Cooking as a cure for creative block?

not-pretty-pizza(Warning: This post is too long. It has profanity in it. And pizza. Fucking get over it.)

It has a been a rough week. The cause: an assignment that I should be able to turn around in a jiffy, but which has eluded me and, so, drags on. And on. And on. I’ve requested and received specific, clear, and helpful guidance from my editor, so the ball is in my court, so to speak. Still, I can’t wrap up this little shit.

Did you ever see the movie “How to Get Ahead in Advertising?” Richard E. Grant plays an ad exec who’s stumped trying to come up with the clever campaign for new pimple cream. The stress makes him develop a boil that grows into an evil twin that ultimately takes over his life until he becomes some kind of postnatal chimera.

It’s not that bad. Yet.

I would call this writer’s block, but I think everyone can fall victim to creative constipation, whatever it is they do. There must be times when accountants can’t get numbers to crunch, when lawyers can’t devise winning arguments, when salespeople can’t sell–fuck, I dunno–ice to eskimos.

So, after sitting at the computer, fussing with the story and making it worse with each pass and chanting “shit-shit-shit-shit” under my breath, I headed into the kitchen. Yesterday, a New York Times article about pizza caught my eye. The gist of it was that if you proof the dough a really long time–”at least 27 hours of resting time”–you’ll end up with pizzeria-like results. Heck, we like pizza, I thought, I should try this. I write about food, so I must try this. Right now. I had to be in the kitchen anyway, developing a couple of recipes for another project (another distraction, yes, but one that pays). As an added benefit, the pizza would be a helpful exercise in delayed gratification, something I rarely practice.

In all honesty, I wanted to make the pizza for “Real Housewives of New York” tonight. God, I love that show in all its incarnations, from the plastic Barbies of Orange County, to the low-rent crew in Atlanta, to the thick-as-thieves” inbreds in New Jersey. This season, my NYC bitches are particularly strident and menopausal. Well, Bethenny’s hormonal ‘cause she’s preggers (and oddly shocked that the news leaked to Perez Hilton after she peed on the pregnancy test stick in front of a camera crew). And I’m forever grateful to The Countess for her “hit” new single, which has become my new motto:

Money can’t buy you class. Elegance is learned. Oh, yeah!

Oh, yeah, the pizza.

I exercised a little restraint and ignored the recipes that ran with the NYTs story, since they called for two kinds specialty flours and making your own sourdough starter. I’m saving those distractions for another day and another stumped project, when I can happily waste hours hunting down the flour and baby-sitting the starter. Instead, I decided to try this with my go-to pizza dough. It’s more scientific that way, see, since I could gauge whether the technique made a difference.

Whoa! That dough is alive!

So I pulled together the dough, and it didn’t take up that much time anyway, and plopped it into a bowl to proof on the counter for a three hours. I checked on it every so often and, my, it was robust and bubbly. Those little yeast were busy! Things were happening. Then I divided the dough into two balls, which went into the refrigerator to proof for another 24 hours. This was hard, because I really wanted to roll that dough out and make pizza. But, no, all I could do was visit it occasionally, pulling it out of the fridge to prod it and inhale its yeasty aroma and admire its bubbliness. Oh my god! It looked like the evil boil from “How to Get Ahead in Advertising”!

Pizza sauce, no cooking requiredI carved out some time this afternoon (OK, it was another distraction) to make the uncooked Pizzeria Mozza’s pizza sauce from the L.A. issue of Saveur. Mozza makes the best pizza in town (I think), and the uncooked sauce comes together in a jiffy so this thing wasn’t too much of a time suck. It’s good; not spectacular, but a great result for the effort.

When it finally came time to roll the dough, after letting it sit at room temperature for 90 minutes (now going on 29 hours of proofing time), it was snappy as hell. I should have let it rest a bit, but, shit, Richard was home from work, we were hungry, and the Housewives were bickering on that boat in the Caribbean, so I shaped it by hand (because, apparently, a rolling pin “abuses” the dough), tossed it around a bit, then slathered on some tomato sauce, cheese and prosciutto and slipped that fucker onto a pizza stone in a very, very hot oven.

OK, not the prettiest but, damn, it tasted good.

The outcome: Delicious crust that was airy and chewy, but tender, and definitely an improvement over the usual drill of making dough, letting proof for an hour, and then rolling it out. Next time, I’d crank the oven even hotter, and possibly hunt down that those specialty flours. Now I’m hooked.

So here I am, feverishly writing this, thinking, “Yes! This will help!” As if pizza and blogging will act like a creative enema. We’ll see about that.

Meantime, I’ve accomplished a few things:

  1. I’ve learned that longer proofing time does make a superior crust, but you have to plan your pizza, like, two days in advance.
  2. We had a really good dinner.
  3. I realized the world has officially turned upside-down, since on tonight’s episode of RHW-NYC LuAnn was the voice of reason (surprise!), Sonja was the smart one (didn’t see that one coming), and Ramona was the sane one (that’s crazy!).I put the words “enema” and “constipation” in a post about food. Yum! Hungry now?

5 thoughts on “Cooking as a cure for creative block?

  1. Um, I think NOW I understand what you meant about voice, and personality. Holy cow, Alison. This post has made you my new hero. From the first expletive, I was putty in your hands.

    And I, too, have fallen prey to RHW-NYC. I watch it secretly, though. The shame. The mortification. The deliciousness!

    (Really, though, that Countess song suuuuuuucks.)

    • Aw, shucks, thanks! Don’t feel ashamed of your RHW-NYC addiction–enjoy it with pride! I say kudos! to Crackerjacks (Countess LuAnn) for inflicting her karaoke nightmare on the world. Her new single is rattling around in my head: “Chic c’est la vie! C’est bonne, c’est bonne…” Not many people actually aspire to be Eurotrash, but she does it with panache.

      And, don’t lie, when they come casting RHW-SV, you’ll want in. You could be their Bethenny…

  2. “To be a cook is to be a food scientist and an artist.” That’s what Professor Sara Rose Crimm taught us in Quantity Food Preparation class when I was a Nutrition major in college. You are the best combo and made me want to replicate your culinary experiment! I think I’ll try to use some whole wheat flour in different proportions. I’ll let you know what happens. Thanks!

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