Saturday, November 12, 2011

what is your favorite food?

I'm a pretty adventurous eater.  I like all kinds of cuisines, and I'm always game to try something new.  I especially love the theatre of fine dining.   I love caviar.  I love oysters. "Let's try the selection of cheeses."  And I always leave room for dessert. If lobster is on the menu, you can set your watch by the fact that I'll order it.  Or seriously consider ordering it.  I have expensive tastes (of all kinds but that's for another posting) which I have to keep in check, if only for the sake of my bank account.

Almost two decades ago, when HE and I began living together, it was in a place where you didn't need much money, and that was a good thing because much we didn't have.  We lived on one full-time salary.  Mine.  And a not-for-profit one at that.  But on Friday nights, at the end of a long week we'd splurge and buy a bottle of champagne (not the the most expensive but certainly not the cheapest) and order in a pizza.  We were treating ourselves.  For me, it was a perfect meal, made even more so because we were together.

The years pass. The zip codes change. We travelled across the country in one car with one dog and since then our little family has known four cars and loved five dogs, expanding to two at a time.  We went from one salary to two salaries.  We went from renting apartments to owning houses.  And now we find ourselves back to living on one full-time salary.  His.   

But odds are, and just think of the number of Friday nights after all these years, if we do find ourselves at home this is the menu: a decent bottle of champagne (or some such beverage) and a large, well-done, pepperoni pizza. 

The truth of the matter is I can easily put away half of a large pie by myself.  This may come as a surprise to some.  For my 40th birthday all I wanted to do was go out to a movie and get dinner at the new, hot, chic restaurant devoted to pizza owned by celebrity chefs where reservations at a civilized dining hour had to be made weeks in advance.  The pizza was rustic yet elegant; the menu just the kind of menu that 21st century foodies and food critics and magazines and cooking and travel shows go crazy for.  It was a terrific night, but at the end of the day it's not the kind of pizza I crave.

The pizza I crave is made with NYC water; short of that, I look for pizzerias that make a pie that gets as close as it can to tasting like it comes from the old neighborhood.   But it's not just about the way it tastes.  There's something about pizza that lives in a place deep inside me where there are no words.  Something in the combination of sauce and cheese and oregano and garlic, that when I take a bite of the crust takes me back to the slices I would buy with my lunch money.  Back to 4th grade when we were allowed to go out for lunch once a week.  Out for lunch!  Beyond the schoolyard fence!   Unsupervised!  4th grade!  Unthinkable today, right?  What a sense of freedom!  A pack of cubs.  Loud, joking and teasing -- falling over each other.  "Can I get a slice and a coke?"  They always seemed ready for us as we came in and took over the store.  Unleashed on the world all on our own with money in our pocket, if for only an hour.  And back in time for SRA reading in the afternoon. 

Within every slice of pizza is a little piece of home.  A little piece of the time when we were young and out in the world, and when the world felt, in a way, almost too big for us.  And yet, there we were.  And it tasted so good.

The perfect ending for this story would be that the pizzeria is still there.  But it's not.  I went searching for it on the internet and found out that it went out of business in 1990.  In 4th grade you went searching for answers in Encyclopedia Britannica and a pie cost $3.25.  Ahhh...the Internet.  The place where you have to come up with endless answers to endless security questions.  So you can buy books. Or shoes. Or pay bills.  Or reconnect with old friends. Or make dinner reservations.  Or look for a job.  Or have a blog.  So now you understand why the question I'll never choose is: "What is your favorite food?"  The answer is obvious.