Pizza

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I’m prepared to be attacked. I’ve braced myself for brutal comments. I have likewise done the necessary emotional work to ensure that I will be okay when, not if, I am met with disparaging and harsh statements. Therefore I’ll just go ahead and blurt it out: I like salad on top of pizza.

Well, okay. One specific salad on top of a specific pizza. But I do. I love it and I am okay saying it out loud. Granted the mere idea of salad on top of pizza is one that much of the internet is probably simultaneously gagging and rolling their eyes to and that’s okay. I get it. We, the collective we who likes to draw hard lines in the sand about what we will and will not eat, gosh darn it, are very passionate about what should and definitely should not go on top of a pizza. But I’m telling you: this salad pizza thing that you can find at a pizza place across the street from Santa Monica college is something else. Maybe it would help if I told you more about it?

According to Grey Block Pizza’s website this salad pizza has a “Cheese, Onion and Sour Cream Covered Crust, Topped by thick layer of Chopped Fresh Salad, Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing and Covered with Fresh California Avocados.” Crunchy greens and a tangy dressing mixed with the creamy avocados and the soggy in the best way possible crust is just something that I’ll never forget. Chances are if you hate the mere idea of salad on pizza then this all probably makes you want to barf and I respect that. Truth be told it might have had more to do with the moment than the salad topped pizza.

If I try, I can chart my adult life with types of pizza. It’s not like I’m some crazy pizza enthusiast but I am a person who loves and remembers food. Thus I remember the pizza from my childhood that we used to get at the Shakey’s that had a cool jukebox with Joan Jett on it. I remember my spitfire great-aunt taking us to a deep dish place when my family visited Chicago in the mid-1980’s.  I remember the personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut I used to scarf down with high school friends at lunch. I remember the barbecue chicken pizzas that took over Los Angeles when I moved there in 1995. I remember the thin crust slices we’d order drunk from some place in West Hollywood. I remember the guilty pleasure pizza from Domino’s, a super thin crust, pepperoni, black olives and a dash of hot sauce over the top, when my alcoholism was really off to the races. Chronologically, with some pizzas forgotten along the way, that brings us to the salad pizza in Santa Monica.

It was 2009. I had just quit drinking and gone back to school. Going back to school was  part of my “getting my shit together” plan that I had that year. There was a vague educational goal but really it was about keeping me out of trouble and out of bars. My life was pretty simple- other that the whole trying not use drugs or drink everyday and crying all of the time because my life was a mess part. I went to school. I went to meetings. Rinse and repeat for 365 days. I had shed all of my drinking friends, my job where I also drank and used cocaine on the clock because I’m an efficient addict who can multitask and even my old relationship. School and getting sober is all I actually had and it was enough. But a guy had to eat and in addition to all of the finer taco stands on the west side, yours truly had this pizza.

By the slice with what I’m sure was some caffeine loaded beverage, I wolfed down the salad pizza with joy and abandon. This was a fork and knife affair, not a fold it like a paper plane headed for your mouth kind of slice. No matter how it got to my belly, the point was it got there. I’ll pretty much eat avocado on a wet piece of cardboard so the idea of it on a pizza was a tempting one indeed. Once tried, I was hooked. Salad on a pizza? It almost sounded healthy and it almost felt like something I discovered. Like here I was eating those two things separately for all these years while this place was saving time and serving them deliciously together. Then for several months at least once a week, salad pizza and me became a thing. It was something I gobbled up happily because this was the first time in over a decade that I was eating alone and eating whatever the hell I wanted. The fact was I didn’t know who I was or what I liked to eat away from my old relationship and independent of drugs and alcohol. Therefore discovering salad on a pizza was a revelation. I was eating what I wanted and getting closer to knowing the person I wanted to be. Like what else did I even like? What else should I eat that I never ate? What sort of deliciousness had I been missing all of this time and should I try immediately? I had no clue but I was dying to find out.

