Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

20170113_123932We drive under a telephone line that is completely booked by a row of fat pigeons all squinting in unison in the direction of the orange sherbert glow of morning sun.  “Look,” I say out loud in spite of what the rest of the passengers in the vehicle think. “Dawn Patrol.” From what I gather, these greasy little sky-rats  are here every morning, holding a meeting on the same wire.They remind me of their slacker seagull cousins who squat together on the beach, and all face the same direction waiting for that perfect wind, like surfers who wait for that perfect wave. These guys remind me of a story that I started a few years ago. It’s nowhere near finished, but I need to get back to it soon.

My son in the back seat watches the world float by his window while quietly grazing on dry breakfast cereal. We are on our way to pick up his cousin and drop him off at daycare. En route, we notice a child’s flip-flop in the middle of the road. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we noticed the child’s flip-flop because it’s been there for two days. It doesn’t look abused or broken in any way, just abandoned. Forgotten.

I could smell the slightest whiff of a poem about an abandoned shoe as an allegory about society in general gently rolling in like that perfect breeze meant for seagulls. The beginning of a random metaphor started to form in my head that I planned to use at a later date, when I hear, “I wonder why you only ever see one shoe in the road,” my son’s mother said. “It’s never a pair of shoes, it’s only one. I wonder why that is?”

I can feel the Train of Thought pull away from the station. I had to seriously contemplate when was the last time I saw a pair of shoes abandoned and discarded in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I have never seen a pair of Keds on the ground as if they were some victim of some heinous violation cast aside and left to rot in the gutter. I thought about it longer than I would have liked to. It kind of bothered me, truth be told. Because, not only was it another unknown that might be worth at least a few minutes of research for… I dunno… in case I get swept up in bar trivia at the local Chili’s, but counting this scenario, along with the birds taking in a sunrise, and the cereal munching munchkin in the back seat (whom I’ll come back to in a minute), it now looks like I have a few more ideas to build stories around. The last thing I need right now is to add to my growing list of works in progress.

I mean, is there an epidemic of singular shoes dotting the landscape? Do other people notice this? Does the lost shoe feel a sense of detachment and ennui because its favorite sock got eaten by a dryer and now feels lost without it? Is feral footwear common? What about other articles of clothing? How do they feel about it? How often do they get cast aside?

These things are the sugar in my coffee. These are the things that give me a warm fuzziness in my belly because it feels like my obsessive nature has finally been directed into a more positive, and less destructive path. Over the past few years, I have turned into a storytelling savant. I’m constantly asking “what would happen if..?” and among other things, I try very hard to not use zombies as a McGuffin because I ran out of ideas. “At long last, Frank and Carol could now share that kiss in the happy home of their dreams. But they couldn’t because zombies. The end.

Every week, I eagerly await another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. Sometimes I play, sometimes I feel a little too out of shape. Other times I collect story prompts like seashells, and of course, there are those moments when something that can’t be easily explained comes charging into my personal space, like say, figuring out why one shoe ends up in the road and not the pair. Instead of defaulting to logic and reason to explain it (which is really boring and smells an awful lot like bullshit), I prefer instead to faceplant directly into the blueberry pie of “Just Make Shit Up” (which might be tedious to the listener, but dagnabbit, it’s not my fault that you ask the most random crap and expect something extremely insightful and intellegent to roll off my tongue.You ask a rhetorical question, you get a left field answer. Deal with it.). I mean, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers…tell stories. How else do you think this works?

I can’t take on other projects. Not right now. My current first draft is nearly complete, and I’ll jump into revising the beast over the course of the next few days. I have several other half started projects right behind this one that need to be finished. These projects are moving slower than I’d like because writing is only taking up a little of my day. When I’m not writing, I’m taking my son to therapy (details, and perhaps the whole point of this post below), and when I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of the family. Which is why it may be dangerous to draw my attention to something that will cater to my obsessiveness like a lonely shoe.

As a Crime Action Drama

Mr. Deveraux could not stop his limbs and extremities from twitching, while Mrs. Deveraux remained the stronger of the two, and opted instead to chew off the skin around her cuticles. Their home has always been a peaceful sanctuary, they’ve fussed over it for years to get it to that point. But this morning was almost too much to process. Melinda had been missing for a little over twelve hours. Since that time, almost an entire squadron of police officers had taken up residence in their once pristine stainless steel kitchen with laptops and various pieces of tracking equipment that they’ve never heard of, and they weren’t entirely sure, but it looked like there were a couple of FBI agents huddled closely in the hallway talking about something, looking grim.

The Lead Investigator’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. “We are all going to get through this,” he said. “We are going to get your daughter back. I have called in our finest to track these guys down. Also, once word got out that it might be the Oaxaca cartel, the FBI became very interested. Whoever did this is going to have a very bad day, understand?” Melinda’s parents do their best to acknowledge. “Good, now when that phone rings, I’m gonna need you to remain calm, and act normal.” Mrs. Deveraux laughs an empty laugh, because her normal felt like it has been trodden under by so many police issued boots in her garden full of mums.

