I often wonder how many movies I have been to over the years. I can remember as a kid my mother would grab my sister, my brothers and me and take us to the local movie theater whenever there was an appropriately rated movie playing (in other words a “G” rated movie). She would get us all in the car, drive downtown, pull up directly in front of the theatre and tell us to get out and that she would pick us up in the same spot when the movie was over. I remember the ticket lines would often stretch around the block and I would always worry they would sell out. That never happened, but I worried about it each and every time. The theater where we always went was built in 1931 as part of the Fox West Coast Theatre chain and as with most Fox theaters its architecture was intricately adorned with lots of neon and bright lights. The most prominent feature is a very tall spire on top of the building which for a long time had the word “Fox” written in giant, bright neon, on two sides, that could be seen from nearly anywhere in the city.
The small ticket booth (no longer used) sits at the sidewalks edge and is just large enough for a ticket seller. Then there is a grand arched entryway with a fairly large fountain in the center before you reach the main doors and the actual lobby of the theater. Once inside the lobby, a large staircase leads to the balcony that for the most part was always closed. Too bad since the balcony is the "cool" place to sit, especially in the doublewide seats at the end of every other row. The best thing about this theater though, is that when you are inside, it is as if you are seated in an outdoor plaza. Built out from the left and right walls are staircases and balconies that form buildings complete with windows that emit a soft glow from behind the curtains and there are even tiled roofs. Shadows are painted onto the walls next to the light fixtures and to complete the illusion the ceiling is painted dark blue and has little lights that give the impression of stars in the night sky when you look up. Imagine sitting outside in an old Spanish plaza watching a film and you’ll get the idea. The bad thing about this décor, which I absolutely love by the way, is that as a kid I was more interested in watching the lights in the “sky” and looking at all the balconies and lit windows that I missed a great deal of the happenings onscreen.
One of the things I remember most was looking up and back towards the projection booth while the film was running to watch the bright light as it flickered towards the screen. The changing light beams above me were fascinating to watch, and I would also watch for when the film changed projectors and came through a different glass window in the booth, as a kid this was magic at its best! As an adult I am still distracted at live events. I notice the spotlights, I notice the placement of microphones, and I notice when light cues, or sound cues are missed. It's easy to spot when an actor misses their cue, or if the props don't work as expected. It’s a gift and a curse all at the same time.
These days I find we don't go to the movie theaters much anymore. I don't like to go if it's going to be packed with people. I find that uncomfortable. Often when it's not crowded though, the theatre is way too cold and the sound level is way too high and that gives me a splitting headache. It's also kind of expensive! So instead we opt to stay at home and watch movies through one of the popular apps or whatever DVD's we got sent. It's funny to think back now to how we used to have to go down to the local video rental place and pick out a movie to watch. Back then it was all VHS tape and you had better rewind the tape before returning it the next day or they would charge you a penalty. But as usual, that is just slightly off topic so I won’t continue on and on about the transition from VHS and Beta to Laser Discs, to DVDs, to Blue Ray, to Streaming, it’s just not that interesting.
I have a few very fond memories of movies that I actually went to the theatre to see though, that I will share. Once a friend and I sat through all four showings of Neil Diamond’s version of The Jazz Singer (back in the day when they didn’t kick people out between showings). I remember going to see Star Trek 4, The Voyage Home on Christmas Day in Anchorage, Alaska which sold out just shortly after we got our tickets and by the time we got in the only seats available were in the very front row… my neck hurt for days afterwards! If you are old like me, you might remember, as I do, seeing Star Wars, Episode 4 for the first time, not knowing really what to expect. I saw that movie in the theatre I mentioned above and remember sitting about mid way back, noticing that both side walls had been recently fitted with big speakers every 10 feet or so, from the edge of the stage to the very back. They started the film, and after the 20th Century Fox studio credit played, the theatre got real quiet. That is when I suspect the guy in charge of the sound activated all those new speakers and purposely cranked up the volume, just as the iconic theme started. The walls shook and people jumped. When the ships moved overhead, lasers blasting, the bass made the seats literally vibrate. In Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring, just after the large fight where Boromir dies and Merry and Pippin are taken captive (oh, sorry – spoiler alert), Frodo steals away in a canoe to head to Mordor by himself, only to be joined moments later by Sam… Then just as they set out over the mountains, the credits roll… David was so caught up in the movie that he exclaimed quite loudly in an otherwise completely silent theatre “Oh, Man!”.
