Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kristi's Guide to Making Pizza

When I was around seven or eight, I had homemade pizza for the first time.  I was spending the night at a friends house, and her parents made us pepperoni pizza for dinner, and it was the best thing I had ever tasted.  Up until that time, I didnt know you could make a pizza from scratch.  We had the occasional carryout one, and the cardboard kind (i.e. frozen).  I think that began my obsession for making pizza.  I remember begging for those pizza-in-a-box kits (on the shelf!  Includes cheese!  Why that didnt sound strange at the time is beyond me), and for those Boboli crusts when they first arrived on the shelf.  Later, I got into the refrigerated pizza crustyou know, the canned kind.  That is still OK.  Not great, but certainly edible.

Essential Equipment

Sometime after college I got on a bread-baking kick, and started playing with yeast doughs.  Epiphany:  I can make my own pizza crust.  And its not that hard.  We have since acquired a variety of pizza equipment:  two with holes for crispy crusts, one huge deep-dish pan that could double as the bottom layer of a wedding cake, a pizza stone, a pizza peel (the wooden paddle that you use to get the pies in and out of the oven), a variety of cutters and servers.

Pizza Pans

My favorite method involves a pizza stone, and a technique that I learned from Alton Browns Good Eats. 

Move your bottom oven rack as far down as it can go, and put the stone on top.  If you have a fancy oven that does not have an exposed electric coil in the bottom, you could try putting the stone directly on the bottom of the oven.  Turn the oven temperature up as hot as it will go (500 on my oven), and preheat for about an hour.

Yes, I said 500 degrees, preheat for a whole hour.  Dont worry, that hour will give you time to make the sauce, prep the toppings, and toss the dough.

Roll or Toss

A good, yeasty pizza dough will not behave for a rolling pin.  Plan to stretch the ball by hand into a circle-like shape.  Its supposed to be homemade, so if you end up with an amoeba instead of a circle, thats just fine. If your dough gets too tough to handle, put it down and let it rest for 10 minutes, then try again.  The gluten in yeast dough tenses up when its handled a lot.

Sticky Dough

And to keep the dough from sticking to the counter and the pizza peel and the pizza stone, dont bother with the cornmeal trick.  I have never found cornmeal to be effective.  Maybe its my dough recipe.  I use parchment paper.  You can buy it in the baking aisle, and it looks like un-waxed waxed paper.  DO NOT substitute waxed paper or freezer paper, or you will melt wax all over your oven and your pizza. 

Tear off a sheet of parchment that is about the size of your pizza stone (or just a little bigger than your pizza).  If your stone is a circle, like mine, use a pair of scissors and cut the corners off to make a rough circle.  It doesnt have to be perfect, but if you let extra paper dangle off the stone and onto the heating coil, it could catch on fire.  BTDT.

I set the parchment on top of the pizza peel, and mold the dough directly onto the parchment.  Top with sauce, cheese, and fixings.  Then, use the peel (and potentially an oven mitt) to slide the parchment-based pizza onto the stone.  Bake about 10-15 minutes, depending on how thick your dough and toppings are.  Adjust up or down as necessary.  Turn the light on in the oven and peek at it every couple of minutes until youre comfortable with your timing!

Soggy Crusts

A properly heated stone will bake the bottom of your crust to a nice crispiness without being soggy.

I dont usually need to pre-bake the crust before topping, because my homemade crusts tend to be rather thin.  If youve got something fluffy or are planning to add 2 pounds of sauce and cheese, then bake the crust part or all the way done before topping.  Otherwise, youll be eating the center with a spoon.

No Pizza Stone?

You can get good results without a pizza stone as well.  Use a thin cookie sheet or one of those perforated pizza pans.  Ease up on the heat500 degrees will burn a pizza on a metal pan.  Try around 425, and move the oven rack up to at least the second notch from the bottom.

Pizza toppings

Because my pizzas cook quickly, and because I cook them low in the oven (and not under a broiler), there is not a lot of time for the toppings to really cook down in the oven.  There are some things I like on pizzasnamely bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms--that I prefer to pre-cook.  Just sauté them with a tiny bit of olive oil in a non-stick pan.  You can do this way ahead of time and refrigerate them.  They will get hot in the oven with the pizza.  This is an individual preference kind of thingI like my onions lightly caramelized, and the peppers softer.