Little did I realize at the time, that salad and pizza were a long time culinary couple. When rambling about my discovery, my older brother who had been to Italy several times remarked, “Oh yeah. There are lots of places in Italy that do that with Arugula.” Well, damn. Someone should really tell the pizza place in Santa Monica that though. They call what I ate so many times in 2009 “The Original Salad Pizza.” Nevertheless, that moment and that salad topped pizza belonged to me and no amount of internet hate can take that away.

Listen to the seanologues podcast episode 2, “Pizza” on Anchor and iTunes! 

what feeds me

shutterstock_94824595Currently, there are two pans of bread crumbs drying on my counter for two different types of stuffing or dressing or savory bread pudding or whatever your mom called it and now you call it. Because nothing says a small, sober alcoholic Thanksgiving like two different types of stuffing. Likewise, there is a container of chipotle sweet potato hummus in the refrigerator, two pumpkin rolls in the freezer and a big bag of potatoes in my cupboard awaiting that ancient Mahoney mashing magic.  And lest we forget, a turkey. I was thinking this morning as a laid in bed plotting my gravy strategy (because everyone needs one of those) that if per chance the apocalypse were to happen on Thanksgiving, this wouldn’t be so bad. We certainly wouldn’t go hungry. At least my version of the apocalypse features pie and a parade on the television.

I would say food is dominating my thoughts today because it’s Thanksgiving, which is by far my favorite holiday, but that would be a lie. I pretty much think about what I’m going to eat, what I’ve eaten, what I’ve never eaten and even wonder what your eating all throughout my day. As we’ve discussed here a few times, I love cooking, going to restaurants and sharing meals with people I love. Now that I don’t look forward to waking up and drinking a bathtub of tequila everyday, I look forward to what I’m eating. I will admit without shame or remorse that there are invitations to things that I have either accepted or denied based solely on the food being served and said event. Wanna talk to me about taxes over a plate of tacos? I’ll be there! Wanna have a friendly chat at a vegan juice bar? Hard pass! I try to celebrate and enjoy everything I eat– from a really great, perfectly ripe banana to a birthday cupcake. So hopefully it makes a choosier eater and happier Sean all the way around.  But when I think about what actually feeds me, what actually nourishes me and what really satisfies my appetite, then I’m thinking in a deeper universe far beyond my gravy strategy from earlier(still important, btw).

I had a day last week where I laughed really hard with two newer  but suddenly beloved friends on the phone. That same day I also read a great novel on the train into work as it was raining outside. There was also two delicious cups of coffee, some homemade corn chowder and a dinner of dumplings to be had that day. Sure, those things didn’t entirely make my day. Far from it. That was a day at work when me and a coworker sat with a screaming person suffering from mental health issues trying to get committed to the hospital. Additionally, I was faced with a nagging personal issue at work that I’ll eventually have to deal with before it turns into the demogorgon of my professional life. Naturally, there was also another avalanche of gross, depressing ass headlines (which do we even make any other kind of headlines in 2017?) just to top things off. But what I’m really left with today, what really stuck to my ribs and fed me was all the bright spots of that day.  Particularly, the laughter.

There is something about laughing with other people that does more for me than any pan of brownies ever can which is truly saying something if you really know me and know how important brownies are to me. But it’s true. When other people are making me laugh or I’m making them laugh, I feel like I know why I’m here on the planet. I feel like all this bullshit we listen to and people we put up with are totally worth it. Laughter is this rebellious pocket of joy that waves its middle finger at everyone and everything telling us how horrible the world is. Laughter can’t be kept down and wants us to keep pursuing it and I for one am 100% on board.