I think the movie experience I remember most was when I went, again by myself, to see the movie The Fog. The movie starts with a thick rolling fog that is blanketing everything; a fishing boat out on the water becomes completely engulfed in it. The camera moves in on the boat, fog obscuring all but just bits and pieces of the deck. Suddenly you can hear the sound of what I guessed was a peg legged pirate moving along the deck, thump, knock, thump, knock, thump knock… we see a fellow, obviously scared, looking for a place to hide and he decides on a conveniently placed tall locker… thump, knock, thump, knock. At this point I am starting to worry. Then we get a glimpse of the pirate… well at least one of his hands, which is actually just an ice pick… more fog, more thump, more knock. Then the inevitable happens, the locker gets ripped opened by the pirate… we see the guy inside for just an instant, we see the pirate raise his ice pick hand and he plunges it into the face of the fisherman, over and over he stabs… My hands come up to cover my eyes, but the sound is still there and I can’t cover both my ears and my eyes, so I immediately get up and leave the movie. As I am making my way towards the exit (quickly) I can hear the man screaming and the awful sound of the ice pick stabbing the guy. Luckily I was sitting towards the back so it didn’t take long to get out. I stood in the hallway as the door to the theatre closed and I heard one loud screaming gasp from the audience that let me know the fisherman, like myself, didn’t make it to anywhere near the end of that movie. Suffice it to say, I am not that much into horror films.
I have so many memories of so many great (and some very bad) movies that I could write for hours and hours and still not recount them all to you. Instead of that let’s move on...
Even though nothing beats seeing a great film on the big screen, there is something to be said about watching movies in the comfort of your own home. If you’re lucky enough to have a large screen TV and a good sound system you might not ever miss going to the theatre at all. Plus there are some nice benefits; One, you can get up in the middle of the movie and not worry about disturbing people, pressing pause so you don’t miss anything; Two, you can watch the film in your pajamas if you want; and three, you can eat pizza.
A while back I told you about the fantastic little pizza place across the street from our apartment in Brooklyn. They made the best Sicilian style pizza I had ever had. It was perfect in its simplicity, just dough, sauce, and cheese. So what makes Sicilian pizza any different than any other pizza, other than it is cut into squares? Well, the answer to that is in the dough. You see regular pizza dough is much different from Sicilian dough and to really make it right you almost have to own a pizzeria. But this my friends is where Americas Test Kitchen can help us out (check out their TV Show Cookbook here). Those good folks have come up with a way we can do this at home, and for that I am forever grateful… Well maybe not forever, but definitely at least for the remainder of this post and most of the day tomorrow! The other thing about Sicilian pizza, as I mentioned, is that it’s generally just a crust, sauce, and cheese. Sometimes you’ll find places that add sausage or other toppings but in general cheese is the only topping. For this post I added basil, bell peppers and mushrooms, and Canadian bacon and pineapple just to show you that it can be done. Now keep in mind this isn’t your everyday pizza, it takes a little planning, a 24 hour refrigeration, and you‘ll need semolina flour, a rolling pin, and two standard half sheet pans (13 x 18-inch) to pull this all together (if you don’t have a pizza stone, you’ll need a third standard sized sheet pan as well). Also you’ll break out your food processor to help make the sauce and you’ll need a stand mixer to make the dough (it is possible to do it by hand, but that’s way too much kneading for me). Lastly, a word on pizza stones: It would definitely be helpful to have a pizza stone as it will really help the bottom of the crust to brown, but it is possible to make this without one. You’ll find that the bottom isn’t as crispy as it would be with a stone, but it will be delicious either way. If you find you like to make pizza at home though, I would recommend getting a stone and if you need a recommendation as to which one to buy, just send me an email.
