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Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 01:52 pm

Make your own pizza sleepovers

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Even if you’re not involved or interested in child-rearing, chances are you’ve heard about Yale law professor Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and the firestorm of controversy it’s ignited.

Although I haven’t read the book, I’ve seen reviews and articles, and heard Chua interviewed. She espouses exceptionally strict parenting that seems repressive to many. It’s a style used by her Chinese immigrant parents, one that she’s used with her two daughters. Chua says that Chinese parents assume strength, not fragility, in their children. (Ironically, China’s one-child-per-family policy is changing that tradition; it’s becoming a nation of indulged only children.)

“The solution to substandard performance is to always excoriate, punish and shame the child,” Chua writes. One anecdote in the book describes her throwing a birthday card back at the daughter who had made it, because Chua thought she should have put more care and thought into it: “I deserve better than this, so I reject this!”

 Chua made her daughters practice piano or violin six hours a day. Play dates and sleepovers weren’t allowed. As young as seven, the girls were denied food and bathroom breaks until music pieces were perfected. The girls “were never allowed….not to be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama.”

Whew!! Though I think some parents and teachers overdo building children’s self-esteem by telling them everything they do is great, regardless of how it actually is, Chua swings the pendulum way too far in the other direction. It’s possible to let kids know that what they’ve done is incorrect or inadequate without humiliating them.

Surprisingly, one of things that most upset people about Chua’s childrearing is her not permitting sleepovers. A recent call-in show on NYC’s AM NPR station dealt exclusively with Chua’s no-sleepover policy. To me, however, that was far less awful than not letting a child go to the bathroom until she plays a piece of music perfectly.

Which is not to say I’m against sleepovers. I encouraged my kids to have friends stay over. It provided a wonderful way to see how they and their friends interacted, and to get a sense of what their friends were like. The only absolute rule was that threesomes were not allowed – before the night was over, it would always end up two against one.

From the beginning, sleepovers at our house always included make-your-own pizzas. The dough is easy and very forgiving – and even when the finished product was lumpy and uneven, the kids still loved them because they’d made them themselves. Pizza-making also provided insights into the kids’ varying personalities. There were those who carefully and precisely formed their dough into exact rounds, placing toppings with geometric precision. In contrast were those who made amoeba-like free-forms with wildly scattered toppings. Some used toppings sparingly, others piled them on with abandon.

Make-your-own pizzas remained a beloved part of Glatz sleepovers even after the kids grew into teenagers and my supervision wasn’t really necessary. But by then they’d grown used to me being in the kitchen with them, and I still took the opportunity to observe and listen. Chua would undoubtedly think my childrearing tactics inadequate. But my three adult children are all intelligent, productive, loving and have strong work ethics, so I’m more than satisfied with how they turned out.  

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.


RealCuisine Recipe
Make your own pizzas

These instructions are written for children, but are meant to be used with age-appropriate adult supervision. 

For the dough:

  • 1 package dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons), NOT fast-acting
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/4 c. very warm (but not hot) water
  • 3 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3/4 c. cool water
  • cornmeal

Equipment:

  • Pizza stone
  • Quarry tiles or a cookie sheet – preferably not an airbake type
Topping suggestions:
  • Tomato sauce   
  • Sliced fresh tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
  • Grated cheese like Parmesan or Asiago       
  • Mozarella cheese, sliced or grated
  • Cooked Italian sausage, crumbled or in chunks           
  • Ham or pepperoni
  • Cooked bacon, crumbled or pieces
  • Green and/or black olives           
  • Onions, peppers, shrimp           
  • Mushrooms or garlic
  • Anything else you think would be good. IT’S YOUR PIZZA – USE YOUR IMAGINATION!!
Put the oven rack on the lowest level, and put the pizza stone, quarry tiles or cookie sheet on it. Turn the oven on to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The oven should heat up for at least 45 minutes before baking the pizza.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and yeast, then stir in the warm water. Let it stand for 10 minutes. This is called proofing, and is a way to check that your yeast is alive and active. The mixture should be frothy and bubbly, and look like it’s getting bigger. If it doesn’t look like that, discard it and try again. The water may have been too hot or too cold (100 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal). The yeast may be too old or have been inactivated in some other way. If it won’t “proof,” don’t continue until you’ve gotten good yeast. (Note: there is always an expiration date on the yeast package.)

Put the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, a food processor or a mixer fitted with the dough hook. If you’re using a bowl, add the dry ingredients, make a “well” in the middle and pour in the yeast mixture. Stir it with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until it’s all mixed together and doughy. Add a little extra flour if it’s really sticky. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it until it can form a smooth ball. Kneading is folding the dough over and pushing it with the heel of your hand over and over.

If using a food processor, add the yeast mixture and the rest of the ingredients, turn it on and process until the dough forms a ball on the blade. If it is sticky, you may have to add sprinklings of flour. Once it has formed a ball, let it process for about 2 minutes to knead the dough.

If you’re using the mixer, put all the ingredients in the bowl of the mixer, add the yeast and turn the mixer on low. Mix until the ingredients have completely mixed together and are starting to slap around in the bowl. If it is too sticky, add flour a little at a time until the dough cleans itself off the sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer up to about medium and knead for 6 minutes.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes in a warm place. It should have begun to rise.

Cut the dough into 4 to 6 pieces, depending on how big you want your pizzas to be. Dust the pieces with flour.

Roll them out with a rolling pin or stretch them out by hand. You can make the dough thick or thin, whichever way you like.

Sprinkle a pizza peel or upside down cookie sheet with cornmeal. When you have your dough in the shape and thickness you want, put it on the cornmeal.

Add whatever toppings you want. Remember that if you layer toppings thickly the pizza won’t be crisp. It’s fine if you like it that way – it’s totally up to you.

Open the oven and slide the pizza onto the pizza stone, quarry tiles or cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the dough is golden brown and toppings are bubbly. The baking time will vary depending on the thickness of the dough and toppings and your individual oven. When it is done, slide it carefully on the pizza peel (be sure to use hot pads) and eat as soon as it’s cool enough.

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