzerela cheese. Into the 550 oven it went, onto the terra-cotta tiles that had been pre-heating for almost an hour.

OK, that one worked out. The dough rised up and was as puffy as can be, but in a nice way. It had a warm and moist interior, a lightly crispy crust, and just a hint of char (you can’t get a proper char from an electric oven).

While the boys were eating that one, I went to work on the second pie. It was slightly less springy, resulting in a 10-inch pie, which is a move in the right direction. I dressed it the same way, but something went awry because as I was shaking it off the peel and onto the tiles, it stuck to the peel (all it takes is one rogue drop of sauce). I gave it a big shake and it came off the peel but a big load of sauce and cheese spilled over the dough’s lip and onto the hot tiles. Whoops!

A few minutes later the pie was oddly shaped, but still looking good, and ready to come out. It looked a bit smoky in the oven, and when I opened the door a massive blue plume billowed out. The next few minutes involved a lot of running around opening windows, un-plugging smoke detectors, etc. Then, before I had even cut the pizza, the boys declared that they were no longer hungry, to which I made a very purposeful mental note to not take it personally.

Fine. It was time to make the Margherita. The dough stretched out to a puffy ten inches, which I covered with sauce and unevenfully put into the still rather smoky oven. Then I set about cutting up the mozzerela di buffala, which I’ve learned to put on part way through the process so as not to overcook it. Unfortunately, in my haste I neglected to drain it very well, so it had an unusually high level of moisture. I also cut enough off the ball for a 14 inch pizza.

When I opened the oven and dressed the partially cooked pie with the thick slabs of cheese I had an inkling that perhaps I was overdoing it. A few minutes later, when the crust was golden and the cheese beautifully melted, I slid the peel under the pie and jerked it out of the oven. That’s when I realized that the sauce and cheese had formed a deep liquidy soup, much of which, as a result of my quick tug, had slopped over the edge and onto the tiles.

Time to open those windows again. The pie wasn’t completely ruined, but it had been significantly downgraded. I tossed on a bunch of fresh basil while the smoke cleared and then spent a few minutes scraping the charred and gooey mess off of the tiles and the bottom of the oven.

In the meantime, while we ate, the boys were amusing themselves by playing web-based videogames on a couple of our laptops. However, they’ve been raised on Windows, and the laptops we had to offer were running Apple OS X and Linux. So, between clearing the smoke and trying to eat we were also running tech support, dealing with the barrage of “pourquoi this” and “comment that” questions.

Then it was time for the finale; the prosciutto and arugula pie. As I prepared the dough, everything was going well, and it was stretching out better than any of the previous three. Then my hand slipped and the dough collapsed onto the board in a sticky heap. Ow. By the time I untangled it, it was like a piece of swiss cheese.

In one last fit of determination, I managed to plug the holes and get something resembling a circle although it was an alarmingly uneven nine inches in diameter at best. On went the sauce, the cheese, and the prosciutto, and into the oven it went. No alarms, no sticking to the peel, no nothing.

A few minutes later it emerged, small, thick, but delicious looking. The boys, in the meantime, had figured out the laptops (one, I think, was hacking into the Pentagon, and the other was launching a rocket from China). As I tossed the arugula onto the steaming pizza, the phone rang. It was Martine’s friend calling from Australia.

I’m always happy to talk to the other side of the planet, by I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a conspiracy to phone chez nous exactly as I am delivering my pièce de resistance.

Regardless. One of Martine’s many skills is to eat pizza while talking to someone in Australia. She performed with aplomb, which is more than I can say for myself on this evening of bad pizza kharma.

* Blork’s simple pizza sauce: One 28oz can of San Marzano Italian tomatoes, drained for five minutes and then ground or blended. Three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. No pre-cooking required. This makes enough for about three 12-inch pizzas.