Kindred Mag: Pizza and My Place in the Order of Things
I need a single bowl of tomatoes for dinner, but the plant is overflowing with the delicate orange orbs. It’s the end of an extravagantly fertile summer that began with a slow spring and plentiful rain, a rarity for our high desert climate. My garden has responded to the weather, heavy with produce.
As I brush past the tomatoes, they give off their familiar scent: earthy and metallic and sharp and soft all at the same time. The plants grab me with their fuzz-covered leaves. That fuzz is made up of hair-like tendrils called trichomes, as I discovered when I got curious one morning. The trichomes are a tomato’s defense mechanism, and the green secretion on my hands is full of compounds garden pests find unpleasant. Limonene, caryophyllene, humulene, and other words I’ve never found a use for in general conversation are why I like the smell of the tomato plant.
Meandering through my garden, I have to smile at the contrast between now and the past. As a teenager, I hated cooking and gardening. I was bookish, nearsighted, and unathletic, and everything in me feared this would turn me into a boring woman. Surrounded by farmers’ wives who seemed to only rear children and bring casseroles to church, I decided the surest way to change my destiny was to swear off “domestic arts.” I endured some disapproval while my friends displayed their cinnamon rolls, cakes, and bread at gatherings. Refusing to cook, wearing pants to church, and talking politics were the subtle ways I signaled my otherness.
I couldn’t escape domesticity entirely, though, because my mom wisely recruited me and my siblings to cook for our family of seven. We each learned to create a meal from scratch early on, and I chose pizza every time it was my turn. Pizza and its casualness, its comforting simplicity, seemed the opposite of domestic art to me.
I pinch the basil leaves and bring them to my nose gratefully. Their sweetness bites my nostrils and clings to my fingers. I notice a perilously stout bumblebee visiting the blooms and wonder how her tiny wings carry her enormous body. Bumblebee pollinators are all female, so I know she’s a she. Males don’t carry the shiny pollen baskets on their legs. She and her sisters have done the work of turning my pumpkin vine’s expectant blooms into dark orange globes. It’s her I have to thank for early autumn abundance.
Fall is descending slowly and softly like it always does. I twist off three crookneck squash, the last of this year’s harvest. With my bowl of tomatoes, squash, and basil, I’m ready to cook. Once inside, I pour a glass of merlot, turn on some jazz, and preheat the oven.
Today, I’m comfortable calling myself someone who loves to cook—in fact, loves most of the domestic arts (except laundry: no one loves laundry). As I deconstructed old ideas, I started to understand why I’d been against cooking and “homemaking”: these ideas had painted me into a gender-determined corner. I don’t live in a corner now: I chose my life path.
I test tap water with my fingers, searching for the right temperature—somewhere between 95-115 degrees will activate the yeast for the dough. I add ingredients by memory to my bowl and let the yeasty warmth float up while I inhale deeply. There’s nothing like the smell of a microscopic fungus making a meal of honey. I spoon in a tablespoon of olive oil, a generous pinch of salt, and the flour. I stir for a few minutes, then gently knead the dough, adding more flour slowly. I cover it and place it on top of the preheating oven.
As I slice the squash and tomatoes, I’m amazed again at how much I love this tactile art of food. I wonder whether I’d have discovered my epicurean tendencies earlier if I hadn’t felt forced toward them. I wonder whether I would have realized how I feel happy, comfortable, creative, smart, and free while managing a garden and making food.
I begin assembling my pizza, handling soft pearls of mozzarella carefully and spooning out tomato sauce. I add the toppings and slide it into the oven. The pizza will crisp on the blazing hot stone and the mozzarella will melt into sticky pools. The tomatoes will roast, turning into pockets of flavor, while the squash will add a chewy texture. I make pizza weekly on Friday nights now, a process that takes me over an hour. It’s liturgy and poetry, art in domestic form. Friday night pizzas and Wednesday night egg bakes and Saturday morning brunches have become my subversive language: I chose this, and other things, but none of my roles make me who I am—daughter, mother, wife, friend. I am who I am without relation to others, and if gardening and cooking remind me of that, I’ll cook on.