Make the dough and the sauce at least 25 hours (and up to 48 hours) before you want to eat…
For the Dough:
11¼ ounces (2¼ cups) all-purpose flour
12 ounces (2 cups) semolina flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon instant (rapid rise) yeast
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
13⅓ ounces (1⅔ cups) ice cold water
2¼ teaspoons salt
For the Sauce:
1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
For the pizza:
Vegetable oil spray
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup)
12 ounces whole milk mozzarella cheese, grated (about 3 cups)
To make the dough:
Into the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook, put the all-purpose flour, the semolina flour, the sugar, and the yeast. Mix it for about 10 to 15 seconds on low speed just to combine everything.
Next, pour the olive oil into the ice cold water and with the mixer still on low speed, slowly pour it into the flour mixture until the dough forms and you don’t see any more dry flour, which takes between 1 and 2 minutes.
Leave the bowl on the mixer, but cover it with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
After the 10 minutes rest, remove the plastic wrap and add the salt to the bowl of dough.
Turn the mixer on, first al low speed just to get the salt mixed in, then increase the speed to medium and allow it to mix for 6 to 8 minutes until the dough is only just a little sticky and has cleaned the sides of the bowl.
Place the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead it for about 1 minute, by hand, until the dough is nice and smooth.
Form the dough into a tight ball and place it in a large, lightly oiled bowl making sure the dough is covered with oil on all sides.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours (you can keep it in there for up to 48 hours if need be).
To make the sauce:
Put the tomatoes, the sugar, and the salt in a food processor and process 30 to 45 seconds to get it smooth.
Grab a medium saucepan and heat the oil and garlic in it over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is just starting to brown, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the tomato paste, the oregano, and the red pepper flakes, and let cook for 30 seconds.
Now, add the tomato mixture and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally or until the sauce has reduced to 2 cups.
Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let it cool, then refrigerate until needed.
Finally to Make the Pizza:
Spray an 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet (including the rim) with vegetable oil spray.
Coat the bottom of the pan with the olive oil in an even layer. This will help brown and crisp the bottom of the crust while it bakes.
Get your dough from the fridge and put it onto a lightly floured board or counter.
Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and using your fingers gently press it into a 12 by 9-inch rectangle.
Next grab a rolling pin and roll the dough into an 18 by 13-inch rectangle. What luck, that’s the exact size of our baking sheet!
Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet, pressing gently to fit the dough into the corners of the pan. It may spring back and that’s ok, just get it as close to fitting as you can.
Now, spray the top of the dough lightly with vegetable oil spray and place a piece of plastic wrap right on top of the dough.
Take your second sheet pan and place that on top of the now covered dough. This will act as a weight of sorts and not let the dough get giant air bubbles in it as it rests.
Allow the dough to proof for 1 hour.
Place your pizza stone on a rack positioned in the upper-third of the oven, removing any oven racks above the stone and heat the oven to 500°F as soon as you set your dough to proof. If you do not have a pizza stone use a third sheet pan placed upside down on the rack instead.
When the hour is up, remove the top baking sheet from the dough and discard the plastic wrap.
Gently lift and stretch the dough in order to fill the pan if it has pulled back from the corners or sides of the pan.
Spread the sauce evenly over the dough leaving about a ½-inch border around the edge of the pizza. I usually just use the back of a big spoon to spread it around but you can do it however you like, spoon, brush, ladle, offset spatula, honestly, just use whatever works to get an even layer.
Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese, evenly, all the way to the edges, then do the same with the mozzarella cheese. You can add toppings at this point if you like.
Place the pan into the oven, on the pizza stone (or upside down baking sheet) and lower the temperature to 450°F.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the bake time, until the pizza crust has browned evenly and the cheese is bubbly and browned a bit.
Remove the pan from the oven and let everything cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
To de-pan the pizza:
Run a small knife around the rim of the pan to loosen the pizza then use a spatula to lift one edge of the pizza up and over the edge of the pan and onto the cutting board then simply tilt the pan and slide it away from the pizza.
Cut the pizza into squares, or whatever shape you like, put on a good movie, grab a beer, some wine, or some Kool-Aid… whatever you like to drink… and enjoy it… you’ve earned it!