When the phone finally did ring, it was as if everyone started breathing again in unison. As if they were allowed. A technician punched in a code into his laptop, and gave a signal to the Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator donned his headphones, and gave the cue for Mr. Deveraux to lift up the receiver.

“Hello?” The tremble in his voice choked back hard.
“Do you have the money?” The voice at the other end was computer generated. The expressions on the cops faces let the Deveraux’s know that they were dealing with professionals.
“Do you have my daughter?” Mr. Deveraux sneered, “Is she still alive, you son of a bitch?”

The next voice wasn’t computer generated. It was the sound of Melinda, scared, hopeless, weeping, but very much still alive. Mrs. Deveraux clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle whatever might be pushed out of it.

“You have such a pretty child, Mr. Deveraux,” the emotionless voice continued. “Her eyes are quite captivating. It would be such a shame if she were missing one.”
“You bastard!” Mr. Deveraux bellowed. “If one hair is out of place on her head, I swear to God I will…”
“Do you have my money or not, Mr. Deveraux?”

The Lead Investigator nodded silently to Mr. Deveraux. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have your money.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “Now, listen very carefully, this is what I need you to do next. I need you to grab an article of clothing that belongs to Melinda.” The Lead Investigator snapped his fingers at a cadet to whisper something in his ear. When he was finished, the cadet ran upstairs to her room. “I need you to take that piece of clothing and drop it on the corner of 5th and Elm. Walk across the street and when a brown Oldsmobile parks in front of you, get in the back seat.”

The cadet reappears holding a tiny, pink flip-flop. The Lead Investigator holds it up for Mr. Deveraux to see. “I’ll be using one of her flip-flops, will that do?”
“That will suffice,” the voice said.
“Will my daughter be in the car? Where are you taking me?”
“Be ready at 10:30. Bring the money.” The line went dead.

As A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel

It rained the night before, and when the kids were waiting for the bus the next morning, none of them seemed too worried that the sun  was hidden by the clouds. The lack of sunshine made everything look dull, except for Rebecca’s very pink backpack and Mark’s very yellow rain slicker.

On the other side of the street, in the old lot where the old drug store used to be, there sat a very white sneaker. Shoelaces untied, and sitting upright collecting rain. Rebecca noticed it briefly before her friends started talking about lip gloss. Mark didn’t notice it at all because he doesn’t like talking to too many people. Charlie noticed it right away, and he knew exactly what it meant.

It means the Fog Giants have returned. There was going to be plenty of long nights ahead.

~***~

See, things like this are a bone for me to chew on. It’s things like this that make me remember why I should carry a notebook everywhere I go. It’s things like this that yank my attention away from whatever I’m working on at the moment. So please, for the sake of progress, don’t allow me to occupy my mind with such things. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded about that part of my WIP where a flock of blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire.

It also doesn’t help that I have tied that project to the other thing that we are leaving the house for. Let me get back to that.

Recently, I have posted about my son, and how he wants to talk at length about anything, but he hasn’t developed the skill to form words yet. I have always been of the opinion that he will come around to it, but still, there were other characteristics that were telling us that he might need a little help.

The problem was recognizing that he had a problem to begin with. He’s still two, and he’s still trying to get used to things like eating a proper meal, or sleeping in his own bed, or learning words, or not being so focused on certain things. It was hard to tell if he was being difficult, or if there was something more sinister afoot.

To put our minds at ease, we tested him for hearing and vision, and determined that the best course of action would be to see a speech therapist. After a few months of regular sessions, we have made small breakthroughs and tiny miracles. But, for all the progress we have made in regards to getting him to say the simplest words, it didn’t solve the mystery as to why he still flaps his arms when he gets really excited, or why he prefers to walk on his toes.

To REALLY put our minds at ease, we went back to his pediatrician to finally ask the question we’ve been putting off for too long. Is our son autistic? It only took a few minutes of an unofficial yet very effective method of determining he wasn’t to give us some relief. But with that burden taken away from us, and most importantly, from him, we were still in the dark as to what seems to be affecting him.

It took a less than fruitful session with his speech therapist to have her bring our attention to something called Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a very real condition that affects mostly children. It often mimics autism, but it isn’t autism. It is a very real condition, and the cruelest aspect of this condition is, it’s not recognized officially as a real condition.

To put it simply, SPD is where the person has a difficult time responding or reacting to whatever stimuli they’re exposed to. Think of trying to process something as simple as walking along a beach. Everything you experience, the feel of the sand between your toes, the smell of the salt air, the sound of surf, all collide at the same time like traffic weaving through a poorly attended intersection at rush hour. Everything is snarled and not going anywhere too soon. Reaction times in the individual with this disorder are slowed, or often times, not present at all. Or in the case of my son, happening all at once to trigger this extremely excitable reaction where he flaps his arms, open his mouth wide like a lead singer of a metal band, and have a vein or two swell up in his neck.

