Since I’m not used to warning or rating things but people will be reading it, we’ll call this an R and warn for adult language and light sexual content in conversation, not action.
They looked more like they were in trouble than if they’d been recruited. Side by side they stood, aprons tied tightly, hands washed and dried, sullen expressions on their faces. Like thirteen year olds, except they were grown men.
“Don’t even,” I said, pacing in front of them, not falling for the ‘poor me’ pout. “You two are so damn spoiled, and maybe it’s my fault, because I’ve been cooking since I moved in. But last night, when Ty actually placed an order, I decided you guys needed to help, so perk up those faces.” I leveled a stern glare at each of them. “Because you’re not getting out of this.”
They both sighed, shoulders sagging. JC was the first to break the somber mood, clapping his hands together and plastering a fake but happy grin on his face. Tyler followed suit.
“Better,” I said, with a smile and a nod. I pointed toward the longest counter in the kitchen, where three balls of dough were evenly spaced and dusted with flour. “So come over here to this counter. I’ll stand in the middle. You guys stand on either side and watch me. Do what I do. Get me?”
“Gotcha,” Tyler said, choosing the ball of dough to my left.
“Stop sucking up to the teacher,” JC whined at him over my head.
“Dude, if anyone has an advantage, it’s you,” Tyler shot back. Then to me, he said, “I expect a lot of extra help. Your boyfriend gets no special privileges.”
“Both of you shut up or I’ll make you do this more often. Okay. We’re gonna roll out the dough, so make sure your ball is all covered in flour.”
JC chuckled. “ Heheheheh, you said—“
“JC, I swear to God—“
“Okay, okay. We’re covering our balls with flour.” He laughed again, this time to himself, digging into the flour gathered around his dough and covering it with a thick layer.
“How’m I doing? This good?” Tyler was more delicate, rolling his around, creating an even coating.
“Looks great, sweetie. Okay, we’re ready for our rolling pins, now.” I pointed at the rolling pins lined up against the wall in front of each of us. “Grab your pin and you’re going to coat this with flour, too.” I demonstrated, sprinkling a handful of flour over the smooth, oblong object and covering the length of it. I watched them follow my lead, smirking to myself. ‘Of course they’re pretty good at that. Rub a long, phallic shaped object? Not a problem.’
“Okay, let’s roll! Get it? Let’s roll?” My head bobbed between them, back and forth. Neither were laughing at my joke.
JC grimaced. “Honey, fair is fair, okay? I can’t make ball jokes, you can’t make corny… rolling… ones. Alright? Geez.”
I sighed, returning to my project. “Whatever. Pat your dough down so it’s kind of flat, and then use the pin to start rolling toward the edge one way and then another. And when it starts sticking, you need more flour.”
It seemed to me that taking the Bar Exam required less concentration than Tyler was using on his ball of dough. His brows were so closely knit together that they looked like one long furry blonde line across a wrinkled forehead. His mouth twisted and his tongue caught between his lips, he slowly and methodically pushed his dough out, back and forth, around and around, until it resembled the end result- a pizza. The base of one, anyway.
Ever the artist, JC was taking his time. Almost smiling with contentment, he rolled his dough, lower and lower, further and further out, flatter and flatter until it was nearly paper-thin.
“Uhm… honey. I’m not picking on you, but…” I hesitated, then pushed on as he kept rolling his dough thinner and thinner. “Sweetie, your pizza won’t be able to hold your sauce and toppings if you make it too thin. It’ll cook fast but your toppings won’t cook—the cheese won’t even have melted before it burns.”
“I know what I’m doing,” he said. He nodded at me and then cocked a floury, doughy hand on his hip. “What’s next?”
“Flavor,” I answered, reach for a bowl and three cooking brushes. “The secret to my pizza crust is flavor. I brush it with a mixture of olive oil and seasoning and then a little parmesan cheese. “
I demonstrated and watched them follow my motions, dipping the brush into the oil, brushing the edges of the dough, then sprinkling a generous amount of seasoning and powered parmesan cheese on top.
“Is this gonna puff up?” Tyler asked. I nodded, backing toward the refrigerator for our next ingredient. “Yep. JC’s might not because he insists on having a wafer with pizza toppings–”
“Don’t pick on my pizza. You can’t have any when it’s done.”
“Uhm, think again, mister.” I opened the refrigerator and gathered the contents that I’d prepared — sauce, vegetables, cheese—and set them between us. “Now we come to the fun part—“
“More fun than playing in dough? Can’t wait.”
“It’s time to dress your pizza. You have sauce—a white alfredo kind of sauce and a red sauce—and some vegetables and some meat. It’s not California Pizza Kitchen, but then again, nothing is. That shit is not pizza.”
“Hey, hey,” Tyler protested. “CPK is good. It’s Allison’s favorite.”
“Of course it is,” I soothed. “She’s never had New York pizza. She’s very cute, though.”
Tyler pouted but went back to work. I worked on my own pizza, spreading a thin layer of sauce and sprinkling a generous amount of cheese around the dough. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched them both make their own creations.
