A Lesson in Cooking Empathy

May 3, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Diabetic Menu Item, Mediterranean, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

I’ve been doing a little genealogy lately. One of the things that I’ve learned about my ancestors (so far) is that none of them have come from Italy. If you’ll read this post you will probably verify that I don’t have a drop of Italian blood. My cousins’ Italian blood doesn’t seem to help me.

Most all the recipes that I create and post are made using skills that I’ve learned during my lifetime. Generally I’ve learned from reading and experimenting. I was never really taught much about cooking, never took any formal cooking classes, ……. Wait, wait,– I think I had a class in 7th grade that did something with cooking. I think maybe we chopped some lettuce and made a taco or something like that. I do remember watching my grandmother cook; one experience stands above the others. It was that she made kidney stew or something like that. Unfortunately, I was already old enough to know what the kidneys were involved in doing in the body, and watching her pour off a big pot of yellowish water kinda’ polished me off. That was one of the few things I remember not eating. Now I’m a very adventuresome eater – I’ll try almost anything, which is good because we’re going to China this year. But I’ll cut my inexperienced 14-year-old taste buds some slack for that long-ago cringing and say that adventure is great at any age.

So here’s where this post is going. Judy Ferril, a friend of mine from my high school, (just had my 46th high school graduation anniversary) wrote about making whole-wheat pizza. I asked her if she would publish her recipe for the Doctor Grandma’s readers. She’s a busy grandma, but did get it written up and sent it this week. Trying a pizza recipe for the first time and documenting it with words and photos is not so crazy to you, but to me it’s sticking my neck way, way out. I usually only post on recipes that I know how to make. But today, I’m going to try Judy’s pizza. I’m like a northern European-descent gringo. So here’s how my personal lesson in empathy will go; I’ll make her recipe (without the proper equipment) and zero pizza experience and skills. I’m promising myself to publish it, even if it’s a complete failure. To me this is a crash course in having lots of empathy for the readers who are learning to cook the same exact way that I did. The only difference is that I really try to have as many pictures as possible, so you can figure out the steps. Hopefully, this makes it easier to follow the written recipe steps.

One reason that I have never learned to make pizza is that pizza is junk food in my mind – white flour and loaded with saturated fat from cheese and maybe some sausage too. But Judy helped me take the first step in changing that mental view by sending the recipe for whole-wheat dough. She didn’t send the instructions for toppings etc, so I guess I’m going to make something that I would feel good both about serving to Dr. Grandpa (diabetic friendly menu item) and eating myself. Here’s a little ironic twist on myself:  Despite how far it has gone into refined white flours and saturated fats in recent years, pizza was a staple in the Mediterranean diet in the 1950s to the 1970s when the people who ate it were designated the most healthy in the world.  I like to take well-loved meals that are or have become very unhealthy and give them a whole-grain and healthy fat low-fat-and-low-salt twist.  Keep them yummy, at least for taste buds that each of us can reclaim from the food seductions of salt, fat, and sugar.  Judy’s pizza dough recipe does that, so here’s to reclaiming pizza (made differently) from the unhealthy, fattening food category. That lofty goal goes far beyond this little experiment in empathy, but we can only take one step at a time, and I’m sure some of you out there can do better.

I should admit right here that I’m a bit nervous about taking this step – a big risk that could lead to a big ole failure. Do you (our readers) ever feel that way? I never really worried too much about that; but this experience is bringing it straight to my worry center.

O.K., Let’s get into pizza

I love the story of pizza in Wikipedia. It seems to go all the way back to 997AD. I learned that pizza was a baker’s tool; it was a piece of dough used to verify the temperature of the oven. In the Wikipedia piece it says that it was a dish of the poor people and sold in the street. If my ancestors were Italian, I’m sure that I would have been one of the peasants eating street pizza. I think it is important to note that cheese was not added to pizza until 1889. And white flour was not used until after the middle of the 20th century.

I like the part that tells about the PPs – Pizza Purists. Some of the Neapolitans (pizza purists) consider there to be only two true pizzas and they are the ones preferred by many Italians today. One of the two is the Marinara (made by the seaman’s wife, for her sea faring husband when he returned from fishing trips in the Bay of Naples.) It traditionally only has tomato, oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Is that a charming story, or what?

There is even an “Associatzion Verace Pizza Napoletana” (True Neapolitan Pizza Association). They have set very specific rules that must be followed for an authentic Neapolitan pizza. I don’t have a wood-fired, domed oven so I will give up now – what stress-relief! This will not be any where near authentic. My grandest hope is that it is edible.

