Pizza Night

Pizza Night

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless -a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil … Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended – sometimes after several days – Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” Job 1:1-5

It’s Friday! I head to the kitchen to begin the ritual that has engaged me almost every Friday afternoon for the the past 30 years.

I begin by finely dicing a couple plum tomatoes.

Family traditions have eluded me over the years. I love tradition, but it’s hard to keep one going when you find yourself in a different country, a different culture, with different friends and different shopping options every few years. Seasons don’t line up right, either. That tradition we tried to institute in place L just doesn’t fit in location M. And then there’s my own mind that simply doesn’t remember, what with all the changes in our situation. SpoonLicker3 (see My Turn to Lick the Spoon) turns 13 and I ask myself, “What did we do for SL1 and 2 on this birthday?” Beats me. That was a continent and a language ago. But Friday night pizza? That has stuck.

The tomatoes slide into the saucepan where a tablespoon or 2 of tomato paste awaits to receive them, along with a bit of water, several heaping spoons of freshly minced garlic and an equal amount of Italian herbs and a bay leaf. Then, a spoon of olive oil. Put to the heat, it simmers gently. This is when the household members inhale deeply and I hear, “Yay! It’s pizza night!”

We discovered that, especially when living cross-culturally, good family times don’t always come naturally. After a rough week of language learning, or repeated failed attempts to meet with that key person, or when you don’t have running, the roof leaks and the power lines have been bombed again … an intentional “good time” tradition is essential to spiritual health. Thus began pizza and game night. We, and our friends who had the same kind of week, needed to have fun together.

I start chopping and slicing. The toppings all depend on where we are. Today I’m in northern Namibia. Local fresh produce available: tomatoes, onions, squashes and root vegetables. A grated carrot periodically finds its way onto my pizzas but a squash or potato has yet to appear there but …

… I’ve frequently allowed left-overs to sneak onto a pizza. After all, given enough garlic and cheese, who’s to know? But fish from the day before wouldn’t be concealed. That Friday, in Nampula, Mozambique, we took the pizza to a friend’s house for that “good time” we’d waited all week for. Jacob, a dear missionary friend who likes to call my cooking “earthy”, took one bite of the pizza and hollered, “This is horrible! What’s in this?” I think it’s the only time one of my pizzas was declared an abject, unredeemable failure. That threw some cold water (or maybe I should say cold fish) on our Friday Fun Time. My SLs have their own homes and ways to “do pizza” now.  I wonder if any of them are baking one tonight, or maybe picking it up in a box?  But my hubby still prefers my pizza, thankfully. Probably the person who likes my pizza best, though, is … me!

Some great Portuguese sausages are sold here; I thinly slice a link. Most food is imported from South Africa so I have mushrooms and green pepper to slice up, in addition to a sweet onion. I like a lot of toppings. (You know the pizza wasn’t hearty enough if the kids want a bowl of cereal for dessert.) Oh, the sauce has simmered down to a spreadable, but not runny, consistency. It is set aside to cool.

I ponder good times in hard places. We have a SpoonLicker who very frequently prayed: “… and God, help us have a good time.“ This SL hoped for a life a little less hard, and with a lot more fun. Living in a war-torn, foreign country meant that home life was more about building character than having fun. We tried to teach our children that God could and would use the stresses for his good purpose’ to make them holy.  Another SL, gone from his Africa home and not having fun adapting to western culture, bellowed: “I wish God didn’t care so much about making me holy!”  He had learned to recognize the holiness training ground.

Now for the crust. I like to use as much whole wheat flour as possible in the hopes that it will be more healthy and filling. Making dough is simple: a couple teaspoons yeast sprinkled into 1 1/2 cups of warm water – add a tablespoon of olive oil and gradually stir in four or more cups of flour plus a couple teaspoons of salt. I turn the dough out onto a floured counter top and begin kneading.

Fold, press, turn. Again and again and, for some weird reason, Job’s children now come to my mind. Apparently, they liked to have a good time too. They were grown, each with their own home and families, but the guys would take turns having’”pizza night” at their house. They always included their sisters, too. These grown kids just enjoyed being together. They had fun, I’m thinking. The Bible seems to indicate that Dad Job didn’t go to these events. Maybe he knew they’d have more fun without him.

I roll out the dough and lay it in a sheet pan that I’ve liberally sprinkled with cornmeal. Building materials in place, construction begins. I spread the sauce, then carefully place the vegetables, sausage and kalamata olives evenly, out to the very edges. In other places gouda was the only cheese available. But here there is mozzarella and feta, and both go onto this one. I powder the top with a little parmesan, carried over in our suitcase as we can’t get it here. Ta-daah! Another work of art is displayed on the counter top until the dough has risen and it’s ready to bake.

