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Lasciate ogni speranza voi che mangiate – Gluttony, Dante’s Pizzeria, Wrath, and Go-Karts

It must be admitted that if the Doc hadn’t already shared his post, I most likely would not be sharing mine today. I’m in the middle of my cheat day, and reading Dante’s canto about the gluttonous. But here we are. A few thoughts:

Dante doesn’t get to the Gluttonous until Canto IV which is the 3rd circle of hell. He describes it thus:

Io sono al terzo cerchio, della piova
etterna, maladetta, fredda e greve;
regola e qualità mai non l’è nova.
Grandine grossa, acqua tinta e neve
per l’aere tenebroso si riversa;
pute la terra che questo riceve.

Or, in ‘merican:

I am in the third circle, of eternal, accursed rain, cold and heavy, never changing its measure or its kind; huge hail, foul water and snow pour down through the gloomy air, and the ground that receives it stinks.

Sounds like a Chicago winter.

Anyway, the Gluttonous’s punishment is to wallow in this mudrainsleetsnow for eternity. They’re constantly just mired in it and miserable. And if that weren’t enough, enter Cerberus:

Cerbero, fiera crudele e diversa,
con tre gole canina-mente latra
sopra la gente che quivi è sommersa.
Li occhi ha vermigli, la barba unta e atra,
e ‘l ventre largo, e unghiate le mani;
graffia li spiriti, scuoia e disquatra.
Urlar li fa la pioggia come cani:
dell’un de’ lati fanno all’altro schermo;
volgonsi spesso i miseri profani.

Cerberus, a beast fierce and hideous, with three throats barks like a dog over the people that are immersed there; he has red eyes, a beard greasy and black, a great belly, and clawed hands, and he scars and flays and rends the spirits. The rain makes them howl like dogs, and the profane wretches often turn themselves, of one side making a shelter for the other.

YIKES!

I always thought of Cerberus as a dog, but Dante calls him a “vermo,” or “worm,” and says that he barks “like a dog.” Suffice it to say, he nasty.

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Virgil looks more concerned than Dante. It’s like he’s not taking the threat of a 3-headed beast-worm seriously.

So in addition to being mired in eternal gross weather, they have Cerberus mawing and flaying them to death.

Which, sitting here at the end of a cheat day, which included chocolate donuts, a package of mallow cream pumpkins, pizza, coke, root beer, M&Ms, and a happy (sic) meal, feels very appropriate. Maybe not the mawing and flaying, although the intestinal distress on runway 1 feels like it might eventually be accurate.

The pizza was in the middle of the day too:

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Take me now, Cerberus!

As the Doc mentioned, Dante’s Pizzeria in Logan Square is a pretty cool place. It’s like Kuma’s without the attitude. I was a little bummed that we got slices, because their pie options sound delicious. With slices it was basically cheese, pepperoni, sausage or “slice of the day.” I went with pepperoni and the doc went with the slice of the day which actually looked not half bad. As you can see, the slices are more NY style than Chicago, but they were delicious nonetheless. If this were just a normal, boring looking pizzeria I might not have been so jazzed about the food. But the place is really neat.

The decor is spot on. Whoever did the main mural has at least read a graphic novel version of the Inferno, if not the whole thing:

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In addition to Brutus, Judas, and Longinus, Satan has room for a slice of pepperoni.

And as mentioned before, this was in the middle of the cheat day, so the real pain hadn’t started yet.

This is a long winded way of saying that I think my greatest Dante sin is gluttony. I used to think my greatest Dante sin was Wrath. Remember that Dante’s inferno test? In college I consistently scored in the “wrath” level. But as the culinary monotony of each week crawls onward, I look more and more forward to my beloved cheat day. It wasn’t until I started depriving myself of the pizza and the chocolate and all the fun stuff that I realized just how addicted my body is to all of that. The wrath has largely subsided, and now all I want to do is eat pizza. All the time.

And that’s where go-karting comes in!

Go-karting has been essential in creating a sense of calm in me. I’ve been doing it seriously for about 3 years now, and I can’t stress enough how, even though it seems like an adrenaline pumping super sport (while you’re doing it. To the observer it looks like glorified bumper cars), it’s all about getting in the zone. I don’t meditate, and have a hard time clearing my head of all the unnecessary chatter. But when I’m in the zone with karting, everything goes blank in my head, and all I’m thinking about is the line., which is to say “the optimal path around a race course.”

When someone would overtake me, I used to get frustrated and angry, then I started realizing I could learn something from drivers who were better than I was. Now I almost don’t notice it when I’m overtaken. It’s just something that happens. Similarly, overtaking other drivers used to be my #1 goal, and it would frustrate me to no end when I couldn’t get past them. Now I give myself up to the line. My faith in the line is eternal. If I’m driving the right line, then I’ll overtake them. If I’m not, then I won’t. It’s that simple.

