The importance of fixing our oven lay not just in the Thanksgiving dinner we had to host, but also in the unbaked DiGiorno pepperoni pizza and the box of Mrs. T’s jumbo fish sticks in the freezer just waiting to be consumed.
During a visit in the spring, my mom treated me and Jeff and a couple of our friends to some serious Polish-lady cooking: golabki, chicken stew and biscuits. The huge baking dish full of stuffed cabbage boiled over. We had a baking sheet on the lower rack, but it wasn’t placed well, and tomato soup spilled right on through to the gas valve and shorted out the electronic controls. If you’re going to go out, go with a bang, I guess—and a sizzle and a pop.
We had to bake the biscuits for the chicken stew at our neighbors’ house. They were repaid the next day with my mom’s home cooking.
In the following weeks, when we were desperate, fish sticks worked out fine in a skillet, though it was not ideal. I improvised a stovetop method for the frozen pizza, “baking” it a quarter at a time in a covered saucepan and crisping the crust with the cover off. It was a valiant attempt with not entirely disastrous results. All we had to do was relax our standards a little.
It took me seven and a half months, through a combination of laziness and a fear of spending money, to get that oven fixed. It took a failed attempt at self repair and two service calls to get it right.
There was once a time when our lives were measured out in frozen pizzas.
When Jeff and I were living in Minneapolis, we favored Totino’s Crisp Crust Party Pizzas. They were cheap—three for 10 bucks, I think, and usually on sale for less. They were little more than big, round crackers with tomato sauce and some dehydrated flakes of something that, when heated, looked like cheese. So we fancied them up with broccoli florets and extra cheese. (We weren’t complete barbarians.) They were best enjoyed in front of the TV and served with forks, because the crusts were too thin to support our “improvements.”
By the time we moved to New York, we’d graduated to those nicer ones with the rising crusts. DiGiorno was great for your basic pepperoni pie, and Freschetta had a really good vegetable pizza with a white sauce. Twenty-six minutes after stumbling through the door on a Saturday night, I’d tease the pie off the oven rack, slash through it with a pizza cutter, and ply up the pieces with a serving wedge.
We’ve carried the habit with us to Philadelphia, but we partake far less often than we used to. Our thirties might have given us some respectability, but they robbed us of some digestive talents.
But you can bet that when we were finally once again, as they say, cooking with gas, the only appropriate thing we could bake for our first celebratory dinner was a frozen pizza and a sheet of tater tots.