I never asked Judy if some of her ancestors are Italian, but just by looking over the recipe quickly, I’m thinking that someone must be Italian in her line or she had a nice Italian fisherman’s wife teach her. Let’s face it, if you cook as much as I cook and you haven’t a clue what a pizza peel or a docker is, it was one more verification that my Italian blood has been thinned out, if I had a drop. Note: I looked up both cooking utensils (Isn’t the internet wonderful?). The pizza peel, I have seen first hand – just never knew its name, when I was in Italy about 8 years ago. I’m sure, that many of you have seen them too. A “pizza peel” is the long-handled ‘thingy bobber’ that you slide under the pizza to place it into the real brick oven. I’m thinking that I should first learn if I can make an editable food item before I invest in the pizza peel. So my plan is, instead of using a “pizza peel”, to use a cookie sheet to move the potential pizza around. The other item, the ‘pizza docker’ is a very clever ‘do hickey’. It has a handle, with little ‘pokers’ on a wheel – you roll it along your dough to poke it. That keeps your dough from bubbling up and stretching inward. Clever, heh? I figure that too can wait to see if I can make at least one pizza, so I used a fork instead. Judy didn't mention to cut the pizza with a pizza cutter; but I feel so authentic - we happened to have received one as a gift years ago. It was still attached to its original cardboard marketing piece.

Starting to make pizza. It wasn’t long before I goofed up twice. The first goof was, the water temperature. I read the directions (below 110 degrees F). After adding the honey and stirring the honey, the water temperature went down. So I got the brilliant idea to put the cup into the microwave for 15 seconds. Too hot! Had to wait for the water/honey to cool off below 110 degrees. Goof number two: Dr. Grandpa got a business call and came to lunch after the pizza process started – so I was talking about his phone call and glanced at my yeast and water. Yikes! I looked at the wrong line and said – Oh rats! I was supposed to use 1 ½ cups water not ½ cup water. So I poured the yeast that was working into more water. I discovered that I had the water amount right to begin with. So I was getting more worried by the minute.

I didn’t have any of the low-sodium salt, so I just used a little less regular salt. She had written that honey is a nice mix with the whole wheat – so honey it was. Let me note here that she mentions using a ‘sugar alternative’. So many of our readers may think that Dr. Grandma's Delight sweetener would be a perfect ‘sugar alternative’, but yeast need something that they can munch – this is one place to use sugar or honey, plus it’s only 2 teaspoons in the entire 3-4 pizza batch. Don’t worry about it.

Except for my mistakes, I followed Judy’s exact directions. (See Judy Ferril's Recipe for Whole Wheat Pizza Crust.) I put the dough in my oven, since it is a draft free place to rise. Came back after about an hour and a half and tested it for double – that is, pushed my knuckle into the dough; it left a dent and did not rise back up. Voila! It was perfect. I chopped some vegetables and used chunky basil sauce from a jar. Rolled it out …… O.K. ….. another mistake. I forgot to use my fake docker (a fork) on the first pizza. I have no clue why, but it only had a very small bubble or two. But the other two pizzas, I poked with a fork.

I topped the pizzas with the jar sauce; slivered onions, red and green peppers, mushrooms, feta cheese crumbles, Parmesan cheese and a little snipped fresh basil from the indoor conservatory plants. Olives and spinach would have been nice, too – but I forgot. Baked them in a 425 degree F convection oven for about 10 minutes. I heated the cookie sheets in the oven for a couple of minutes before I placed the dough on them.

As it turns out, pizza with a whole-grain crust and low saturated fats can be a nutritious meal, even for those with diabetes. Note: If you have diabetes or are watching your weight, look at each slice of pizza and compare it with a slice of bread. How many slices of bread do you consume at a meal. Maybe it’s a good idea to save some for another meal.

I have a few observations:

  1. Grandmas can learn too and they can learn from each other.
  2. Even if we make a few mistakes, it may turn out good.
  3. Pizza is really not so hard – once you’ve done it, you realize that there’s nothing to be so nervous over.
  4. Again in the ‘once you’ve done it category’ you now have it in your repertoire of cooking and you can do it again. Perfect for a family!
  5. I didn’t do a formal calculation of cost; but in a quick price calculation – it was about $7.00 or less for my three pizzas. If you add sausage, or pepperoni, or meatballs, or anchovies, or whatever people add to pizza, it may be a little more. I added generous amounts of vegetables and a light to moderate amount of cheese. I don’t buy pizza, but I don’t think you can get that much pizza for that low price.
  6. Most of the time involved was the pizza rising phase. You can do something else during that phase; change a diaper, read a story, put a load of laundry in the washer or kick back and read a book.
  7. I love the concept of whole-wheat flour pizza PLUS the ‘controlling the cheese’ factor. This was true in the original Mediterranean diet studies published in the 1970’s, and it true of the Mediterranean-Style of Eating” that we recommend in this website. Neither Dr. Grandpa, nor I want to have dinner based upon white flour, nor do we want to eat a great load of cheese – which seems so common in commercial pizza, turning it from being a healthy food to a highly processed food engineered for craving, as he has written about in his recent blog post on craving.