Wednesday, 22 September 2010

One man's advice for surviving in a high-cost pizza world

I live in Whistler now and pizza prices here are completely absurd. They have inspired empty wallets on more drunken occasions than most of us would have liked. I find myself three dollars short for cab fare. I'm slapping the morning-after coffee on Visa. It's a frustrating situation that can't be rectified unless I drive to Vancouver to pay for, what I feel is, an acceptable price for a slice of pizza. But that wouldn't make any sense.

The pizza companies get away with it because in Whistler, a town brimming with 20-somethings with no discernable cooking skills beyond boiling Ramen noodles, pizza is the fail-safe for a quick and filling bite.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid unloading a quarter of your paycheque. Dominos Pizza offers walk-in/take-away deals for large ($13.50) and medium ($11.50) pepperoni pizzas. It's hardly the best pizza in town, takes on the taste and texture of synthetic rubber following refrigeration but it will fill your belly, if not bloat it eternally.

Ramen-noodle connoisseurs are likely familiar with the assortment of frozen pizzas sold at their favourite grocery store. Of these, Delissio pies are the best deal for size and taste ($9.99 at all grocery stores in Whistler), although they are rife with preservatives and a high fat content that will add pudge to your midsection almost immediately and may take years off your life somewhere down the line.

Ultimately, your safest bet is to make it from scratch. That's right, kids, it's time to learn how to bake your own pizza. It's easy! and good for you for myriad reasons, not least of all for learning the complex and capricious nature of pizza dough. If it's not manipulated the right way, this dough will curl up on you like a frightened baby and sit stubbornly in a gooey lump until you learn the correct way to deal with it. Mastering pizza dough will teach you important life skills that will reveal themselves to you once the mastering is complete. I can't let you in on them - they're secrets.

Pasta Lupino sells such a lump for $3.25 that can make two-three medium pizzas. It also freezes and defrosts like you'd hope dough would: without incident.

Step 1: lightly flour your counter so... wait, no. Step 1 is to free your counter of beer bottles, noodle packages, apple cores, assorted crumbs and, yes, pizza boxes. Then lightly flour the counter top to keep the dough from sticking. Lightly flour your rolling pin and spread the dough out as flat as possible. If you're lacking a rolling pin, a wine bottle will do as well. A beer bottle might work but this is pure speculation.

Once the dough is flattened, you can try the Italian chef flip trick to stretch out the dough but at this beginner stage it's really not necessary. We're aiming for edible food here, nothing fancy.

It should be noted here that the first job I was hired for and subsequently fired from was a Little Caesar's. During my time as a pizza maker, there was a coincidental but dramatic increase in customer complaints over diminished crust-to-topping ratio and/or general absence of mozzarella cheese. I may not be the most qualified person for this particular topic, but since we've come this far I guess there's no turning back...

So anyway, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, or something. Lightly grease your baking pan and push the dough to the ends. A square baking pan will work just as well as a round pan, so long as you can deal with quadrangle pizza slices.

From there, lay on whatever toppings you fancy. Remember the mozzarella cheese. Oil the crust to make it golden-crispy and delicious. Handle with care and affection. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let stand for five. Eat. Enjoy.

Afterward, you can take it out with you to the club, kept snug in your purse or a girlfriend's purse. Hell, leave it in your back pocket to remind you that, at the end of the night, when all the drunks lurch toward the same line outside Fat Tony's, you have something cheaper and much quicker: your two home-made slices, wrapped in tin-foil. They'll be a little mushy, sure, but at least you made them yourself and that's better than anything a plump fellow named Tony can provide.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Long distance relationships might ruin your life

It ended like this: I was down on my knees by the door, tying my shoes and concentrated on them. She was leaning against a doorframe to the next room, arms folded across her chest. I was avoiding her gaze. It was easier that way.

She said: "I feel like we've been here so many times." An appropriate cliché.

I grunted. I shrugged. I finished with the other shoe and stood up. I smoothed out the wrinkles in my sweatshirt, took my keys and wallet from the foyer table. I scanned the room for the rest of my belongings and caught her eyes. They were tired. She wanted me out. If she was done, we were done. She held the power. That's how it rolled.

In my blacker moments I'll tell you that long distance relationships don't work. I can say with some authority that they are awful, wretched beasts and will leave you feeling withered and depressed. You'll spend more time than necessary pining away and you'll find that yearning is the emotional equivalent of narcotic withdrawal.

I knew from the start that unless I was patient enough, mature enough and desperate enough to make the distance between us work, it probably wouldn't. A one-time healthy and intimate relationship was quickly replaced with bi-weekly phone conversations. Just two voices passing each other through telephone wire. I soldiered on anyway but I wasn't a saint. I used her as a scapegoat for all the other nonsense that was going on in my life, as so many of us unfortunately do with our partners. My eyes kept wandering and while I never acted on it, I would often wonder what life would be like if I just cut her loose and asked out this beautiful stranger at the coffee shop trading smiles with me between sips of her macchiato.

But I'm selling us way too short. We were groovy once and I'll love her for that, that girl I knew. And anyway, there are great benefits to long distance relationships that are rarely talked about. We can learn to communicate with each other on a level that may not have been afforded before when we were lying in bed all day, wrapped up in each other's limbs.

Also, it can be difficult for people to strike a balance between personal growth and commitment in a relationship. Both are important but one tends to dominate the other. In a long distance relationship, we're forced into finding this balance. The situation will harden us and force us to mature, no matter what. We're afforded the time to reflect on what commitment in this relationship really means to us. Nothing tests the strength of a relationship more effectively than chronic separation.

If we can get through it, we may be more mature and self-assured about ourselves as individuals and as a couple because of the separation. If we're open, honest and there for each other whenever, wherever, it may work. It may, because in the end it all comes down to how much we're willing to put up with the gross hassle of a long distance relationship and all the drama it breeds.

We tried all of this. It didn't work and we gradually grew apart. It was a slow smothering of the beast. After a year apart and a country between us, we gave it one last jolt to save its life but it died anyway. We recognized the corpse for what it was, right there in the foyer.

I dropped my gaze to the floor. "Well that's it then," I said.

"I guess so."

She smiled. I offered something closer to a grimace and then bolted out the door without saying goodbye. I marched on down the steps toward some different kind of life. It was a weird moment, like when a bicycle is shifting gears and nothing's in its right place. There are no songs or sounds for limbo, only the thudding of your broken, agitated heart.

I stood at my car and thought seriously about storming back inside, waving my finger in the air and making some dramatic, all-encompassing statement. But there was really nothing to say. I had nothing. It had all been said and several times over. We haven't spoken since.

On another note...

...if you can't stand living in Whistler, don't hate on it. There's nothing wrong with it. It's all in your head, mate. So just leave.

It seems that people who can't get along in Whistler came of age in a town or city with a completely different personality. As a result, they too have a completely different personality than what might jive with what Whistler has to offer.

And then, in the process of the inevitable self-exploration and confusion that comes with being new to a setting they don't understand, these people project the ugly parts of their own personality onto the people and landscapes of the place they now blame for their misery.

It happened to me anyway. I moved from Vancouver to Toronto and found those people to be shallow, cold, soulless, etc. I hated it. But now, being away from it, I realize it wasn't the people or the place that made my experience so miserable. It was about me all along and only about me.

The city wasn't a right fit, just as Whistler might not be a fit for you. Whistler is tolerant. And it isn't. It's fun. And it isn't. Just like Toronto, or London, or anywhere really. It depends on what you've seen and how you choose to see it.