The daily dilemma

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 2, 2016 10:42 PM

There are some weeks when I am firing on all cylinders, as the saying goes. I have energy to spare, my fuel-injectors are injected with energy or whatever. I’ve got it going on. And then there are weeks when getting out of bed is a chore. On the days of these weeks, and today was one, I just don’t have it in me to do much of anything. I work because I have to. Starting laundry, something as simple as throwing clothes into the washing machine, topping with detergent and pushing the button, is deemed too taxing. I think it’s the rain. 

When I was younger and lived on the east coast, I could tell it was raining even before I looked outside. I would wake up sluggish. As if someone had filled the tank with mud. 

Yes, the car metaphors are already wearing thin. Did I mention that today was a sluggish day?

Rain affects me and always has. I love it now that I live in the west where it doesn’t rain very much. In the east, where it can rain seemingly for weeks, something happens to the air. I want to say it’s heavy but I know, scientifically, that’s not actually correct. It simply feels heavy. Maybe it’s the lack of sun. I just remember feeling leaden when I would get up when it was raining. 

Coincidentally, it’s been raining here for days. It started last Thursday. Friday’s storm was horrendous, with 52 miles per hour winds and 2.73 inches of rain in about an hour. It rained on Saturday. Sprinkled a bit on Sunday. Stormed again on Monday during the day and into the night. This morning, the sky was low and thick. Eventually it would rain and do so for hours. It was coming again. It never really left. 

I woke up at 6:25 because of a certain blonde furry head that appeared on my side of the bed. You up? I wasn’t but I played along. I realized I had slept through the night, something that rarely happens anymore. We went to bed at 11. That’s seven and a half hours of uninterrupted sleep. I should have felt refreshed; I should have felt good. Ready to get up and tackle the day. Instead, I felt run over and worn out. 

And it was only Tuesday. 

So I was dragging a bit all day. So much so that when it came time to fix dinner, I had no energy to really cook. This is not normal for me as a) I like to cook and 2) do so nearly every night, concocting something, sometimes from not much. Tonight I contemplated what I had to work with. Sometimes I know exactly what I’m going to make. Sometimes, I’m inspired. I’ll have an idea and put it together and it will be pretty good. I made stuffed Portobello mushrooms on Saturday night. I soaked them in balsamic vinegar, and filled them with a sautéed blend of mushrooms, Italian squash, onions, garlic, a hint of jalapeno, parmesan and goat cheese. I topped them with more grated parmesan and fresh blueberries. Kevin said they were some of the best mushrooms I’ve made. 

But tonight I was uninspired. It is the daily dilemma. What do to for dinner. I gave him a choice: pizza or Chinese. 

He chose Chinese. So naturally I made pizza. Tired and cantankerous. 

I have to have some control, after all. Something to celebrate on this tired day.

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It's not delivery but I kinda wish it was

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 3, 2016 9:25 PM

We live in a fairly remote area. As such, no one delivers food. Oh, I supposed it’s possible that we could hire an Uber driver to pick something up and bring it here; maybe GrubHub. The problem is that Uber doesn’t deliver anything other than people, at least not to my knowledge, and GrubHub isn’t available here yet. The only thing we ever got delivered in our old lives was the occasional take out from China Garden, who made damn good garlic chicken, vegetable fried rice and vegetable egg rolls, and pizza. Everyone gets pizza delivered. It’s de rigueur for American cities. 

Out here in nowhere’s ville, I cook nearly every night. This means that we eat healthy most nights. There is also the added benefit that I enjoy it immensely. Cooking relaxes me. I love to experiment with new ideas, things I’ve just made up or things that we tried somewhere else and decided that I could probably make it just fine here. A couple of nights ago we grilled a stack of romaine, topped it with sliced Roma tomatoes and grated parmesan cheese, drizzled with some spicy Caesar dressing. We’d had something similar at Jonathan’s last week. Seemed easy enough to make and it was.

Last night I made a Cajun pasta dish, with a garlic cream Cajun sauce, tossed with smoked Cajun-spiced salmon, served over gluten-free rotini. It was delicious, spicy, and the gluten-free was a nice way to balance the cream sauce.

Like I said, I love to cook. 