As a creative person, another thing that really feeds me is great art. This time of year for film lover like me is basically the cinema version of Thanksgiving. There are so many knockout, brilliant films pushed out from now until the end of the year that a movie amateur would feel overwhelmed. But for junkies like myself, its absolute heaven. Already with my sleeves rolled up and checking off movies one by one, I can’t say enough nice things about Lady Bird. The film directed by Greta Gerwig is getting heaps of praise and it’s easy to see why. Gerwig captures those awkward teenage moments while never deviating into cliché. But for my money the movie that knocked me on my ass and blew my mind at the same time is The Florida Project. While telling the tale of kids who live in rent by the week motels outside of Disney World, the movie also will open moviegoers eyes to the existence of America’s hidden homeless population. But what the movie really does is show that these kids are still capable of having fun while being homeless. Shot in a clear hilarious homage to The Little Rascals, Sean Baker focuses on  6-year-old Moonee and her friends who don’t need big fancy suburban houses to cause trouble. Really funny, heartbreaking and packed with the most devastatingly beautiful ending of a film that I’ve seen in years, The Florida Project fired my creative juices up and whet my appetite for more delicious seasonal film offerings.

As the clock ticks down and I get ready to transition from normal guy in pajamas to crazy person in the kitchen, the biggest thing that feeds me recently is more present than ever: love. There is a great moment in the film Marvin’s Room that goes like this:

Bessie: Oh, Lee, I’ve been so lucky. I’ve been so lucky to have Dad and Ruth. I’ve had such love in my life. You know, I look back, and I’ve had such… such love.

Lee: They love you very much.

Bessie: No, that’s not what I mean. No, no… I mean that I love them. I’ve been so lucky to have been able to love someone so much.

This exchange has stuck with me for over 20 years since that film was released and not just because it’s between Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. But because the longer I’m sober and hopefully less self involved, I want to be grateful for the love I get to have for people and not chase love for what I’ll get in return. I know. Sounds lofty and hard and a little corny. Still, I think I’ll try it. I think I’ll try to love my husband, my cats, other addicts and alcoholics and my family the best way I know how.

And today what that looks like is lots of laughs and two different  kinds of stuffing.

 

 

 

Jalapeño Business

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Blame it on 15 years in Los Angeles and growing up with green chili loving parents, but my obsession with all things spicy is nearly at the point where I become one of those people. One of those hot sauce collecting, chili pepper printed apron wearing, spice obsessed people. These people are well beyond the hot sauce in the bag meme of 2016. These people heard that joke from Loni Love 10 years ago and were armed with their own long before that.  These people can identify chillies from sight and cooked in with other ingredients. These people aren’t screwing around when it comes to spicy stuff. I am not yet among them but I could be in the forseeable future.

But I am also not one of those food rules people. Those assholes who say that in order to be human and show your face in public, you have to cook and/or eat in a certain way. In fact, that whole idea of food being only okay if you do it by the way someone on the internet tells you to do it, negates the beauty of food in the first place. A recent, idiotic, local foodie kerfuffle over (deep sigh. help me sweet baby Jesus) “food appropriation” recently proves my point. The openness, adaptability and interpretation of food and how we all choose to prepare it is the one damn thing we have left to help bind us together. We all need to fucking eat and in my mind however we choose to do that is terrific. This said, I do feel bad for those souls out there who have not, as dictated by Sporty, Posh, Baby, Scary and Ginger, spiced up their lives. I wouldn’t tell these people that they had to learn to love hot and spicy and, by the way, goddamn delicious food but I do feel sad they don’t or cannot.  I get why many can’t due to disagreeable stomachs or just plain dislike and I am sympathetic. This week, however, I personally needed spicy food in the worst way possible.

“I just want to burn my face off” was the first thing that came into my mind on Sunday. Over the weekend, I picked up the congested and wheezing summer cold that my husband was laying down. Of the many incredible gifts my mister has given me over the last 7 years, this one was not one of my favorites.  I felt wiped out and sort of unable to enjoy anything including food. For someone like me who loves to eat, not being able to taste food is a particularly shitty side effect of having a cold. So I called out from the day job and sat on my couch armed with reality TV from Hulu, chicken wings from the grocery store deli and two bottles of hot sauce from my refrigerator. In times like these, where breathing is impaired and my energy level is lower than the current White House approval rating, spicy food is the only thing I want.

