Friday, February 20, 2015

PathMark's Pizza Is Pretty Good, Actually...

I know, I've probably said it before, but it bears repeating. Via Roma, the premium brand of Italian pasta and sauce products distributed by A&P and it's subsidiary supermarkets (PathMark, Waldbaums, etc.) is pretty doggone good for store pizza. Store pizza, you say? Aren't I a certified snob when it comes to pizza? Yes, and that's why you have to trust me on this one. Sometimes you're in an area where you just can't get great pizza, so you either do without or diminish your expectations to what you consider an acceptable level and make do. I happened to try this pizza on a whim a few years ago and found it to be beyond acceptable, so I've been singing it's praises ever since for people faced with limited options:

Do you like Domino's or Papa Johns or Pizza Hut or (ugh) Lil Caesar's? Well if you try Via Roma's, can you accept the fact you will hate those other brands forever? 

Just try it and let me know what you think.  I don't know why the topic of pizza has been trending with me lately; my friend Imir recently pegged me on a post of his on Facebook in which he proudly indicated my snobbery with pizza from back when we first met in 1990.  Another friend, Chris, with whom I attended school from elementary-onward, traced my snobbery to the fact that I was graced with the efforts of fine pizza making from the Italians of the Hudson Valley. My sister and quite a few others have recounted the many establishments we inhabited or encountered that made good pizza as we were growing up.  When I went to college in DC, I was suddenly at a loss to find what I deemed good pizza; it was either Sbarros, frozen pizza or take your chances with the local establishments (and chances were very slim).  Needless to say, I further developed my own cooking skills after exhausting my options with the school cafeteria (a major disappointment for a heralded Black university), local take out (I despised McDonald's for a long time after DC) and dorm-style cooking (my specialties where potato-chips and cheese on radiator-toasted bread and what I referred to as "Arroz con Pollo" which was more gumbo than anything else).  I even invented a pizza-stick like substance that contained mozzarella cheese, breaded chicken patties and bits of toast microwaved in Tupperware and sliced into strips or Sicilian pizza-style squares.  What you have to do to get by.  There was also Chinese take-out, which I've always had a thing for and was actually pretty good down there, but you'll never believe what I found at Chinese take-out joint on 14th Street NW near the place I last lived in DC: pizza.  Good pizza, in fact.

Nobody would believe that a Chinese food place could possibly make good pizza, no matter what part of the country you were from, but I stumbled upon it and after a few weeks of skepticism while ordering my usual pork fried rice-and-ribs, I tried out the pizza.  Wowzers, I I was taken aback by how decent it was.  Great, no, but better than Dominos? Hell yeah! After some considerable and similar skepticism, my housemates also tried the pizza and came to the same conclusion.  It was a surprise hit. Now, I don't know if the place still exists (not likely), but I would bet that it was more or less hormones and deprivation that drove me to like that pizza back then.  Not so with Via Roma.

The best thing I can say about it is that it's better than the chain store pizzas we see nowadays.  If that's not saying much, then let me also say it does give some local parlors a run for their money, which is considerable when you factor in the price of ingredients, the labor and other miscellaneous overhead, not to mention delivery and tip if you go that route; with Via Roma you're getting a fairly similar pie for more than half the price.  It's fresh, not frozen (big difference!) and they claim to use premium quality ingredients, so the taste is better than what you would expect from the store.  

Trust me, I'm not trying to shill for them (I'm getting nothing for endorsing this brand), but I present it as a viable alternative to the Dominos and Papa Johns and Pizza Huts and Lil Caesars of the world that continue to rip you off with suspect pizza and pasta products.  Save your money; you can get two pizzas for what those places charge and have a better experience.  I say all this because I was just at PathMark and paying for my items; the cashier saw the pizza and asked me if it was any good.  I looked her in the eye and asked her, "Do you like Dominos?" When she said yes, I said, "If you tried this pizza, could you live with hating Dominos for the rest of your life?"

