Tag Archives: judaism

Pizza for Shavuot

There will be no Spelling Bee post today because it’s the holiday of Shavuot. It’s the holiday that’s seven weeks after the second night of Passover. It commemorates when the Torah and commandments were brought down from Mount Sinai in the desert.

A tradition of Shavuot (literally, “weeks”) is to eat meals that are heavy in dairy food. From what I’ve always understood, this stems from the challenges of the laws of kashrut (what is and isn’t kosher). The rules for dairy are fairly simple while the rules concerning meat are very complicated. As everyone who has been given a lot of new rules at once knows, it’s better to focus on the less-risky stuff first, and when you get the hang of it, go on from there.

So: Dairy food for the holiday of Shavuot.

As I’ve been doing for many years, I made pizza for the holiday. The pizza I make for this is in the style of Chicago stuffed pizza.

For those who are unfamiliar with this style of pizza: Imagine taking a pie crust, putting a cheese wheel in the pie crust, topping that with a cracker, letting it bake till the cheese wheel has turned into soup, dumping kinda peppery pizza sauce on top, and then cutting it up and eating it.

In the past, it’s come out like this:

This is the most picturesque of the ones I’ve made.

My early attempts at deep dish/stuffed pizza was years ago and in a cast iron skillet.

I’m salivating right now.
So hungry!

It had been working pretty much fine. It was a little tricky to get the pizza out of the pan, but I was getting it to work!

Shavuot 2018

Everything changed as a result of Shavuot 2018.

I had the pizza in my oven for the 45 minutes it took to bake, and I went to a friend’s to play some board games. The temperature was low enough, and I was keeping track of time.

There was no fire, and there was no danger. I made it back with many minutes to spare.

I waited till it should be ready, took it out of the oven and let it cool a little on the stove as I’d done for years.

Then I tried to get the pizza out of the pan and into the cooling rack.

But the pizza broke.

the crust cracked in half as I was cautiously sliding the pizza out of the 12″ cast iron skillet.

It hit the cooling rack, and two pounds of mozzarella cheese goop fell through the mesh to the paper towel-lined aluminum foil.

It was all I could do not to start wailing.

I returned to my friend’s with a plate of what looked to be modern art nachos and a morose look that made my friends ask about my wellbeing. They also wanted to know where the pizza was.

“This is the pizza!” I exhaled.

I told them my story of woe and how the hours I’d spent getting the dough just right were all for this thing.

Since 2018

I knew something had to change. I had tried layer cake pans and cast iron skillets, and too much had been left to chance with each.

So I did the logical thing: I got a springform pan!


The Dough

I got a recipe off some site a long time ago. I feel like it was a Gordon Ramsay deep dish pizza crust. If I have time later, I’ll look for it. The pizza crust was fine. But a friend of mine who is from Chicago said that it wasn’t Chicago. He didn’t mean it offensively, and I didn’t take it that way. I like to make things better, so I tried to find out what to do instead. He advised a corn component.

In retrospect, it makes sense because the Midwest. Corn.

But then I have a good friend from Wheaton, Illinois, and he’s told me it’s because they grow wheat there. He may be reading this blog, and I hope he is because this is the only way he’ll know that almost two decades after he told me that that’s why his hometown is named Wheaton that I now know that it’s because it was founded by Warren and Jesse Wheaton. Sure, they were farmers, but they did not grow wheat. Way to keep me going for so long, Winston. Really good job there.

I adjusted the dough recipe to include cornmeal. That would give a different crunch to the dough and would add the corn flavor.

I was on the right track, but it still wasn’t Chicago.

After more research, I found a lot of places saying that it’s corn oil that gives it the necessary flavor. One recipe said to use just enough water to get the yeast growing and then use corn oil for the rest.

I tried it, and it ended up being an oily mess. I should have seen that coming. The dough did not rise. At all.

Now I realize that that was back when I had yeast that I didn’t know had gotten too old. Should I try it again now that I have good yeast? Maybe! But probably not.

The Pizza for Sunday Night

This time around I still used mostly water as the wet ingredients, but I cut down on what I normally use and replaced the balance with corn oil.

But first came the water, sugar, and yeast.

I let that sit but like to see the yeast bubble up.

After enough time came corn oil, flour, and garlic powder.

And then more flour.

When it seemed close, I stuck my hands in there, and balled the dough up.

The dough rose on the counter, and I punched it down.

But since the baking is a Sunday activity, I let the dough rise in the fridge from Friday until Sunday.

Cold and risen.

I like to line the bottom of the springform pan with parchment paper. Is it necessary? Maybe!

Rolling it out to a thin layer is important, but too thin means tears. Tears lead to tears.

For a 10″ springform pan, I make about a 16″ circle. The “about” is applicable both to the size and the circle.

But the dough is stretchy, so it’s important to drape it over the edges and then pack the corners in with cheese. So much cheese. But gently.

Or just dump it in like I do.

But I spread it evenly.

And gently.

The top part needs a smaller circle.

Still a loose interpretation of circle.

It’s coming together, and I’m really excited for this. I’m writing this blog as I go rather than at the end, so I’m going crazy from the actual work and from the pictures. So hungry right now, but I don’t dare get full before dinner.

Pinching the crust closed makes for something pretty. Or ridiculous if you have absolutely no affinity for this type of pizza.

I like to make some holes in the top so the pizza doesn’t puff up from the heat. If it puffs up and then bakes hard that way, it will be very difficult to make the sauce stay in place later.

