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An Ode to Pizza

            For the next few months I will be on a soft food diet, post-oral-surgery, which means nothing chewy or hard or crunchy or sticky. But really what it means to me is, no pizza. I already miss stuffed crust pizza, and Spinach ricotta pizza, and plain pizza, and four cheese pizza, and pizza with eggplant parmesan on top, and pizza with white clam sauce, and pizza with artichokes and peppers and mushrooms. I can find soft bread for sandwiches, and I don’t eat much steak, and I’ve been avoiding whole nuts forever, but even the softest, cheese-filled crust pizza is going to choke me if I can’t chew it well enough.

“We’ll chew it for you!”

            Unfortunately, there is a pizza place, a really good one, right around the corner from me and I can smell their food every day. I could probably order one of their baked pasta dishes, but I don’t want to, because what I really want are the garlic knots, or a meatball hero, or a mushroom salad, and a crispy artichoke pizza, and, really, I can make a pretty good lasagna on my own.

            I can still eat vegetables, even broccoli and cauliflower, as long as I put them in the food processor and blend them to death, and I can have a hamburger, as long as I cut it into toddler-sized bites, but pizza in a blender is no longer pizza, so pizza is not on the menu.

“No pizza bones for how long?”

            I’m looking forward to being fully healed and able to eat not only pizza but also bagels and chocolate chip cookies with macadamia nuts, and Twizzlers, and, oh my god, an actual apple! A granny smith apple!

            Food is one of the few things in my life that has reliably brought me joy (puppies are wonderful, but they also bark, and demand to go out in the snow, and, you know, expect me to pick up their poop). But I’ve had to be on all kinds of limited diets since childhood: for religious reasons, or financial reasons, or weight and health reasons, and it all sucks.

But I spent almost a week after the oral surgery not eating much at all, because even when I felt hungry, I was just too nauseous to enjoy the food, so I decided that even on this soft food diet, I’m going to try to enjoy everything I can eat. Like Matzo ball soup. I could live on matzo ball soup, really – with the overcooked carrots and potatoes and chicken, and the matzo balls! And it’s not too spicy or acidic or crunchy or chewy. Or ice cream in every flavor! And there’s tuna salad, and risotto, and pasta, and chocolate mousse! There’s a lot of wonderful food to eat and I’m not going to go hungry.

            But, still, no pizza.

            Harrumph.

“Harrumph.”

            If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Cricket, the Sous Chef

            Cricket is my sous chef. She stands in the kitchen while I’m making dinner, and tries to reach her paws up to the cutting board to steal red bell peppers. If she doesn’t feel like jumping, she scratches at Grandma’s leg to be lifted up so she can see the vegetables up close. If Grandma picks her up near a fresh cut onion, she sneezes. But once the sauté pan is on and the oil is heating the garlic and peppers and onions, Cricket twitches her nose and then licks her lips, at which point she has to be put down on the floor to avoid her jumping into the pan with all four feet.

Who me? I wasn't anywhere near those beets.

Who me? I wasn’t anywhere near those beets.

I’ve been tempted to buy Cricket a white toque to wear on her head, or a chef’s jacket with buttons, but she is not a fan of clothes.

Butterfly is more circumspect about the kitchen. She tends to stand in the doorway, or stretch out with her head on her paws, and stare. She’s afraid of all of the noise, like knives on cutting boards, sizzling pans, and whirring mixers, and she’s afraid she will get stepped on. Her spatial relations are, legitimately, not very good. Cricket is better at negotiating small spaces and human legs; she’s more bendy.

Butterfly tends to stand back and let Cricket get first crack at any dish at the end of a meal, because Cricket is a superb dish cleaner and Butterfly’s skills have not yet risen to Cricket’s level. It will come with time.

Class is in session

Class is in session

But Cricket is still the master

But Cricket is still the master

I used to bake a lot when Cricket was a puppy, and she learned to take part in the process: supervising the mixer, sniffing for cookie doneness, and, of course, cleaning up afterward. She gets angry, now, when I make something with chocolate in it, because then she can’t clean the bowl, or the beater, when we’re done. She would like for me to always make sugar cookies, or something with peanut butter.

Cricket is very busy

Cricket is very busy

Cricket is teaching Butterfly how to listen for the oven timer, a very important skill. They get up from their rest positions on the living room rug and stare at me until I get up. If Cricket thinks the food is ready early, despite the lack of a beep, she will let me know.

            In pursuit of her goal of one day becoming a chef with a kitchen of her own, Cricket prefers that we test chicken recipes. She likes when I make chicken wings, because I never eat the skin, and therefore she gets to taste test a chicken’s worth of skin. She is less interested in recipes that ask for boneless, skinless chicken breast, because she’s never offered the leftovers from those.

Pizza is also a favorite of hers, and of Butterfly’s. At this point, I have to give them the pizza crusts, even if they are the rare edible pizza crusts. I remove all tomato sauce possible, because I worry the spices will make them sick, and I divvy up the pieces into their bowls, and then they inevitably bring the crusts to the living room rug for chewing.

At Cricket’s restaurant, the pizza would probably be topped with: chicken, red bell peppers, pumpkin, Parmesan cheese, and olives. This would be the Cricket special. The Butterfly special would be covered in dry dog food and probably not go over as well.

Butterfly's favorite pizza topping: kibble

Butterfly’s favorite pizza topping: kibble

The waitresses at Cricket’s restaurant would sit at the tables with the customers and feed them by hand. One blueberry at a time.

            While Cricket pursues her cooking repertoire, and Butterfly attempts to scale the steeply competitive sous chef ladder, the girls are still grand champion eaters. Butterfly is a big fan of high fiber pasta, especially the little ears (orrichete). I choose to believe she is being health conscious, and attempting to improve her hearing as well.

Butterfly has followed Cricket’s example and learned how to stand on her back feet, leaning her front paws on Grandma’s knee during dinner. This is a very effective method of persuasion. Grandma is a pushover for puppy dog eyes and always finds something yummy to share. Cricket has been an incredible teacher, in this as in all things.

One day, Butterfly, the student will become the master

One day, Butterfly, the student will become the master