The Pizza Star Who Climbed a Water Tank and The Scaredy-Cat Who Made Churros

Sunday Amy made pizza for dinner. When I arrived she had all kinds of good things on her counter top; fresh mozzarella, basil, pepperoni, olives, salami, tomatoes, tomato sauce, stacks of pizza pans and balls of dough, it looked like a bountiful and colorful cover for Food and Wine Magazine.

Amy had came home from somewhere fancy, she was wearing a black ruffled top and high heels. I didn’t bother asking where she came from because I didn’t care. I had my own places to go, like in her cabinets, she has the best food in her house.  Being in her cabinets is like being at damn Gourmet Store, and get this, her kids do that typical teen complaining thing….  “There’s nothing good to eat in the house”  Are they kidding? I’d trade places with them in a second. I always leave Amy’s house with a jar of something, kind of like a parting gift I suppose, “Are you going to use these pine nuts? I mean, really Amy, they’ve been in here for months, I’ll take them off your hands.”

After exploring her refrigerator (“Do you really need all these salamis? Let me take them off your hands?) I sat down, poured myself a glass of wine and offered my help to my dear sister, “No, I have this.”  Amy said and have she did!   —Amy is no Pizza making novice. She’s made plenty of Pizza for her family and tons of pizzas when were kids. I knew she wasn’t going to screw up my Sunday dinner so I sipped my red wine sitting at the kitchen bar that over-looked her stove. Then I found myself a little out of sorts, after all, I’m the star cook, WTF?  I started twisting my lips, “Where’s the Olive Oil?” I asked. “Right here, I didn’t forget it.” Amy said, showing me the bottle of the liquid gold.  —Well!

Enter my niece Miss Jacqueline wearing some kind of sportswear, her face all rosy, “I have to make these things for my Spanish Class in the morning can you help me?” She asked. “Sure!” I said. I went over the recipe for Churros. I carefully examined the recipe and shamelessly showed-off a bit,

“I’m really good with a pastry bag, and this is basically a Pate a Choux recipe (I said Pate a Choux with a French inflection) Pate a Choux is used for Cream Puffs (I used a French inflection again)”

“Whatever.” Jacqueline grumbled and sat next to me and then she said, “I need to make twenty-one of them”

Amy who is protective of her kitchen, gets a bit anxious due to the mess I tend to make when I cook, promised Jacqueline and I that we could make the Churros after she was done  making the Pizza.  I nudged Jacqueline and rolled my eyes, shrugged my shoulders and softly giggled, “Your mother thinks she makes better pizza than me.” I whispered. “She does.”  Jacqueline said. And then the little trader laughed and poked me in the shoulder. When Miss Jacqueline laughs, she reminds me of when Amy was a teen.

Jacqueline has the face of my sister and the same long dark brown hair and big rosy cheeks that are as tempting to bite as a big red apple. She also has, like Amy, those fun daring, mischievous eyes that make me smile widely.

When we were kids Amy was the perfect partner in crime, she was the Ethel to my Lucy. Once when we were kids I told Amy if she climbed the giant water tank that stood behind the Abigail Adams Cairn across from where we grew up on Franklin Street, I would buy her a pizza. I wanted to climb that tank more than anything in the world and in fact I spent hours staring at it and fantasizing that I was on top and prancing around and looking out at the city of Quincy and in the far off distance the City of Boston. Two hundred years ago Abigail Adams and her son John Quincy did the same thing from the same spot during the Revolutionary War. Those two historical figures, according to legend, watched the Battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charlestown yards away from where we played most afternoons after school and all day in summer.  Not far from the water tanks a granite stone memorial in the shape of a giant round cone indicates the spot where Abigail and her son watched the battles. A small plaque was placed on the monument on June 17, 1896, by the Adams Chapter of the Society of the Daughters of the Revolution. Amy and I had it memorized the words on the plaque as kids, from this spot, Abigail Adams with her son, John Quincy Adams…. I forget the rest, I’m too old now.

God, I wanted to be on the top of that water tank more than anything when I was a young teen. But the truth was I was scared shitless to climb it. Oh, trust me, I climbed my share of mountainous rocks and boulders inside Faxon Park blocks away from our house on Franklin Street, and I practically lived in trees when I was a kid, but I could not conquer that massive monstrous water tank that every time I stood under I would get a tickling sensation in my belly and my legs would freeze.