That's a pizza snob for you >;)

Post Edit: I looked on Google Maps to see if I could trace my old address and the stores I went to; the address is there, but renovated and new buildings have gone up on more than half of the block.  In fact, 14th Street looks brand new; none of the empty lots from the riots of the 60s stand empty; in place are tall apartment/loft buildings.  I welcome the revitalization of the area, as long as the people who have long lived here also benefited from the cleanup (but we know how gentrification goes).  Needless to say, the take-out place is also gone.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Charles Barkley Should Be The Next Joker (Because He's Gotta Be Kidding)

I have to admit that this started off as a rant to one of my email buddies about the internet condemnation of the kids of Jackie Robinson West who were caught in the middle of a grownups game of gerrymandering to organize a winning team that took them to the USA Little League Championship and appearing in the Little League World Series (won by South Korea). I had posted an interesting takeaway think piece (the latest often-pejorative term for thoughtful and sensitive journalism or blogging that few people will actually read, but in this case I really like it) of the resulting scandal from Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen that several people sympathized with, and this particular blog friend had made a comment about Rahm Emanuel's urban policies contributing to the problems the article focused on. I had read recently that Emanuel had decided to present the players with rings to celebrate their on-field accomplishments in spite of Little League taking away their championship, which of course garnered more backlash from social media (which is trying desperately to displace the often cockeyed, but admittedly legal and ultimate authority on legal interpretation, US Supreme Court) and then, realizing that it was becoming too epic to share with one person alone because I started another rant about privileged athletes and entertainers who think they qualify to chastise the Black community because of their media-appointed authority in all things Black, I shifted the entirety of that rant to this forum.  You can agree or disagree if you like, but from what I've observed and experienced I think I hit the head on he nail without having to indulge in relentless political and social theories that ultimately spell roadblock and spinning tires.  That helps no one but supporters of the status quo.

 "Interestingly enough, Rahm Emanuel plans to give the players rings in lieu of the title that was taken away from Little League officials. I don't know if that solves any problem any more than it exacerbates it; if anything I would do like McCutchen says and see to it that somebody sees how well individual players actually played and offer to support them in a continued effort to develop their talents. I think most of the people screaming at the kids claiming they knew exactly what they were doing, outside of being biased or prejudiced, are completely missing the point of youth baseball and that is WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING (or maybe it is as long as you fit a certain criteria acceptable to the mainstream masses).

Only the league officials who made the decision seemed to have any regard for these kids as they said they should not be held in scorn for the decisions adults made in putting that team together. Instead, the outraged masses are practically spitting on the kids and calling them cheaters (I guess to relieve their frustrations in part for not being able to do anything against Tom Brady and the Patriots, who a lot of those same people will defend in the same exact breath) and shouting down anyone who defends these kids as naive. The lazy, seemingly inconsequential breeding of asinine thoughts and pseudo-anonymity the internet fosters has continually perpetuated the paradox of disavowing innocence of anyone accused of a crime while also desensitizing people from criminal acts in the first place. 

I also want to decry the sudden focus on athletes who are blaring the trumpet for the false dilemma of "get off your ass and stop blaming the white man for your own problems" championed and trumpeted by former NBA greats Charles Barkley and Karl Malone and virtually any rich and famous athlete or entertainer who is still loved by the mainstream masses because they haven't found anything scandalous on them yet.  For one thing, I don't seem to recall the entirety of the black middle class or even lower class working people who have blamed their problems squarely on the white man. We seem to understand that working and investing intelligently will get us a lot further than welfare and lottery tickets, but the broad and ironically anti-intellectual statements Yassuh Charles and Malone seem to make about the black community in general paint us as shiftless, lazy, naive and irresponsible sub-humans hanging off the nuts of wealthy and responsible individuals like himself and Mitt Romney.  But there is a saying that most folks anywhere know; be wary of a leader and others who claim that person to be your leader when you didn't elect them in the first place.  Barkley seems to have elected himself the spokesperson for "sane, rational African Americans" with the backing of ESPN and other large mainstream media conglomerates, while on the ground level he's getting more than an earful from the same people he supposedly leads. He obviously doesn't give a damn about what's happened to Bill Cosby, the last leader indoctrinated with the power to chastise his own roots (if you don't know anything about history, you're doomed to repeat it, I guess)... 