So karting for me has now become about that small percentage of things that you can learn every single time you’re on the track. Sometimes you need to unlearn the stupid thing you’ve hardwired into your brain. Sometimes you need to be reminded of something basic. Sometimes you need to eavesdrop on the guy who is constantly in first place to hear his tricks.

Which is exactly what I did last night at Sugar River Raceway in Brodhead Wisconsin. I’ve written before about Sugar River Raceway here and here. I’ve been back a couple times since those writings, and each time I’ve gotten better. Last summer I won my first bronze medal in the Turn Key Thursday night league races. Last night I won my second bronze medal.

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WE’RE NUMBER THREE! WE’RE NUMBER THREE!

I also learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes they tell you something in karting school that is a hard and fast rule, that you learn later on isn’t so hard and fast. So for example they tell you “never use the gas and the brake at the same time.” Well friends, I’m here to tell you that, in the right circumstances, using the gas and the brake at the same time can make all the difference in the end. Without getting too technically into it, the idea in karting (or any competitive driving) is that you need to brake into a turn, and accelerate out of a turn. Pretty much what they teach you back in drivers ed.

The problem with this especially in karting is that the motors are so tiny and really basically one step up from my silver bullet smoothie maker, so that if you brake too much, you are coming out of the corner with no serious acceleration. That is, if the motor’s RPMs are allowed to get too low, it’s gonna be an uphill climb trying to get that baby going again.

The last turn before the big straightaway at SRR is a hell of a chicane with some serious speed bumps, and a daunting tree that you could easily crash into. It’s a mess to navigate, and wicked hard to control. I used to just completely skid through it, say an atheist Hail Mary, and hope for the best. I tried everything, braking, coming off the gas, etc. I finally settled on coming off the gas slightly, but I was never able to get out of the turn very well, and the experienced racers always overtook me after the turn.

But eavesdropping on the guy who is constantly in first place, I learned his dirty secret that coming into that last turn before the straightaway, he just taps the brake while keeping the gas all the way down. This keeps the RPMs of the motor high while giving you much more control over how the kart handles in the turn.

It took a couple laps to figure this out, but once I did I was able to put enough distance between myself and the guy behind me that I smoothly sailed to that beautiful third place.

 

Dante’s Pizzeria, the Doc’s take: Satan and psychotherapy.

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“I’m a sucker for a good theme restaurant,” enthused the Maestro as I snapped a picture of the front signage of Dante’s Pizzeria in Logan Square.

And it must be said, as far as theme restaurants go, Dante’s pretty much had both me and the Maestro covered: I’m all in for themes regarding old-school heaven and hell; and he’s all in for ancient Italian poetry. Though I suppose it might also be noted that “hot fresh pizza” is pretty much the only real theme necessary to capture both my and his interest, in the end.

Dante’s is a ground-floor joint located on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. It specializes in New York-style slices, floppy and foldable, and very much feels like a neighborhood place. The color palate is red and dark wood, and they advertise their slices and alcohols of the day on a chalkboard behind the bar.

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As far as I’m concerned, however, what really adds to Dante’s gestalt is the wall decor. The place is full of nods to its poetic namesake, Dante’s Inferno. I’m not overly familiar with this particular work; though I did, coincidentally, stumble across an allusion to it last week while watching a BBC documentary titled “How the Devil Got His Horns”. The doc traces humankind’s conception of what Satan looks like and how he does his job in the cosmos, starting with his Biblical roots in Genesis and Job and winding through Dante’s Inferno and the extraordinary epic poem “Paradise Lost”.

As the Maestro and I discussed during this pizza outing– because what else are you going to talk about while having pizza in a hell-themed pizzeria?– I don’t think the story of the fall of Lucifer and his transformation into the Satan who torments us even today (yup, I actually believe that, by the by) is in the Bible. At least, I haven’t yet run across it in my year-long reading of the Old and New Testaments. It’s my impression that Satan’s celebrated appearance in Genesis is actually kind of ambiguous regarding whether the snake that tempts Eve actually is Lucifer-cum-Satan; and the next time I can remember encountering Satan in the Old Testament, he’s hanging out with God and the angels in the book of Job, kind of trolling God vis a vis Job’s faithfulness. But it’s my understanding that the classic story Lucifer’s fall and his subsequent reign as the Prince of Hell, even though it’s most completely and elegantly laid out in “Paradise Lost,” actually has its origins in Dante’s work that describes, circle by circle, torment by torment, the layout of Hell itself– and what kinds of villains are likely to inhabit each miserable level.

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Anyway, the walls of Dante’s Pizzeria are full of evocative images like the mural of a three-faced Satan, who, in addition to presiding over torments and tortures that the Maestro said were fairly accurate to the Dante poem, is also snarfing pizza.

