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When pizza becomes a comfort food

February 14, 2012

A friend recently told this story: One weekend evening, Son of Friend had pizza for dinner along with the rest of the family. Nothing abnormal about that. The next morning he snagged a piece or two for breakfast.  Okay, lots of people around here do that. This is a college town, after all.  Then for lunch, he went for the three-peat: more pizza. When it came around to dinner time again, he had had enough, and said something along the lines of, “I need some normal food — I don’t feel so good.” 
When I first heard this story, as Son of Friend was rounding the third turn and had not yet given up on the race, my first thought was: “Go! Go! Go!  This is a kid after my own heart.”  Eating the same thing over and over didn’t seem like a big deal — I’ve got a kid of my own like that. And truth be told, I have been known to indulge in a few consecutive pizza meals of my own. It was when he said, “Can I have something different?” that I became concerned. Pizza is serious comfort food. 
As a single man in North Carolina, I had a group of friends that would meet at Pizza Hut after church on Wednesday nights. Some representation of the group met and ate faithfully for years. They even let Wife and I come a few times after our nuptials. Somehow, I never tired of it. We took home the leftovers on a rotating basis. Once, when my turn came around, I got up late the next morning and went out to get something from the car. When I opened the door, the smell of pizza baking greeted me warmly. At first sniff this was a good thing, until I realized that my leftovers from the night before were still on the back seat, heated by the morning sun.  I was very disappointed in myself. And craving the very pizza I had to toss out. 
But it didn’t always work out that way. Other times I would have fresh pizza for dinner, eat it cold for breakfast, and then be perfectly content to find another source at lunch.  Often I would head to a take-and-bake place down the street called Nick-N-Willy’s. I didn’t take and bake as much as I went for lunch and had a slice. One of my favorites was called The Big Kahuna, which had Canadian bacon, pineapple and mandarin oranges. 
In hindsight, I came by my pizza habit naturally. It became a tradition in our house as a youth to order pizza on Sunday nights after church — I guess that’s why the Wednesday night tradition in later years seemed so natural. I also grew up in the early years of Domino’s, when they still promised to have it delivered in thirty minutes or less. We all secretly hoped they would arrive in exactly thirty-one minutes, so we’d get the discount, but get it quickly. And of course, I did attend college — enough said. 
My pizza habits went way beyond Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Nick-N-Willy’s, however. I can remember a time (before I began reading nutritional information), when I ordered nothing at Taco Bell aside from Mexican Pizza. It’s still one of my favorite things on the Bell’s menu, but I do try to show some moderation these days as my metabolism has down-shifted. In college, one of my roommate’s brothers came to visit one weekend and he made dessert pizza for us — the first one I’d ever had — so simple and so delicious. It was a sugar cookie crust, topped with a mix of cream cheese and powdered sugar, sliced fruit, and a sauce of the red jelly-like goo that is used to make a strawberry pie. It was my go-to dessert for a long time whenever I was asked to bring something to a dinner. 
Pizza became even more of a comfort food fix when we lived overseas. One of the few western chain restaurants that existed in our country was Pizza Hut. The closest one to us was a good hour’s drive, and we made sure to eat there every time we visited. We eventually moved to that town — not just because of Pizza Hut — and it promptly closed. Then we had to drive over two hours to get to the next closest one. The menu was limited, the pepperoni was made of beef and the barbecue pizza featured hamburger instead of pulled pork, but we adjusted. At the supposed five-star hotel where we would go to swim sometimes, the pizza was the most consistent dish on the menu. Go figure.
The only downside to my pizza addiction is just that — once I start, I cannot easily stop. There always seems to be just enough room for one more half piece, no matter how full I might feel.  Then that remaining half piece seems so small and lonely on the pan.  But I’m in good company: Yogi Berra once said, “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.” That’s my kind of thinking. 

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