I’ve been thinking a lot about ritual lately.
So much of life is repetition. Do the laundry. Pay the bills. Tackle the dishes. Set the alarm. Think about waking up earlier to exercise before the sun rises. Hit the snooze. Drive to work.
Repetition is necessary, of course. There’s no way to learn how to drive that car, and feel competent enough to drive down the highway without clutching the steering wheel in terror, without doing it over and over again. Muscle memory is where the imagination kicks in. I’m glad I don’t have to think anymore about how to put the car into park.
But so much of repetition can seem like tedium if I approach it the wrong way. When you have a baby, and you spend part of every day picking up board books and bright plastic toys, and putting them into the basket again, and then again, and then again, you sort of start longing sometimes for a fresh start. When you cook every day, you see the same dishes in the sink that need rinsing and a run through the dishwasher. Really? That orange bowl again? Anything new sounds alluring. A sandy beach or warm sun on the face. Or even a quick takeout meal.
I can fall into this rut. When I’m sleep deprived or stressed out or doing anything that keeps me from being here, I long for innovation. Let’s create something new, right now!
This often results in Danny and I taking on too much, juggling so fast that the tasks themselves are a blur, the motion the guiding principle instead of the fleeting feeling of each ball landing in our hands. And generally, the balls fall down around our ears pretty quickly.
Instead of resenting repetition, I’ve been thinking about ritual.
One of my favorite poems in the world is William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read to Each Other.” I must have read it, to myself and out loud to someone I love, at least 300 times. Every time, I hear it more deeply, the life I have lived meeting the words he left on the page long ago. The ritual of reading that poem has informed my life.
Ritual feels like mindful repetition. Instead of thinking Oh man, I have to do the dishes again? I try to breathe and feel my way to the kitchen. That time before the sink can be meditative if I walk in there the same time every day, the light fading from the sky. Lucy has her 30 minutes of tv time after school. Desmond is playing with metal bowls on the kitchen floor. And I can put my hands in warm water and hum under my breath as I scrub at that pan again. Muscle memory kicks in. I’m doing something with my body not my brain. And a stubborn problem that had been scraping at my mind seems to gently lift away along with the crusted food scraps on that skillet.
There are blessings in the everyday.
For years, Danny and I made a new dish for dinner every night. After years of working in restaurants, prepping the same dishes every day, Danny loved the freedom to cook whatever he wanted. I was liberated from gluten and found a new world of food. There were always new recipes to test. Why make lasagna again when I could play with kohlrabi and lamb sausage? Heck with repetition! Let’s never eat the same thing twice!
And then Lucy grew old enough to tell us she wanted pizza more than once.
When Lu was just before 5, she started complaining about our constant innovation. She wanted the comfort of knowing she would eat a food she loved more often than never again. Danny and I started talking about our food memories from when we were kids and realized our fondest memories circled around the dishes we ate dozens and dozens of times. His mom’s corned beef. My mom’s green chile chicken enchiladas. Chocolate chip cookies. And we started to wonder what Lu’s food memories would be. Would she remember the roasted kohlrabi and lamb sausage dish we made that one time when she was 3? Or would she think about pizza nights fondly, the anchor of her week?
We made Fridays pizza night. And she began helping us turn the gluten-free pizza dough we made on Wednesday into pizza every Friday evening. Then we all took our plates to the living room and watched a movie together, eating pizza.
It was lovely. It still is.
And then a funny thing happened. That ritual of pizza together every Friday night started, slowly, changing everything. We had a taco bar one Thursday and Lucy asked if we could have tacos the next Thursday. So we did. And Thursdays became taco Thursdays. After a few visits to a conveyor belt sushi place in Seattle, Lucy desperately wanted sushi every week, so we started making our own sushi (minus the raw fish for her) on Sundays. After Desmond arrived, and our lives were happily disrupted, we needed ritual and routine more than ever. So we chose a meal for every day of the week. And we’ve been doing that ever since.
Mondays are meat and potato night. Tuesdays are kid choice night (right now, Lu’s favorite choice is gluten-free corn dogs. so she is a kid after all). Wednesdays are soup and salad nights. Thursdays are tacos. Fridays are pizza night. Saturdays are pasta night. Sundays are sushi night.
To our surprise, we love this. We don’t have to think about what to make for dinner, in a panic at 5 pm every night, because we spent the entire day cooking and baking and testing recipes at the studio, and we come home without a clue about what to make for Lu (and now, Desmond). Our shopping has changed. There are certain staples we need every week: nori, sushi rice, gluten-free pasta, good cheeses for the cheese plate we make to go with the soup and salad, corn tortillas, etc. We started cooking food in batches on the weekend so we’re always prepared for the week. A big pot of tomato sauce. A new vinaigrette. Another batch of mayonnaise. (Lucy loves mayonnaise more than any person I’ve ever met.) A dip for fresh vegetables we keep in the fridge. A big pot of soup. Something pickled. A roasted meat for tacos.