Of course, if youre using a meat product like Italian sausage or chicken, definitely cook it ahead of time.  Pepperoni and bacon will crisp up in the oven, but anything thicker might not.  Dont give the diners food poisoning, please.

Multiple Pizzas

Cooking for a crowd?  Unless youve got double-ovens, then you might have some aerobics to do.  Do not attempt to use two pizza stones at once.  Unless youre willing to let your oven preheat all day.  Seriously, those stones absorb the heat and keep the oven from heating well.  They heat slow, and they cool slow. 

If Im making 2 or more pizzas, I try to get the first one done and ready early, and have the second one topped and ready to slide in.   With thinner crusts, each pizza only takes about 10 minutes to cook, so theres not a huge delay. 

Do not plan to remove a hot pizza stone between pizzas.  Its heavy, hot, and would do better to just stay in the oven.  Thats where the parchment comes in so handyyour cooked pizza should slide right off the stone and onto your peel (or a cutting board, or a cookie sheet).

If youre using metal pans, you could possibly cook two at once, but plan to swap the top and bottom pies mid-way through the baking time.  Unless you have a convection oven.  And then, well, pbbbbbbttt.

Pizza Stones and Frozen Pizzas

So, now youre in love with your pizza stone, so youre thinking about using it for your frozen pizza as well.  Good luck with that.  We make frozen pizzas when were short on time, and the pre-heat required by a stone cancels out the convenience factor.  If I try to shorten the heating time, I get a soggy crust.  Your mileage may vary.  I did mention that we own 2 perforated pans in addition to the stone, yes?  No bakeware goes to waste in my house


Check back later this week for my own personal pizza crust and sauce recipes.  Or, check out Alton Brown’s.  My crust recipe was derived from his anyway.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Blue Period

We are beginning to emerge from our blue period.

I'm talking paint, of course. My husband and I bought our house nine years ago, and began painting walls eight and a half years ago. We weren't fixing the previous owner's mistakes-our house was brand new.

Brand new translates to "coated in a single, thin, coat of the cheapest flat off-white paint that the builder could find". I think it took only a few months for one of the walls in the kitchen to bet marked up-by my usband's roller hockey gear-and for us to try to clean it. Big mistake. Builders' grade paint is not scrubbable.

The first room in our house we painted was our kitchen/breakfast room/living room (open floor plans means a lack of stopping points). We had spent five years living in apartments with beige walls and beige carpeting, and we were itching for color.

I first went to the hardware store and chose a lovely soft peach. I came home, painted a splotch on the wall to see how I liked it (following the advice of the many home improvement shows that I was addicted to watching at the time), and was horrified. In the abundant natural light, my light soft peach looked like dayglow pink. We now have a lovely pink laundry room.

Paint color #2 was a pale blue that matched some of the tones in our laminate countertops. It gave us that much-needed color without being overpowering, and without looking neon in daylight. And it was lovely against our beige carpeting, white roman shades, and taupe-and-maroon slip-covered couches. We went on to paint our 4th bedroom/home office a denim blue, one long wall of our finished basement a deep navy blue, and Trystan's bedroom in a cloud-like glazed light blue. We were in the blue period.

Fast forward eight years. We upgraded our living room furniture several years back to a set that includes more olive and khaki tones, added purple drapes (that looks much nicer than it sounds in print), and have recently swapped our pale beige carpet and light-colored kitchen vinyl
for dark walnut laminate floors. We still haven't re-installed the baseboards from our floor project (we did buy them...they're sitting in our garage), and the same kitchen wall that once bore a long black hockey-bag mark now has a long red mark from some kid-sized chairs. We have new trimwork around the new French door to paint, and multiple holes in the wall to patch from removing the old sliding-door drapes. And that lovely cool blue no longer compliments
our furnishings.