I guess the old wives, whoever those clever bitches were, say that spicy food when you’re sick loosens up the sinuses. While the hot sauce on the wings assisted in that mission to the best of its ability, the main goal for me is always flavor. Now, I don’t put hot sauce on everything as I believe most dishes are best enjoyed the way they were initially seasoned and prepared but there are foods (lots of them) that benefit from an additional kick. Naturally, my beloved tacos and burritos are such items but fried rice is helped out by a big squirt of sriracha and a bowl of chili comes alive with some red pepper flakes. And eggs in any form, for me, are merely a vessel for Tapatio. After devouring my wings, chugging a gallon of water and sleeping most of the day, it was time for dinner which was of course also spicy. It was time to take matters in my own hands. Desperate sinuses call for desperate measure so I channeled my old boss who was a master at Mexican cuisine and who made salsas and hot sauces that were downright awe-inspiring. She taught me that a genius pico de gallo (literally meaning the beak of the rooster) can be had if you had the skills and the right ingredients. Hence our taco salads for the evening were getting a proper punch in the face with homemade pineapple pico de gallo.

Pineapple pico de gallo

Half pineapple, peeled and diced small

1 jalapeno, diced

Half a red onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of oregano

Dash of red pepper flakes

Juice of one whole lime

Generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Place fruits, veggies and spices in a large bowl. Top with lime juice and stir. Drizzle with olive oil and stir until the salsa is incorporated.

It’s that easy. The stirring and the olive oil are both super important because they take it from being just fruit with some stuff in a bowl to becoming a legit badass condiment you’ll want to put on everything.  I had half of a jalapeno in mine to start but given the sorry state of our sinuses, the husband and I figured we’d throw the rest of the pepper in there and we were glad we did. Turns out, we picked a really sweet pineapple which could have thrown Operation: Burn My Face Off out the window had it not been for the remaining pepper.

5 days later, I’m still sniffling and not 100%. Thus, the quest for spice continues. Last night, I made our favorite chickpea curry in hopes of a different culture holding the key to cold relief thru cuisine. While delicious, I still feel the same. Still stuffed up and lagging in energy. But better overall. More importantly, I realized something bigger happened in my pursuit to burn my face off: I was having fun being creative and cooking. I’ve been working a lot over the last two weeks and feeling like my summer and my life aren’t big enough or festive enough. No beaches or fancy vacations or summer Instagram moments. From a superficial standpoint, it felt like I wasn’t nailing life these last couple of weeks. Yet these adventures in the kitchen, feeding the people I love and having a hell of a time, they feel bigger and more significant. They feel like enough. After all, my old idea of spicy was buying drugs from a stranger in an alley in downtown Los Angeles and having my nose burn for entirely unnatural reasons. No, thanks. I’ll stick to my delightfully, dull, domestic pursuits. And if needed, I can always had more jalapeno.

at least there’s potatoes

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By my own admission, I am that food person. You know the one. The food magazine reading, reality food competition watching, restaurant obsessed, cooking gadget collector, straight up food nerd. I think I was born into the role.

Cooking and eating in the house I grew up in was a way to learn new things, express creativity and share love and gratitude. My mom was the 1970’s lady who baked her own bread, sewed our groovy outfits and gave all of us haircuts. No, we didn’t live on a religious commune nor was she trying to be hip. We were just a big family who needed those things and my mom was endlessly crafty. Thus one or more of us was put to work in the kitchen as soon we got old enough. And the tasks I remember the most revolved around potatoes. Peeling, chopping, boiling or baking- you could count on at least one of us Mahoney kids pitching in and doing our namesake proud. In fact, some of my favorite food memories– summer steak dinners, meatloaf night, Easter brunch– have little to do with the main course, if I’m honest and more to do with whatever potato was being served. I mean, who could remember anything about the nondescript ham someone brought over when there was my mom’s cheesy potatoes on the same table? Forty some odd years later, the potato obsession is alive and well.