It is a very real condition. Unfortunately, no one in the healthcare community can come to a consensus on how to define it. Look, is it on spectrum, or is it another version of OCD? Figure it out and get back to us.

It is quite cruel.

Fortunately, my son isn’t at that level. He’s quite happy, and he’ll respond to things and look you in the eye and talk to you…the best he can. But he’ll still do it on his own terms.

Because SPD isn’t uniform and has a broad definition, and has the traits of something else without being that something else, and it does different things to different people, there has been no formal diagnosis of this condition. That means doctors can’t officially prescribe anything, let alone talk about it. The only thing they can do is suggest Occupational Therapy.

Which is where we were going to this morning, my son and I. This is where we’ve gone for the past few months.20170114_104609

His speech therapy is touch and go. He’ll either be in the mood to say something or nah. Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, is so… much… COOLER! There’s a ball pit! And big bouncy balls! And a tunnel and more toys! It’s a process of learning through playing…or what we used to call it in my day…playing. Occupational therapy is a welcome supplement to his boring ol’ speech therapy. And I think the biggest takeaway from attending these sessions, is my child has to take the lead as to what he wants to do. It’s up to the adults to go along and work with it. So, it’s a learning process for me too.

So, I suppose I could be one of these concerned parents and talk at length about getting your child screened and look for the warning signs and blahblahblah. “I need you to feel empathy for my baby because reasons!” But, I don’t feel like it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it either. He’s not sick. He’s normal, he just needs a little boost. And while I could be the loudest crusader to get this condition the recognition it deserves, I really don’t think that’s necessary. It is what it is. It’ll probably stick with him for the rest of his life, but we caught it early enough so he’ll know how to deal with it when he gets older, and that’s all we can do right now. Still though, it would be nice to see him walk normally, talk normally. I love my boy, and I’m happy with my boy. I am proud of every one of his accomplishments every day.

I could complain, but I’d rather deal with it in my own way.

He has several quirks. That’s all they are. Just quirks. Things he does. Most of them are indicative of the condition he has, the rest are all his. And instead of Googling what they all are and fret until I mis-diagnose the hell out of it, I have decided to make him the hero of his own story.

Because, I’m a Storyteller. It’s what we do.

He chuckles in his sleep. It’s the most adorable thing in the world. He also likes to look up at the sky while he’s walking. It’s his preferred activity over anything else to do outside. Recently, I was stringing Christmas lights around the house. I switched them on, and as he was passing by with eyes cast skyward he said, “Bye!” It wasn’t directed to anyone. It was directed to the lights. At first, rationality took over. “Well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it has something to do with the red bulbs, and somehow relating them to watching taillights move down the driveway every morning as his mom goes to work.” Red light means someone’s leaving, which means “Byyyye! See you laytor!

So, instead of freaking out, I just think of the lonely flip-flop…

Untitled Story Idea…

A family moves to a haunted house, and it’s a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. The ghosts that reside there, mainly an old married couple, have been there for a very long time, and haven’t found a way to leave. The only person in the family that knows it’s haunted is the toddler, and he isn’t saying much. The ghosts aren’t very good at scaring people out of the house, because no one has lived there for such a long time, and they couldn’t find it within them to scare them because they were grandparents at one time. So, they spend most of their time looking after the children to make sure they don’t get into trouble. Somewhere along the line, the ghosts figure out that if they can get the baby to laugh, then the hold that this house has on them begins to loosen. Good deeds remembered, they are allowed to pass on once Christmas lights are hung and illuminated.

~***~

Another one of his quirks, and this is something his mother and I need to focus on, is that he has this obsession with doors. The way they open and close, if they latch or not, if they have a lever or knob, do they squeak, how much effort is needed to go through it. We REALLY lose him at the grocery store where the doors open on their own. *GASP! What sorcery is THIS?* He will literally spend the better part of an hour opening and closing doors. It’s something that we learn to live with.

I’m not sure how to break his fascination with them. Once he gets on a door binge, it’s hard to stop, and that’s something that we are slowly learning at Occupational Therapy. It appears that both of my children have their father’s obsessive nature.

There are good days, and there are bad days. But mostly, they’re good. His OT is quite adept at getting him away from his door habit and directing him to playing with blocks and puzzles, and as a result, his obsession has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is my own curiosity. “Why doors?” I ask to myself…in the same tone as “Why one shoe?”

Revision to ‘Kids of St. Anthony’

Story so far:

A social worker who has lost her child to cancer, and as a result, going through a divorce, is now set to task for finding homes for three young siblings. They reside at St. Anthony’s Home for Wayward children; an orphanage. For the most part, all the children that reside there are normal children, but there is a wing of the church that not a lot of people know about. It’s the wing where they put the “special” children.

The oldest of the three (based on my youngest daughter) has a habit of drawing what appears to be circles on paper with crayon. The middle child has hushed conversations with people who aren’t there, and the youngest cannot cope will unless there is an animal present.

To the system, to the nuns that run this place and to the social worker, these children are perceived to have special needs.