There is also an image that looked, at first glance, like a Satanic or pagan mark, but which, upon closer inspection, actually seems to include both Semitic and Christian iconography (the Star of David and the Alpha and Omega symbols, respectively):

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Next to this you’ll notice a pizza board on display into which is etched a Pentagram, “666” (the “mark of the Beast” in the book of Revelation, which is often associated with Satan), and a serpent (an ostensible allusion to Satan’s role in the Garden of Eden snafu).

Chuck E. Cheese, this is not.

The pizza was pretty good. Both the Maestro and I were on a schedule, so instead of waiting for a specialty pie to be prepared, we ordered slices of pepperoni and tomato garlic basil, which were ready made. The pizza was basic, but basically good– oversized, typical floppy-but-crunchy-enough New York slices that you either have to fold or cut in order to eat. It didn’t blow my mind, but it was quite serviceable. It’s no frills, neighborhood pizza– and I mean that in a good way.

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Conversation revolved around, among other things, my ongoing measures to hold my patients accountable for their progress in therapy, while at the same time holding myself accountable for my role in their success. The Maestro seemed skeptical of my desire to somehow concoct a payment system whereby patient and therapist contract with each other for a set time period (six months, say) and place payment for that time period in escrow; with the therapist only getting paid in increments once the patient achieves certain steppingstone goals laid out in their treatment plan. I like the idea of it being a challenge for the therapist to “unlock” their wages by putting together the motivational puzzle posed by each patient. The Maestro seems to think this might encourage patients to sandbag their own progress to keep their money from disbursing. I have to admit, he kind of has a point. This concept needs more development.

I have no complaints about Dante’s. The memorable decor and local feel make it a place I’d definitely return to, possibly to sample some of their ancient poetry inspired specialty pies. I don’t think Dante’s pizza is as crave-worthy as Bebu last week, but it was a solid outing to discuss Satan and the economics of psychotherapy.

Also, if you haven’t, go read “Paradise Lost.” It’s really, really good.

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Pizzeria Bebu: The Maestro’s Take

The Doc has filled you in on the nitty gritty regarding Pizzeria Bebu. My pizza was very good. The Doc isn’t as much of a fan of the really burnt crust, but I am. I’ve had a lot of pizza lately (see below), and this was one of the more satisfying experiences. I try to always get pepperoni 1) because I’m not very adventurous 2) I want to have a control in this experiment that we call the pizza blog. This was pretty much the perfect pizza. In my general love/lust relationship with pizza, I keep forgetting that there is a vast difference between American and Italian pizza, and New York and Chicago, etc. etc. I love all of it. I am an equal opportunity pizza lover. Having said that, Bebu is more on the Italian side of things. Very thin crust, not a ton of thick cheese, and some basil leaves thrown on there for good measure.

I think the basil leaves are key. In addition to being a necessary ingredient in your classic Margherita/tricolore pizza (it’s the “green” part of the green [basil], white [mozzarella], and red [sauce] representation of the Italian flag), it adds just enough bitterness to offset the sweetness of the sauce, the saltiness of the crust, and the deliciousness of the mozzarella and pepperoni. I might want to lay off the pepperoni, since when I was reading the Doc’s version of the blog, the following advertisement greeted me at the end:

pizza blog

what are you trying to tell us, pizza blog?

 

So yes, run, or clutch your chest and stagger, over to Pizzeria Bebu. For now they’re relatively unknown and the lunch crowd was practically non-existent. But if word gets out, it’s gonna be impossible to find a seat there soon.

But I’m not here to talk about pizza. I’m here to talk about go-karting (and I will in the next entry), AND I am here to tell you that I am a convert to the concept of Intermittent Fasting. Let me explain.

I’ve been going to Italy every summer for the past three years. Every time I’m in the motherland I eat way more than I should. Granted, the food that I’m eating is probably of a higher quality than the average food I’m going to get in the States, but I am putting a lot of carbs into my body.

Last summer when I came back I was TWENTY POUNDS heavier than my target weight. That isn’t to say I gained twenty pounds in 10 days in Italy. I was probably already ten pounds over it when I got there, and then ate my way to twenty pounds. When I came back I could not fit into most of my pants. So I went on a radical version of a low carb diet for 30 days. No sugar (not even fruit!), no grains, no dairy, no pasta, no pizza, no anything. Pretty much the same thing every day for 30 days:

Breakfast: 3 eggs, with a little salt.

Lunch: Chicken with lettuce, spinach, and if I were feeling really naughty, cherry tomatoes.

Dinner: Salmon with either string beans or broccoli.

Snack: unsalted almonds.

