It’s Friday night and I turn to Kevin and say, “It’s your turn to choose. What do you want to play?” I’m not initiating some sexy adult game (well, at least not right now). Rather, I’m invoking our Friday night ritual of dinner and music.
Ever since I can remember, music and food have been entwined for me. My grandmother regularly hummed along to afternoon opera broadcasts while she baked apple pies and Louisiana Ring Cake in her Dundalk kitchen. In my parents’ house, Sunday morning waffles were always paired with maple syrup and the “Echoes of Poland” radio hour. And although singing at mealtime was never encouraged, to this day fresh bread at Sunday dinner can prompt me to warble “Pass the biscuits please,” a la Bobbie Gentry.
Just as some cooks fall into a routine meal schedule of meatloaf on Mondays and spaghetti on Wednesdays, my food rituals are inevitably tied up with my music rituals. I find that a little musical accompaniment, be it 20th-century Satie or 21st-century Hold Steady, makes the butter cream just a little better, softer, quicker, when I’m mixing up a batch of cookies. Weekend morning coffee loses its bitter edge when accompanied by the quiet sounds of “Sleepy Hollow,” an eclectic, multi-genre music show on WKHS (90.5 FM), and Sunday’s roast chicken just tastes better with a favorite jazz CD, say Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby.” Though Monday through Thursday nights may see anything from pork chops to pasta for dinner, local radio jazz programming is the one constant. I know I’m getting late in prep if I’m still peeling and chopping carrots as Rusty Hassan of Washington, D.C.’s WPFW (89.3 FM) signs in at 7 on Tuesday night to play some Coltrane, just as I know that dinnertime is stretching toward 9 p.m. if we’re eating during Andy Bienstock’s show on WYPR (88.1 FM).
But in a weird amalgam of the religious and the secular, Friday night is always meatless (a holdover from Kevin’s youth) and the soundtrack is always rock’n’roll. Around 6:30 on Friday evenings, I turn the radio to WKHS while I scavenge through the pantry and the cabinets to evaluate dinner possibilities. From 5 to 7 p.m., the DJ plays classic country, and hearing Patsy Cline berating herself for being so crazy as to want a feckless lover makes my cooking dilemmas seem like small potatoes. Since I haven’t been to the store to buy fresh fish and my supply of rice noodles for Pad Thai is low, I decide to fall back on an old favorite: pizza.
Pizza and rock’n’roll go together like Lennon and McCartney, or Jack and Meg White. Like rock’n’roll, pizza is deceptively simply to make, the foodie equivalent of the three-chord song, yet it’s amazingly versatile and immensely satisfying. It can be straight-ahead traditional with pepperoni and mozzarella, like a Keith Richards riff, or subtle and provocative like a Dylan lyric that combines any number of disparate ingredients (say ham, onions and pineapple). Pizza appeals to our primal instincts, and so does rock’n’roll.
So at 7 p.m., as WKHS switches over to “The Night Shift,” a show dedicated to playing rock music decade by decade, I begin to measure flour, yeast, oil and water. Rod Stewart’s 1970s rasp competes with the whir of the food processor as I succumb to technology and mix my dough in the Cuisinart. To some, this is akin to substituting a drum machine for an actual snare, but the result is still spot-on. I scrape the dough out of the processor and into a large bowl, cover it with a towel, and set it aside to rise.
Meanwhile, as the DJ plays hits from both Elvis Presley and Elvis Costello, I chop garlic and parsley and open a can of minced clams for an unconventional white pizza.
By 8 p.m., the music has shifted to ’80s New Wave, and like Duran Duran, I’m hungry like the wolf. The risen pizza dough is smooth and soft and stretches beautifully to fill a cookie sheet I’ve brushed with oil and sprinkled with cornmeal. I brush more oil on the stretched dough and scatter clams, garlic and parsley before topping with a grating or two or parmigiano reggiano. By the time the music changes to the “’90s and Newer” at 9, I’ve opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and Kevin and I are slicing crispy triangles off our rectangular pizza, speculating that Coldplay’s Chris Martin must have been eating pizza when he wrote “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face.”
The radio show and the pizza are both finished by 10, but the deliciousness of both linger, and we prolong the evening by pouring another glass of wine and taking turns choosing songs to play on the stereo. I’m not sure which is geekier, to be a foodie or a music junkie, but the combination is pure harmony.