I don’t think Job was at all opposed to his kids having a good time. Parents like to see their children getting along, desirous of each other’s company, especially as adults. But he was more concerned that they be holy, that the way they live would be acceptable to God. He didn’t pray, “Help them have a good time”, or “Help them be happy” but “Make them holy.” He offered sacrifices on their behalf towards this end. Old Testament sacrifices all pointed to Christ – to his person and to his work on the cross. They illustrated that being holy and accepted by God is a gift offered only by Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice. If Job had lived on this side of the cross, his prayers might have been something like this: “God, may my children know their sin and go to Christ for forgiveness. Cover them with the blood of your sacrifice. Make them holy. Keep them from careless, thoughtless words and actions while they’re having fun. Cause them to want you, to love you and be hungry and thirsty for intimacy with you. Protect them from the evil one and his lies that tempt towards atheism, agnosticism, humanism and fatalism. May they be more Christ-conscious than Self-conscious.”

My daily and continuous prayers for my own children when they were young was that they would believe and trust Jesus Christ as their Savior, the One who died on the cross for the ungodly – them. As they grew up, I added, and continue to add to that prayer: when they are sinking in despondency, I pray they will experience Christ their Hope and Counselor; when their heart is hurting, that they experience Christ the complete Comforter; when they need guidance or direction, that they find in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I pray that they will be more conscious of Christ’s sufficiency than they are of their own deficiencies. I pray that they will look less at themselves and more at Christ.

J.C. Ryle of the 19th century said, “In all true saving religion Christ is all: all in justification, all in sanctification, all in comfort, all in hope. Blessed is that mother’s child that knows it, and far more blessed is he that feels it, too.”

Pizza’s done! We snuggle up side by side with the computer in front of us on the coffee table, large slabs of pizza on our plates. We’re hoping to find something good to watch on YouTube and that internet will be fast enough to stream it in tonight. We’re ready for a Friday Night Good Time!

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Mahango Crackers

Mahango Crackers

“What is it?”, asks a Spoon Licker.

“Does it have a name?”, inquires another.

“Um, yes …it’s called What-have-you,” says I, thinking fast.

“Mommy, I mean, is this a real recipe? Or did you just make it up?”

OK. I did make it up, and that’s a real recipe, in my [cook]book. I gave up following a recipe years ago, about the same time I gave up trying to cook American dishes in Mozambique. There was no eureka moment when I suddenly discovered a latent flair for making something tasty out of unlikely combinations of ingredients. Necessity demanded flexibility, sometimes to the extreme; or more like three cups of necessity and one stick of plain orneriness.

Over the years, a fair share of recipes have circulated within the ex-pat (someone living in a country not their own) community that promise “it will taste just like the real American dish”. It rarely does. But, in a determined attempt to reproduce fish tacos that take your taste buds back to San Diego, or Chicken Delight just like Mom used to make, you head off to the imports grocery store. Your wallet better be fat because you’re going to pay well for this. Once there, you buy a particular kind of cheese at a particular kind of price. (They probably don’t have it so you’ll substitute for the closest thing, which you discover doesn’t melt.) You’ll gape at the sticker on the tiny bag of very special pasta, then notice bitsy black dots scurrying around among the morsels. The bag has been on the shelf for months so the weevils made it their home. Then there are the imported condiments, seasoning packets and box mixes that we depend upon, again, for a price. It took one day to realize I couldn’t afford the just-like-home recipes.

And then there’s the fact that buying on the local economy and inventing my own version of African dishes is simply more fun. Take mahango (millet) flour, for instance. Here in northern Namibia they cook it into a thin porridge, add sugar and it’s a filling energy drink. Or they add less water to the flour, cook it forever until it’s really stiff, then eat it with stew. That’s all fine, but there must be something else I can do with this highly nutritious grain. So, I made a cake. With butter and handfuls of dried fruit that southern Africa is known for. The cake was heavy, rich and filling.

Finally, What-have-you comes to the table because I do not ever, under any circumstance whatsoever (mostly) throw away left-overs. Even a quarter cup of gravy can be just what the soup needed. Most of my inventions happen when I take all the containers with a dab of this and a blob of that out of the fridge, empty them into a pot, add liquid if needed, and gently reheat. The ultimate reward for my culinary gymnastics comes when they ask for seconds, clean up every last bean and say, “Mommy, can you make this again?”

Not a chance.

Back to mahango. After the cake, I tried crackers. And a couple people did ask for the recipe. So I paid attention to what I was doing after about the third batch, and wrote the following instructions. But, if you’re like me, you’ll take a quick look at it and then do your own thing.

Mahango Crackers

Blend together
1 3/4 cups mahango (millet) flour
3/4 c. white cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
Stir in evenly:
1 Tbs. coconut oil first, then 1 c. water

Oil generously one shallow sheet pan (1 T. coconut oil ). Spread the batter evenly in the pan, pressing into the corners and sides. Cut in squares. Sprinkle with coarse salt (optional). Bake in a very hot (400F) oven for about 15 minutes. Remove and loosen the crackers from the pan. Return the crackers to the oven, but turn it off. Leave in the oven until it is cool. They should be very dry and very crunchy.