This was for THIRTY DAYS. I broke it once to have dinner with my dad and great uncle (I took a bite of tiramisu and almost completely fell off the wagon), but other than that kept to it like a madman. At the end of thirty days I had shed all the excess weight, and fit into my clothes quite nicely.

For the past year I’ve (more or less) kept a version of this diet (adding fruit and dairy) for 6 days a week. On the 7th I eat like a pig. I’ve gone a little up and a little down and had more than my fair share of distress, but the weight has more or less stayed on.

About 2 weeks before I left for Italy this summer, the Doc introduced me to the concept of Intermittent Fasting. The short version of it is you only eat from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Period. After that you can drink water. That’s it. Maybe black tea? I don’t know. The point is you get hungry after 5:00 p.m.? Too bad. You have to wait til morning. You wake up at 7:00 a.m. starving? too bad, you gotta wait until 9:00 a.m. At first glance this seems like a nightmare, but once you make the decision, and see results, it becomes easier and easier to not eat after 5. This weekend I was at a dinner and managed to shove everything in under 5:00. Then came the desserts. I’m talking cookies, cake, brownies, everything I love. I looked at my watch, noticed it was after 5:00, and something in my brain switched and it was as if the food ceased to exist. As the Doc said “it’s easier because the decision is made for you.”

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. I did this Intermittent Fasting (or as the kids call it, “IF”), for about 2 weeks before going to Italy, in conjunction with my normal 6 days normal 7th day pig “diet.”

But when I got to Italy, the “diet” part of my equation went out a window, into a piazza, down a narrow calle, and into the grand canal. I WAS IN ITALY.

I ate everything. Pizza. almost every day. Pasta. many times. Gelato, at LEAST once a day. Pastries, croissants, desserts, etc. EVERY. DAMN. DAY.

BUT, and this is the important part, I kept it from 9:00 – 5:00 (Italian time). Now granted I was also walking (and sometimes biking) several miles a day. Way more than when I’m at home. But I was also spending a lot of time doing U’ cazz; reading, sleeping, watching terrible Italian sex comedies on Netflix (turns out Netflix in Italy has a WHOLE DIFFERENT SELECTION OF TERRIBLE MOVIES! who knew?). My pants sometimes felt tighter, sometimes looser. I had no idea what was going on.

Needless to say, I was terrified that I had undone everything from the past year. But when I got home after two weeks, and weighed myself I was within ONE POUND of my target weight.

ONE POUND!!!!!!

Now I’m back on the IF train, and also on my insane “diet.” I’m actually under the target weight. However I made the mistake of reading one of those “5 things that people who live longer do” articles. One of them was something like “Keep within a healthy BMI” or something. And, of course, according to BMI I am overweight.

Well, crap.

Pizzeria Bebu, the Doc’s take: The Maestro and the Doc resume their gustatory conquests.

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Hello, pizza enthusiasts and fans of the Maestro and the Doc.

And here, you thought that we might have moved on. You might have thought that I was too consumed by my reasonably popular psychology blog or the inspirational-within-reason Dr. Glenn Doyle Facebook page to rhapsodize about pizza. You might have figured that all I write about on Facebook anymore are daily updates on my day-by-day trudge through the Old and New Testaments and/or my year-long quest to attend 52 different Catholic churches in the Chicago area for Mass in 2018. You might have thought that the Maestro is too busy writing about the life and times of Rossini or getting cookies with fellow conductors in karts to write about pizza.

My friends, my friends– lend me your ears. For I assure you: the Maestro and I will always have, nay, FIND time to write about pizza. For our respective passion for pizza cannot be dimmed. It cannot be extinguished. And it can never, ever be sated.

Worry not, dear ones. We shall always return to you with tales of crust and sauce and cheese.

Pizzeria Bebu, in Lincoln Park, was a nice return to our mutual passion.

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It’s located just off of North Avenue, sandwiched between the Old Town district and Goose Island. The aesthetic is kind of Chipotle-esque; somewhat minimalist, kind of industrial, lots of clean lines and metal and blonde wood. Not a lot of padding on the seats, which I only mention because (HUMBLEBRAG ALERT) I’ve lost a hair over sixty pounds in the last year, and my ass isn’t as padded as it once was.

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Humblebragging is more gratifying with visual aids.

 

For maybe the first time in recent (or distant) memory, I beat the Maestro there, and killed time reading a book about energy psychology on my Kindle until he showed up.

(I don’t know what I think about energy psychology. I believe in things a lot flakier than energy fields– notably, God and prayer– but I’m also realistic enough to know that it’s poor form to insert my flaky beliefs into an ostensibly research-derived discipline for which I’m charging patients money. That is to say, I need to learn more about energy psychology before I start tapping meridian points on people and expecting revolutionary results.)