It turns out, they’re partially right. The youngest needs to be in close proximity to animals, because they can talk to him, and that’s how he has been in touch with the outside world. The middle child as actually holding conversations with ghosts. They warn her of danger and teach her history. The oldest, who looks as though she draws in anger and frustration with every circle getting deeper as each crayon gets ground down, is actually drawing very intricate talismans that are crafted to protect all of them. All three children team up with the social worker to solve mysteries and stuff. She ends up adopting them…until zombies…the end.

UPDATE:

First of all, enough of the frickin’ zombies.

Second of all, it might be wise to turn this into a series and expand the universe. Because all the cool kids are doing it!

Why not have this orphanage be home to other children with secret abilities? Maybe it’s been a home for children like this for a long time. Like this one child who shows no attention to the world around him, except when it comes to doors. He might come in handy in a pinch.

The bad guys are closing in on our heroes, and the youngest child is feverishly opening and closing a door to a closet; essentially, opening a door to nowhere. At the right time, he opens this door to nowhere, and it turns out that it’s a door to somewhere. They all escape danger because a toddler opened a closet door to reveal a field of wheat somewhere on the other side of the world…next chapter.

Conclusion

This is me blogging because I need a kick in the ass. This post has taken a week in re-writes and has ended up being approximately half the length of my current first draft. It feels like I’m stalling, but I need free up the log jam in my head.

It’s important to let you know that I haven’t gone anywhere.

I would love to write a short story a week, as I’ve pointed out previously. Respectfully, I’m not sure when Mr. Bradbury laid down the gauntlet about doing this, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t have to take care of kids and household at the same time. Right now, I’d be satisfied if I could finish a chapter a week.

This year will be the year I wrangle all of these ideas that land in front of me and turn them into something interesting maybe. I’m hoping that I will be able to find more time to get to them, but the chances of that are quite small. As much as I’d like to lock myself away in a shack in the middle of the woods, my kids need me right now.

And they are most important.

More to come.
Watch this space.

©2017 AA Payson

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Zen and the Art of Pizza Making; A Study (WARNING: May Contain Recipes)

Zen and the Art of Pizza Making; A Study (WARNING: May Contain Recipes)

Circa 2009

The Old Way; The Way I’ve Been Doing it for Years…

Make Dough the Night Before I Need It.

When I first started, I made the dough the day of instead of the night before. I could get away with it, technically, it was totally possible to do so. However, while it would make a deliciously puffy (albeit difficult to work with) dough, it wouldn’t have that same nutty, yeasty, gluteny flavor that is achieved when the yeast and the sugars have time to mingle for at least 18 hours. I eventually learned to make enough dough to be divided and bagged in freezer-proof Zip-Lock bags; using what I need and freezing the rest.

Remember the Ratios

When I first started, I used a scientific approach to my dough making; accumulating various methods and recipes, putting them all in a bowl and mixing it up with previous experience. The first few results were as expected…awful…my notes reflected as such, “next time, do this instead of that…use more of this and less of that…”  There was a time where I just gave up. I was presented with a choice; spend time and effort on something trivial, or just give up and order out.

I pouted for a few months.

Then, one day I realized that the little things mean much more to me than the bigger picture, and I jumped right back into it. All I needed was a little more knowledge, a little more finesse. Bread is a living thing and it cannot be constructed as one would build a bookshelf…it must be nurtured. It took a few tries, but I finally hit my stride. The result of which was making dough regularly. So much to the point where I no longer relied on any recipe on paper, it was a “sense memory” thing. Something more akin to a chef or a baker who actually knows what they’re doing.

I’ve been making dough for over ten years now, and still I rely somewhat on measurements. In the beginning, I relied on my chicken scratch notes because it wasn’t automatic yet. Then dough making turned into a Friday night ritual to prep for my Saturday night ritual of making it. As the weeks and months pass, I just knew that this much flour meant this much yeast which that much water and so on. For years now, the result of my labor has just been…sustainably adequate. Maybe I got bored. Maybe my taste buds have gone blind and have given up trying long ago. Whatever the reason, I’ve made no secret that I wanted to change it, but I never dared to do anything for fear of something falling apart. Remember the ratios. Remember the crushing failures of the past.

For years, it has been fairly consistent. And I’ve been silently indifferent.

Never Get the Sauce from a Jar.

Ever. Always make it fresh. I will not bend on that. Always make it fresh. Make it with real ingredients. Forget that the price of fresh produce is going up, grab that basket of Roma tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market and get back in the kitchen. So what if it tastes a little…funny? It’s fresh! It’s…organic ‘n stuff! It’s supposed to taste like this.

While trying to be as accurate as possible with the construction of the dough, I would “eyeball” the ingredients for the sauce. It would taste different with every batch. That would be okay, because honestly, the dough would vary in taste and consistency every time too, no matter how much attention I paid to it.

