Last spring, when The Child was still in her meat-free, limited eating mode, we rediscovered cheese sticks. She tried one at a friend’s house, and discovered that she liked them. I was thrilled to add one more thing to the short list of things she would eat, especially one that could be easily tossed into a lunch bag. I bought some at the grocery store, they disappeared. I bought more at the grocery store, they disappeared.
I went to Costco and bought cheese sticks. Lots and lots of cheese sticks.
Then The Child got braces, and although cheese sticks wasn’t on the official list of Things She Can’t Eat With Braces, it didn’t take very long to discover that the little bits of soft cheese get stuck in the metal and aren’t very pleasant to eat with braces.
This happened less than a week after my trip to Costco.
And so they sat there, the cheese sticks, waiting for someone to make use of them. Occasionally a friend of The Child’s would come over and eat one, but more often than not, her friends have braces, too.
After eight months of mostly sitting there, the Reg Dog joined our household, and when we began training him, we discovered that little bits of cheese worked well for training treats. So, I sliced cheese sticks in half lengthwise, and then into half-inch lengths, and trained the Red Dog with them. The cheese sticks began to slowly disappear, at a pace somewhat slower than glacial.
The pace picked up briefly when the Feisty Girl lived with us. Her new owner seemed a bit perplexed when, the day he came to pick her up, I insisted that he take a large bag of chopped up cheese sticks to train her. He didn’t argue the point, though, in spite of the fact that he probably already had his own supply.
Still I had a refrigerator drawer half full of cheese sticks, and though other foods came and went from the refrigerator, the cheese sticks lingered on. It seemed that, being labeled “cheese”, they should go bad, which would have allowed me to throw them out, but they never did. And, try as I might, I never could find an expiration date on their hermetically sealed packaging.
We hit the one-year mark with the cheese sticks; I know this not because they finally went bad, but because the orthodontist told me. This is the time of year when most people are trying to figure out what to do with a excess of zucchini; my garden has produced exactly one zucchini this year, and I’m still staring down last year’s cheese. My zucchini plant is probably just trying to help out by not giving me any additional overabundance to deal with.
Finally, though, I hit on the solution. What can I make that uses lots of mozzarella?
I can use it all up in one night.
So, I finally had a nice Saturday to myself, with nothing to do but pick blackberries, make jam, and while the jam and jars were simmering, let pizza dough rise. I used a simple recipe from Bobby Flay and learned a trick from watching the video: put pizza dough into a bowl to rise, and cover it with plastic wrap. Use a marker to draw an outline of the dough on the plastic wrap. You will now be able to tell when the dough has doubled in size, since you can easily compare it to the original size in the outline.
I was entranced by this newfound knowledge, and from time to time, stood there, watching dough rise.
Eventually it was ready, and I heated the oven, and used some premade pizza sauce. For the first pizza I tried slicing the sticks thinly, lengthwise, figuring that as they melted, they’d form a nice cheesy layer.
I put the pizza in the oven, and was surprised when, after about ten minutes, there was the distinct odor of something burning. The cheese sticks not only had not melted, they were turning black on their sharp edges.
My mistake, I thought, so for the second pizza, I grated the cheese instead. This time, the cheese took less time to scorch in the oven, which was a bit of a problem as I needed the crust to finish cooking.
I cut the pizza and The Child and I ate some, warily. She took hers into another room to eat while she read a book, but a few minutes later called out, Mom, it tastes just like Lunchables pizza!
I stuck my head in and she repeated herself, making little air quotes around “pizza.”
Well, that’s what I get for using “cheese,” I guess.
There was some good news, though: The pizza dough, in spite of being very thick due to my inability to stretch it properly, was actually very good. The Child thought it was excellent, and sang about it: I like thick crust and I will not lie.
The sauce from a jar was pretty good, too. (Thank you Mario Batali, Inc.)
But most important, after just one year, we’re down to the last two “cheese” sticks.