Once the Maestro arrived and we got to talking– largely about our respective battles with iliotibial band syndrome, which basically ended his love affair with running years ago and is presently threatening to make my next marathon in November suck more than the giant maid spaceship in “Spaceballs”– I proceeded to make the afternoon more exciting than it would otherwise be by gesticulating wildly and knocking over my water.

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“Suck…SUCK…SUCK!!!”

 

The pies at Bebu are all one-size-fits-all 14” jobs with relatively thin, but still doughy, crust. I’d say the menu at Bebu is probably one of the more interesting and imaginative ones we’ve encountered in recent memory. Lots of specialty pizzas, from meatball to jalapeno popper to a “market” pizza made with fresh selections from local markets, to classics such as margherita and prosciutto. In surveying the menu, it struck me how many novel ingredients were advertised on the specialty pies, items as diverse as broccoli rabe to calabrian honey to “little neck clams.”

Even though Bebu does have a vegan pizza, on which they’ll put any three or more fresh vegetables of your choice, I chose to go with “tallegio,” because hell, you only live once, am I right? The listed ingredients were panna (cream), pistachio (as in nuts), calabrian honey, and chives.

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I give you: the Tallegio.

When my pizza arrived, the served advised us to give it a moment to settle, ostensibly for the honey to kind of “gel” with the rest of the ingredients. Even though I realized belatedly that I had yet again ordered a goddamn white pizza (as covered in a previous entry in this blog, one of the things I most look forward to in pizza is tomato sauce), this thing smelled incredible– an exotic mix of spicy and sweet.

The Maestro ordered his staple, pepperoni. When it emerged from the kitchen, he was mildly irritated to see that it included several leaves of what looked to be fresh green spinach on top of a goddamn entire pigs-worth of crisp pepperoni. His loathing of vegetables notwithstanding, I thought the pie looked pretty great, my loathing of meat notwithstanding.

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There is definitely a crunch when you bite into a slice of Bebu pizza, and they definitely do their crust a little on the charred side. The Maestro loves this, hence his love of wood-fired pizza. I prefer my crust juuuust a tad less charred than he does in general, and specifically on this pizza, because otherwise the flavors of the tallegio were really interesting and bright and delicious. The only thing that even slightly detracted from the experience was the intrusion of the charred crust flavor, simply because once you taste that burnt flavor, it’s hard to really taste anything else.

That said: this pizza was delicious.

The crust gets a little chewy at the end of the slice, and I ended up doing something that I HATE when other people do: only eating the slice up to the end of the crust. I typically like eating all of the crust, but in this case, it just turned into a matter of, how much chewy, doughy, kinda singed crust are you going to chomp your way through just to say you finished the slice?

The floor to ceiling windows allowed in lots of early afternoon light, the wait staff was friendly and super accommodating when my clumsy ass knocked over the water, and the wait time was entirely reasonable. The menu was creative and wide ranging, and even though there weren’t many meat-free options, I assume that my fellow veg-heads could probably request meat-free versions of most of the specialty pies and be accomodated.

Parking’s a bit of a pain, but whatcha gonna do, it’s Lincoln Park.

The only other thing really worth noting about Pizzeria Bebu is I didn’t finish the meal feeling gross. I had about half the pizza at lunch, then the other half for dinner; and neither half left me feeling like a slug or overstuffed. For as much as I truly love Chicago-style deep dish pizza, this is NOT something I can say when I indulge that particular taste. Bebu’s thin-but-chewy-but-kinda-charred crust is just about right when it comes to satisfying, but not over-satisfying.

That’s about all there is to say about Pizzeria Bebu. Now that I’ve gotten the Maestro on board with intermittent fasting and we’re both getting less neurotic about periodically indulging in our gustatory vices, watch this space for ongoing deep dives into the world of pizza– both from Chicago, and from our myriad travel destinations.

The Doc comes clean; Pizzeria Aroma

The Doc here.

I don’t mind admitting it: I struggle with the food thing.

Mind you, I’m pretty active. Ridiculously active, actually, compared to many in my peer group. I run a minimum of twenty miles a week, and often up to 25 or 30. On my non-running days, I’m in the gym, without fail, usually working on my cardio, but periodically making sad attempts to develop an effective strength training routine. Literally the only days I’ve missed workouts since January 1, 2006, have been days when I’ve been hospitalized, such as my recent five-day incarceration for the pulmonary embolisms. The day after I was discharged, however? I was back at the gym. Hell, I was back on the elliptical the day after I ran my first marathon. I don’t miss gym days, and every day is a gym day of some sort.

The eating thing, though…woof. That’s a problem that I have yet to definitively solve.