The day Amy agreed to do it for a pizza, it was probably in 1976, I was 14 and she was 13. I nearly had a heart attack as she reached the top. I was overcome with a such frightful panic I told her to come down. I remember being so scared because if she fell that would not only be the end of her life, but mine for sure if my parents found out I dare her to climb it. Amy quickly came down. “It wasn’t that bad, you should try it, don’t be scared.”  My eyes shifted, “Maybe after we get a pizza.” I said.

I had no fucking intention of climbing that tank, ever.

We hopped on our bikes and rode down to the Alpine an old Italian Restaurant/Bar down the hill from our house on Independence Avenue. We thought the Alpine was an ancient establishment considering my father use to take my mother there for dates twenty whole years ago in the 1950’s.  We sat inside the big black booths and spilt a plain large pizza. I paid $2.50 for it, plus we had a pitcher of coke. The pizza was thin and crispy and the sauce, like always, was rich and garlicky and it had those bits of black char on the edges of the crust that we thought were the best part. They added that extra bit of flavor that mingled with the cheese and tomato sauce that made the Alpine pizza its own.

Some images never erase from your mind. Amy at 13, brave and bold, always sweet as pie, climbing the fence and running to this magnificently huge water tank and fearlessly climbing, one foot in front of the other, not an ounce of fear detected on her face or in her body language, and me trembling below.

When Amy’s Pizza’s were done, our parents came and sat at the kitchen bar as Amy served us and within minutes my nephew Robbie came to join us.

The pizza was perfection, the dough was crispy, plenty of cheese and the cooked pepperoni turned into tiny brown saucers that held the oil. The basil and tomato pizza was sumptuous and fresh tasting. In exchange for this pizza feast, I didn’t have to climb any water tanks, but only the pleasure of making Churros with my niece Jacqueline for her Spanish class.  Ordinarily I would tell you how to make pizza, but since Amy was the star on this day go ask her…

Churros

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 quarts oil for frying
  • 1/2 cup white sugar, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water, 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar, salt and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in flour until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat. Beat eggs all at once; continue beating until smooth.
  2. Heat oil for frying in deep-fryer or deep skillet to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Pipe strips of dough into hot oil using a pastry bag. Fry until golden; drain on paper towels.
  3. Combine 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon. Roll drained churros in cinnamon and sugar mixture.
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About johncpicardi

Welcome to my blog. I am the author of the novel Oliver Pepper's Pickle and the published plays The Sweepers and Seven Rabbits on a Pole, both plays have been produced off Broadway and around the US. I am a graduate of Johnson & Wales University where I majored in Culinary arts. I have a BA from The University of Massachusetts and an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University. This blog is about food and food memories and every other fantastic and scrumptious thing to do with it. My appetite and passion for food is large and runs deep, sometimes its indulgent and wild and other times wholesome and simple, often humorous and always immeasurable. I grew up outside of Boston and spent many hours of my childhood in front of the TV watching Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet) and Julia Child prepare all kinds of luscious meals that would make my mouth water. Other days I’d follow my mother and two grandmothers around their simple, tidy kitchens as they busily prepared hearty fragrant meals, hand-cut pastas, preserved fruits and vegetables, baked yeasty breads, spicy cookies and frosted lopsided cakes. I was there by their side asking questions and helping where needed and there were plenty of times I was ordered to leave if I was in their way. It was a given that by the time I graduated High School I would be going off to Johnson & Wales University to study Culinary Arts. Those years were fine and good. I loved the hands on creativeness of cooking whether it be the simple lesson of washing a sink full of colorful salad greens, trussing a chicken or peeling a gorgeous carrot or the complicated lessons of making a French Country Pate or Julia Child’s Cassoulet or making Brioche, it all thrilled me and my dream had arrived!
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3 Responses to The Pizza Star Who Climbed a Water Tank and The Scaredy-Cat Who Made Churros

  1. gloria coletti says:

    Great story, I was there. It;s really all true. What a son, your mother must be so proud of you!!!!!

    Like

  2. Gina Vita says:

    I’m feel’in the love Johnny, feel’in the love!

    Like

  3. Molly Pomroy says:

    Johnny, I really like your style…Amy’s too. keep writing and I’ll keep reading and maybe Amy will have us over for dinner. love ya!

    Like

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