My father grew up in Kalamazoo, the eldest of 13 big-headed, dark-haired, Black Irish Johnsons. Grandpa worked as a plumber for years and to this day maintains an office in the basement of my grandparents' ranch house in Kalamazoo, where he sits among his painstakingly-maintained daily journals, meticulous photo albums, and his ever-present shrine to the Virgin Mary. What he actually does in that office is a mystery to us. I've got my suspicions that he sits down there when Grandma discusses politics, which is frequent, and not his cup of tea.
With all of those kids running around, food wasn't the focus in the Johnson house. I imagine that dinners consisted of a good amount of typical American fare- meatloaf, potatoes, bread. Jello desserts. Corn Flakes for breakfast. Mom, a native of Northern Michigan and the daughter of a hunter, tells the story about when she first prepared venison for Dad. "What is this?" he asked, slowly chewing, eyeing my older sister who was old enough to understand. "Is this B-A-M-B-I?"
"No," said Mom. "It's his mother."
Until the very recent demise of their marriage, Dad hitched his cart to her wagon and let her dictate much of the food in our house as I grew up. Vietnamese rice, cuts of meat that came from animal parts that weren't mentioned in mixed company, kohlrabi and Swiss chard and wheatberries and fish. Mom's mom was a serious gourmet cook and she passed those skills right on down the line.
Other arms of the Johnson family, specifically a few of my cousins with whom I am close, didn't end up with such varied palates. My cousin Robbie lives in Royal Oak, close to my office, and on nights when I don't have to be back in Lansing for book club or Junior League or some other plan, I take advantage of his hospitality and his couch. In return, I try my best to lure him to stick just a toe into my way of eating.
I knew I wouldn't get him with the kale and sardine salad, but I thought I could whip up an easy, healthy dinner that he would eat and like. Roasted chicken, brown rice, corn, and broccoli emerged from his never-before-used kitchen, although the broccoli remained on his plate.
One Sunday evening I decided to pack myself up and head to Robbie's for the night, and told him that I would pick up pizza on the way. The plan was set and I placed my order on the Pizzeria Biga website. For our dinner I chose the Prosciutto di Parma white pizza and the Bacco Sausage pizza. I assured Robbie that there were no "weird ingredients" on either pizza. I'm not sure he was convinced.
I told him the prosciutto was ham, which, technically, it is. Just a very thinly-sliced, expensive, extraordinarily delicious ham. This pizza could have benefited from a little garlic rub and drizzle of olive oil, but the coupling of arugula and prosciutto leads me to forgive even the largest of sins.
Something on the Bacco Sausage was HOT. I like my spice, but this burned my lips off. I couldn't put my finger on where it was coming from- something in the sauce? The peppers themselves? In any case, it was too much for me.
My criticisms are nit-picks. Both pizzas were remarkable and Biga prides itself on using no preservatives or sugar in their crust, something I can support. If ever Robbie lets me choose again, I'll stick with Pizzeria Biga.