Childhood picture books, stories and TV shows that depicted food and dining made a real impression on me. Illustrations of steaming bowls of pasta or a piece of toast smothered in purple jam gave me my first taste of foods I’d yet to try, and are sometimes still the archetypes I hold food up to today. Instead of simply reminisce, I’m going to bring those dishes to life the way I imagined they’d be.
If you grew up in the States, I imagine that your parents, your older sibling, your younger sibling–maybe there are two of them, one still in a highchair–and your best friend all gathered around the table for dinner. The table in question was in your comfortable kitchen, large enough to fit that table for 8, even 10 if you had to. I imagine a mid-fall evening outside. I’m not sure of that but the sky seems dark blue and given that it can only be 7 or 8pm (that’s pushing it), it can no longer be summer, and there’s no snow falling so I’m guessing it’s late October. One thing I’m certain of, the relaxed vibe, with no one rushing to do laundry, homework, or to practice meant it was Friday night. And that extra-large, white pizza box, sometimes emblazoned with a neighbourhood joint’s logo, sometimes not, was as much a fixture at the table as Dan Connor. And the pizza slices you pulled out from it were huge. I imagine that’s how your weekend started, because that’s what your sitcoms drilled into my head as I grew up. And it was one of the most romantic things to me, I ate it up.
I lusted after that moment and strived to recreate it–in vain. I begged my parents to order in pizza every chance I got. But here, in Canada, I could never seem to get a pizza slice that huge–nor a whole pizza itself that could compare to the one on Roseanne Conner’s table, or one that was ordered in for the pizza party on The Facts of Life. An extra-large never seemed to come close, and besides, it was always sliced into too many fractions so even the biggest slice seemed one third the size of the ones on TV. “Party-size” pizzas were suddenly converted to long rectangles (was it a box thing? square boxes to fit a round pie only got so large?) and a pizza square from such an order would never do. Then there was the whole hot-cheese-strings-pulling-slowly-never-breaking thing that you sometimes saw. That was actually something my dad became obsessed with, though I think it was the commercials that got to him, not the shows. He voiced his disgust when pizzas we ordered didn’t do what they do on TV (when I started to make my own pizzas, I’d sweat the cheese selection the most…would the results of melted Monterey jack meet his approval?), and agreeing, I shared his pain. Americans: were those TV pizzas, big boxes and all, merely a prop? Did their superiority torture you too as you ate your mere-mortal-sized pies?
In the city, I live close to many neighbourhood pizza joints now–growing up in the suburbs and confined to chain pizzeria options, I never really stood a chance. The boxes seem a little larger, the cheese is superior and with each order I get a little closer to my iconic pie. I’m usually quite happy with the quality of the pizza I order, but I’m happiest when I’m eating from the biggest box to arrive so far, and the slices are cut a little bigger than last time. Pass the powdery, pre-grated cheese, please.