Pizza, Pizza

Many moons ago, after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I moved to Düsseldorf, Germany to work and live.  At some stage of the game, it had always been my plan to launch my career in the global arena. After the interview process had come to a close, I knew the city on the Rhein was to become my new home.  When D-Day arrived in August of 2002, it was just like the college farewell drop again.  Minus the tears this go round.  I flew to Frankfurt, cabbed it to Wiesbaden and my parents dropped me off in my new city.  I had an email outlining instructions for how to access the key to my temporary housing.

Touch wood at the time, the corporate apartment on Hohe Strasse was perfect. I would call it home for the next three months. Through my generous windows, I looked down on a pond with orange koi.  My new digs were home to the city's upscale boutiques, art galleries and what became my beloved Carlsplatz, a farmer's market. Open most days and home to butchers, green grocers, bakers and the likes. The location was a mere stone's throw from the Old Town. The Düsseldorf Old Town or Alt Stadt as we called it, is known as the longest bar in the world.  There are more than 300 bars and discos in an area that is less than approximately half a kilometer.  My new zip code would absolutely do.

Once we figured out the key situation, inspected the elegant flat and unpacked my two suitcases, the parents took me to lunch in my new city.  We found a charming spot down a little alley that I later learned was home to the city’s Spanish restaurants.  Together we enjoyed an al fresco meal of grilled prawns freshly salted and cold Riesling.  After the grub, we took a circuitous path from my flat to the U-bahn station and ultimately the train that would take me to the office and back.  After a quick shmy around - a bit quicker than I would have liked I should add - they left.  Both wished me the very best for my first day of work the following day.

It should be noted that this was a Sunday. Sundays in Germany are quite sleepy for the most part.  Shops are closed.  Grocery stores are closed.  Even some restaurants are closed.  It is a day for enjoying quality family time and recharging one's batteries. I fully endorse all of these notions.  Weather allowing, everyone and their brother is out and about in some shape or form.  Germans love to walk.  What a wonderful past-time  On this day, the weather was amazing.  Cool as it could be for August but the sun was shining and the city was alive.  

I would soon learn that my new city was compared by most to a German version of Seattle.  Not for the grunge or music scene but rather the weather. This invited worries about potential winter doldrums. Nonsense.  I grew to love this weather marked by purple grey skies.  Like most, I never left home sans umbrella.  We saw some form of drizzle most days and on the rare occasion that the sun was shining, the parks were filled with people. Some playing hooky from work and all enjoying picnics, playing soccer and watching their children running about.  Many enjoyed books or the view on benches overlooking the river. Rightfully so, the outdoor cafes and beer gardens were always packed when the weather was agreeable. Nice weather called for dinners out. Afternoons filled with sunshine were to be spent at the local breweries.

Sometime later that Sunday, I bought an ice cream cone for dinner.  Turns out, I had found the city's most loved gelateria. This 22 year old American girl was not one to dine alone - especially for dinner - so gelato was a seemingly acceptable alternative.  Others were doing it. I would too. Some weeks later, when solo ice cream cones were no longer an option, I did dine alone.  I remember paying 14 USD for an English magazine with a photograph of Sarah Jessica Parker on the front.  Sex and the City was big business everywhere in 2002.  Including Germany, where I would listen to Carrie carry on about shoes and Herr Big in German. That magazine took me through many a dinners where I feigned preoccupation. I digress.

On my first Sunday afternoon, the patrons of my new city made smoking look so devastatingly cool, so a hunt for a pack of cigarettes was next in order.  I sat on the bench alone and wondered what I had done.  Why was I here?  At which stage in the game did this seem like a good idea?  Where my maturity came from in that moment I don’t think I will ever know but I committed myself to my city for one year.  One foot in front of the other with the goal to join my crew in New York, DC or Charlotte.  Five years later…  

Once I gained a lay of the land, I found my permanent apartment a mere stone's throw away.  The address was Orangeriestrasse 6.  It was around the corner from one of the city's most touted gastronomic haunts, Zicke and a block away from the Rhine River. The apartment itself was in a magnificent pre-war era looking building. Yellow stucco, massive windows and two formidable wooden doors. The bottom floor was occupied by the Vömel family's art gallery. In fact, their daughter rented me her furnished apartment. The decor was funky, belonging to that of an artist and just perfect. All 300 square feet of it. 

Next to a church and overlooking a quaint little square, my two sets of generous bay windows were the perfect spots for perching and watching the slow pedestrian traffic blow.  The summer of 2003 in western Europe was a record breaking, insufferably hot one. My little square with its stone benches and stress  became a camp site for the city's vagabonds.  This was only the case for a handful of days. That July, we spent Saturdays in the English movie theatre. Unlike most buildings - my apartment included - it had air conditioning. The local movie house also sold salted American style popcorn and ice cold beers.  Hot child in the city.