But toward the end of the week, and it’s Thursday, I start to run out of steam on nearly every level. I’m slammed with work, and I’m not sleeping well because of it. Also, I need a haircut. I seem to function better when my hair is working. I work from 7:30 am until the equivalent of 7:30 or 8 pm, which means 9, taking time out for dinner. My days are about 12 hours long. I’m not complaining. I like what I do; and I get paid to do what I like to do. A winning combination. But I never seem to get enough done. Today is one of those days.

When we showered, at about 6:45, I asked the husband-unit what he wanted for dinner. Before he could answer, I told him that it had to be either PF Chang’s frozen Chinese – which is actually pretty damned good – or frozen pizza. I had the ingredients to make a pizza, essentially from scratch, but that takes more time than taking something out of the box and putting it into the oven. And I had neither the time nor the inclination to make one. Sensing this, the husband said, correctly, pizza. Even Chang’s frozen Chinese takes some cooking and stirring time. 

I always keep a frozen pizza in the freezer, just in case. Lately we’ve been using the DiGiorno pizzeria thin crust pizzas. For frozen, they’re not bad. In fact, their margarita pizza is the opposite of not bad, edging toward fairly good. 

DiGiorno ran an ad campaign not too long ago, touting how good they are, by comparing themselves to delivery. I’m not sure that’s a high bar since Dominos delivers as does Pizza Hut (affectionately referred to as Pizza Slut in our house) and neither one are very good. Still, the campaign theme was a good one, memorable even. It’s not delivery. It’s DiGiorno. As good as it is, I still sort of wish it was delivery. But I’ll take it because it’s easy, it’s fast. And it allows me to keep working it out loud well into the evening. Maybe tonight I’ll even sleep.


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What is it about Friday's and pizza?

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 14, 2014 11:11 PM

I realize that the above question may be a bit rhetorical but these are the things I wonder about. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it; it doesn’t keep me up at night or anything. And the truth is, I probably even know the answer to the headline’s question. That’s not going to stop me from writing an entire post about it, though. Don’t think you’re going to get out of this that easily.

Here’s my theory. By the time Friday rolls around, people are tired. Younger people go out drinking after to work – bar hopping in certain cities – to release the stress of the week and to prepare for the weekend. I’m not sure that drinking on Friday is a good way to prepare for days off since drinking too much can lead to little enjoyment of the next day. But that’s between those people and their chosen glass.

For those of us who aren’t into bars, and long ago outgrew the going out on Friday night and fighting the crowds thing, we like to celebrate the end of the week by simply kicking back on the couch, maybe watching a movie, having a glass of wine.

After a long week of working 10 hours a day, I’m in no mood to cook. The easiest thing to do is order a pizza. Hot melting cheese, garlic drenched sauce, fresh sautéed ingredients, preferably only veggies, atop a hand-tossed pizza crust. Pizza is also the easiest to eat. If the place we’re ordering from delivers, even better.

So that’s it. Pizza is easy. And it tastes good, especially since we’ve discovered Rocco’s Little Chicago.

When we used to have Fritini, the late afternoon would roll around and I’d be tired. On one hand, I’d dread the evening a little just because I was exhausted from the week; on the other hand, I looked forward to unwinding with good friends. Laughing and talking, having some great wine together. We always cooked though usually something exquisitely easy like pasta. Or we threw something on the grill. At the end of the night, I was always glad we’d done it. The ultimate way to release the week is through laughing with best friends.

The second best, then, is ordering a pizza and just rockin’ the couch. I know Roy and Bobbi used to always have pizza on Friday nights. When we had Fritini, that stopped. But now, without Fritini, I think they’re back to ordering pizza. I’ve gotten chats that say simply: gotta go. Pizza’s here.

We don’t have pizza every week. In fact, sometimes we still cook. But I am particularly tired today. It’s been a long week of 11 plus hour days, five of them in a row. The sad part is I didn’t even have enough 11 plus hour days. I could have used one more. Maybe I’d be further along on my to-do list.

So I’m pretty beat, as well as hopelessly behind. And it’s Friday. And we’re having pizza tonight, from Rocco’s because it’s easy, it’s good and it’s fun. Which is ultimately what it is about Fridays and pizza. As they say in Italian, finire di mangiare. As they say at Rocco’s, eat up. As I say, live it out loud. 