For another thing, athletes and star entertainers live in a different economic stratosphere than the average individual. Their experiences and quality of life are not relative any way, shape or form. The choices that one has to make are far different then the other, and therefore the opportunities and options that a wealthy athlete or entertainer has is far more expansive than what a median-or below salaried or per hour worker has. Yet, far more often than not, it was not education that led them to such wealth, but physical talent and opportunity to impress people with lots of money.   The exceptions, it would seem, have a lot more to do with engaging with the communities they leave behind in order to help them make their own advances rather than set up coin-operated charities for publicity and tax write-off purposes.  I don't know when 's the last time Barkley or Karl Malone went into a lower middle-class neighborhood and witnessed and/or reported the fact that increasing numbers of public schools are closing or failing miserably or that higher media-wage jobs are disappearing fast and cost of living is rising faster and few people have the means to adapt to these swift changes; especially middle-aged workers with families to support? How about the skyrocketing cost of college educations, selling degrees with less and less value as labor markets and technology change faster than college programs can adapt to those changes?

But being able to average nearly a triple-double your entire career and making millions for it and nothing else (outside of athletic endorsements or senseless political attacks on disadvantaged people or groups with philosophies you diametrically oppose on your bully pulpit) entitles you to tell people to get up off their ass and stop blaming everything on "the white man"? Maybe, just maybe if you stopped worrying about which side of your bread is buttered and start teaching people how to make their own bread then you wouldn't have to be annoyed by the straw men of your apparently nightmarish past." ...and maybe I should not be so worried about what a person I cannot relate to except by a distantly shared heritage has to say when he perpetuates the belief that by not being as "successful" as he is, we are failures, enemies of the state and the obstacles to "progress" by definition. Or am I just being a jerk? Nah...  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Further Reason To Believe Disney Learned Almost Nothing From Its Acquisition Of Pixar, But It Doesn't Matter Anyway Because You're Stupid

Anything that has children singing mindlessly in unison for no apparent reason and is simultaneously broadcast in every nook and cranny on the airwaves (and on the shelves of every store you walk into and out of) is probably Not A Good Thing.  But who the hell am I to complain, I'm just a alternately weird and grumpy uncle who refuses to have children of his own for various reasons (not the least of which is so they don't have to suffer through that). 

I'll let the guys from Cinema Sins explain further. Bottom line: Disney already knows how to manipulate and condition you, they just have much better tools to do it with... and yes, you're too dumb to notice, which is nothing they didn't already know. Carry on...

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year Pizza!

In the beginning...
Crust, sauce, pepperoni THEN cheese...
I'm thinking of starting a new tradition on New Year's Eve: New Year's Pizza.  Not buying a pizza, but making one at home. In my family, we've always boiled a pot of black-eyed peas with bacon and ate them at midnight, which is supposed to bring good luck for the upcoming year. So hey, why not pizza? Gerlyne and I are making a pizza from scratch this evening as a fun-together activity to ring in the New Year.  That to add to her own tradition of watching The Honeymooners marathon on Ch. 11 (WPIX) after the ball drop.  I guess I'm sharing this as a light-hearted post to end a year filled with strife, loss and unrelentingly negative news from all sides trying to overwhelm the  positive strides I've made in life.

Below is a quick account of what took place >;) 

 New Year's Pizza 

        • 1 ball of pizza dough (any size)
        • 1 jar of pizza sauce (Classico™ brand is great)
        • 1 bag shredded whole milk mozzarella cheese
        • Whatever toppings you like (I prefer pepperoni)

Yeah that's right, cheese last...
Preheat conventional oven to as high as it can go (with us it's 500 degrees and then broil; I'm not sure about broiled pizza). Knead the dough for roughly three minutes, more or less,  then flatten it out into as much of a round disk shape as possible. Brush lightly with olive oil, then add sauce, spreading around evenly with a spoon or whatever is handy.  Then you lay down the toppings you like, then cover and spread the shredded cheese over the toppings and sauce. This will make a nice blanket that holds your toppings in place and protects your toppings from overcooking (unless they are absolutely raw and you want them thoroughly singed). Put the whole thing on a pan or pizza stone (if you're lucky), or like the second one I made, in a skillet and let cook in the oven for 10 minutes.  The high heat will raise the edge of the crust just like you see in the pizza parlor.  It should be done within ten minutes, so take it out, let it rest until it's warm to the touch and serve.  You can vary it any way you like, but with simple store-bought ingredients it doesn't take more than 30 minutes (take that, Domino's and Papa John's!)
Yeah! Tastes as good as it looks, too! I guess this is our new tradition.
 Yep, turned out pretty good! I topped my slices off with oregano and crushed red pepper (I used to avoid until earlier in the year, believe it or not...) We used store-bought frozen dough that had to thaw for several hours, plus the other ingredients were pre-made, so it wasn't an authentic Pizza Parlor experience in the sense or making it totally from scratch, but for what it was worth it was easy, fun, cost effective and doggone good pizza and great for a last-minute dinner or treat, such as New Year's tends to be.  Being a pizza snob, I can spend a good amount of time analyzing the ingredients and techniques if I want to, but this is not that post; it's just about having a good time.  If you try it out yourself, let me know what you did and how it turned out.  Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Re: Dad's Conversations About Race: "Most White Kids Don't Get This Talk"