Its time to paint again. This is the first time we will have re-painted a wall in our house. This time, we (well, I, with a slightly dubious assent from my husband) chose two colors. Most of the two rooms will be a khaki-like color labeled "warm buff", with an accent wall of a beigy-brown-with-barely-reddish-undertones called "wool coat" in the kitchen. After the kids went to bed last night, we painted part of the accent "wall" (really, it's two walls and the very short hall to the
garage door). Dry, and with the full power of the morning sunlight on it, it looks lovely. I am confident that the warm buff will also look nice (though the khaki test spots do look disturbingly orange on the blue walls...orange shades next to blue is bound to look too bright).

So, now, we're out of our blue period and on to the beige/tan/khaki/taupe/neutral one. The living room/kitchen joins the basement (the walls that aren't navy blue), the master bedroom, and the kids' bathroom in being colored dark beige/khaki. And soon, possibly, the master bathroom. Now I'm wondering if I should start re-using color swatches so we don't collect ten different half-cans of khaki paint. After all, there is one more bathroom and the upstairs hallway that are still builders-grade-white...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mind your peas

One of the things I tried to grow in the garden this year was peas. I'm pretty new to gardening in general--growing up we had a tree, a few shrubs, and the occasional row of marigolds. Nothing edible. I planted my first tomatoes less than 10 years ago, and have spotty success at best with any veggies. Got a bumper crop of zucchini one year (that hubby and I couldn't finish), and I have cilantro that just won't die. And my hubby brought our one and only ripe watermelon--ever--to the hospital right after Charlotte was born. My lack of success doesn't stop me from trying :)

Until I had kids, most peas that I ate (or refused to eat) came in a can. With my attempts at making homemade babyfood, I started buying frozen peas. Some of those are actually sweet and edible (though some are about as blah and mushy as the canned kind).

In a garden, peas are rather attractive. Maybe I'm just a sucker for any vine-y plant that will climb a trellis. So I planted a few. Two small trellises, maybe a dozen seeds total, half of which were duds.

The other day I was watering plants and noticed that I have quite a few pea pods hanging on my two small plant groups. Honestly, I don't think I've ever even bought fresh peas still in the pod (except for the sugar snap peas for stir-fries), and I'm a poor judge of what a "ripe" pea pod looks like. So I checked a gardening book, and found, to my horror, that peas usually ripen while its still cool (we've been hovering just under 100 lately), and that they should be picked sooner rather than later for best flavor and texture, and that if you keep picking htem, they will make more peas (I might have guessed that one, had I been paying attention).

I brought in a handful of pods yesterday morning, and then attempted to shell and cook them last night. The suckers are harder to get out of the pods than I expected, but I made it. And ended up with a whopping 1/2 cup of small green orbs. Not really enough for a family of 4. But, I was making a salad, so I thought I'd just add them to the salad, and all would be well.

Yes, I did cook them first. But probably not long enough, because some of them were crunchy. Or maybe they were just past ripe, who knows. Basically, I boiled water in the microwave and them sort of steeped them in the water for about 3 minutes. Had I gone 5-8 things might have gone better.

Oh well. The kids enjoyed them. And I'll do better next time. And I suppose I need to check my plants more often and bring in the remaining pods as they develop (many that I left on the plant had no lumps in the pods to speak of yet).

In case you want a basic explanation of how to cook peas from someone who knows what they're doing, try here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Charlotte told me a very interesting story this morning.

One of the new teachers at her daycare has a father who is Office Police. And the Office Police came to visit the school to talk to the kids. With his Boyfriend, and their Pet Dog. The dog wears a vest.


One of the new teachers at her daycare has a father who is a Police Officer. The officer came to visit the school to talk to the kids, along with his Partner, and a Police Dog. The dog does, indeed, wear a vest.

Gotta love the vocabulary of a 4.5 year old...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I’ve got a serious case of the Gimmes lately. Or maybe it’s the Iwandats. Translation: I want that. There are just too many cool gadgets and too little money to go around. Or maybe the problem is that I’m the stingiest spendthrift around. (Thank you high school English for that nifty word).

