Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine to a Schlub

“I sound like such a schlub!” F said, upon reading Sundays in the Kitchen. “All I do is sit around and eat Cheez-Its while you buzz around the kitchen making all these great dishes.” I assured F that I had intended only to make fun of my own inability to relax on Sundays and in no way meant to imply that he was schlub-like.

“Oh, I know,” he said. “I’m glad you’re doing this blog. I just know your parents are reading it, and I hope they don’t think I’m lazy and terrible.”

I acknowledge that this is a valid concern for a new husband. Looking back through my posts, I realize that while I have not intentionally misrepresented F, I have not given him the credit he deserves in his support of my recent passion for cookingor what he calls my “new phase.” F often teases me about the fact that when I become interested in something, I devote most of my waking life to its practice instead of enjoying it as a hobby like a normal person. There have been many such “phases,” and I am certain that they cannot all be easy for F to endure.

F is my biggest champion. He reads my every blog post and even comments. He has always been entirely supportive of whatever new, life-changing obsession I have discovered. He was ready to drop everything and start a business with me when I decided to open a coffeeshop-bookstore in Hyde Park. (I later came to believe that since I have no money and we are in the midst of a recession, this plan is best shelved for now.) He bought a bike with me and even agreed to a 40-mile recreational ride with a group of middle-aged strangers when I became a bicycling enthusiast last summer. And he’s supportive now, as I’m becoming increasingly obsessed with cooking.

He encourages my venture into the culinary arts, but he does not share the interest. Which makes him all the more wonderful for reading my blog, trying new foods when he’d rather have pizza, listening to me babble about recipes, and holding the grocery basket when I take forever wandering down every aisle in the store. He even gave me Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking for Christmas.

He recently visited three grocery stores in a single afternoon in search of cardamom because I needed 1/8 of a teaspoon for a spice cake and he wanted my recipe to come out just right. He has made late-night runs for eggs and driven across town to find just the right size ramekin for a soufflé. And he does the dishes—even when I use all of our pots and pans to make a single meal. F is in no way a schlub.

He even puts up with my subtle attempts to interest him in cooking. Upon request, he mixes sauces and spice rubs and sometimes chops the garlic, and I have been gently insinuating for the last few months that he might like to take a cooking class with me. I have taken a few classes now at Kendall College, which are great in no small part because I get to wear a chef’s apron and paper hat in a huge, gleaming professional kitchen. I think that if F were appropriately garbed and surrounded by meat and knives, bubbling mixes and strange smells, he might just join me in what I’m quickly realizing is more than just a phase.

So on the pretense of Valentine’s Day, I signed us up for a pizza-making and wine-tasting class for couples at Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar in Roscoe Village and I didn’t tell him where we were going. F loves pizza and often bemoans the fact that we no longer order it every week as we once did (before I realized I had gained ten pounds). I thought the promise of pizza would be an understated and effective nudge in the direction of the culinary arts. Last night, as we walked into Frasca, F still had no idea what we were doing there.

The hostess led us to the back of the dining room where a row of rustic tables faced a wood-burning oven and a prop table with a bubble-gum pink standing mixer. We joined a few other early couples at the tables, which were set with wine glasses, informational sheets about the tasting wines, and the pizza recipe. F’s eyes lit up.

“Are we making pizza?” he asked.

“Yes, and tasting wine, too!” I said.

“Pizza and wine. I like this!” he exclaimed. I was relieved—and excited. I too love pizza. We can no longer order it once a week because I tend to eat most of it.

Our long table held a wide range of pupils. There were four other young couples, a mother and daughter, and an older couple in fancy dress who took photos as the chef/co-owner of Frasca introduced himself and explained the recipe step-by-step as he poured ingredients into the mixer. When he mentioned that Frasca’s distinctive crust is made with beer instead of water, I whispered to F, “If we make this at home, you can choose the beer.” The chef suggested a hoppy beer microbrew, and F scribbled hoppy beer microbrew on his recipe.

He continued to take notes on the temperature of the ingredients, where to get the right flour, the best way to grease the pizza pan, and the ratio between the quantity of yeast and the thickness of the crust. As though holding my breath at a deer's timid approach, I tried not to watch him make notes and nod in agreement with the chef. I pretended not to notice his intense joy in receiving a little plate with his own personal ball of dough and topping options. He smiled and chatted as he stretched the ball into a disc and carefully spread sauce over the top. He was deliberate in his pepperoni placement and liberal with his cheese. And when he handed his plate to the chef for baking, he said he couldn’t wait to eat the pizza he had made with his bare hands.

“This is great!” he said. “We should do this at home. We can have everyone over and give them each a dough ball and toppings and we can make our own pizzas for dinner.”

“Absolutely,” I replied.

“We should make pizza every month,” said F.

While our pizzas baked in the oven, we sipped our wine, comfortable and warm in our booth as the servers bustled around us with plates of pasta and desserts. When the hot, crusty, bubbling pizza was finally set down in front of him, F inhaled deeply and gave me a big smile—a smile shared by all of our dining companions. It’s amazing how pizza and wine can impart such a profound sense of well-being and unbridled joy. I was happier and cozier in our little booth next to my husband, with my pizza hot from the brick oven, sampling lovely wine, than I had been for weeks. I was totally, completely relaxed, and I thought nothing could make me happier than I was at that moment.

And then F gestured to the bubble-gum pink standing mixer on the table before us and said, “So, where can we get one of those?”

Frasca's Drunken Pizza Dough
1 cup beer
3/4 cup water
3 1/2 cup “oo” flour (King Arthur or better)
1 tsp salt
1 cup AP flour
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp yeast

Dough Preparation

1. Add first 4 ingredients to mixing bowl
2. Next add in flour, sugar, and yeast
3. On the lowest speed mix for about 1 minute and 30 seconds
4. Turn off mixer and allow the dough to rest for approximately 30 seconds
5. Mix at speed 2 for 45 seconds
6. Remove dough from mixing bowl, fold in sides 2 to 3 times to create a smooth other skin
7. Place newly formed dough ball into a greased mixing bowl for proofing
8. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm (85-100 degree area) with a damp towel over the bowl
9. Check dough after 1 ½ hours. Dough should dimple but not stick
10. Portion dough into 6-oz balls
11. Place dough balls into refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours and cover until ready to use.

Cooking Directions
1. Preheat oven to highest setting with pizza stone in the oven
2. Slide pizza onto stone and cook until crust is golden and cheese is melted
3. Cut, eat, and enjoy!


  1. I take it all back, this F person is pretty cool.

  2. 'dorable. Ah, man. I want pizza now. And maybe a husband.

  3. oh, the bubble-gum pink stand mixer. that is the dream.

  4. Just wanted to tell you I love, love, love your blog name! Its fantastic. I have been to Chicago once but would love to visit again sometime soon.

  5. Sounds like a sweet date! The cookbook "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza" by Peter Reinhart is supposed to be excellent for pizza recipes. I plan to buy it when I get home (I miss PROPER pizza!!!).

  6. I remember Japanese pizza! Why do they put corn on everything!?