Pizza passes hurry-up test with kids in school again

September 12, 2001|By Rob Kasper

THERE ARE, I think, a few verities in life. One is: When your kids go back to school, you have to work faster in the kitchen. Another is: What a friend we have in pizza.

These thoughts flashed through my mind recently as our family, like many in Maryland, switched from the languorous rhythms of summer suppers to the quickened pace of school-year meals.

The other day, while our "little boy," now 16, was winding up his first day of the new school year, my wife was at the store buying groceries and I was in the kitchen throwing together something resembling supper. This is pretty common behavior. It is how a lot of parents I know spend their spare time.

But now that the school year is under way, the clock is ticking. If supper is slow getting to the table, then homework runs late, and the back-up carries over to carpool the next morning. Like penalties in football games, supper slowdowns will invariably happen. But my goal is to start the season off on the right foot, to get the food on the table before the sun goes down.

As I stood in the kitchen surveying the situation, I was looking for two kinds of edibles. One was "just inside the door" food and the other was "sit-down" fare.

"Just inside the door" food is what you feed a starving student as soon as he comes home. It is something to take the edge off hunger, to soothe the savage breast, to buy the cook a few more minutes to fix supper.

For years a favorite "first bite" of our after-school eaters was a plate of peanut-butter apples. The simple combination of sliced apples covered with peanut butter calmed the troops. Pieces of fruit sometimes worked as well, and there was always the favorite fallback food, boxed cereal.

When our two sons reached adolescence, they turned to "beepable" food -- fare cooked in the microwave oven -- to quickly satisfy hunger pangs. These frozen burritos, Hot Pockets and frozen potpies do not usually appeal to adult palates. But they temporarily fill a void in younger bodies.

One semi-appealing "beepable" dish I liked was a cheese tortilla. I covered a flour tortilla with shredded cheese, put it on a plate and beeped the whole operation for about 40 seconds in the microwave. Salsa can be added for those inclined toward spice.

On this night, I surmised that our household was suffering from a shortage of "just inside the door" food. That, I figured, was what sent my wife to the store. Meanwhile, as my thoughts turned to sit-down fare, I turned to my old friend, pizza. The best pizza starts with homemade dough, which I whip up about half a dozen times a year. This was not one of those times.

Instead, I started with store-bought pizza dough. Pizza shells, as I call them, sold at grocery stores are sometimes flavored with bits of onion. The type we buy at an Italian food store, Trinacria on North Paca Street, are plain, functional and freezable.

They can be coaxed into becoming a pretty good pizza. I began the coaxing by defrosting a frozen shell in the microwave, then massaging the shell with a little olive oil. I cooked it in a 400-degree oven on a baking sheet for 15 minutes. This step guarantees a crisp crust. Next, I pulled the crust from the oven and coated it with canned pizza sauce, then shredded mozzarella cheese, and finally added thin slices of Italian sausage. The whole shebang went back in the oven and stayed there until the cheese bubbled, about 30 minutes.

Shortly after the pizza came out of the oven, the kid arrived home from school. I grunted a greeting, but did not attempt conversation until after supper. One thing I have learned as a parent is that first you feed your offspring, then you try to talk to them.

As our son worked on the first pizza, I put together a second, "adult" pizza, with fresh tomatoes, a mixture of Romano and mozzarella cheese and basil leaves.

After the first pizza disappeared, a few minutes were devoted to a recap of the first day of school. There was a short discussion of the novel the English class is reading, of the world's looming shortage of fossil fuels, and of how life is unfair, especially for high-school students. Slowly, and with great complaint, he pushed away from the supper table, grabbed his books and went upstairs to grind out his homework.

I remembered a few Septembers ago when his skinny, little-boy legs used to dangle from the chair as he sat at the kitchen table. Now his legs are so long and thick, they have trouble fitting under that same table. Moreover, after watching the kid eat and after unloading the bags of provisions purchased from the grocery, I am beginning to think one of his legs is hollow.

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