This is how its been for years. Homemade pizza would be our Saturday night thing. It would be the thing that holds the family together. It would teach the kids that daddy can cook too, and he can do it better than anything pulled out of a microwave. There was even a moment in time where my ego was so bloated that I considered opening a pizzeria of my own. The problem was that even though I looked forward to every Saturday night and making something that everyone could eat and hopefully enjoy, the end product that I was pulling out of the oven was good. And that’s not a complement. It was good. I was shooting for great.

It didn’t taste good. I mean, it didn’t taste awful, it just tasted…well…off. It wasn’t enjoyable. My feelings were confirmed when my daughter takes her slice and picks at it. She usually eats half of it before she quits halfway through, up until recently, she couldn’t even do that. I mean, it’s PIZZA for cryin’ out loud! PIZZA!! If your kid picks at a slice of pizza like some kids push lima beans to the side of a plate, then congratulations, you just made something so horrible that they would rather choke down a Papa John’s pizza rather than endure eating what you made. Way to go…you suck.

Things had to change. In doing the same thing for years, I have become slave to the action, I had become complacent. If I took a step outside myself and observed my pizza from another point of view, it didn’t matter that it was good enough or not. It was pizza, and it was fresh, and daddy was making it. There could be no wrong coming from this. Only, I could tell. It wasn’t right, and I couldn’t go through another week foisting a sub-par product to my family. I mean, if I’m not wowing them on a weekly basis, how would I hypothetically survive opening up a shop?

Things had to change.

And so they did…

~***~
Circa 2014

Old Dough Recipe (prep time: 2 Days):

  • 5 Cups High Gluten Flour
  • 1 tsp. Dry Active Yeast
  • 1 Tbl. light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbl. olive oil
  • ~3 Cups warm (between 95° and 110° F) water.

I recommend starting off with clean water. If you don’t have access to a Brita Water Filtration System, then a jug of filtered water, the kind you collect in your shelter in case a hurricane rips through your neighborhood? The store brand kind? The ones that are like under a buck each? Yeah, one of those will work nicely.

You’ll need around 3 cups, not exactly 3 cups. The reason being is that there is a crucial point in dough making when you have to slowly incorporate wet to dry ingredients. Too much wet, and it’ll turn into paste. Not enough, and it’s a modern art sculpture. I’ll get into the details later.

Warm the water to around 110°. Heating it in a microwave safe vessel is okay, I prefer to warm my water the old fashioned way of pouring it into a small saucepan, placing it on the back burner of my stove, turning the burner to low and busy myself with other things while it gets up to temperature.

While that’s working, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. If you don’t have one of these…well…don’t fret, the gift giving season is right around the corner. I used to mix by hand for a few years until I got one of these and realized how much my wrists have turned to stone. I recommend the stand mixer, it’ll save a lot of time, and it’ll save your arms…unless…ya know…you’re into that whole “beefy arms” thing.

Anyway, as stated previously, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl and mix on low speed using the whisk attachment. The yeast and the sugar need to do their happy dance in the flour, so you need to play the tune by mixing for 2-3 minutes. Once they’re all incorporated, add the salt while the machine is running, and continue mixing for another 2-3 minutes. Not only are you making the yeast happy, you’re also incorporating a little air to the mixture…let’s get to that later…maybe.

Stop mixing, and replace the whisk attachment with the dough hook. Dump the olive oil into the flour mix, and turn on your machine to a low speed.

Now, here’s where you’re undivided attention is needed. Not on me, your mix….although…I wouldn’t mind some attention…maybe sometime…go out for coffee? Or, I dunno…an invitation to join TSŪ…maybe a gift certificate to Harbor Freight Tools…a Macbook Pro?…HEY! Pay attention!
The reason you need to get your water as close to 110° F as possible is that you need to transfer that water into a measuring cup. Doing so (especially if you’re using a Pyrex measuring cup) will drop the temperature of the water by a few degrees. You’ve removed it from the heat twice (once from the stove and once from the hot cooking vessel), so you’ll end up with water that’s closer to 105°…WHICH IS OKAY! any lower, and the dough will go stiff. Hotter than 110° and you have a sticky mess on your hands. 105 is the Goldilocks Zone. (You might want to keep one of these babies handy.)
Slowly pour 2 cups of the water into mix while your dough hook enabled machine is running. Increase the speed of the machine slightly. Your goal at this point is to make gluten; to make sure the dough is at the right consistency to work with. Now, there are many different ways to tell if your dough is ready, but the easiest way is to peek inside of the bowl and make sure that the sides of the bowl are cleaned by the dough as it moves around inside. To do this, you’ll need to pour more of the warmed water into the mix, a few drops at a time. Once the sides of the bowl are clean, you should be close. Don’t worry if the dough sticks to the hook and/or to the bottom of the bowl. A little is workable, if it’s too wet, keep mixing and incorporate more flour into the mix with the machine running. Let the machine run for at least 5 minutes, then remove the bowl from the mixer, loosely cover the bowl (they say to “loosely cover the bowl in plastic wrap”. I use a clean dinner plate. Works just as well, and its more versatile…stay tuned) with the dough still inside, and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Turn out your dough onto a flat, floured surface and knead by hand. There are many recipes out there that tell you to hand need for at least 10 minutes. That’s a bit excessive since the more you knead, the stiffer and unpleasant the crust will be. You will need to…um….knead…but only until there’s a good amount of give to the dough; it’ll contract (bounce back) if you press down on it. Knead and roll the dough into a ball.
Next, you will need a dough scraper, and a kitchen scale. Your dough ball should weigh in the neighborhood of 3lbs. Use your dough scraper to equally divide the dough ball into 4 smaller balls. These should be around 12 oz. a piece (if you have extra, divide it and spread it evenly as you can amongst your balls… stop laughing).
I could go into a step-by-step on how handle the dough at this point, and I may someday revisit this subject complete with video instruction starring me (you have been warned). But for now, let’s see how the pros do it…

