When I started working at my first job my day off fell on a Tuesday. We had just one day off and unless you were the boss, it was always on a weekday. I became accustomed to spending my time with nobody else and no agenda except to walk down the stairs, go to the naka (lane) and find breakfast. Wrapped in old Gujarati newsprint, I would bring home my food and proceed to eat it in silence while reading the day’s English newspaper. There were no smart phones to distract me. I don’t think we had an internet connection at home either. My sister got one later but we did well for most of the 3 years in that place. I’d look through the HT Cafe, read some of the stupid interviews (the old school version of scrolling through facebook) and then went straight to the movie listings. I made mental notes of what was showing where and made sure I had enough time to get from Churchgate (Eros) to Regal (I’m writing in taxi instructions) or Sterling to Regal or Roxy to Sterling – all the theatres around me. Sometimes I would watch three movies and go for four depending on how okay my friends were with meeting at Lower Parel, the former textile mill hub turned white-collar paradise. If a movie plan ended at Regal in Colaba it would be the best day ever because I would cross the road and have a tall chikoo milkshake and walk by that man who feeds all the cats. I would people watch and sometimes I would buy a t-shirt depending on my bargaining mood. It was a win-win-win.
Doing things alone is something I’m comfortable with. Some consider it social suicide to be by yourself in situations where there are supposed to be more than one humans. I don’t care. Being alone revs up my brain. I decide things faster and make no consultations with the group (because there is none). I celebrated my birthday alone in Portland, walking around and eating my way through the places you don’t see on guides. One was a shoebox bakery that was a dollhouse fantasy. All those young years I spent wishing for the best Barbies and here I was, 28 years old, walking into a fantasy. It was a dream! Next week I’ll be going to this Fall Gala alone. I am thrilled. I’m going as my best self – solo.
My days off in present day are still centred around breakfast. I miss the idli-vada but I made do with eggs and toast. I call my mother and then I settle in to write. Like I’m doing right now! These little rituals become sacred. They happened at a time when I was just starting to figure out what life would be like without the safety net of college. I had to go out to work and find some meaning to life as a woman in the city. It was loud and unforgiving but I found my silence through the little things and I gave them meaning. Nobody else can teach you these things but yourself. Embrace it. Even if it feels bleak right now, there is definitely a lot to learn from being alone.
For me, independence is my #1 takeaway. From that my confidence has grown too and as a result I feel invincible. The people that stand to gain the most from all of this is your community and your close relationships. Self-love is empowering. The energy it creates makes a world of difference. I craved my Tuesdays. I awaited the solitude (in Bombay! It does exists!). I needed it. Now I know why.
I’ve been making pizza dough almost every Thursday since summer began. I took a very chapati with yeast approach to the dough at first. It worked and more importantly – I could get pizza on the same day if I wanted. However, it was always a battle fighting with the dough to get it to stretch wide enough to fit the pan. Then there were those air bubbles, probably a sign I didn’t let it proof long enough (so many air bubbles!!).
This dough recipe is from an awkward America’s Test Kitchen episode I saw on TV one night when I ran out of things to watch. I thought I’d try it out because I’m new to following recipes for flattened bread with toppings. It turned out SO well I never want to experiment again. It was chewy and crispy, proofed just right and done in a matter of minutes in a food processor. The dough follows the cold fermentation process so if you’re doing nothing right now, you can make bread and have pizza tomorrow! Make sure your yeast is fresh. All your future pizzas will thank you.
The toppings for this pizza can be made a day or two ahead and stored in the fridge until pizza Friday!
For the pizza dough
Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. Makes two 8″ personal pizzas
- 235gms or 8.3 oz or 1 1/4 cup bread flour more for kneading and rolling
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 150 ml or 5 1/4 fl oz or 2/3 cup ice water
- 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3/4 tsp salt
Add the flour, sugar and yeast to the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade. Pulse it 4 or 5 times to combine the ingredients. Once the flour mixture is well-mixed, start up the food processor and slowly pour in the ice water until the flour forms into a ball of dough with no dry flour spots remaining. This should take 30 to 35 seconds. Let the dough rest in the food processor for 10 minutes (play with your dogs in that time). Add the vegetable oil and salt to the rested dough and mix again for up to a minute until the dough clears off the sides of the processor.
Plop the dough onto a lightly oiled counter top and knead it for about a minute. Shape it into a smooth, round ball and place it into a oiled glass bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours and up to 3 days.
An hour before you’re ready to bake your pizza, place a rack 4 to 5 inches below the broiler/the second highest position in the oven. Place an 8″ cast iron skillet on the rack and heat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Remove the pizza dough from the fridge and divide it into half. Form the dough into two smooth balls. Grease a baking sheet and place the dough on it. Cover it loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for an hour. The greased plastic wrap helps prevent it from sticking.
Dust your hands and the dough with a generous sprinkling of bread flour and using your finger tips shape it into a flat 8″-ish circle to fit the skillet. Let the edges of the dough be thicker that the middle.
For the toppings
- 180 gms/About 2 heaping cups eggplant, cut into small cubes (I used Japanese eggplant but any variety will do)
- 1 tbsp + 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 2 tbsp garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp anchovies, minced (about 9 filets)
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme + more for serving
- Zest and juice of half a lemon
- 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan and torn pieces of fresh mozzarella (I used about 6 or 7 on each pizza)
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the eggplant with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the baking sheet in the oven for 40 minutes until the eggplant is soft in the middle and crisp along the edges. Let it cool and set aside in a small bowl.
Take the minced garlic and anchovies and smash them lightly with the back of a knife. Run the knife through the mix one or twice and then add the two ingredients into a jar. Add the red pepper flakes and fresh thyme to the jar and mix well. Lastly, add 3 tbsp of olive oil and give it a final stir to let the flavours meld.
Have all your toppings for the pizza ready to be spread on to the bread. Carefully pull out the hot cast iron skillet from the oven. Gently place the dough onto the surface of the skillet. Spread half of the thyme-garlic-anchovy oil onto the dough, like you would pizza sauce. Top with roasted eggplant, Parmesan and mozzarella. Place the skillet into the oven for 8-10 minutes until the edges of the bread have browned in parts and the bottom of the pizza is darker brown (and crispy)!
Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before slicing it. Serve with lemon zest and a few squeezes of lemon juice. Add more fresh thyme and enjoy warm! Repeat the process with the other ball of dough.