There is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won’t, and that’s a wife who can’t cook and will. — Robert Frost
I felt a twinge in my stomach and looked at the clock: 12:30 p.m. Lunchtime. It was over an hour ago that David had left to deliver a birthday gift to one of our friends, and I had opted to stay behind and work. Now that Christmas had passed, Martha’s Vineyard, where david’s parents live, had quieted down. David’s mother was out shopping; his father, Robert, sat beside the Christmas tree in the next room, watching Fox News and playing sudoku; I was at the kitchen table, lavishing my laptop with attention.
My preferred leftovers were gone. It was cold outside, so I craved something warm and substantial, ruling out cheese and crackers. I suddenly remembered the ball of dough in the fridge — David had purchased three but had only used two for the pizzas he’d made for his parents’ holiday party two nights before. I was excited at the prospect of pizza, but only until I recalled its naked, unformed state, a gooey mass that, were it not for the plastic keeping it in a ball-ish form, threatened to gross me out with its sticky blobbishness.
David likes to joke about the first time I “cooked” for him. But I wasn’t cooking for him so much as I was satisfying a craving for hot dogs and beans and had merely extended the invitation for him to share in my nostalgic bounty. I classified the preparation as “cooking” because I sliced the hot dogs before placing them on a plate and into the microwave and poured the beans from the can into a saucepan, then stirred while it simmered on the stove — it’s as close to culinary toil as I get. David must have forgotten that Valentine’s Day a few years ago, when I baked feta-stuffed chicken breasts in the oven and served pasta with sautéed zucchini. I’m not a complete nitwit. It’s just that I’d rather press a few buttons on the microwave than dirty my hands with raw food and wait for however long it takes the stuff to smolder in an oven.
The way I saw it, there was only one way to transform that blob in the fridge into something edible. I texted David: Want to make pizza for lunch, Hm? After a few seconds, I received his response: I don’t think I’ll be home soon enough. How’s your work coming? It was a delicate situation. I needed to coax him back to his parents’ house without making it sound like a demand. I tried reverse psychology: It’s coming. I can try making pizza. My brows furrowed when my bluff was called with an irritating exclamation: Sure, you can try! I opted next for a more direct, passive-aggressive approach: I thought you were just dropping off the gift. David retorted: You’re working so I’m visiting. This wasn’t good. I was stranded with ingredients while my man was out gallivanting. The downside, or in this case also an upside, of texting, is that David could not hear the intended tone of sarcasm and the unintended air of bitterness in my final three words: Okay. Have fun.
Frustrated, I opened every cabinet in search of an alternative. Both David and I knew I’d never break down and actually cook. A ball of dough! I wouldn’t know the first thing about handling it. Despite David’s goading, or in spite of it, my indignation rose to a feverish pitch; my increasing hunger only further fed my aggravation. I was about to slam my hand on the granite counter in exasperation when a strange notion occurred to me. What if I tried? Sure, it could ruin my mood for the rest of the week if I failed, but if I succeeded… If I pulled it off, I’d not only have my desired meal, I’d also regain some dignity. David didn’t think I would. And I didn’t think I could. There was only one way to prove both of us wrong, only one way for me to win this little one-sided argument I was having, and that was to fetch that goddamn ball of dough from the stupid fridge.
Fortunately, that wooden platter with a handle David used to slide pizza into the oven had been left to dry on the counter, so I wouldn’t have to go crazy searching for it. Most of the time, while David is cooking at home, I tend to stand on the other side of our counter, reading a magazine and sipping wine while chatting with the chef. Like watching the safety video on an airplane, I never really paid attention to what he was doing. And yet, in my time of need, it became clear to me that I had somehow gleaned the essentials.
I hunted and gathered components almost mindlessly, afraid that if I deliberated, I would most certainly bungle things. For his gourmet pizzas, David uses grapes, Fontina cheese, and bacon. There was some leftover meat sauce he had made for pasta, but I craved that salty-savory-sweet combo. Robert followed the sound of commotion into the kitchen just as I was discovering there was no bacon. The audience of my father-in-law guided my reaction — if alone, I might have thrown up my hands in defeat, but now I stoically searched for a replacement, letting out an elated A-HA! when I uncovered a trove of sliced Hungarian sausage in one of the drawers.
I enlisted Robert’s help, asking him to render the fat from the sausage in a skillet (thus sparing myself the fear of splatter). Meanwhile, I shredded the Fontina, not an easy task given how soft that cheese is. I knew from past complaints about the house heating up that I was supposed to set the oven as high as it could go, which, for this oven at least, was 500 degrees.
By the time I’d finished cutting the grapes in half, Robert was done rendering. Now all I had to do was deal with the dough. An infuriating endeavor, as the taffy-like glop kept sticking to my hands and bouncing back on itself. I poured corn meal all over it, hoping that might minimize the glue effect, but the tiny beads just disappeared into the dough as I tried to flatten it. I lifted one end and let the whole thing sag, but then it began to tear. With no other options at the ready, I grabbed the olive oil. I was surprised I didn’t gag when I used my hands to work the slick stuff over the dough — my relief at having it not stick to me eclipsed the disgust I would have normally felt for greasy fingers.
I smothered the dough with the sausage, sliced grapes, and cheese, and slid it into the oven using the wooden-plate thingy. Thirteen minutes later, I pulled out a funky-shaped pizza with an absurdly thick crust and sliced it up. Upon tasting my creation, I was overcome with surprise and delight — my pizza was delicious. For the first time, I could almost understand why people go to all the trouble to cook.