Since moving to Dushanbe, Brandon and I have not had any date nights. Which, at least for our finances, is probably okay since we really lived it up near the end of our time in Virginia. The budget is still recovering and will be for some time.
I didn't pack my pizza stone or pizza pan in my suitcase (but I did pack yeast) so pizza night didn't happen while were were hanging out in temporary housing either. A couple of Fridays have passed in our permanent house, but they were spent unpacking and so no time for pizza making.
But last Friday was different. Or rather, last Friday was normal. I had just finished my first week of Normal Life - we held school every single day, Brandon and I woke up and exercised every single morning, and I cooked dinner every single night. And so Friday was pizza night.
I've been making my own pizza dough since the beginning of pizza night eight or nine years ago, so that was no problem. Throw some things in the Bosch (I love you, Universal Kitchen Machine), wait awhile, throw some more, wait a little longer, and - voila - pizza dough. Easy peasy.
Same trick with the pizza sauce - throw a can of tomatoes, some butter, some garlic, and salt into a saucepan, simmer it down, blend it up and look! Pizza sauce! Yum!
Now to the mozzarella cheese. Cairo had a commissary stocked with all kinds of American goodies, so I never fretted about cheese there. I was also able to find mozzarella in Baku. I couldn't find it consistently at my local grocery store, but if I drove around to enough stores I could find mozzarella somewhere. The cashiers always raised their eyebrows at the five-kilo blocks I would plunk down on their counter, but when you found mozzarella cheese in Baku, you bought it.
But here, the cheese counters intimidate me. There is a large-ish selection of a variety of mysterious looking blocks and wedges of orange- and red- and green-wrapped chunks of things that look like cheese and have blocky Cyrillic writing on them that tell me something about what the blocks are made of. Hovering behind the blocks is the onmi-present cheese counter attendant, waiting for me to make my selection. Would I like the green-wrapped block of mysterious substance or the red-wrapped block? I can't tell you, oh strange foreign lady, what they are supposed to be because you can't ask me what they are and even if I could divine that you wanted to know, my answer wouldn't make any sense to you because you don't speak Russian. Or Tajik. Why exactly are you here again?
I'm still working on my Cyrillic - I'm about the reading level of a four year-old - so my visits to the counter have always ended in my retreat after ten minutes of trying to tell the difference between 'CYMBOE' and 'HNAPONNO' and deciding that cheese really isn't one of the four main food groups anyway.
I've tried a few in desperation and there was one chunk that will live in infamy as The Worst Cheese Ever. When it was new it smelled faintly of stinky baby diapers and when it was old it smelled horribly of stinky baby diapers. I was inclined to throw it away, but Brandon issued a command performance, so in it went into a batch of macaroni and cheese. The children called it macaroni and glue, after watching it bubble and stretch at least two feet before snapping back to the pot. We choked it down for dinner and threw the rest away.
A friend assured me that the locally available 'mozzarella' was no better, so I decided it was time to really get down to home cookery. I pulled out the home cheese making cookbook and supplies I had given Brandon for Christmas and opened to '30 minute mozzarella.'
Step 1: Heat the milk to fifty-five degrees. I heated the milk. Step 2: Add citric acid. I added the acid. Step 3: Heat the milk to ninety degrees. It was a good thing I still had a barely-functioning digital thermometer. It worked, but to see the temperature it had to be tilted and viewed at the exact right angle. Step 4: Add the rennet. In goes the rennet. Step 5: Cover and let sit five minutes. Step 6: Cut the cheese. It's a good think none of the children have heard that immortal joke. Step 7: Heat the curds. Step 8: Drain the curds. Step 9: Heat the curds. Step 10: Stretch the curds. Step 11: Eat the mozzarella cheese.
When I got to step eleven I was so pleased with myself, I had to tell someone. I told the children and they weren't impressed - after all, what's making a little glob of congealed milk protein to making a whole baby - so I called Brandon instead.
"Guess who is so awesome?" I couldn't wait for him to answer so cut him off, "Me!!! You're a very lucky husband to have such a talented wife!" He was more impressed than the children. After all, I've already made him five babies and this was my very first pound of cheese. "But does it work on pizza" he wanted to know. "Well, hurry up and come home and we'll test it out!!"
After feeding the children, putting them to bed, putting them back to bed, running out for soda (the root beer supply hasn't arrived from ELSO yet), assembling, and baking the pizza, Brandon and I sat down for a taste test.
I took a large bite. All of the flavors were there: chewy crust, tangy tomato sauce, and on top making everything perfect, was salty, melted mozzarella. Mmmmmmmm, pizza. I've missed you. And thanks to the magical combination of milk, acid, rennet, and heat, I'll never have to say goodbye. No matter what kind of strange country in the middle of nowhere I live in, I can always have pizza. And that is a wonderful thing.