Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pizza Night!

Everybody has their family routines and traditions.  I know of a family that has pizza every Friday, tacos every Saturday and spaghetti every Sunday.  I can see how this kind of menu would be attractive in that it would make meal planning and grocery shopping very easy, but that kind of a schedule is way too regimented for me.  Besides, I would finally recover from the heartburn on Thursday only to have to start all over again!  How do these little family traditions start, and what keeps them going?  I remember a period during my childhood in which my father had started a movie night for my brother and I, complete with Dad's root beer, popcorn, and the latest 007 flick.  I don't know why we started.  Perhaps my mom needed some time to herself or my dad was just looking for something to do with the two of us that didn't involve rough housing.  Regardless of why it started, I loved it and greeted each Saturday with excitement and anticipation.  The time spent with my dad and my brother was exclusive and special and I drank up every moment.  All too quickly, our movie nights ended.  Was it the fighting over the popcorn?  Had we watched all the James Bond movies?  Maybe it was just that summer vacation started and we were too busy outdoors.  I don't know why we stopped, but I've always mourned its passing.

Several small things converged to make the creation of our make-ur-own pizza/movie night possible.  The first of which was the immergence of Redbox.  Once these fabulous ATM style movie dispensers popped up at our Walgreens and grocery store, one of my greatest needs was filled.  That would be the need to not go into a Blockbuster by myself with all 3 kids in tow.  The truth of the matter is, I hate running any errands with my kids.  Most of the time I just grit my teeth, steel my nerves and try to make the best of it, but there are a few places I refuse to visit unless I am alone.  I will not take my kids into a Halmark, craft supply shop, or movie rental place.  Period!  I'm aware that I've left out places like china and crystal shops, but seriously, I have no reason to ever go into those places, with or without children.

About the same time Redbox came out, my kids finally got old enough to sit through a movie.  Prior to this past year, I've had an infant to care for and little kids who were better entertained with activities and crafts.  They are also now old enough to actually participate in make-ur-own pizzas.  I've tried to do them in the past, and it was just too stressful trying to keep them from mixing the cheese with the sauce and sticking pepperoni to the fridge and basically turning my kitchen into one big pizza.  Any family activity needs to be fun for everyone if it is to be repeated, even something as simple as making pizza.

Finally, winter happened.  In the middle of the winter it gets dark about an hour after Abby gets home from school.  During these months of very little sunlight, more patience and creativity is required to keep them occupied and out of trouble.  By the time we get to Friday, the tension is running pretty high; we're all a little frazzled and in need of a break.  So, to break the monotony and take some time to relax and enjoy each others company, we started our own movie night, complete with pizza, chocolate milk, and the latest G rated movie.  It started as something we did occasionally and has grown into a regular Friday night event.  Even though the Redbox selections can't support weekly visits, we have plenty of DVD's to fill in the gaps. 

Now that we have fallen into a routine for Friday, it has become the easiest and most enjoyable day of my week.  I always seem to have my pizza supplies on hand and I have a Wolfgang Puck pizza dough recipe that never lets me down.  As long as I get it started by 2 pm, it will be ready by 5.  It's so simple to make:  you just dissolve 1 packet of yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons) in 1 cup of warm water.  Add 1 teaspoon of honey and 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Once those are all mixed, stir in 3 cups of all purpose flour and then kneed the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and elastic.  Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover.  Let it rise until doubled in size and then turn it out and divide it into 4 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a tight ball and then cover again until doubled in size.  The recipe is perfect for 4 personal sized pizzas.

Once we get home from picking Abby up from school, the kids have a little time to play while I get everything ready and preheat the oven and my baking stone to 500 degrees F.  I form their dough for them on pieces of parchment paper, lay out the pizza sauce, cheese and pepperoni to let them create their own masterpieces.  I like to believe that the regularity of pizza and movie night has lulled them into being nice to each other.  Whatever the reason, it has become one of the few times they don't argue over who's going first and who's turn it is to use the cheese and whether or not they got the same amount of pepperoni.  They are surprisingly polite and loving towards each other.  For this reason alone I will keep our new tradition alive.

Each of them has their own unique signature pizza.  I find this amazing considering that they all only want pepperoni!  Abby likes to painstakingly spread a thin layer of sauce over the entire circle of dough.  She only likes a little sprinkling of cheese, and then she makes a happy face out of pepperoni.  Eli on the other hand glops spoonfulls of sauce all over his dough and then strategically drops handfuls of cheese.  He then covers every square inch of his pizza with pepperoni while sneaking a few raw pieces to tide him over until it's cooked.  Jonah still requires a lot of help and supervision, but he likes an even layer of sauce and an even layer of cheese and then just a few pieces of pepperoni.  As soon as they are done decorating their dough, I get their movie started and set about cooking their pizzas.  The parchment paper serves two purposes, it cuts down on the mess and makes it easy to get the pizza into the oven without any fancy equipment or wrist-work.  I just slide a cookie sheet under the paper, transport the whole thing to the oven and then slide the pizzas, paper and all, onto the baking stone.  At 500 degrees, they cook in less than 10 minutes.  Once they've cooled, I slice them and bring them to the coffee table for the kids to eat.  It's the only time I allow them to eat outside of the kitchen and they are under strict instructions to stay off the couch and to bring me their plates and crusts when they are done.  They don't follow those instructions yet, but we're working on it.

Kids find comfort in routines, as do many adults.  Knowing what to expect and what will happen next is less exciting, but it provides a feeling of safety and security.  My kids have come to expect our Friday night pizza and movie tradition and just knowing that it's coming keeps them calmer and happier at a time when we could all use a little less stress.  For now I do the lion's share of the cooking.  I have plenty of time to teach them to make pizza from start to finish.  Without any real guidance from me they are learning something far more important.  They are learning to be gracious with each other and I can see lifelong bonds forming between them.  I don't know how they will remember these days once they are grown and have families of their own.  I hope they will realize the value of traditions and routines no matter how great or small.

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