Don't believe me? (Or didn't bother to look it up?) I'll explain. I love to blow money. But only on things that are actually good deals and/or things I really need. Sometimes I have to really work at convincing myself that a $20 item is worth buying. And then I'll turn around and drop $300 without blinking.

Take my gadget obsession. I think I really really want a netbook. They're small, they're light, they'd fit in a large purse or small totebag. They're really only good for surfing the web and running basic apps, but I'm envisioning using it mostly for writing. Just Word, maybe even just Wordpad. Nothing fancy. (The ability to hit Wikipedia to link in the definition for a funny word is a bonus.). But they're like $300. And I own a laptop (a "desktop-replacement", aka "Freakin Huge" laptop, which is a pain to travel with). And I'd probably want a USB DVD player so that I could watch a movie with it when on the go, which adds almost another hundred bucks.

I'd also love an e-reader. Sure, I've talked before about how they're not high on my priority list. They're too expensive. $300? That would be great if I could buy new releases for paperback prices (preferably less), and feel like the e-reader is an investment, not an added expense. But $300 PLUS $24.99 a pop? No way no how.

And I have serious phone envy. I love my little sis' iPhone. And my friend's Palm-type one that has a built-in organizer. I think the idea of sending text messages could be really useful. And if I had a phone with Bluetooth, then I could hook it into the stereo system of our fancy new car to call hands free. But really, hubby and I pay $50 a month TOTAL for way too many cell phone minutes on our phones. By total, I mean, the entire bill. Together. Not per person. We don't send photos (my phone doesn't even have a camera). We don't do texting. Heck, my phone is off while I’m at work, so it doesn't even get much oral phone action. Do I care to triple that price, plus fork over $200 for a new phone (or more, for 2 new phones), just so I can feel cool for the 20 minutes a day that my phone is powered on and near me? No. But that iPhone has built-in GPS....

And yet, I recently bought a copy of Adobe Creative Studio 4. Photoshop, Acrobat, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, and a bunch more stuff. Half of which I don't know what to do with. List price: $1800. Thanks to some classes I'm taking, I saved more than $1400 off that price by qualifying for the student edition. That's the stingy part of "spendthrift" right there. I'm still psyched that I have this cool new software. And dismayed that I decided so quickly to blow enough money for either a netbook, an e-reader, or new phones.

But darnit, they weren't On Sale! (and, the software fills a slightly more useful role than the other toys in the list...there is even the slightest possibility that I could make some money off parts of it someday).

P.S. Now that I've admitted to the Photoshop purchase, ya'll will be expecting to see more fancy photos. Mayhap. Mayhap that now I own yet another time-sucking device, I'll have even less time to blog....haha!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Yesterday I received a sample pack of infant formula in the mail. What I want to know is: Why? Why am I on any sort of mailing list that would trigger Enfamil to think that I need formula?

1) There are no babies in my house. My youngest is 27 months old, and happily drinks cow's milk. Preferably with chocolate.
2) I am certainly not pregnant with another. Though perhaps some computer model predicted that I would be by now? I guess I was when Charlotte was this age.
3) I never used formula for either of my children. I breastfed. I think Charlotte got about 2 ounces of formula once, in the NICU where she spent about 24 hours for jaundice. I believe the nurse who gave it to her also got a scolding from the lactation consultant for that incident.

Now, there are plenty of people who do use formula, for a large variety of reasons, and that's what works for them. This post isn't a dig at parents who use formula. I am just not currently aware of anyone in my immediate circle of acquantance who is formula feeding an infant.

So, back to sample pack that arrived at my house. It was kind of Enfamil to provide food to the local foodbank. But really, there are more efficient ways of donating than to mail it to me, and have me hand-carry it into work to one of the donation bins.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Charlotte has become fond of asking questions. Asking questions is, as Elmo has reminded us in multiple episodes, a good way to find things out.
Mommy, when are we going to see a movie?
Mommy, when are we going to go to the Magic House?
Mommy, when are we going to go to the zoo?
Mommy, when are we goint to Grandma Cindi's house?

I find out quite a lot by listening to the questions Charlotte asks. Sometimes they give nice insights as to things she wants. If she asks about a place like the Magic House or the zoo, I usually add it to my mental list of activities for upcoming weekends.
Mommy, when are we going to the beach?