Hang on while I preheat the oven to 425F and do a few other things.

OK I’m back after putting the pizza in. I set the timer for 15 minutes. I’ll check on it then. It should be something like half an hour overall, but this is a nervewracking activity.

Now, I have used all kinds of sauces for the pizza. I’ve used Barilla marinara and other marinara sauces. Kirkland marinara is cheap and in bulk, so I have that on hand usually.

About two years ago, I made the pizza for Calah, but I also gave a piece to my friend JT. His critique was that the sauce wasn’t spicy enough. The sauce was too sweet. I understood. He was correct. There was nothing to cut down the sweetness, and that made it, you know, worse.

This time around, I decided to add crushed pepper. So I put Kirkland marinara sauce and crushed pepper flakes into the food processor to make a more uniform combination and to get rid of the tomato chunks.

OK 15 minutes in, and the pizza dough top has risen some. I’d been checking and seen no sign of that kind of rising, but here we are. Could be worse, but it’s still kinda rough.

Another 11 minutes on the timer after rotating it.

After cooling on the cooktop for many minutes, it was time to open the springform pan and put it on the cooling rack.

Unfortunately, that’s the update I’ll have for you this time around.

The sauce will go on closer to eating time, but it’ll be too late to take a picture then because the holiday will have started.

Also I won’t be able to cut into it until dinner tonight (that is to say last night by the time this publishes), so I don’t have a conclusion for you as to how the pizza is. I have no slice to display.

I’ll let you know the result and reactions when I recover from the certain food coma.

My Unlikely Experience with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

When I was a teenager, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar met me, and it was awesome.

For those who are unaware of my numismatic background, I collect coins and used to work in rare coins and auctions. By work, I mean when I was in high school I coordinated with the administration so I could get a work permit to be employed by the now-defunct Superior Galleries in Beverly Hills. I continued working there during breaks from school for years.

I think it during the summer of 2004–my first stint working there–that I was told by a coworker that Kareem had just left. When it was clear I didn’t understand, he continued: Abdul-Jabbar. I thought my coworker was teasing me. And to be on a first-name basis with the guy couldn’t be real. I grew up in Beverly Hills, so celebrity status doesn’t mean much to me. But I’m from a UCLA family, and home wasn’t far from campus. That meant UCLA summer programs like rocketry at the Corrine A. Seeds University Elementary School (RIP) on what was then-known as Circle Drive North, not Charles E. Young Drive North, and guitar class in a room of Pauley Pavilion before it was redone. I got a gym membership at the Wooden Center. I would go to the J.D. Morgan Center to play NCAA football on the PlayStation 2 that was available to everyone.

Installed on the wall near the PS2 at the Morgan Center was a comparison of the extremes of heights of two UCLA Athletes: Lew Alcindor at 7’2″ towering over the [NAME OF GYMNAST AND HER HEIGHT HERE–I’m going to update this when I find out the name, and if I can get the picture of that comparison, I’ll post that, too. I appreciate and credit any help. The @UCLAAthletics twitter has not yet replied to my inquiry]. It seems like this juxtaposition is gone from from the remodeled Morgan Center, and that’s really too bad.

So when I heard that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would be coming back in a few days, I was cautiously optimistic. It bears mentioning that I loved his scenes in Airplane!, but whose scenes didn’t I like in that film, which stands as my favorite of all time, and each time I watch it, I get something new out of it.

I was sorting through some bulk coins in the office of Wayne Pratali, which was right behind the display counter that snaked its way through the room. Wayne came in and told me that Kareem (was everyone on a first-name basis with him?) had just arrived. The 15-year-old me with a lifetime of being unfazed when meeting someone whose name filled columns in newspapers, was excited and nervous. I walked out of the office and looked forward and a little up because I knew he’s tall. But I didn’t look up nearly enough. He is a skyscraper.

For a man who is larger than life in all ways, what happened next was lovely.

Wayne said: “Kareem, I’d like you to meet Matt.”

“Hi, Matt. Nice to meet you. I’m Kareem,” he said as if there were any chance I didn’t know his name already, and he extended his hand to shake mine. I think I returned the greeting, but I don’t really know. I’d like to believe that I said something intelligible in my glee at what was happening, but I remember my thought in the moment: His hand is bigger than my entire arm!

He could have been gruff. He could have been barely tolerant. He could have been in a hurry.

He wasn’t. He was kind. He was genuine. He made time for me.

I tell this story as how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar met me as a way to get people listen to the rest, albeit begrudgingly. In reality, he did meet me. He could have waited for me to introduce myself to him before he returned the greeting. But he jumped right in.

Sometimes meeting your heroes makes them seem smaller. Sometimes they’re not as nice as you’d wished they were. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar transcends all the reasons why anyone would be hesitant to meet him.

I’m proud that that has withstood the test of time.

He wrote in the Hollywood Reporter the other day about how there’s no excuse for anti-Semitism. It’s written wonderfully, and it’s worth a read: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/kareem-abdul-jabbar-is-outrage-anti-semitism-sports-hollywood-1303210

As a Jewish kid who grew up in LA, I had thought anti-Semitism was dead. But over time it became clear that it isn’t. And it should be should be appalling to everyone that anti-Semitism is so easy to do in a world right now that is appropriately putting extra emphasis on sensitivity that leads to introspection with the idea for change for the better. I’m glad we have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on our side.