And strangely — or maybe not — I think there is more constant, quiet innovation happening in our food for these rituals. Making a pizza dough every week helped me to understand the dynamics of pizza dough under my hands in a way that reading never can. Because my hands are doing something familiar, my mind understands the process in a new way.
These rituals are templates for us. Monday is meat and potato night. That could be meatballs and mashed potatoes. It could be potato gnocchi with meat sauce. It could be roast beef and roasted potatoes. They all turn into breakfast and packed lunches for Lucy. Nothing goes to waste anymore.
The one ritual of pizza night turned into a series of rituals that changed our lives. The kitchen is clean these days. The refrigerator is better organized. And mealtimes are a series of songs and happy chattering and sharing of gratitude instead of us cajoling Lucy to please eat more of her meal. Desmond claps his hands in his high chair when we all sit down because he knows something fun is about to begin.
Thank you, Lucy. Pizza on a Friday night with you is my favorite ritual.
Our Favorite Gluten-Free Pizza Dough
We’ve been playing with pizza dough for years. Sometimes, it seems, I like nothing more in the world than researching ratios on baking recipes. However, since we instituted the Friday night pizza ritual in our home, we’ve settled on our recipe. I’m done playing with this one. We haven’t changed our recipe in over a year. We have our dough.
This is based on the pizza dough from Roberta’s, an incredible wood-fired oven pizza place in Brooklyn. (We highly recommend Roberta’s Cookbook for its great recipes and unexpected photography.) After studying the way they ferment dough and shape it, I started playing with this one. It’s quite different from theirs, of course, since there is no gluten in ours. But the backbone is the same.
In this recipe, we suggest you let your dough ferment for at least 24 hours before baking it. Honestly, the flavors deepen the longer you let it rest, so we generally make our dough on a Wednesday for Friday pizza night. When we make our pizza dough, we usually use 150 grams of our AP blend and 150 grams of our grain-free blend. Since we haven’t told you the formula for that one yet, we made this pizza with 300 grams of our AP blend. It’s still great. (But if you have any raw buckwheat flour on hand, try at least 100 grams of that in place of the AP.) Play with the flours you have on hand to make this yours.
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar (or honey)
225 grams (about one cup) warm water (about 110°)
300 grams (about 2 1/4 cups) gluten-free girl all-purpose flour blend
6 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) psyllium husk
8 grams (1 teaspoon) sea salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
Proof the yeast. Whisk together the yeast, sugar, and warm water, gently, in a small bowl. Let the yeasty water sit for at least 15 minutes. If the water is blooming with small bubbles and starting to smell yeasty, you have active yeast.
Make the dough. Combine the two flours, the psyllium, and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Whirl them up.
With the mixer running on low, pour in the oil, then the yeasty water, very slowly. The dough will feel soft and pliable but softer and wetter than a typical gluten dough. (Try to mimic the texture of a creamy porridge.) Turn the mixer onto medium and let it run for a few more moments. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Let the dough rise. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place for 1 hour. Then, put the dough in the refrigerator and let it sit overnight.
Prepare to bake. The next day, pull the dough out of the refrigerator 1 hour before you intend to roll it. Divide the dough into 2 balls. Put one dough ball between 2 lightly greased pieces of parchment paper. Roll out the dough until it is about 12 inches across. Take the top piece of parchment paper off the dough. Curl up the edges of the dough, about 1/2 inch to 1 inch, all the way around the circle. Take a fork and gently crimp those edges onto the dough to seal them. Put the parchment paper back onto the dough. Put one hand under the bottom parchment paper, the other on top, and flip the dough. With slightly wet fingertips, make little indentations around the edges of the dough. Dock the pizza by making fork marks over the dough evenly. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet. Gently lift the edges of the dough to make sure no part of it is sticking to the parchment paper.
Repeat with the remaining dough ball.
Pre-bake the pizza dough. Heat the oven to 450°. Put the baking sheets in the oven—one on the lower rack and one in the middle. Bake until the tops of the doughs and the edges feel set, about 20 minutes. This will steam the water out of the doughs and give you a great dough for baking. Take the pizza doughs out of the oven.
Heat the oven higher. Bump up the temperature of the oven to as high as your oven will go. (Ours stops at 550°.) If you have a baking stone in the oven, that will generate even more heat in the oven.
Top the pizza. Top the pizza crusts with a drizzle of oil and any toppings you wish. This pizza was simply olive oil, tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese, sliced red peppers, and pepperoni.
Finish baking the pizza. Put the pizza in the oven when it’s truly hot, then watch it. Wait until the cheese bubbles, then turn on the broiler at the end. Watch it closely. Don’t let it burn. But get it to just before that point.
Makes 2 (12-inch) pizza crusts
Feel like playing? Of course, you could use any flours you wish here, based on what works in your kitchen. Think of the psyllium husk here as just a touch more flour in the mix. It binds everything together beautifully without the gumminess (and for some, intestinal upset) of the gums. However, if you can’t use psyllium, you could try finely ground flaxseed meal instead. But stick with this ratio. This ratio of flours to yeast to salt to psyllium to oil to water has worked for us every time. It’s pizza dough.