Love makes you do crazy things and my love for potatoes is no different. I will confess that when I invite you to brunch because I miss you that’s only partially true. While your company is cherished, brunch for me, especially since Bloody Marys and mimosas are thankfully out of the picture, is actually about breakfast potatoes. The same can be said for the burger place I might casually suggest. Don’t be fooled. I have a hidden agenda. I’m suggesting this place most likely because I read somewhere about their fries. I recently started a heated Twitter thread by proclaiming my new-found love for potatoes on pizza, which I discovered in Portland. It’s delicious and I will hear nothing to the contrary. There are even places whose names escape me but you better believe I remember what sort of potatoes I ate there.

Since I don’t eat out 7 nights a week, this love spills over to my own diningroom table. Not to toot my own horn but I can cook. And I can really cook potatoes. To paraphrase 90’s R&B sensation Ashanti, “I’m not always there when you call, but I’ll always bring potatoes.” Potato salad? I’m your boo. Mashed potatoes? Um, yes. Three Thanksgivings ago, I was entrusted with making mashed potatoes for 30 people and it was a job I took very seriously.  So yeah, I got this. Baked, fried, croquettes? Check, check and check. But the best potatoes I make are ones that aren’t even mine.

If you ask my husband which potato dish I rock the most, he’ll say roasted potatoes. And he isn’t wrong. They’re freaking delicious but like most fantastic ideas, they came from someone else. Ina Garten to me is like the unsung Obi Wan Kenobi of vegetable roasting in this country. Miss Ina was roasting vegetables and spreading the gospel of their deliciousness since the 1990s. While people in 2017 are just discovering roasting and doing their cute little sheetpan meals, Ina’s been killing it for years. Thus my award-worthy roasted potatoes are her’s and her’s alone. Simple, perfect and applause worthy at brunch or dinner or whatever, the potatoes in question go like this:

3 pounds small red or white potatoes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the potatoes in half or quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan and spread out into 1 layer. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning.

Remove the potatoes from the oven, toss with parsley, season to taste, and serve hot.

There’s something artful about simplicity that my more-more-more addict brain finds soothing about this recipe and all of Ina’s giant white Hamptons kitchen existence. People like her and Mark Bittman were sort of the cornerstones for me as a cook and a student in cooking. They have this very relaxed but chic and smart approach that makes me think, “Okay, I can do that.” Unlike Martha Stewart, whom I also love but I watch her when I want to feel shamed and like I’m living a shabby life by not using enough parchment paper. It’s more of an abusive relationship and best in small doses. Plus, her recipes are really difficult and even the ingredients seem to be judging you. Yet sometimes I can’t resist watching Martha Bakes wherein she has pastry chef guests whom she bosses around and makes sweat profusely. It’s oddly uncomfortable and the post-prision, post-daytime show depressing production value of it makes it a must-see.

All of this leads back to potatoes, as it usually does. This morning, I was making breakfast for myself. Cooking for myself is something I also do well. Like a good recovering Catholic, I can make ingredients last forever or develop guilt about not using them. I chose the former and I decided to make breakfast tacos using some potatoes that I needed to cook. Throw in some eggs, salsa verde and cheese, serve on warm corn tortillas and you’ve got a breakfast party for your mouth. This little ceremony is insignificant in the sense that people everywhere eat breakfast all day long. But for a guy who didn’t really eat breakfast when he was drinking, it’s kind of important. The act of cooking, which I find meditative, and the art of cooking something perfectly is cause for satisfication. It feels like I’m being nice to myself. Treating food and cooking like gifts also helps me keep my relationship with it in tact which as an addict is key.

This morning as I made the homefries pictured in the glistening skillet above, my thought was at least there’s potatoes. I’ve been battling the blues a little bit. Maybe not the full-blown blues or a big depression. Perhaps just “Lite Blues.”Half the calories and despair as Original Recipe Blues. I try to shift my brain into gratitude when I go there. So my thought was at least there’s potatoes. At least there’s small joys sprinkled all throughout my day. At least there are gifts everywhere that are accessible when I look for them. And at least when those gifts are potatoes they’re also delicious.