The problem is pretty straightforward, in at least some of its facets. It boils down to, I have a particularly hard time saying “no” to experiences that entail pleasure, especially immediate and emphatic pleasure. I also have a hard time saying “yes” to experiences that aren’t immediately gratifying or interesting, such as meal planning, grocery shopping, and putting foods in my mouth that don’t spike the levels of dopamine and serotonin in my brain in short order.

Mind you, I’m not using my brain chemistry as an excuse. It’s true that my brain pretty transparently is dysregulated in its ability to produce and circulate dopamine, the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that is responsible for motivation and drive toward gratifying experiences. I have a pretty clear cut diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which pretty much boils down to impaired ability to plan, self-discipline, and otherwise put attention where it needs to go, when it needs to go there, and these symptoms are directly traceable to my brain’s chaotic relationship with dopamine. The reason why stimulants are so often prescribed for ADHD, in fact, is because they solve the problem of dopamine dysregulation by, basically, flooding the brain with dopamine.

Which is great, I will attest, for the times when your brain isn’t producing and circulating enough dopamine. Though chronically flooding the brain with dopamine via artificial means also has a tendency to destroy the normal function of dopamine in the brain, i.e., to help us identify and move toward experiences that are pleasurable, gratifying, and otherwise enhance our ability to live and survive. You know, like eating.

More to the point, eating things that are high in sugar and carbohydrate, because the are the foods that our evolutionary ancestors most needed in order to survive. That is, foods that immediately spike our focus and energy levels (because they spike our blood sugar), thus alerting us to predators and other threats in our environment, and also pack on the pounds, thus helping our cave-person ancestors make it through winters in which resources were scarce.

Anyway.

So, I happen to have neurochemistry that works against me in our modern world, where high sugar, high carbohydrate food is readily available, where packing on the pounds is actually a long-term disadvantage to our ability to survive and thrive, and cultivating wildly variable blood sugar levels doesn’t contribute to our ability to focus and thrive. It’s a family trait. My dad struggled with addictive tendencies his entire life. My mom has one of the most profound cases of undiagnosed, untreated ADHD I have literally ever seen in my life. I always kinda chuckle when people go down the “ADHD doesn’t exist” route with me– evidence for the dysregulation of dopamine in peoples’ brains is far more robust and consistent than the evidence for, say, complex trauma disorders that are conceptually removed from Cluster B personality disorders.

Which doesn’t mean I’m doomed to always overeat, or to always choose foods that actively work against my effective functioning in the world. The fact is, no matter how our neurochemistry inclines or affects us, it can’t make decisions for us. Our brain chemicals, much like our past experiences, can whisper in our ears, try to nudge us toward one behavior or away from another, but our behavioral decisions are still our own. We don’t have to do what our feelings are telling, or sometimes begging us, to do. As I recently covered on my personal development blog, UseYourDamnSkills.com, our feelings are only one source of information, for us to use as we see fit.

However…defying what our neurochemistry is inclining us to do is a bitch. It’s a real, real bitch.

I defied my neurochemistry for a relatively long time, from a period from early 2006 to, eh, call it about 2010 or 2011. During that period of time, I made some hard decisions about my eating and exercise behaviors, and went from a fairly sedentary grad student to an every-day exercising, mindful-eating, processed-sugar-and-carb eschewing health nut. It was a switch that was, in some ways, kind of Draconian, but the bottom line is that in the long run, I dropped over 70 pounds, and kept it off, all the while acquiring the taste for running which has subsequently blossomed into my main hobby and interest outside of psychology, Star Wars, and DC comics.

Then…I got…I don’t know. Lazy? That feels…kind of unfair to say. It wasn’t exactly laziness that led to me slowly starting to make exceptions to my Spartan eating approach sometime in 2010. Did I get, maybe, cocky? Yeah, that sounds a little more accurate. I got it in my head that, hell, so much of my diet was so healthy, and there was the no-exception, no-excuses daily exercise I had going for me, what harm could, like, one cheat meal on a Friday night do? And hell, once you’ve crossed that line, it’s a short little jump to “Well, lots of reasonable diets recommend taking one cheat day a week, so I shall take one cheat day a week.” Which, then, of course, opens you up to, “Okay, what, you’re telling me one piece of cake/pack of Skittles/slice of pizza is going to derail my entire self-care regimen? Don’t be a black and white thinker, Doc!”

And before you know it…your pants are suddenly tight. Which, granted, isn’t the end-all, be-all criteria of physical fitness or self-care; but it’s also not an incidental development, insofar as the thickening of abdominal fat in men approaching middle age has been shown to have fairly strong correlations with things like heart disease, diabetes, and, well, I’m just gonna take a shot in the dark here, because I don’t know for sure, but I’ll betcha…pulmonary embolisms.