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/he-V1J86REA

After you roll them up, use your plate that you used to cover up your dough earlier and drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil in it. Roll a dough ball around in it so it receives a lite coating. Then you should, as Mr. Gemignani pointed out, place each ball in individual zip lock bags (gallon sized will do the trick). Make sure you get as much air out of the bags as possible, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Place your balls in the freezer. The longer they stay in there, the better they’ll taste….stop LAUGHING! If making pizza the next day, take as many as you need out of the freezer, and place in the refrigerator. Remember to take them out at least 2 hours before baking.

The New Recipe. The One I Discovered a Month Ago:

  • The same as above, except add another teaspoon of yeast and divide the dough to 1 lb. portions. Much better; nice chew, very tender, wonderful aroma and mouth feel.
Now, the dough has been modified for the better, why stop there? On to the sauce!
~***~

 The Old and Busted Sauce Recipe:

  • Roma Tomatoes (I highly…HIGHLY recommend going to your local Farmer’s Market for these. The bigger, the better. The ones you get from a supermarket or “Wally World” are just way too small and flavorless and…gross.) Depending on the size, you’ll need anywhere from 6-8 (slightly over a quart). Make sure they’re ripe. If they’re slightly orange and/or not as squishy, the sauce will give a very “bright” flavor, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • 4-5 cloves fresh garlic roughly chopped
  • (2) 5.5 fl oz (2 small cans) tomato juice
  • 1 tsp. sugar

I’d like to take a moment to point out that the rest of the recipe is not in exact measurements…remember… “eyeballing” So, just like you’re Nonna did in the old country…follow your nose…it always knows…the flavor of fruit (that’s a 70s reference, kids. Go ask your parents).

  • dried basil
  • dried oregano
  • fresh basil & oregano (optional)
  • garlic powder
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Lambrusco

Peel your tomatoes. Again, not getting into how to do it here, so here’s an informative video…
//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/bgjJZRnpS24
Add all the ingredients to a pot and introduce an immersion hand blender to the party and blend until saucy. Place pot back on the stove (the warm part where you boiled the water) and cover until room temp. The residual heat will cook the sauce gently.

Now, this has been my sauce for years. This is the sauce that I’ve been convincing myself that is the best thing in the universe. The thing is, and I’m basing this on experience, it has a tendency to turn on you the longer it stays in your fridge. I recommend freezing what you don’t use. This sauce, while made with fresh ingredients, isn’t that good and will turn sour within a month. This is the sauce that I’ve been fooling myself with. This sauce…for lack of a better term…sucks. So, in order to get out of the suck, I turned to the internet while swallowing the fact that sometimes, I just don’t know what I’m doing.

New Hotness Sauce Recipe:

  • (2) 15oz. cans of tomato sauce (30 oz.)
  • (1) 12oz. can of tomato paste
  • 1 Tbl. Italian Seasoning (I know, I know, “how could I?” you gasp,but it’s better this way. Trust me.)
  • 1 Tbl. dried oregano
  • ~1 tsp. crushed fennel seed
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. salt

Combine sauce & paste in a large saucepan over medium heat. While that’s working, crush your fennel seeds. Don’t have one of these yet? Remember…gift giving season…Macbook Pro…FOCUS!

Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly (making sure not to burn). Reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool, apply to pizza….yadda yadda yadda.

Now, the consequence of turning “mouth blind” as it were, is that when you apply something new to something established, there are bound to be repercussions. If done wrong, your family and friends will turn on you quicker than my old sauce taking up way too much room in the ice box. You will become a pariah and turned away from your next book club meeting. If done right, you will witness the initial shock, then the inevitable expression of “what have you done?, then the denial…then the acceptance…then the moment where you forget about the old sauce altogether.

Honestly, I didn’t know how everyone would react as I presented my pizza v. 2.0 for my family. My girlfriend went through the stages mentioned above, my infant son raged and fussed until he got a piece of the pizza crust, but the icing on the cake…the image that made my night, was to see my baby girl, fussiest eater on the planet, not only ate the ENTIRE slice of pizza, but it was intact as she was eating it; no picking, no pruning, no uck face… just devoured. Silently. Whole. Proud papa came back that night when a clean plate was in front his daughter.

