Seventeen summers ago we started building our house on the ten acres it had taken us more than two years to find. I say “we”, but really it was My Carpenter who spent his days building houses for other people and his evenings and weekends doing it for us. He’s amazing like that. This was the second house we’d built for ourselves and we used the plans from the first one as a starting point when designing this one. What we liked in the first house, stayed. What we didn’t like, was changed.
One of the first-evers for us with this house was hardwood floors. We couldn’t afford them every place, but when you come into our home, you’re in the great-room, with the living-room portion carpeted, and everything else in hardwood…beautiful oak hardwood. It was breath-taking back then.
My Carpenter (who’s never met a piece of wood he hasn’t loved) wanted so badly to protect the floor from…well, from us. From two kids, from dogs, from cats, and soon after we moved in, from the walkers and wheelchairs that came when we became an adult family home and had three oldsters living with us. He cringed with each new ding and dent and would give me his evil eye each time he discovered a new marring (for the record, his evil eye isn’t really all that evil, but he only uses it when he’s pretty upset). As for me, I resigned myself to the scars early on, and have grown to love them. They represent life well-lived to me. After 17 years, these floors are the history book we walk on! But initially, he saw each marring as an open wound on his precious oak, so I rearranged furniture and throw rugs (and left shoes strategically placed) to hide the nicks and scratches from him. It was stressful, and some days, I was pretty sure he loved the floor more than me.
The day I dropped the Skilsaw at the foot of the stairs and the blade teeth sunk into the floor like some freakish wood-eating monster on lunch break, was a turning point. It was the day My Carpenter gave up. I could feel it in his sigh…see it in the slouch of his shoulders. Bless his heart. I felt for him…I really did. But life happens! The beautiful sun that pours through our windows has faded the areas not covered by a rug; dogs have left four-inch claw scratches where they tried (often in vain) to stop their slippery slide across the floor in an attempt to get to us, the back door, or the cat; the dishwasher has leaked, causing much swearing and a little buckling; pots, pans, and the occasional small appliance have fallen off of (or out of) cupboards. And now this…
I have officially worn the finish off the floor. That’s not a stain…it’s lack-of-a-stain! That spot is where I stand to cook most nights. That’s right…I said it. I cook. Not as much now as when there were seven mouths to feed, but still, this is a kitchen that gets action. Which apparently is a bigger anomaly than I realized! Did you see this recent article? Wow! In March, for the first time ever, Americans spent more money eating out than they did at the grocery store. Yowser! Does that mean families are so busy that they’re willing to trade the less expensive, healthier foods found in the grocery store for the convenience of eating out? The business of busy-ness just reached a new high (or is that a low?).
In light of this article, imagine my joy this week when I got a Facebook message from our daughter, in her sophomore year at Stanford: “Can you send me some instructions on making pizza? Like the crust recipe and how to make up a sauce and stuff?” Ahh…kitchen tradition…it makes this mom’s heart swell! Homemade pizza has been a staple in our house for years. It’s easy, cheap, and can be quite healthy, depending on the toppings.
Oh…and delicious…did I mention that homemade pizza is delicious?
There was a time, years and years and years ago, when pizza night started with a Boboli crust and a jar of sauce. It wasn’t so much homemade pizza as industrialized pizza put together in my own personal factory. A couple of things changed that. The era of the bread machine came to be, and the recipe book included one for pizza dough. Then the bread machine broke but I carried on, making crust the old-fashioned way (kneading really is a great stress-reliever). Ultimately though, this book made pizza night as simple as spaghetti night. The recipe for no-knead olive oil dough stirs together in five minutes and keeps in the fridge for a week. It’s ready to go when we are. That blue link will take you to the new version, which apparently includes gluten-free recipes, too.
The other thing that changed pizza in our house is my garden. More specifically, the herbs that I grow in the garden. Once upon a time, My Carpenter complained that I didn’t grow enough “real food”. He immediately got schooled on the fact that I grow the things that makes our food taste great…herbs. Among them are oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary…my go-to pizza/spaghetti sauce herbs. They’re so easy to grow! And so cheap to grow! And so expensive to buy in little bottles in the grocery store! I try to end each growing season with a quart jar filled with each of the basic herbs. So when Liz asked for the recipe and directions, I knew I could do her one better. I could send her some of my stash!
Since most anything worth doing is worth over-doing, I dug out these small jars from my collection of things-that-hold-things, and took them out to the studio for a quick stenciling and etching. It’s a little hard to see the etching on a jar filled with herbs (and even harder to get a picture of it), but she’ll be able to keep her herbs straight until she learns to tell them apart by their look and/or smell.
So, here’s how to make the best pizza sauce ever, my lovely daughter (and anyone else who happens to read this): open one can of tomato sauce into a saucepan over medium heat. Add a pinch of each herb, some garlic (in whatever form you have handy), and some salt and pepper. Let it simmer for a few minutes. While the sauce cooks, take a small pinch of each herb and crush it between your fingers. Smell it. Imagine tasting it in your sauce. Then taste the actual sauce in the pot and add more of what you smelled and want to taste (I’m pretty sure you’ll add more rosemary). Let the sauce cook down until it’s thickened enough to be pizza sauce. Don’t be afraid. You can’t go wrong. It’ll taste way better than any jar of pizza sauce you could buy. The only difference between the sauce you make today and the sauce you make a year from now is that you will have learned which herbs you prefer and will add more of those you love. It’ll be good now, and better later!