It’s not really that I fantasize about being a particular body shape, or having a particular body appearance. I think I’m both about as secure and insecure about my physical appearance as anybody of my age, gender, and background probably is. It’s more about the feeling of fucking uncontrollability that comes along with losing my edge with the eating thing. More to the point, it doesn’t feel like I’ve made a rational, mindful, coherent and consistent choice to loosen the reins with my eating. I feel like the decisions I’ve made that have contributed to the re-thickening of my abdominal “spare tire” have been impulsive, emotionally-driven…a microcosm of the worst way my dopamine-dysregulated brain makes decisions, in other words.

So. There’s all that.

Now. I told you all of that to tell you this:

I ordered a S’mores Pizza from Pizzeria Aroma on Berwyn in Chicago last night, and it was fucking outstanding. If that thing doesn’t INDUCE Type II diabetes, your pancreas is doing it wrong. Dopamine and serotonin FLOODING the old bean in response to the dessert pizza. The only thing, in the realm of dessert pizza, that I’ve had that rivals this is the apple cinnamon pizza that Pizza Hut used to have on its pizza buffet (at least at one location in DC that I used to frequent before the Great Lifestyle Change of 2006).

The BBQ pizza I ordered along with the s’mores pizza arrived in…unfortunate condition. Cheese having slid halfway down the pie, too much BBQ sauce making the thing messy to eat with your hands, the whole thing just too damn hot. Tasty enough, and I realize sometimes these things just happen in the course of pizza delivery, but still.

“Should” I have ordered those pizzas last night? Well, I tell my patients, when they’re beating themselves up with “should” statements (or, in the words of the late, great Albert Ellis, “shoulding all over themselves”), ask yourself the simple rebuttal question, “Why?” Why shouldn’t I have done this thing? That question will clarify whether the “should” statement to which you’re currently genuflecting is something that’s nudging you in the direction of your goals, or just trying to make you feel bad. In this case, when I ask the “why” query of my own “should” statement, I’m forced to concede that, no, ordering those pizzas last night aren’t in line with my goals– either my goals for my physical health, my goals for being a decision maker, my goals for scheduling and managing my pizza intake so that it doesn’t become a habit too problematic to continue at all.

No, I shouldn’t have gotten those pizzas, I suppose.

But the s’mores pizza from Pizzeria Amore is pretty goddamn tasty.

 

It’s Not Delivery, It’s…Oddly Disheartening Pizza.

The Doc here, kids. And tonight I’m mulling over a question that has vexed me for literally decades: why is frozen pizza so…depressing?

Tonight I had a Home Run Inn frozen pizza. I’d say I go for frozen pizza, eh, at least once a week. It’s usually pretty cheap; it’s straightforward to prepare; and, by its very nature, it doesn’t invite disproportionate expectations. Frozen pizza is emphatically what it is, no more, no less. No matter how much money DeGiorno’s pumps into advertising campaigns designed to make us think their product is indistinguishable from delivery pizza, I think we can all agree that failure to make such a distinction does not point toward some kind of amazing frozen pizza. It points to potential brain damage on the part of the evaluator.

That said, even with the diminished expectations that accompany frozen pizza, there is still often something oddly…depressing about it. And I can’t put my finger on exactly why.

Maybe it’s the way it just kinda lies there, limp, lifeless, comatose, before, during, and after the cooking process. I mean, at least with delivery pizza, there’s a pseudo-dramatic moment wherein you open up the box, and TA-DAH!, there’s your pizza, hot fresh, delicious. There’s no TA-DAH! moment with frozen pizza; you’re seeing it from the moment you slice it out of its plastic body bag, to the oven rack, to the removal from the oven and the slicing into pieces. (Side note: I own a pizza slicer, and literally every time I’ve tried to use it to slice a frozen pizza into pieces, it’s tuned into a fiasco of cheese adhered to the slicer tugging on other cheese seemingly from the other side of the goddamn pizza, until chaos and tomato sauce reign supreme, and not in a good way. I’ve had far better results using a pair of plain ol’ scissors to carve slices out of freshly heated up frozen pizza). Maybe I’m just grousing about the fact that frozen pizza, as far as pizzas go, contains fewer surprises and less drama than I need in order to keep my pizza experience interesting.

I suppose there’s also the fact that, by giving me the reigns of my pizza experience (i.e., by putting me in control of how long the pizza goes in, what oven rack it rests upon, how many slices and even of what shape to make those slices after cooking, etc.), frozen pizza introduces an element of Personal Responsibility into the pizza experience that somehow turns me off. I’m a psychologist and a Libertarian; I spend all day helping people find and nurture their instincts toward Personal Responsibility. But with pizza, what I want to do is surrender control, and let the experience wash over me– I don’t want to carefully monitor the thing to make sure the cheese achieves the optimal shade of golden brown. In all seriousness, I suppose it activates a different set of neural networks in my brain that, well, I want to be nowhere near when I’m about to enjoy some pizza. It’s not that it’s too much work, understand– it’s too much responsibility. Maybe responsibility’s a drag, and maybe that’s what’s blowing my trip.

