Liz' 16th birthday was approaching, and she was more than happy if I would make pizzas for her birthday dinner. The challenges were many, but I was flush with reckless enthusiasm, so I took on the task.
The first thing was to enlist my enthusiastic paisanas in the effort. I probably misread their intentions, because they seemed more motivated towards the nebulous concept of a "party" for Liz, (a little cake, a little punch, some finger sandwiches, ¿quien sabe?) while I was up for a fiesta de pizza a toda madre. (To phrase that more delicately, "an all out effort"; "awesome".)
To launch the latter project, Amelia loaded Liz and me in the Talking Chrysler.
I hadn't told you about that, have I? It was Amelia's carro favorito de siempre, a Chrysler station wagon that would warn you, in a deep, masculine Spanish voice, "Abroche su cinturón.", or, "La puerta está abierta."Off we went to Gigante and its salchichonería (deli) to buy rare and exotic sausages and cheeses. Amelia gave Liz free rein until she started looking longingly at some shrimp.
My memories are dim, so I don't recall if I made the pizza sauce from fresh or canned tomatoes. These days, I greatly prefer canned. Back then, I had the ganas to make my own sauce from fresh tomatoes.
Yet in the back of my mind was a small but gnawing doubt about what sort of pans were available to bake the pizzas. There were none. Inspired by artesanal pizzaioli Italiani, I decided to bake directly on paver tiles. There were even some surplus ones stacked in the patio. All they needed was a good scrubbing.
A piece of heavy cardboard, covered with foil, would serve as my pizza peel.
Preparations reached a fever pitch on the morning of the party. My paisanas soon retreated from the kitchen and its lunatic pizza maker. The oven was giving its best effort to reach its feeble maximum temperature. I rolled out the pizza crusts with a mescal bottle.
I'd lined the oven rack with the paving tiles earlier so that they could heat to the perfect temperature. En mis sueños.
The Moment of Truth had arrived, as it must come to all men.
I clumsily transferred a pizza, brimming with sauce, cheese and delicacies onto my primitive peel. I inserted it into the oven, gave it a jerk, and immediately slapped it up against the back wall of the oven. ¡Que desmadre!
I scraped out the remains and trashed them. With greater care, I loaded another one. This one worked.
Eventually, all 5 (?) pizzas were done, and I fell back, suddenly drained as the family and guests snarfed pizza. I don't remember much more of that, except that the next time "la muchacha" (the housekeeper) came in to clean, she had the task of removing the mozzarella and sauce deposits burned onto the oven.
That was the end of my career as a pizza baker in Cuernavaca, but not the end of my cooking and baking in La Ciudad de La Primavera Eternal.
"But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
Possibly to be continued...