"When I watch the news (or worse, read comments on the Internet), it’s easy to feel like practically everyone in the world sees black kids as a threat. But that’s not true, and it’s not what I want them to think."
 - Calvin Hennick, "Dad's Conversations About Race: 'Most White Kids Don't Get This Talk' "

Calvin Hennick and Son, photo from Yahoo publication courtesy of Calvin Hennick
I was forwarded this article recently and asked to comment on it.  Written by a white father with a biracial son, the article details the bullet points of a conversation he intends to have with his young son, who shares an African American heritage with his mother, when the time comes that his son inevitably asks questions about the strange and likely different way he is treated from most of his peers.

It is a conversation he feels that not all parents apparently have with their children.  However, the writer implies, and I agree, that they very well should. Ignoring the issues that Black people face today simply because you or your children are not Black is doing oneself and one's children a great disservice.  Not because Black people should be singled out for special treatment or consideration, but because we are often singled out for mistreatment, negligence or cognizant dissonance.  This behavior has contributed directly to the tensions and strife that has never really gone away from American society since the Civil Rights Era of the mid-20th Century, but has recently resurfaced after an extended, gradual buildup of underlying pressure and activity that can easily be construed as a reversal of the consideration that, many think, or had thought, positively changed modern American sentiments (and progress) during that era.  

It's by no means an easy conversation to have with another grown person, never mind a child.  The dynamics are different: whereas with a child you are teaching, instructing and otherwise adding to their conscious awareness of an issue with wholly negative aspects that challenge their morality, but with adults it's also compounded by the awareness that they already experience, which could either support or deny the points of this discussion, and also has the risk of introducing shame in the event that a person realizes that they have never stood up for an issue that they morally support but consciously or unconsciously ignored or backed down from for various reasons.  I'm not writing to condemn such actions, but to support the awareness of these issues and to pass on any such knowledge that can lead to effective understanding and constructive building on these issues.  I found the article to be forthright and truthful, without the taint of misplaced moral superiority or reflexive anxiety that often undermines discussions of this nature. Take some time to read it and ponder what is discussed.

Take note also of what I quoted above; personally, this was the takeaway for me. I have been hesitant to add my voice to this and similar discussions because I did not very well see that it would be effective, but I'm changing my mind because I absolutely have to.  There is the specter of racial bias and hatred that proliferates the media and comments of many, if not a majority of internet sites and media outlets (Sony Films America being the latest prime example), but I personally know and relate to many people who are not of my heritage who do understand or are capable of understanding the dynamics that force this opinion on the willing, unwilling, complicit or unsuspecting consumer or visitor. There is a dynamic that forces citizens and non-citizens in the very same way to be compartmentalized by race, class and other categories and are then forced to battle one-another for survival and a false sense of superiority when in fact it does not exist except for those who pull these societal strings. Black people are the most obvious target, but by no means does this mean that Black people are or should be universally reviled, and especially not when vociferous media pundits and anonymous commenters proliferate the strongest forms of communication in society and force their ignorance and hatred on others to react to or learn and behave in similar manner.  To me, the continuation of such dynamics is force and acceptance; the willingness to accept such information and conformance to standards and status quo in return for acceptance to society and its benefits to scale (based on historically traditional notions of what is acceptable for whom).  I refuse to accept what bigots and tacit supporters say about me or my heritage based on longstanding hearsay or the basis of guilt by association, and neither should you.

To do so is to drive yourself insane or to commit hara-kiri to your moral compass, your self-respect and your immortal soul. 

All this from a simple discussion you can have with your kids.  What a bargain!