The first two weeks in my new city I ate rabbit for dinner most nights. I sautéed the pinkish meat in a pan until the meat was cooked and the exterior golden. I had some rosemary and thyme as well as salt and pepper for seasoning. It didn't look like American chicken but no reason for alarm. The Germans don't fatten their animals with the hormones and likes that we do. The packaging said chicken.  Or at least I thought it did. In German, the word for chicken begins with an H and rabbit begins with a K.  The words are so close. What did I know?  Regardless, the rabbit was delicious and for those curious, it does look an awful lot like chicken.  

I had numerous "lost in translation" moments during my early days in Germany. I have since lost count. Learning experiences. Character building. Insert profanity here.  Most make for fantastic stories. I have regaled many with a few of the best including my first trip to the doctor.  I will spare you the gory details.

In Germany, I ate a fair share of pizza.  Pizzas came in individual sizes. No margin for gorging or pigging out unless of course you ordered two.  Flat, crisp crusts. Upon arrival in the city, for all the years to follow, I frequented the same spot. Pizzeria Lupo in the heart of the Alt Stadt.  Located on a busy pedestrian corner where no cars are allowed. This is very common in Germany.  The windows invite the onlooker to peer hungrily into the kitchen. Pizzas are made to order, slid into the oven by shovel and emerge some handful of minutes later. 

My pizza orders were always the same. Spinach or sometimes salami (real Italian salami) and mushrooms.  Many ordered their's with canned tuna fish.  I love tuna but could not stomach this on my pizza. Corn was prevalent.  I ordered this once and made a real mess of things in the back of a cab when the box flipped open on a turn.  I saw a fried egg on top more times than I can count.

Upon boxing up the pizzas, the person in charge questioned "scharf" or "knoblauch".  Spicy or garlic. There were large jars of olive oil with metal spoons for drizzling, one containing hot peppers and another garlic.  These oils transformed the pizzas. I always went for scharf. A new girl in a new city still learning the language had no business eating hers with garlic.  And so it goes.

We love to prepare pizza on the grill.  Artisan pizzas we call them.  Somewhat gourmet. Pizza in the oven is fine but on the grill, you get a lovely charred crust that is magic on its own.  It is the perfect any night dinner.  Fast, easy, as healthy as you like (or not) and delicious. The sky is the limit with regards to what you put on top.  Spinach, mozzarella cheese, roasted tomatoes, butternut squash, sautéed mushrooms, kalmata olives, pesto. Be creative. 

I am all for making items for the kitchen in lieu of buying them.  Homemade is the way to go in my book. Stock, sauces, gravies, salad dressings, you name it.  I am also a realist and sometimes need to pull meals together on a whim. Busy lives often call for fast solutions.  And that is perfectly okay. This past Saturday, partner-in-crime had a pizza craving. It's the holidays so why not. Homemade dough is my preference but calls for an overnight rest period in the fridge.  Plan B was waiting at the back door. I swung by the pizza joint at Whole Foods Market and picked up some ready made dough.  Their dough is incredible. The perfect and most delicious foundation for any homemade pizza. Great flavor and texture.  What more can one ask for?


Ingredients this go around

Whole Foods Pizza Dough
Extra virgin olive oil
Raw arugula
1 log of chèvre goat cheese (Trader Joe's)
1 cup of Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup of shredded Asiago cheese
Red pepper flakes
*Pears or sliced figs optional - makes a nice combination of sweet and savory

Kitchen Tip

Pour olive oil on some paper towels and grease the grill early on as it is warming up.  You will need your grill at approximately 200 degrees to bake the crust. Pizza on the grill is quick business so I advise you to have all your goodies prepped and on the counter.  If you elect to add vegetables, I suggest you grill or roast them before adding to the pizza.  


Find a clean space to roll out your dough.  We always use a granite kitchen counter.  I recommend sprinkling the surface space with approximately 1/4 cup of flour.  Start rolling.  Rolling pin.  Bottle of wine. Whatever you have on hand. 

Once you have rolled out the dough to approximately 1/2 inch thick - not too thin mind you - drizzle some olive oil on the top.  Carefully place it olive oil side down on the grill.  Note, unless you are an engineer you might not achieve a perfectly circular shape.  Worry not.

Within a pair of minutes, the dough will begin to bubble.  This means it is time to flip it.  If you lift a corner you should see a nicely marked underside. Flip it and periodically check the bottom to check for doneness.  This should take approximately 5 minutes.  

Take the pizza dough inside and tizzy it up.  I sliced a log of chèvre cheese that we placed on top.  Tear the prosciutto into pieces and drop about the dough.  I then finished it off with the Parmesan and Asiago cheeses.  If you want to add sliced apples or pears, now is the time to do it. 

We returned our pizza to the grill for approximately 6 minutes (until the cheese was melting - note your chèvre will not full melt though it will soften).  I then brought it back inside for inspection.  We haphazardly threw the raw peppery arugula on top. A conservative drizzle of olive oil and some red pepper flakes. Voila!

This particular pizza we ate for lunch.  After lunch I left it on the counter and we nibbled throughout the day.  I enjoyed the last slice with a handful of spinach on top around 8.00 pm that night. Game of Thrones followed shortly thereafter.

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