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Deep dish or thin

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, February 12, 2014 11:13 PM

I love pizza. I just can’t seem to find really good pizza anywhere outside of New York or Chicago, and especially Chicago. The last time we were in the Windy City it was for a December football game about two years ago. We flew in on Friday, the game was on Sunday and so we had all day Saturday to walk around and enjoy the city. It was cold and raining, just miserable weather and we couldn’t have been having more fun. For lunch we stopped into the original Pizzeria Uno at the corner of Ohio and Wabash. It was packed. So we went across the street and one block north to Dues, which opened in 1955 when the original grew just too busy. Uno means one, Due for two. They have the distinct claim to fame of originating the deep dish pizza that has become synonymous with Chicago-style pizza.

We sat in Dues on that cold rainy Saturday in December, eating our deep dish pizza and savoring every bite.

Dues. Unos is in the background. Obviously not December.

Kevin is from the Chicago area, and as such considers himself a true connoisseur of the pie. Whenever we get a chance, he orders thick crust. I actually prefer thin crust just because it’s less filling, and there’s much less bread. You still get the same amount of sauce and cheese and veggies. But we don’t eat pizza very often because of the bread factor, regardless of whether it’s thick or thin, so ultimately it doesn’t matter.

Still, who doesn’t love pizza? Evidently, nobody. At least according to a report released today by the US Department of Agriculture based on a study they commissioned about what we eat in America. The report, compiled by the Food Surveys Research Group studied Americans’ eating habits from 2007 thru 2010 and came to one non-surprising result: The most popular food consumed in every corner and crevice of this country is pizza. In fact, 13% of us, ages 2 and over, eat pizza on any given day of the week. That’s 1 in 8. Kids and teens eat it the most, 22%, with 1 in 4 males consuming the most. Many college guys will consume it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in the same day. Adults 60 and over eat it less. Just 6% of them chow down on the Italian-American delicacy on a regular basis.

Pizza provides approximately 27% of the total energy a consumer uses every day. It provides about a third of the total amount of calcium and half of a day’s total intake for lycopene. It also provides 38% of the daily intake of sodium in adults as well as quite a bit of protein, saturated fat, fiber and carbohydrates.

There didn’t seem to be any data as to what pizza people most prefer. I think it depends on taste and on geographic location. When we were young, in New York, we used to order pizza from a place called Salvatore’s. They offered regular crust and Sicilian style, which was thick and wonderful. I loved it. I loved Dues the day we were in Chicago.

Tonight, Justin and his girlfriend are in Chicago. They were supposed to be here but they were delayed leaving New York and so they missed their flight. Southwest couldn’t get them on another flight so they put them in a local Marriott. We suggested they hop a cab or take the El downtown and get some pizza at Unos or Dues, deep dish or thin, whatever their fancy. It might give them the energy they need to continue their travels tomorrow.

They could probably get a seat, seeing that most people, 59%, eat pizza at home. 

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In praise of the olive

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 29, 2011 6:50 PM

It begins life as a seed that grows into a tiny green fruit with another seed in the middle. They don’t come hollow or stuffed with pimento, nor are they pickled, sliced or diced, not at first. They’re olea europaea, olives, whose trees are native to the Mediterranean, first appearing more than 7000 years ago and becoming a tremendous source of wealth. Legend states that when the Persians set fire to Athens, the original olive tree was burnt down, but on the very day it burned, it grew again to twice its height. Perhaps because the tree had been a gift from the gods.

There is definitely mythology in these little green footballs. Olives are mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible, in both the Old and the New Testament. They’re mentioned seven times in the Quran, praised as a precious fruit. In The Odyssey, Odysseus crawls beneath two shoots of olives growing from a single stock while in the Iliad, the olive tree is used as metaphor. It appears in the mountains by a spring, notable because olives rarely thrive too far away from the sea and definitely not up a mountain slope. This gave the Greeks power, and proved that the gods were watching out for them. The Roman poet Horace described his diet as filled with olives, endives and smooth mallows. Lord Monboddo, an 18th century Scottish judge and philosopher, commented that olives were one of the preferred foods of the gods because of their perfection. After the 16th century, the olive traveled to and began to grow in Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina, and in the 18th century, in California. I thank the Lord, as in Monboddo.

We’re big on olives in this house, especially on Friday nights, affectionately known as Fritini. We prefer the manzanilla variety, a Spanish green cured lightly with lye then packed in salt and lactic acid brine, stuffed with pimento. When run through with a martini pick, and soaked in vodka for the appropriate amount of time, they’re quite tasty.