But I don’t think so.

I suppose there are connotations to having frozen pizza vs. delivery pizza. As in, it’s easier to conceptualize delivery pizza as a social experience– we’re often ordering delivery pizza to have with our friends, to accompany something fun we’re about to watch, or even as a reward (my girlfriend fondly remembers BOOK IT, which I wrote about in one of the very first entries in this blog). Frozen pizza, on the other hand, more easily conjures images of a lonely man, baking his lonely pizza, in preparation for a lonely eating experience. Is that it? Does frozen pizza taste like loneliness?

Maybe.

But if so, then why do pizza rolls taste goddamn delicious, EVERY SINGLE TIME? Hell, I don’t think you can even GET pizza rolls delivered, and they’re infinitely easier to prepare than frozen pizza proper. If there’s Sad Lonely Person food, by all rights, pizza rolls should accompany frozen pizza on about the same point in the spectrum. But they don’t.

Meh.

I do acknowledge exactly one exception to the Frozen Pizza Bummer Rule: Totino’s makes this kickass, single-serving pizza, with this kind of crisscross, flaky crust. It seems to me that the name of the product has something to do with “party,” but that’s kind of nonsensical, insofar as this is definitely a one person product. Nobody’s having a party, except with one’s self, with this pizza. But this pizza blows my mind. As an undergraduate, I’d go entire weeks (and I mean that, entire stretches of at least seven days) primarily subsisting on Totino’s pizza. I stopped eating it around 2006, when I made some major changes to my lifestyle which included, for the moment, giving up pizza altogether; and it has literally just now occurred to me that, in the time since I’ve gone back to my sinful carb-o-holic ways, I’ve not remembered to go back and try out Totino’s again. Man, now I have something exciting on my to-do list as I recover from those blood clots.

Anyway. Readers of the Maestro and the Doc’s Chicago Pizza Project, I turn this question over to you: frozen pizza, yea or nay? Any favorites? Any cautionary tales? Does frozen pizza taste like loneliness to you, as it does the Doc? What about pizza rolls? And why the hell can’t I make my pizza slicer work?

Yep. These are the things I think about when the Maestro’s out of town. Let us publish!

Kickin’ back at the Maestro’s place with Chicago’s Pizza.

The Doc here.

So, the Maestro is in Delaware, as he usually is this time of year, conducting an opera that I cannot pronounce, which I usually cannot at this time of year. And last night, because I am a Good Best Friend, I dropped by his Chicago condo in order to water the plants and make sure that things were otherwise as he’d left them, i.e., no one had touched the massive collection of CD’s and VHS tapes that he keeps in his living room.

While I was over at his place performing these important tasks, I also ordered a pizza. Chicago’s Pizza is a local chain that is fairly popular, and known primarily for its deep dish. I’d normally have gotten the deep dish, insofar as I’ll generally take any opportunity I have to order a deep dish pizza, but last night I felt like playing against type. I got a thin crust pizza with mushrooms and goat cheese, as well as some fried veggie appetizers.

The pizza was…okay. Goat cheese is always something that makes pizza, or pretty much food in general, taste better. And mushrooms, my default topping on most pizzas, are only ever bad if they cross over into “kinda slimy” territory, which these mushrooms did not.

The crust, however…I don’t know what to tell you about this crust.

I’d ordered thin crust. What I’m looking for in my thin crust pizza is usually kind of a cracker-like consistency. If I’m ordering thin crust pizza, I want it to crunch. I want each bite to be a self-contained, easily chompable bite of crunchy goodness. Chicago’s “thin crust” pizza was…well, I mean, it certainly wasn’t, like, thick crust. Like, it wasn’t pan pizza, by any means. But it was…kinda tough. Chewy, Doughy.

It wasn’t terrible. I mean, I have no complaints about what this pizza was. But, if I’m being honest, I have some qualms about what this pizza was not– notably, the toppings-on-a-cracker thing I prefer in my thin crust pizzas.

The fried veggies were okay, pretty standard. Though I did order this broccoli-and-cheddar bites thing that was surprisingly awesome. Imagine a fried nugget of broccoli and molten cheddar cheese, and the cheese kind of exploding in melty goodness when you bite into it. I’d not have thought of this as an appetizer, and I’d ordered it because the description on the GrubHub menu had intrigued me. I was not disappointed.

This is what you get when the Doc is your best friend: he will, in the course of checking on your condo when you’re out of town, kick back and eat pizza while watching the new Louis CK stand up special. And you will thank him for the privilege, because, c’mon– he’s the Doc.