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52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 24: The Art of Pizza Making and Life by Shelley Robinson, Canada

19 Mar

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The Whoas of the Celiac: Unfortunately, I will not make many actual pizzas in my lifetime because I struggle with all of the ingredients. My Irish heritage has plagued me with the gift of gluten, dairy and egg issues that are typical of the Irish. However, “when in Florence, Italy” I chose to learn about the art of building a pizza in a class with a well-known pizza chef, Davide Rafa in The Food and Wine Academy of Florence (with permission). In doing so, I was reminded to think carefully about life and am richer (and fuller) for the experience. I caught myself wondering why I waited this long to learn the art of cooking something special in the good company of enthusiastic (and hungry) students. I realize that it is likely because food, for me, for most of my life, has been a means to an end (staying alive while busy), and keeping a growing boy from the brink of starvation every hour of every day until adulthood.

However, as a result of this short course, I thought about cooking food differently as I listened to this wonderful chef explain the love and art of the pizzeria. As he spoke, I saw the pizza metaphor for life emerging.

The Crust is Everything: It takes some skill and patience to bring this little ball of dough to life.

First, the choice of flour makes or breaks the pliability of the crust. We need to make sure that we are choosing soft flour for our crusts. If our flour is not ground soft, we need to sift it down until it is as fine as icing sugar. Then, it is necessary to hollow out a circle in the centre of the flour and fill it with the water and active yeast (that has been sitting in room temperature waiting for this moment to bring the flour to life). Slowly, you bring the flour, little-by-little into this little circle, while whisking it gently with a fork to build moist consistency and an easy texture. You cannot push the pace of this process, or it gets sticky and unmanageable.

Next, you pull the dough together and gently, and repetitively knead the dough away from you into a moist and flexible egg. You lift it gently from the bottom, and then ever so carefully knead outwards. You repeat this often. If you push down too hard, it gets gooey. If you knead it in too many directions, it gets tangled up and rips apart. If you put too much flour in it in an effort to speed up the process, it loses its pliability. You need to slowly and tenderly bring the dough to a smooth and flexible round ball. Once you have succeeded, you cover it, and wait for it to rise.

Remember to drink wine while you wait.

After that, you push down with flat fingers and start pulling the ball into a flat round base. If you push too hard, the crust will be too thin. The ingredients will then soak through, or it will burn in the fire. If you do not knead it carefully and evenly, it will start to take on an interesting shape instead of the desired circle that truly is the mathematical genius of the perfect pizza. With patience and careful kneading, flipping and pulling it outwards, the pizza crust begins its life. Its whole purpose is to support the rest of the marvellous ingredients that we choose to put on top of it.

The Choice of Toppings: This is the fun part. You get to add what you want on top of the pizza. He explained how important it was to keep the key ingredients fresh and simple. “Don’t add to much of any one thing so that all of the ingredients blend and complement each other”. This means that you do not want to have too much sauce, cheese or seasonings. The goal is to have a taste sensation that is balanced and full. I chose to use tomato puree, dry mozzarella, salami, oregano, basil and at the end, some olive oil.

The Metaphor: I suppose we could all interpret this process in multiple ways, but I chose to see the following in the pizza making experience:

-We need to consider our base. It needs to be the right size and density to support our dreams. We need to be patient with ourselves and work at being flexible. If we spread ourselves too thin, we burn in the fire. If we are not round and balanced, some of what we take on, falls off, or becomes difficult to slice.

-The spirit within us, like the yeast, needs to be alive and meaningful or it will not rise.

-We must always think carefully about what we add into our lives as “toppings” to bring us joy and fulfillment. If we put too many things into our day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year experiments with truth in an effort to experience it all at once, it takes away from the present moment of enjoying just a few tastes of life at a time.

-It is best to cook together in life with good mentors, friends and family. It is the process, not the outcome in life, that makes life worth living and this is always more enjoyable in good company.

-And always remember to drink wine. (I suppose that this is intended to be a literal translation from my pizza lesson as we all enjoyed a lot of it).

My first pizza experiment resulted in an odd shape, despite my efforts. However, it was delicious. Others around me chose other toppings, and they too, were very happy with the results. We were happy because we made time to slowly and methodically build our pizzas together. We expressed loving every step in the process. Eating it was just one part of the enjoyable process, albeit, it was the outcome for which we were all waiting.

Take care to make delicious pizzas with your life. Take time. Be patient with yourself, and do it so that you can savour life to its fullest in balance and wellness.

“Chi ha tempo, ha vita”
(He that has time has life).

**Permission to re-print elsewhere is provided to The Food and Wine Academy of Florence with reference to the author’s link Adventure Ahead by Shelley Robinson, Canada

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