Of course, there is also the French variety known as picholine, also salt-brine cured with a subtle lightly salty flavor and packed with citric acid. And I’m a personal fan of the kalamata, especially on a Greek salad. The niçoise is great on pizza. There are also the Italian Liguria, ponentine, gaeta, lugano, the sevillano from California, and about 12 other types growing on about 800 million trees throughout the world.

But let’s return for a moment to the lovely green manzanilla and a number of its friends marinating in an ice cold Grey Goose martini, its pimentos smiling up from the liquid, just begging to be nibbled, chewed and swallowed.

On this last Friday in July, I give thanks to the Greeks and especially the Goddess Athena who brought olives to the tiny people below. This gift, useful for light, heat, food, medicine and perfume was chosen by Zeus as the world’s most useful invention, an invention that has also come to symbolize peace, wisdom, glory, fertility, power and purity. Athena’s original olive tree was said to be planted on the rocky hill of what is today the high city, the Acropolis.

The original olive tree on the Acropolis, Athens, Greece

In praise of Athena, and her incredibly inventive fruit, I raise a glass. Cheers!

In which I cheat and order pizza

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 25, 2011 9:25 PM

We’ve been doing the low-carb thing for a while now. Some weeks we do better than others as far as keeping the carbs to a minimum. I’m a potato freak. A pasta freak and pizza freak, too. Basically all of the really good Ps; all of the exceptional carbohydrates.

We do reward ourselves each week though, regardless of whether we really deserve it or not, with a cheat night. Cheat night means carbs galore. Pasta? Forget the whole-wheat stuff and bring on the enriched white flour kind. With lots of cheese. And garlic bread. Maybe a cookie for dessert.

Or something on the grill – the usual suspects apply: chicken, ribs, steak – accompanied by a twice-baked potato. With lots of butter and sour cream mixed in so it’s nice and creamy.

Or pizza. 

Ah, pizza. That most delicate of dishes from, well, everywhere according to its rich, storied and tomatoed history, a history that begins in the Mediterranean centuries ago when the Greeks and the Phoenicians indulged in a flatbread made from flour and water. They soaked it and cooked it on a hot stone before seasoning it with herbs. The Greeks called it plakous, and it was a bit like our current focaccia.

The word pizza comes from the Latin word pinsa, meaning flatbread. One particularly interesting legend has Roman soldiers acquiring a taste for Jewish Matzoth while stationed in occupied Palestine. Recent archeologists actually discovered a perfectly preserved Bronze Age pizza in the Veneto region. What I’d like to know is… why wasn’t it eaten?

By the Middle Ages pizza began to resemble the pizza we know today, with dough flattened and covered with olive oil and herbs. Indian Water Buffalo cheese gave pizza mozzarella, an ingredient that no good pizza today would be caught preserved without.

Tomatoes were introduced in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the starving peasants of Naples started using the fruit they considered dead (!) in many of their foods. It soon became a staple of Naples, with street vendors offering it to customers for every meal. By 1830, the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba of Naples was born. It was the world’s first true pizzeria.

Said world would never be the same.

The pizza Margherita made its debut in 1889 when Italy’s Queen Margherita visited Brandi Pizzeria and Rafaele Esposito, the pizza maker, created a pizza in her honor, one showcasing the three colors of the new Italian flag: red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella) and green (fresh basil).

I bring this up because I just ordered a pizza in the Queen’s honor, though I had them throw some mushrooms on it as well. And we went with the thin crust rather than deep dish.

Pizza came to the US in the late 19th century and took up residence in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia and of course, Chicago, where the Chicago-style deep dish pizza first made an appearance in 1943 when Ric Riccardo and Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno. It’s still one of the best places for pizza in the country, along with its sister restaurant, Pizzeria Due.

It’s hard to find good pizza in LA, but after 14 years here in Oak Park, we finally found one that’s close by. Tomorrow we’ll feel guilty for having cheated on a Monday rather than a Friday, but only slightly. Because we’ll have indulged in one of the best Ps around.

Pizza, thick or thin, meated or vegetarian, Quattro Formagi or cheeseless, is always worth celebrating. 

I think I hear the doorbell…

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