Pizza!

Tonight, I made pizza. From scratch. Almost entirely. And I am so excited about it, I am going to blog about it with some anecdotes sprinkled in. Enjoy the break from blocks of overly analytical text!

So I’m living in New York City for the summer, and I cook for myself. I’m not a particularly good cook, and I don’t like to work too hard at food most days, so in general I content myself with stir frying vegetables. Not to sound disappointed; I love stir-fried vegetables. But tonight I wanted to do something special, and I decided on pizza. I googled around for a pizza recipe and found a delightful one for Pizza Florentina along with a pizza dough recipe from the same site. But because I’m me, and I got distracted by the shiny-new shinyness of Google+, it was 8:30 by the time I actually got around to it, and I didn’t want to wait 2 and a half hours for the dough to rise. So I used this recipe instead.

One of the best parts of living with a foodie grandmother who pays for groceries is that random things I wouldn’t think to buy, like yeast, are just around. So here are the ingredients for the dough.

Then I mixed the yeast (little tiny facultatively anaerobic microorganisms…in a jar!) with the sugar (they need food, right?) and dissolved in water, then let stand for ten minutes. Then you get this sexy looking substance.

Then add the flour, salt and oil, mix a little, and you get this:

Fun fact: this stuff is delicious. I always figured raw cookie dough was so amazing was because it had, you know, sugar and butter and sometimes chocolate chips and you can’t really go wrong with those things, but this has none of those things (well, a tiny bit of sugar), and no raw eggs, but it is amazing. I promise I only know that because it gets stuck to your fingers and not because I take little pieces or play with it or anything. Anyway! We are off track. Back to the cooking.

The recipe promised to make a 12-inch pizza, which sounded like too much, so I thought about making half of it, but then I decided to throw caution to the winds and make all of it. That’s me, living on the edge. Of course, it turned out my initial caution was totally justified since all the dough rolled out looked like this.

It actually doesn’t look that big in the picture, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was too big for just me, and more problematically, too big for my baking sheets (no pizza stone, I’m sorry to say). So I cut it in half and rolled it out again. Time for the toppings! The recipe called just for spinach, but I decided to add mushrooms as well. This part totally plays to my strength as an epic stir-fryer.

The tomato sauce is the only part of this I got from a can. I would have been happy to make my own, but to make the rich, creamy stuff, you have to let things simmer for upwards of an hour, and I didn’t have that kind of time. For a different, fresher styler of pizza, it’s a great idea to just throw together chopped tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, onions and maybe some green peppers with yummy spices and let it sit in a hot frying pan for 10-20 or so minutes until the tomato juice and olive oil mix well, but that’s not what I was going for here. So I spread it out with expert knife skills, carefully leaving a perfect inch around the sauce.

Sheer perfection, no? I’m not sure how it’ll show up on your computer screen, but the sauce was a really nice, eye-catching red. Now toppings! I really have no eye for design or beauty, but I had some fun with the layout anyway. I was confused by the recipe calling for the vegetables to be placed on the sauce before the cheese, but this was actually sheer genius. They were like hidden treasures.

Because I’m not a very good or frequent cook, and because I’m numbers and rules oriented, you’d think I’d be a meticulous cook, planning everything beforehand and worrying about measurements and whether they were in mass or volume. As it turns out, though, because I don’t like to cook, I only do it when I’m excited about it and in the mood for it, and I tend to get rather impulsive about making whatever I’m making. This leads to trouble. For example, it was only through dumb luck that I happened to have around all of the spices I needed (this comes later) as well as yeast. And as it happens, I jumped right into making a pizza without having any meltable cheese in the house. So what you don’t see in the break between the photo above and the photo below is the turning off of the oven and the mad dash to an all-night deli/convenience store two blocks away to get some mozzarella.
Yes, that’s an egg. This is how a Pizza Florentina works. Also added: nutmeg, garlic powder and dried basil leaves. If I’d had it, I would also have added thyme. Salt and pepper might have been ok, but it really doesn’t need it, at least not with the sauce I used. Into the oven!
So I was really nervous about cooking time since I’ve only made pizza once before in my entire life, and I took the directions to wait until the edges were golden a little too seriously, such that when I took it out (after about half the time recommended), the egg looked like this.
And I was so freaked out about overcooking that I had the brilliant idea to scrape the egg off and cook it separately. This was not a good idea.
Yes, I broke the yolk. Cardinal sin, I know. But everything looks better in a pretty dish, right?
Success! It was really quite good. The crust especially, though it definitely could have used the ten minutes I was too afraid to give it. The egg, too. But I’m really proud of it, and I have a whole other dough ball to play with!
Maybe your grandmother isn’t cool enough to have an actual pizza cutter just lying around.
UPDATE: I made a mini-version (with half the dough I had left) of basically the same pizza, with a few tweaks (including no egg). I baked it for about 1.5 times as long, on half a pizza, and got very little for my trouble except a more crusty edge. The middle was still soft and doughy. Is that because the sauce is so moist? Is the answer baking it a bit beforehand? Less sauce? Thoughts?

