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BLOG-Keeping Things Simple

Today is the first Saturday in December, and that means the day is full of Christmas celebrations all around Yellow Springs. From 9am to 3pm, the high school’s Forest Club is holding their annual Forest Festival on Bryan Park Road. As relative newcomers to the village, I must admit that we’ve had trouble finding the festival in the past. This year, the students did a great job of putting up signs on Friday to lead us to the festivities and we are looking forward to the hayrides.

Two local churches are offering meals: The Catholic Church is hosting a Christmas lunch for seniors at noon, and the United Methodist Church has its annual Breakfast with Santa 9am to 11:30am featuring a chance to meet Old Saint Nick, make tree ornaments, and eat pancakes and sausage served up by the Methodist men.

The Methodist children are also presenting a play about Christmas traditions and carols. My daughter and husband are participating. They had their final rehearsal last night. My role was to feed everyone after practice, and I whipped up a batch of homemade pizza dough Friday afternoon.

I make my doughs from scratch. One, I can better control the quality of the ingredients. Two, I simplify my life while keeping my options wide open. A pantry stocked with basic ingredients can support millions of recipes, specialty mixes only a few. My go to pizza recipe is blissfully simple and I’ve been making it since I was a teenager. I merely need water, yeast, butter, sugar, and—well—lots of flour. For the first time in ages, I made a full batch. That’s enough for four pizzas!

I made this recipe—often a 1/3 batch—many many times and mostly in cramped quarters. To contain the flour, I started using a large shallow bowl for the kneading. I place a dish towel beneath the bowl and, after folding the dough, turn the bowl a quarter spin for the next fold. When I need to add flour, I add it to the top and flip. The bowl I currently use is a beauty made by artist Janet Murie of the Yellow Springs Pottery, 222 Xenia Avenue.

The stoneware bowl is a good weight and solidly made to withstand the 10 minute workout on my granite countertop. Ms Murie made the shallow bowl 13″ wide and 3.5″ high to create a generous surface for kneading and with a good lip for containing the flying flour. I finish the kneading by removing the dough ball from the bowl and giving the dough a few slamming throws on my counter top. It’s a crowd pleasing flourish that my children love giggling at each impact. Just make sure your bowl is a safe distance away from any of this action. Stoneware is resilient but only up to a point.

The Ultimate Pizza Dough

4 cups warm water
1/4 cup sugar
3 packages yeast (or 21 grams)
6 Tbsp melted butter or olive oil
10-12 cups of flour

1-2 tsp olive oil
1 cup semolina flour

In a small bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups of the warm water with 1 Tbsp of the sugar. Dissolve in the yeast. Set aside for 6 minutes. In a large bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups water, the melted butter, and 3 Tbsp sugar. Mix these three ingredients well to ensure the sugar has dissolved. Combine the yeast and butter mixtures in the larger bowl, then add 8 cups flour working it in with a spatula. Let the dough rest for a minute and add 2 more cups of flour. Knead for 10 minutes adding flour as needed and stopping every few minutes to let the dough rest again.

Let the dough rise for 45-90 minutes. To keep the dough from drying on its surface, roll it over a teaspoon of olive oil to coat the ball. Place it in a bowl and cover for the rise. Alternately, for a full batch, divide the dough into two equal rounds and put each in a gallon plastic bag that has been coated on the inside with a teaspoon of olive oil. Seal the bags.

Prepare your toppings as the dough rises.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a cookie sheet and sprinkle with semolina flour. Separate the dough into four balls total. Coat each ball with semolina flour and shape the dough to fit your baking sheet. Top with your favorite ingredients starting with the sauce and raw veggies and ending with the cheese. Place in the oven for 25-35 minutes.

Serves 24 people.

The fellowship hall at the United Methodist Church has two ovens, perfect for cooking four pizzas at once. In deference to the crowd, I used a thin layer of sauce and then only one or two ingredients for each pizza. The first pizza was a simple cheese pizza, the second cheese with turkey pepperoni. I added sliced olives to one half of a second pepperoni pizza. The final pizza was a veggie pizza with mushrooms, olives, and extra sauce. I am still a little surprised at how popular black olives are with the under 10 set. My lesson from yesterday is less mushrooms, more olives. I also came away with a lesson in restraint as the pizzas with less sauce cooked up much faster and more evenly.

As I think about it, a lesson in simplicity is a good way to start the Christmas season. We need the festivities as the days darken and grow colder, but they can overwhelm. With a bit of restraint, the magic of the season can shine through.

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2 Responses to “BLOG-Keeping Things Simple”

  1. Amy Magnus says:

    You make me wonder how Los Angeles and New York compare in terms of apartment space. I’ll wager I had more little room in my 20′ by 14′ studio than my NY peers.

  2. Dan Plecha says:

    As my friend from Brooklyn said, “You musta meant cramped thirds”.

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