It is official, I cooked my first meal for my host family. I had a lot on the line with this meal. Before arriving, I’d let them know that I enjoy cooking. I do, in fact, enjoy working in the kitchen, yet no matter the language, that is always communicated as: “I cook really well.” I’m not really sure where this unfortunate misinterpretation of words originated, but it put much more at stake than I might have intended.
Per their request, I tried my hand at making a pizza. To anyone who knows my history of internet-based kitchen literature, it may come as a surprise to learn that the meal, went quite well. Paco paused between a slice of the ham and pepperoni pizza and a slice of the spinach and red pepper pie to suggest I make pizza next Saturday. Celia suggested that I teach each of them to make pizza some weekend soon. Celia’s mother, who was visiting for the day, repeatedly thanked me and repeatedly insisted that the meal was “rico.”
Yes, the baking went well, and this was not an insignificant accomplishment. It took no small amount of quick thinking and (I’ll admit) some ingenuity to navigate the gaps between the equipment called for in my dough recipe and the equipment in Paco and Celia’s kitchen. Whether it be kneading in place of a dough hook or closely monitoring the baking process in an oven without marked temperatures, the process was far more thought-intensive and as such, rewarding, than I expected. Call it a new branch of living simply: baking simply.
I’d cooked pizza once before, with fellow member of Trinity Presbyterian Church and former pizza shop manager, Steve Parsons. Steve taught me how to use premade dough and canned tomato sauce to make a delicious pizza. As it turns out, neither of those ingredients are readily available in Peru.
I am not so sure about the tomato sauce. Celia bought ketchup when I asked for “salsa de tomate,” so it very well may have been a communication error. Call that the first hiccup of many I overcame in this battle to bake well.
No matter, I just had to create my own pizza dough and sauce. I’d never made a dough before, but with a recipe, it couldn’t be that hard! I found a simple enough recipe online and provided a list of necessary ingredients to Celia.
She bought all the ingredients and everything looked in order (save the ketchup, but we’ll get to that later.)
So I started out Saturday morning. First the recipe called for 1 ½ cups of warm water and 2 ¼ teaspoons of yeast. I looked around and realized there were no measuring cups around. Uh-oh, I thought, this is a measurement heavy recipe.
I’ll take a moment here to point that I am pretty sure Celia and Paco do not have measuring cups by choice. They live in a large house and have many possessions. No, I think measuring cups are just less essential in the recipes of the family and therefore are far less likely to find themselves in the family budget. My point is, the difference seemed cultural, not economical.
Not looking to eyeball my way through the recipe looked for anything with a clearly marked measurement. Soon I found a set of plastic cups labeled at 3 oz. A quick google using Celia’s phone, showed me that 3 oz. was .375 cups.
I grabbed a coffee mug and set to testing how much it held using water from the sink. The answer, 1.5 cups, just the amount of water I needed. So I poured a coffee mugs worth of recently boiled water into a cold bowl and used a smaller spoon to put the yeast into the water.
Moving onto the mixture of flour, salt, and sugar, I grew dismayed that the yeast did not seem to be bubbling in the water. Perhaps, there was too little?
I looked up the amount of teaspoons in 3 oz., which turned out to be 18 and found that six spoonfuls of water filled just a sixth of the cup. So I doubled the yeast and found that after some stirring, the mixture started to bubble gloriously.
Satisfied, I made sure to double all other amounts of salt and sugar in the dough recipe and kneaded the dough together by hand. Wrapping it up in a plastic bag, I placed the dough on the sill to rise.
All seemed in order, so I moved to making the sauce. I found three week-old tomatoes in the fridge and chopped them up and dropped them in the blender. I secured the top to prevent a messy, red catastrophe and pressed “Pulse.” And nothing happened. Later, Celia explained that the blender no longer worked, but in the moment I spent five minutes investigating until I discovered that the blender did not actually have blades.
So I moved on to the food processor. Having not used one before, I resigned myself to learn by doing and soon had one bowl of tomato juice and another of gutted tomatoes meat. I dumped this in a pot, which after a simmer I realized would not be enough for two pizzas of 10 and 12 inch diameters.
Apprehensive that my pizza my taste like old Domino’s, I dumped ketchup into the pot to make the sauce go further. In the end, I had just enough sauce to cover both pizzas and luckily, the toppings and cheeses covered up any notable vinegary taste from the ketchup.
At long last, I put on a small show for Ani and Franco as I tossed the dough and spread the crusts in their pans over corn meal (that stuff is non-stick magic, by the way). I plopped the meat lover’s in the oven, keeping a close eye over as the pie baked. As that pie finished, I did the same with the veggie lover’s pie.
By some magic, I caught each pie as the crust browned and cheese turned a light gold. In the moment I was shocked. The pizzas looked, not only edible, but their smells made me realize just how hungry I was after three hours of intensive kitchen work.
My own pride and the compliments of Paco, Celia, and even Celia’s mother aside, the true moment of victory came when that evening Ani, who resists putting anything edible in mouth that isn’t cheese or slathered in butter, ate two (!) slices. I’m not sure she realized that I made the pizza and I’m not sure if that would have changed her behavior, but all the same I beamed.
So why share this with you? One, it’s my blog and I can write what I want, but also I feel overcoming these unexpected gaps between a Western, privilege-assuming recipe and the kitchen of Paco and Celia has an interesting message for living simply. If you are patient and stay logical it is completely possible to eat richly and live simply.
That said, it is pretty annoying not to have measuring cups and I doubt having them would have diminished my feeling of accomplishment.