Cast Iron Skillet Pizza
I have this gorgeous Electra beach cruiser. Appropriately it’s the color of vanilla pastry cream with a comfy cognac leather seat, silver accents, and the happiest bell on the left handlebar. Like me, it’s a bit of a priss. Thankfully only one of her daughters turned out to be so in that limited dose my mother humors me and allows it to live, safe and sheltered, in one of her upstairs bedrooms (kinda like she does for me when I need a break from the city) until I come home, like I am now, to ride it. As it turns out this bike has also proved to provide the time and space for highly productive business meetings. With myself.
I came home to reset. And write. And to sleep actually. Between the pounding on the floors from my upstairs neighbor when she walks (it literally shakes my bookshelves), the booming voice of the guy that lives below me, my ancient radiator, and the constantly running fan on my aging refrigerator, I fully understand why the older people in my building are a little off. They’ve just been slowly losing their sanity for lack of peace and quiet over the past 20 years (or more) that they’ve lived in the city and in the building.
Ninety degree days means it’s a sauna upstairs at night so my mom insists that I sleep downstairs on the couch. Ironically, instead of noisy neighbors and city sirens it was the ticking clock (which you can hear because it’s so freaking quiet) that kept me awake last night. That and the all-night rager the crickets were having. I'm sure the foldaway bed that slopes ever so slightly to the left when laid “flat” had something to do with it too. It’s like couch-camping. Out the window and up into the clear black sky I can see the stars though. I’d all but forgotten about stars.
This morning, early, before the heat became oppressive I went for a long, uber-leisurely ride. Do you have any idea how wonderful and also conflicting it is to be so in love with two different places at the same time? How is it possible to be so entirely at home in both? Deep but divided affection seems to be a common theme. With home. Work. Or whatever. Maybe that’s what it’s like to have kids. Completely different people that you love equally and you can never get enough of either one. Times ten with kids obviously but you know what I’m getting at. There are worse things, I suppose, than too many things to love. And ya’ll wouldn’t believe my view right now. I’m sure I’ve mentioned in a past post somewhere on one of the many blogs I’ve loved and written and since abandoned over the years that when I head home the only internet to be had is at the local Starbucks. Today I’m under a sunbrella on their patio from which there is a path directly to the marina below. There’s an elderly couple at a table next to me reading the Bible aloud to each other. Sweetest. And my iced Americano is very large and very cold. And life. is. amazing. It feels like another world. Beyond the marina is the city beach and mountains in gradient shades of blue for as far as you can see. If I didn’t feel a twinge of anxiety over needing to get back to the city and find more food to take pictures of I’d probably extend my stay for an additional week. The market here does run on Wednesday’s and Saturdays. You never know.
Anyway, on these rides my imagination tends to run wild, a business brainstorming session on two wheels with a light breeze. It’s a different kind of evergreen content for days here in the summer. Literally. It does wonders to inspire. By the end of the ride I've got a to-do list about a mile long and have also managed to dream up every detail of my bakery from paint colors to the pastry menu and how my darling nieces will work there when in high school. Then I think, perhaps I could just live here for a few months out of the year? My friend Ethel spends a solid chunk of time in Paris every summer. This place could be my Paris. Why not? Wait, maybe Paris should be my Paris. Foooocus. In any case I resolve to come back more often, like I always do. And to check LoopNet for any promising commercial real estate opportunities for this dream bakery once I get to an internet connection. Eventually though I'll head back to SF, get back to what pays my rent, and that dream will get tucked away onto a shelf in my mind. For all the things I pick up and pursue, come back around to, and meander away from (and there are many), that dream has never lost it’s luster. My bucket list isn’t long. But it is bold. This imaginary bakery, alongside seeing the Northern Lights (more on that coming soon :) and owning a yacht in the Virgin Islands named The Argo (a recent addition jointly aspired to with another big dreaming friend), has been on it since I can remember. One dream at a time right now but hopefully it won’t be long.
After I hit publish on this I’m heading to the beach to play all day with my nieces and this weekend, a graduation party for my smarty-pants sister who is now a research fellow at NASA. After a sibling announces something like that you do your best to maintain that your life’s work isn’t entirely ridiculous. I’m in charge of party food.
Cast Iron Pan Pizza
Alright fine so one thing that SF has the edge on is food obviously. Not that it’s a competition or anything. From the time I was a kid one of my favorite places to eat in Sandpoint has been Second Avenue Pizza. Their pizzas are crazy loaded down with toppings and it can take up to an hour for one pie. Seriously. Not the best option if you’re already verging on hangry but totally worth the wait in any other circumstance. They have this crazy delicious gluten-free crust and I’ve been hard-pressed to find anything like it in SF. Admittedly I started out making pizza at home with a pre-made dough from Williams Sonoma. I took it home for free from a photo shoot awhile back but since it sells for an insane $45 for 3 pounds I’ve since discovered and use the recipe from the genius blog, Minimalist Baker. If you’re not g-free, things just got even simpler. A store bought pizza dough will do just fine. Obviously you could go all artisanal on something like this but I love it for an easy weeknight and to use up whatever is in my fridge, hence the shortcuts.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Set the sauce in a strainer over a bowl for a few minutes to drain the excess water. Sprinkle the bottom of a 8-10 inch cast iron pan with cornmeal. On a floured cutting board roll the dough to the size of your pan. Doesn't have to be perfect. Flour the top, fold into quarters, and gently transfer the dough to the pan. Unfold and stretch the dough to fit building up a little bit around the edge for a crust. Turn the pan to medium-high. You want the edges of the crust to set before transferring it to the oven. While that happens, spread the sauce almost to the edge of the dough leaving a half an inch border. Sprinkle with shallots and tomatoes and dot all over with tablespoon-size pieces of mozzarella. Brush the edges of the crust with olive oil and drizzle remaining oil over entire pizza making sure to get some down between the crust and the pan. It'll help it brown up. When the edges of the crust are just set and you can hear the oil sizzling underneath, transfer the pan to the oven and bake until golden around the edges and bubbling, 20-25 minutes. While it cooks put the vinegar in a small sauce pan set over medium heat and reduce by half. When the pizza comes out let it rest for a couple of minutes in the pan then carefully grab the edge of the crust (you can use tongs) and slide it out on to a cutting board. To serve, drizzle with balsamic reduction, a generous sprinkle of Maldon salt and black pepper, fresh basil leaves, and red pepper flakes.
1 cup jarred tomato sauce
2 tablespoons cornmeal
12 ounces pizza crust, store-bought, homemade, whatever at room temperature.
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 cup baby heirloom or grape tomatoes, halved
5 ounces buffalo mozzarella
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Maldon salt and black pepper
Fresh basil leaves and red pepper flakes to serve