Six years before my pregnancy, in the kitchen at Flatbread Somerville, a wood-fired pizza restaurant nestled in a restored candlepin bowling alley, I stand before a raging 800-degree oven. Squinting against the heat, I toss a fresh log, immediately followed by a second, into the hungry fire. Flames rise up from the center well, filling the dark cave with a fierce orange glow. Glancing back at the assembly line, I see that Corey has begun to sauce the fresh dough on the peel — a big wooden paddle used to transport pizza to the oven. I grab the long deck brush and poke at the fire, arranging the new logs to my liking.
After tossing the deck brush back onto the stand, I snatch the peel away from Corey just as the last dusting of herbs settle onto the pie, and gracefully maneuver it across my body and into the oven. I dance a quick but wide two step and the raw dough slides across the wood and onto the stone, maintaining it’s circular shape.
Reversing the sequence, I swing the long peel like a baton across my body and back to the stretching table. While Corey swirls sauce on the next dough, I inspect the pizzas in the oven with the smaller baking peel, wedging the head delicately under each one, carefully and quickly turning them as necessary. I rotate them in a pattern only I could follow, until both the underside of the crust and the toppings are browned equally (herein lies the trick to cooking with fire).
Two children seated on the giant log in front of the oven let out a collective “Woahhhhhh!” as Greg tosses a floppy floury frisbee above his 6’5’’ frame. A master at his craft, he smiles, knowing that the trick never ceases to impress a younger audience. A puff of flour billows against the soft yellow spot lights. The roll and clatter of candlepin bowling rises up over the familiar 80s playlist. I smile, continuing my dance in front of the oven.
“Ah, hey dude?” Lisa emphatically calls from the cutting station, where I’ve just dropped a pizza. Her green fedora holds a bundled mess of curly black hair, and her floral pants and grey Keds are dusted with flour. Like me, her apron is splattered with sauce and cheese.
We are a well oiled machine and my pizza dance is an art, a belabored and precise skill that has taken almost a year of singed eyebrows and rogue ember burns — not to mention the dozens of burnt pizzas — to master.
“Yeah, dude?” I affectionately call back, keeping my eyes on the oven.
“These pizzas are looking REAL pretty. Keep up the good work!” she says as she deftly works the round cutter across the flatbreads.
“Thanks, dude!” We are the only women in the kitchen tonight.
Adrenaline pumps through my veins and flour cakes my sweaty arms and legs. We are a well oiled machine and my pizza dance is an art, a belabored and precise skill that has taken almost a year of singed eyebrows and rogue ember burns — not to mention the dozens of burnt pizzas — to master.
Four hours later, after the last customers have been served and the kitchen has been cleaned, we sit at the bar that looks out over the empty lanes. Oh, how good it feels for the weight to lift from my feet, for the sweat to dry, to stop moving.
“What are you having, dear?” Heide asks from across the bar, after she has finished counting her tips. Wormtown? Clown Shoes? Night Shift? I settle on my usual, the Slumbrew Flagraiser IPA made just down the road by Somerville Brewing Company. Mirroring the local and sustainable food menu, our tap list boasts an impressive selection of regional beers, most of which are delivered by the brewers themselves.
After two or three sturdy craft beers at Flatbread, Lisa and I head over to the Burren to close out the night with a shot of Jameson and a Miller High Life. By the time I clumsily ride my bike home down Mass Ave, the streets are clear. My headlight flickers past the parked cars and I run red lights, standing upright on my pedals. I’m 24 years old and I am the pizza queen of Somerville.
I’m 24 years old and I am the pizza queen of Somerville.
Fast forward to 30 and pregnant: no longer a pizza queen, but still well versed in craft beer and almost a master in Food Studies. Long shifts and late nights live in the past, but my Flatbread friends remain. Lisa stood next to me on those stone steps when I married Rob, her curly black hair tamed and her navy blue dress free of flour.
Our friendship was built in the service industry, a sphere neither of us occupy anymore. When we get together these days, I long for what we had. I remember the nights when we had the bar to ourselves and it didn’t matter how late it was; I forget the hangovers and the twelve hour shifts. Now, like any well behaved pregnant woman, I’ve stopped drinking (which is not especially difficult to do when one is on the verge of vomiting most hours of the day). Since my initiation into beer (and pizza) at Flatbread, I’ve immersed myself in craft beer. Now that I’m on the wagon and removed from my beer habit, I had no idea how much time and energy I spent talking it, thinking about it, and drinking it. Without beer, there’s a void. And it’s unsettling; I am more deeply affected by this void than I was anticipating.
Without beer, there’s a void.
I turn inward, trying to figure out who I am without this that was once so central to my life. Nothing has changed between Lisa and I, but my day-to-day social life feels more empty than I care to admit. But maybe empty is the wrong word. It lacks that buzz, that excitement, that brief relief I so often sought in a pint glass. My senses and judgement are fully intact at all times, and my loosey goosey just ain’t the same. I’m certain that as I navigate my pregnancy, I will discover deeper joys and perhaps obtain a new perspective on my relationship with this magical elixir. For now, I’ll try new hobbies and hope for that old familiar buzz. Last week, I experimented with breadmaking. There’s comfort in carbs, at least.