So it’s been over a year since I last updated here. A year!
But I figure now is the time to carry on. I always have the habit of announcing I’m back and that I intend to regularly post and we all know how those promises go. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that life gets in the way. And boy howdy did life get in the way in 2020-1!
Given that we were in lockdown, I didn’t have anywhere physical to go for the first half of that time period. But mentally, the latter half of 2020 was a complete nightmare as in the UK we experienced a whiplash as we were brought out of lockdown, then put back into lockdown, and told that we’d all be able to go home for Christmas and then had that promptly pulled from under our feet.
That was a blow for me. It may seem strange for a Jew such as me to admit, but given that Christmas is a time when everything shuts down in the UK and we’re all on holiday, it is and always has been the time I go to see friends and family. And instead I was forced to have a shitty Christmas day video call which is in no way any substitute for being in person. We tried to make the best of it, but no-one was under the illusion it was anything but shit.
I leave the question of “was the lockdown worth it?” to future historians as I am a software developer and also not really inclined to return to the days of my whiny student blog where I made long political posts raging against the machine, but one thing it did do was mess my head up. In 2020 I was in a hole mentally, and a lot of 2021 was spent digging myself out. But now we near the end of 2021, all things considered, it was a far better year than 2020.
Lockdown-mania seems to have left the UK, and I was able to do a flying visit to my family in September. The biggest thing for me though, was I decided to embark on a quest: to make my own pizza. Those who know me personally (and those who follow me on Twitter) will know that I’m a MASSIVE pizza fan, and at the start of 2021 I was determined to become good at making pizza. As much as I love delivery pizza, in Edinburgh it’s around £14 a shout, and while some of it is good I did some calculations and worked out that if I get one delivery pizza a week, I’m spending £728pa on pizza!
Indeed, I figure I actually spent more than that in 2020. I suppose I should be happy that I helped the pizza industry continue through the worst financial situation in about 10 years, but on the other hand the Western European pizza industry was worth $49.3 billion in 2020 so I don’t think it needed the help. So with the idea of achieving pizza independence in my head, I set out on my quest.
Firstly, I needed to get myself a pizza peel:
and then a pizza steel:
As it turns out, the steel is vital. Most pizza aficionados who end up making bad pizza do it because the average oven uses grills that don’t carry much heat with them, so you end up with a bready/soggy bottom. The steel, however, after about an hour’s heating provides an even thermal surface for the pizza to cook on, and so gives a far superior result. At least, that’s what I learned from the Youtube videos I binged.
So, peel and steel in hand, I made my first pizza and well… it didn’t turn out as I expected. I got flour everywhere in the kitchen, I made the mistake of not proofing it for long enough, and I ended up with a giant amorphous blob with some mozzerella and tomato (no, I tell a lie… pasta!) sauce on top.
The crust sucked, the cheese was badly done, and the pasta sauce I used in lieu of an actual genuine tomato sauce made the whole thing taste terrible. But, I persevered. I watched a lot of Youtube videos about the best pizza shops in NYC and watched how they did things. A few bready disasters later, I managed to improve and got this:
Again, quite bad, but the shape is right and the cheese is improving. Some more Youtube videos later, and lots of practicing hand patting motions and I managed to get my first semi-decent NYC-style pizza. It wasn’t great, I still had some work to do to improve, but when I bit into it I had something very similar to the taste I was looking for.
And so, every single week, I now make my dough on the Monday or Tuesday (having also vastly improved my recipe to a semolina/00/bread flour hybrid) and now most Fridays I end up with pizzas that look something like this:
It’s become a ritual for me, and it’s probably been one of the best things I’ve done this year. I’m now at the point where if I was served one of my pizzas in a restaurant in Edinburgh, I would actually enjoy it and make a mental note to come back for more. I reached pizza independence (although I still patronize brilliant local pizzerias such as my favorite, Civerinos) but I also showed myself that if I want to do something, and I really set my mind to it, it’s possible.
From a horrible, doughy, bready crust to my very own rendition of the classic New York-style pizza that I had several years ago, it’s been a journey. And as I started making pizza and growing in skill, the small boost in confidence my culinary journey took me on caused me to change jobs this year (from DevOps to Data Engineer!) and start looking at other changes in my life.
So the moral of the story is: if you’re ever in a hole and need to dig your way out, you can do worse than starting to learn to make pizza. You’ll improve, you’ll have fun, it’ll be tasty and weirdly it can help improve other areas of your life as well…
For those of you puzzled by the blog title, the catchphrase “Pizza pizza” is the calling card of the American pizza chain Little Caesar’s. It’s never had much of a presence in the UK, but if you’re a big pizza fan like me (or just American) then you’ll be very familiar with it. It’s kinda like Domino’s but cheaper with the lowest price going at $5. A favorite of broke college students… or just if you want cheap pizza.
As you can see, the Little Caesar’s mascot says “Pizza pizza” a lot.