Sexism and Rational Discourse, or What are we talking about again?

And I’m back. I guess I just take two months off blogging from time to time. When I’m not blogging, I often feel like it would be such a strenuous effort to return, but then I find I have something very important to say or sort through and suddenly it becomes easy again.

I want to talk about Elevatorgate. For those of you who don’t know, Elevatorgate is the overblown name of an overblown issue, which is the blowing up of the internet over sexism in the atheist movement. I find this larger issue to be a fairly important one, but the degeneration into flaming and name calling is incredibly off-putting. In fact, I’m easily turned off by what I consider deeply problematic or tangential or unproductive methods of dealing with big issues like this one, and that’s exactly what’s happened, and that’s what I want to talk about. For context and background, there are summaries here, here and here.

What I think is most egregious about the entire fiasco is not that Rebecca Watson was made to feel uncomfortable at four in the morning in an elevator in a foreign country, or that women and men attacked her (sometimes fairly, sometimes deeply not so), or that she responded to them publicly and by name, or that Richard Dawkins said some deeply irresponsible and offensive things, or or that there exist sexists and sexism within the atheist movement. What I am so irritated by and am made to feel absolutely frustrated and hopeless about is the quality of the discourse surrounding the affair.

I don’t just mean bad arguments, and unsubstantiated claims and flaming and trolling. Those are all awful parts of people and the internet and so be it. The worst part is that you have intelligent, invested people who are often sensible and rational talking about exactly the wrong things. Everyone is talking about rights. The right to flirt, to proposition, to be a sexually active male, to be offended, to criticize, to be an ass. Frankly, it blows me away how stupid those discussions are. Aside from all of the philosophical problems that the concepts of rights have, the rights to those things are…a little bit strange to talk about, and they’re being discussed as if they are as precious as the right to free press or redress of grievances. Rights are things that humans have in groups, recognized by states or other political (sometimes nonpolitical) bodies. Youtubers simply don’t have the power to take them away from anyone else, and so the anger surrounding the possibility of “losing” those rights seems incredibly silly. To clear up the issue: yes, you have the right to all of those things. You may do all of those things. Other people may (and, wait for it, have the right to) criticize you for exercising those ‘rights’ in the ways that you do. None of it is of any consequence to anyone’s having those rights. So can we stop talking about them?

The other thing everyone’s talking about, though in this case not explicitly, is authority and legitimacy. In other words, who gets to talk about sexism? (women? men? feminists? PZ Myers? Richard Dawkins?) You have women pointing out that there are parts of living as a woman in this society that men don’t (or possibly can’t) know about, and so men should by and large listen to women when they talk about sexism. Sounds fair, except of course that there are men who call out sexism and privilege, and women who vehemently disagree with the analysis of this specific issue, with the broader concepts involved, or with feminism as a movement entirely. In those cases (as when women claim that they would be perfectly comfortable in those situations and so it’s not a problem), who to listen to? To stick to the idea that women understand sexism better would be to fall into a trap of automatic sisterhood bestowed upon all those with uteruses, which is also self-contradictory, since women don’t agree. It also makes men who identify as feminists feel left out and it contributes to the idea that all opinions are equally valid, at least if they’re made by women. On the other hand, criticizing women for their views on sexism can turn into calling women tools of the patriarchy or manpleasers and condescending to them and belittling them, which doesn’t seem to be a particularly feminist thing to do. (This is a little bit of a second/third wave divide). So everyone is left confused, which makes sense, since all of this is rather difficult to wade through. But the question remains: why are we talking about this at all? Why is the relevant question who has the proper credentials to discuss feminism, sex, gender and sexism? Even the most rational and sensible group of people can get tripped up on such a difficult question, and it’s not worth it when it’s not the issue that’s really at hand.

None of this is to say that questions of rights, appropriate behavior, reasonableness and legitimacy are not interesting or important questions. They most certainly are. But in talking about sexism in the atheism movement, or sexism more broadly, the most important questions are those about effects, consequences and harm. How do we make atheism a more comfortable place for women? How do we combine appropriateness and sex-positivity in a way that makes the movement as strong and open as possible? How do we avoid perpetuating stereotypes about women? These are the questions. They often have empirical answers. There is data and concrete argument to be brought to bear on these questions. They are more productive and more relevant. Consequentialism is not a foregone conclusion as a moral system, but in most situations, it is the most pragmatic. So what we need are not only rational people who can argue well, but also people who are willing to make a concerted effort to arguing about the right things. This is how we make progress.