My reaction upon eating it?

IT TASTES JUST LIKE PIZZA!

Pizza at last, pizza at last, great googly-moogly, pizza at last. I had forgotten what it tasted like. After scalding the roof of my mouth, I was brought back to the pizza of my childhood; I was brought back to the pizza shop on the other side of town that we used to go to on special occasions. I also wondered why I’ve been denying myself this for years. Why I was so resistant to change? Philosophical quandaries aside, I was finally where I want to be in my pizza-fu. It was wonderful.

~***~
It took me years of muttering to myself of how dissatisfied I was in order for me to get to the point of doing something about it.
And then I actually did something about it.
I was going to title this post, “Defining Madness” or something to that effect. It took me years of muttering to myself like a madman to come to the conclusion that I’ve spent a lot of time muttering to myself like a madman. Like someone lost in madness. Like someone who does something over and over again thinking the outcome will be different every time.
I was going to frame this revelation in the scope of how my attitude has been changing as of late…
If you can’t find it, make it.
If it’s not right, change it.
If it’s bad, walk away.
If all your good intentions and intelligence and talent aren’t putting you in the place you want to be, like say, every time I apply for a job, then perhaps its time to re-prioritize, re-think and recognize other paths in front of me.
If you don’t recognize your own talent and capacity for change, then I don’t know what to say. It’s inside you. It always has been.
What you do with it is up to you.

The Kids of Saint Anthony I-03 (Flash Fiction Friday)

The Kids of Saint Anthony I-03 (Flash Fiction Friday)
Photo by Primowalker

The growing cacophony of hoots, hollers and laughter of children at play contain this magical ability to render the thickest concrete walls invisible. A phenomenon not lost on Emily as she blindly navigates the familiar hallways of Saint Anthony’s with Sister Mary striding along beside her. Without looking up from her folders, she could tell by the various shrieks where she was and where she was heading…

Screams. Laughter. Red Rover colliding with Red Light/Green Light. The sound of sneakers and basketballs hitting pavement: The play area. If we keep going this route, next should come…

A chorus of “Our Fathers”: Sister Agnes’ class. That means we’re heading towards the dorms.

The dorms always made her cringe. The area where the older children, mostly boys, were left to their own devices, and the pack mentality that drives their primal urges that haven’t been fully purged from them. Entering this area was to subject anyone to taunts, bullying, unwanted and unwelcomed advances, the language of the streets. This is The Jungle. This is the landing area where the good is carved out of the evil; The first level of The Divine Comedy. Although age and wisdom has prepared her, although her eyes and ears have bore witness to some of the worst that mankind has to offer, even these many years later, she would still steel her soul, take a deep breath, and prepare herself to cross the threshold into The Jungle. “Courage, dear.” said Sister Mary as she consoled Emily with a boney touch. She could feel her fear. She always could. She would always remind her. Any minute now, the calls of horny, prepubescent boys would start staining the atmosphere. Any second now, the walking, talking, drooling by-products of Lust and Rage would come with their dirty hands and dirty mouths. Any moment now…

Silence. Not a breath. Not even the whoosh of a door opening or the creak of its hinges as it finds its resting position. Only the echoing sound of their feet marching down polished tile. It’s one thing when The Jungle was alive with noise, at least you could tell where the danger was. The hallway was lit, but it seemed like the air was sucked out of it. There was a stillness, even the years of obscene graffiti carved for posterity in indelible marker was pale. This wasn’t The Jungle that Emily remembered.

This was much worse.

“Well,” blurted Emily desperately trying to add some life to this ghost town of a hallway. “This isn’t the place I remember; it’s a lot less…lively. Where are the boys? Where is anybody, for that matter?”

For a brief, very brief moment, Sister Mary’s smile withered but was miraculously revived as she told of the bitter reality of running a day to day business. “Oh. Well dear, the funding from the Church wasn’t as much as it has been. It was around the time where…you know what…happened.” To this day, the shock that some in the Dioceses let their secret, carnal inhibitions loose on innocent children is just as fresh as the day she heard it screaming from random televisions and splattered across tabloid headlines. It is the Event That Shall Not Be Named. “Soon after the lawsuits, there just wasn’t enough to pay for the settlements and keep every orphanage operational at the same time.”

“Oh no,” said Emily stricken with genuine concern. “Are you closing your doors? Is the church liquidating Saint Anthony’s?”

“No, not yet, thank God,” said Sister Mary as she cast her eyes briefly skyward. “The budget constraints were just enough to cripple us, not kill us. We had to relocate a few of the Sisters a couple of months ago, and I suppose a few more of us might be heading the same way soon. But the real tragedy, dear?” She paused, took a breath, leaned in and lowered her voice to a confidential, confessional whisper, “The real tragedy is that the state has taken possession of the at-risk children. Don’t get me started on that. Some Godless bureaucrat thought it would be more cost effective if the children were “processed” rather than “cared for”. They had a better chance here than in some jail for toddlers…”

“I guess that would explain the lack of all the children,” said Emily, attempting to stop the freight train of a Nun’s rant from speeding out of control.