“So, who taught you how to cook, Serena?” JC was spreading his sauce evenly, swirling it around with the back of the spoon, creating scallop shapes along the edge. His flair always amazed me. He had to go the extra mile with everything.
“Well, I used to take cooking classes. That’s how I learned how to make that sweet and sour soup you like.” He smiled, his face lighting up with the memory. “Before that, I used to hang out in the kitchen with my mom and grandma. Though, they’re Russian by heritage so we made a lot of things with fattening sauces. Stroganoff and stuff like that.”
“Ooh. What do you call a cow playing with itself?” I shook my head at Tyler. “Beef Stroganoff. Get it? Strokinoff?”
JC reached around me and smacked Tyler across the back of the neck. “You just felt left out, didn’t you?”
“I guess,” he said, shrugging. “Is Stroganoff that stuff with like noodles and ground beef? With sour cream?” I nodded. “Can you make some? I mean…” He blushed, glancing down at his pizza, remembering that his demands for food got him into his current situation. “I guess I’ll help if you want…”
I laughed, randomly spreading ingredients around my pizza. “It’s fine, Ty. I really just thought you guys would have fun doing this. It’s good family bonding time.”
“That, and ‘cause Tyler was demanding homemade pizza.”
“And someone was behind him, agreeing.” I eyed our three pies. Three balls of dough that had started at the same size and the same shape were now vastly different. Tyler’s was a traditional white pizza with alfredo sauce, diced chicken breast, mushrooms and cheese. JC’s thin crust, light sauce pizza had just about everything on it. He really, really liked pizza. Mine was the plainest. Sauce, cheese, sausage, and a few vegetables, but at least I arranged them in a smiley face. “I think we’re ready to bake.”
The oven, which had been preheating during our preparation, was already a steaming 425 degrees. One by one, our pans slid onto the racks. I closed the door and set the timer and, for entertainment, flipped the switch and turned on the light.
“It’ll take a few minutes before the dough will start rising, but you can watch it bake if you like.” Like moths to a flame, both men were drawn to the light pouring out of the front of the oven. They stood there, arms crossed, waiting. “Except a watched pot never boils,” I said, giggling. “Give it a few minutes, I said.”
I grabbed the garbage can from under the sink and began sweeping flour and discarded dough into it. Without being asked or complaining even, the brothers turned around and began to help. The containers holding the pizza toppings and sauces were lidded and put back into the refrigerator. The rolling pins went into the dishwasher. The counter was wiped down, clean and free of flour.
“Look! It’s rising!” Tyler’s voice was so high he was squealing, staring into the oven. The aroma of garlic and oregano and my homemade sauce, mixing with cheese and sausage and pepperoni was delightful. My stomach growled in anticipation. Watching them stand in front of the oven and keep guard over their pies, my heart filled with a warm, comfortable feeling. I think it’s called Happy.
During the last few minutes of baking, I set the dining room table with places for 3, a green salad, and cold beers in reward for their efforts. When the buzzer sounded, they stepped back and let me pull the pizzas out of the oven. I set them on the counter to cool, then handed them each a pizza wheel.
“Slice it up, boys,” I ordered with a grin. My hands on my hips, I had a proud mama moment as each of them sliced into their creations and carried them to the table.
“Sweetie, sit down,” JC ordered, pulling my chair out and already serving me a slice of his pizza. “Look at that. Thin crust, just enough sauce, lots of topping, a bit of cheese to hold it together. Taste that. Tell me it’s not genius.” He plopped into his chair with pride.
“Not to be outdone,” said Tyler, proudly loading me up with a giant slice. “My pizza has a perfect crust to soak up the alfredo sauce. Lots of cheese and hot, fresh chicken will make this the best pizza you ever ate.”
I beamed, serving them each a piece of mine. “So, taste it. Let me know how you did.” They sat, staring at the triangles on their plates. And then stared at me. “What? You think it’s poisoned? Try it!”
Gingerly, they picked up a slice and took a tentative bite, chewing slowly. And then nodded, and then smiled across the table at each other.
“We cooked, dude!” JC said, holding up a fist to Tyler. His brother bumped it, taking another huge bite. “It’s good,” he agreed with a full mouth. “Lemme taste yours.”
I don’t think either of them noticed that I wasn’t eating, but watching them. Talking, eating, sharing ‘secret’ techniques, eating some more, serving each other plates of salad and congratulating each other on jobs well done. You’d think they painted the Sistine, not made a pizza, but neither admitted to being able to remember the last time they cooked. Eventually I joined in, a smug sense of satisfaction behind my smile.
“This was fun,” JC said an hour later, closing the dishwasher drawer. The kitchen was spotless, the table was cleared, and I was being pushed out of the kitchen and toward the den. “What are we making next week?”
Et voila! I actually found out about this Fest kind of late so it’s not my best best work but I wanted to participate. So there we are! My next piece, I think is for the Flirt Fest and I’ve been working on that one for about a week.