Musing, wishing, dreaming…
…conception, imagination, anticipation…
…an overall idea of how you hope something will turn out.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a prophecy.
Some written recipes include an indication of their creator’s vision. Maybe a grab-you-by-the-tastebuds blurb at the top of the page, a charming anecdote that invites and entices you, a photo that captures one stylized representation of what your mouthwatering result should look like.
But mostly, the recipe is a plan–a straightforward description of ingredients and materials, steps and procedures.
A recipe is the map that helps you navigate to your cabin in the woods, not the relaxing thrill of the forested hike you look forward to taking when you get there, not the buzzing and chirping and humming of nature all around you, not the sweet warmth of the hot cocoa you’ll sip on the porch when the evening chill sets in.
The recipe is not what makes your mouth water, not what you’ll look forward to.
The recipe is concrete, explicating (hopefully in careful detail) the very real process of creating your vision or someone else’s. But it is abstract, too, because you as you’re reading, you don’t yet smell it, taste it, experience it in any tangible way. It is only a string of words and numbers, measurements and imperative sentences, that can lead you through–and to–that sensory experience.
The vision blurs these lines, too. It is abstract because it does not exist yet–it is only your dream of what will be (or what could or should be), not what actually is. But it is concrete, too, because the vision is what you can smell and taste, see steaming, hear sizzling–even if only in your mind.
When I cook, I might follow a recipe. But I’m more likely to adapt a recipe, ignore a recipe, forget a recipe, create a recipe as I go along.
Recipe or not, I almost always have a vision. I know what I want my food to look like on the plate, to taste like when it touches my tongue, to feel like as I chew.
I know how I want to feel when I eat it.
But when you’re cooking with someone else, someone you love, and you have a vision but no recipe, how do you communicate that vision to the person cooking with you?
* * * * *
Tuesday night, Micah and I cataloged the contents of our refrigerator, brainstorming pizza topping combinations. Some items–the squash and peppers, the ham and brie–were off-limits, already earmarked for other purposes. What was left?
For several minutes, we stood, stared, chatted, considered.
I saw the creamy-white button mushrooms, round and plump, still dotted with specks of dark soil. I saw the young, slender leeks, their stalks delicately stretching from small ivory bulbs to sleek green leaves. I saw a deli tub of fresh mozzarella, moist and elastic, floating in cloudy, salty brine, ready and waiting and eager to melt.
And then, I had a vision.
Brown and beige and shades of green. Warm, mellow, earthy flavors. Nothing bright and flashy, nothing showy, no punch-in-the-mouth heat or tang or bite.
I didn’t have a map, but I knew where this pizza was going and what it would do when it arrived. I pulled the mushrooms, leeks, and mozzarella out of the refrigerator, plucked garlic powder and thyme from the spice rack, gathered flour and salt and yeast for the crust.
Micah greased a pizza pan with olive oil while I mixed the dough. Then I pressed the dough into the pan, thinner and thinner, spreading it to the very edges.
As the crust prebaked on its own, unadorned, for maximum crispiness, Micah melted butter in a skillet. I cut up the mushrooms and leeks, which Micah sauteed while I sliced the cheese. The recipe was created as we worked, every ingredient and action working together towards the vision I had in mind.
When our crispy crust came out of the oven and off of the pan, I spread the softened, buttery vegetables over it.
Micah looked again into the fridge. “How about some of these?” he asked, picking up a tub of mixed green, kalamata, and oil-cured black olives.
I love olives. We both do. But I thought about my vision and decided: not on this pizza.
“No,” I said as I worked, eyeing my distribution of leeks and mushrooms, looking for spots that still needed to be filled in. “I don’t really want olives.”
“But what if I do? Could we put olives on half?”
“Olives don’t go on this pizza,” I said. “I’ve got a vision.”
“I think they’d go just fine.”
“But I don’t want olives.”
“I do,” Micah said, clearly exasperated.
With good reason.
I was being stubborn. Of course I knew that. Even then, I realized I wasn’t communicating my vision very well, wasn’t justifying my choices, definitely wasn’t convincing Micah that olives were a topping for another pizza, another time.
“No olives,” I said. I carefully placed the wobbly ovals of sliced mozzarella, spacing them evenly, tweaking the design as I went along.
Micah, sweet and patient as he is, compromised. And by compromised, I mean that he let me have my way.
Micah isn’t what you’d call whipped, isn’t a doormat, doesn’t just give in to my whims any time. But he does pick his battles, and he knew this one wasn’t worth fighting.
I, on the other hand, am hard-headed enough that I would’ve argued about it, not for the sake of fighting, not even because it was that important to me, but just because I wanted to be right (and, of course, I felt sure I was).
The pizza, now dressed, went into the oven. Without olives.
Soon, scents of crisping crust and bubbling cheese, garlic, herbs, sweet leeks and warm mushrooms diffused through the kitchen.
A few minutes later, the pizza was done.
We sliced. We tasted. The crust crunched between our teeth. The mushrooms and leeks were buttery, delicate, and tender. Each bite was warm and mellow, brown and green, earthy and rustic and exactly what I had envisioned.
“Do you still think it needs olives?” I asked Micah.
“No,” he said. “It’s good.”
“Like I said, I had a vision.”
What’s in it:
- For the crust:
- 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (about 100-110°F)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
- For the toppings:
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 4 leeks, washed and sliced, white and light green parts only
- 6-8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- salt and pepper
- Preheat your oven to 450°F.
- Put the yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Dissolve the sugar into the water, then pour over the yeast. Let stand for about 5 minutes.
- Add both flours, salt, garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Mix until the dough comes together into a ball, then knead on a lightly floured surface for about 5 minutes (or use the dough hook on your stand mixer). Flatten the dough into a disc.
- Brush 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil on a large pizza pan.
- Put the disc of dough in the center of your pan. Press it with your fingers to spread it all the way to the edges of the pan. (It will be very thin! If you accidentally tear the dough like I did several times, just do your best to smoosh it back together. :))
- Brush the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough.
- Bake the crust for 7-8 minutes.
- While the crust is baking, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the mushrooms, leeks, and dried thyme. Saute for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and the leeks are slightly translucent. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
- Once the crust has baked for 7-8 minutes, remove it from the oven and slide it off the pizza pan and onto a large cutting board (or your kitchen counter, if it’s clean enough–mine never is!).
- Top the pizza with the vegetables, then the mozzarella.
- Return the pizza to the oven and bake it directly on the rack for another 8-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to bubble a little bit.
- While the pizza cools for a few minutes, sprinkle it with just a tad more salt and pepper. Then slice and enjoy.
If When your dinner turns out amazing (it will), please don’t gloat and say “I told you so.”
Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to be sharing this pizza with someone who understands your vision, or (more importantly) someone who understands your stubborn need to be right all the time–and loves you anyway.