And sometimes, I just commiserate with her. As in, "I don’t know honey. I’d like to go to the beach, also."
Mommy, do you know how to get to Grandma Cindi's house?

Sometimes, the questions would be insulting if I thought she understood what she was asking. Grandma Cindi, btw, is my mom. And yes, I know the way to her house. I don't know if Charlotte was testing me, or if she just isn't sure because we only visit every couple of months (Mom lives about 4.5 hours away).
Mommy, when are we going to get a pet rabbit?

She has asked about pets and pet dogs somewhat frequently lately. But rabbit? I usually try to give her a vague answer that doesn't really promise or deny many of her requests. I flat out denied the rabbit. Maybe we'll get a pet at some point. But it won't be a rabbit.
Mommy, have you ever seen a unicorn?

Sometimes, her questions just make me laugh. When she asked about a unicorn last night, I had to explain that I've never seen one in person. Just in books.
This is a fun age, though there are times that I wish the questions would take a break. But I know that in ten years, I'll be peppering her with questions that she won't be as thrilled about answering.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Going slow

Some days, nothing seems to move very fast.

The kids were up late last night, enjoying dinner and playtime with friends. Charlotte was so tired when we got home, that she fell asleep in the bathroom. Sitting on the stepstool, toothbrush in hand.

She was dragging this morning, too. We all were.

I'm in a training class for the next three days that doesn't start until 9am. Since I normally aim to be at my desk by 8ish, I should have had bonus time today. Um, no. I walked in at about 10 after. I didn't get the kids to daycare until almost 8:30, and I don't think I passed 10 mph for the last 20 minutes of my drive. Traffic. Rain. Stoplights that were just plain out.

On the up side, Trystan woke up this morning 1) in a good mood, and 2) with no poop in his diaper.

Yep, its a poop post. Poor kiddo was on anitbiotics a couple of weeks back, which gave him the runs. On the back side of those, his system slowed way down. That's never a good thing for him. We'd been off of his daily Miralax for a couple of months, but we're now back on it for a week or two at least.

Oddly enough, when he gets constipated, he poops all the time. Just small smears though, never really emptying things out. After a weekend of miralax and prunes (and avoidance of pizza, mac & chz, and bananas--his favorite foods are his worst enemies), he's getting back to normal. So, no overnight poop. (thus, no rashy bottom). Hooray!

I was changing his diaper this morning and as soon as I got the soggy one off, he asked for "yuckies in the potty". And he put some yuckies in the potty. Just the tiniest bit, but we cheered for him anyway. I still have high hopes for him in the potty training department. I don't know that he'll ever be "normal" and be able to go completely without laxatives and careful diet control. But he's only 27 months, capable (though not always willing) of staying dry and tinkling in a potty for hours on end, and to control a small amount of poop in the potty. So far, he's actually ahead of the curve in potty training for his age. Gosh I hope he at least keeps up with that curve!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My little fish

Today is the first day of Charlotte’s swimming lessons for the summer.  Every year, our daycare arranges with one of the local pools, hires their own instructors (who are also certified life guards), and drives the kids back and forth in the school van.  Charlotte will go three days a week all summer.  And she loves it. 


We love it too.  Last summer, not only did she massively improve her swimming abilities, but I didn’t have to wrestle her out of the pool every day.  My least favorite part of swimming is leaving, because there is always a tantrum (not mine!).


At school, they had talked with the kids about how swimming works, and my husband talked to Charlotte last night.  On swimming days, Charlotte goes to school wearing her bathing suit with sunscreen already applied.  She needs to bring a bag containing her towel and dry clothes for later.  The wet suits and towels are hung on the playyard fence to dry during the day.


Well, Charlotte had listened to the instructions.  And she was ready.  At 6:10AM this morning, before I’d quite forced my eyelids open all the way, she came into our room upset because she couldn’t reach her pool bag.   I think she already had her suit on, and had picked out her clothes.   This is the same kid that we usually have to drag out of bed around 7:30 and force into her clothes.  I guess she’s excited.