“Yes, it would appear at the moment we have more room than we need. Still though…” she flicked a switch at the other end of the hall which illuminated the rest of the way. “I suppose it might be to our favor in regards to the children you have there,” she said as she motioned to the folders in Emily’s hand.

“What do you mean?” asked Emily half expecting the children to be the spawn of Hannibal Lecter or something.

“Normally, we would separate the special needs children from the rest. But, since we brought these children in…this case was something that had us all… a bit puzzled.” Sister Mary paused before opening the door. “You mentioned something before about finding the children’s birth parents?”

“Yes.”

“They have no parents. None that we could find. That’s the first thing. The second thing is their condition. I hesitate to call it autism, because I’m not entirely sure that’s what they have.”

“Yes,” said Emily leafing through her paperwork. “Their medical records are spotless, their cat scans show high brain activity, and yet…”

“And yet,” Sister Mary continued, “They don’t respond to stimulation. It’s almost as if they’re lost in their own world. Usually, there would be curiosity among the rest of the children, but not so much this time. They don’t venture out of this room, save to go to the bathroom or eat. Which isn’t unusual, but they seem to prefer each other’s company over other people.”

“Which isn’t too unusual either,” said Emily. “So what you’re saying is that they are autistic, but…not?”

“Like I said dear…puzzled,” and with that, Sister Mary opened the door to the children’s room.

Whether she has planned on it or not, Emily’s life has always revolved around children. From her time here in these halls, to her training in her occupation as a social worker, to her continued interaction with children that still need help, to the brief moment in time where she was a mother herself, she is always about the children, and keeping them safe. She was born with an intuition and empathy, it was psychology that she had to learn. With autistic children, nothing can be forced. You cannot yell, scold or become impatient. With autistic children, you must observe. Silently. Any disruption to their routine could literally destroy their whole week. Be silent. Be patient. Observe. This is what Emily has learned. None of that seemed to matter as she walked through the door.

A young boy sits at the edge of his bed opposite the door having a serious, one-sided conversation with no one in particular. At the window on the far side of the room, a young girl transfixes on a finch perched on a tree branch. Completing the triangle in the opposite corner, a girl, noticeably older than the other two, sits among pages and pages of notebook paper with a variation of a circular design on each one. “We have done all we could to reach these beautiful children,” whispered Sister Mary. “I called upon you to see if you knew what we’re dealing with. We need your expert advice.”

“I’ll see what I can do, Sister,” whispered Emily. Somewhere along the line, “First, do no harm” crept into her daily life and applied itself into everything she does. When it comes to sensitive situations such as this, she has no choice but to do so. Don’t speak, just observe. Just observe their expressions, their attention spent on on object, how they handle a change in environment.

It is said that the greatest journey begins with one step. In the case of Emily, it was to ascertain first: what the children looked like, and second: what they do. One step. One foot hitting the ground, and all at once, the phantom conversation was put on abrupt hold, the finch flittered away, and concentric circles obsessively ground into notebook paper in crayon stop in its tracks. Not one word was spoken. Barely a move was made, and yet the fragile atmosphere was gently shattered by one footstep, as if she stepped on a frozen pond. Having made herself known in no uncertain terms, three sets of young, beautiful and haunted eyes lock on the stranger in the room, and study her.
©2014 The Writers Bloc/Anthony Payson

 

My review for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, # 1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My thumbnail review for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? It’s the book for people who understand or have heard of Harry Potter, Dr. Who, and The Avengers, but don’t necessarily care about any of them. Just when you thought all realms of all possibilities have been exhausted in terms of imagination and story telling, along comes author Ransom Riggs and offers his vision of a world that exists just beyond our own. A living, breathing world that has been under our noses for an eternity. Riggs has a talent for building tension and constructing an almost legitimate world that could plausibly exist without too much backstory. My only issue with this book was that it was too short. It was a quick read that was helped along by a plot that moved as fast as freight train rolling down hill.

The other issue I have is one of the reviewers featured as an endorsement for this book is quoted as saying something to the effect of, “not your typical children’s book…” The protagonist is in his late teens who may have been diagnosed with a depression disorder, his parents are apathetic caricatures, the story incorporates shades of the horrors of World War II, and there’s a little banter early on in the story between the main character and a random friend of his that involves a rather unsavory, but no less un-funny, remark about the other one’s mother. Now, overlooking the fact that this reviewer can’t discern the difference between “Children’s Books” and “Young Adult” literature, my question for this so-called reviewer is, what kind of children’s books have YOU been reading?

Anyway, it’s fast paced, deeply moving in parts, and a wonderful genesis story for a series that will be the delight of many. Well done.

My oldest daughter yanked this out of my hands as soon as I was done with it…she hates reading.

View all my reviews