For our first two years of marriage, pizza was a last resort–an act of mild desperation when one of us had had a terrible day, and the last thing we wanted to do was prep and cook dinner. $8 with a coupon and 20 minutes later, we’d camp out on the living room floor (I’m not sure if we’ve ever eaten pizza at our table) while an episode of whatever TV show we were in the middle of played. Every time, it instantly faded the stress or overwhelm of the day’s events away. I’m not sure if it was the indulgence of melty cheese and salty pepperoni, the lack of dishes, or the time spent relaxing, but pizza night never failed us.
Except then, as we became parents and I dove into freelance work and Dave added CPA studying to his schedule, we slowly found ourselves wanting to resort to pizza night more often. More often than we felt we should, both for the sake of our budget and our calorie intake.
I read Jenny Rosentrach’s How to Celebrate Everything as a brand new mom, just a few pages or chapters at a time as I nursed my newborn baby. It inspired me deeply when it came to dreaming up rituals and traditions for this new baby to grow up with. I didn’t think, at the time, about how much my marriage needed rituals of its very own as well.
One completely ordinary day, we decided to put homemade pizza onto our weekly meal plan. My parents recommended Trader Joe’s pizza dough, and we had a can of locally made gourmet sauce in our pantry. Armed with those ingredients, plus a bag of grated mozzarella and some pepperoni, our never-used pizza pan, and a few snacks to hold us over until Charlie went to bed, we had our very first homemade pizza night (if you don’t count the disastrous cauliflower pizza crust incident of 2015, which I certainly don’t). And it was wonderful. We cut our slices into strips, the way they do at Dave’s favorite pizza place in his hometown–mainly because our dough wasn’t quite circular. We settled onto the floor and hit “play” on a movie we’d been wanting to see. We were hardly a scene into the movie before we made a sweeping declaration: every Friday was going to be pizza night.
“Friday pizza night” is something we had always talked about doing in our family someday. I spent a weekend with a dear college friend’s family once, and happened to be there for their weekly pizza night. They switched off between homemade and delivery each week, and watched a movie that was appropriate for the youngest child in the family. Their children ranged from elementary school to college-aged, and what struck me most was this: you didn’t have to attend family pizza night, but you always knew you had a place there. A place where you were wanted, appreciated, and loved, and where you could count on a full stomach and a fuller heart.
Someday, I hope that’s what our pizza nights will look like–kitchen counters dusted with flour and drips of sauce, and kids being at least somewhat careful as they balance their plates on their laps, sitting cross-legged on the living room floor. But for now, this ritual is just for Dave and me. It’s the one day of the week when we wait to eat till after we put Charlie to bed, creating a weekly mini date night. I roll out the dough, Dave adds olive oil and sauce, I sprinkle on the cheese, and he adds the pepperoni. He sets the timers–one at 12 minutes, so he knows when to lift the dough from the pan, then six more minutes to get it extra crispy. I set out the crushed red pepper and oregano, queue up a movie, and put our coasters on the floor. We still slice the pizzas into strips, even though I’ve gotten much better at rolling out the dough, because now, it’s just part of the tradition. The whole evening is practically choreographed, and has grown so comforting in its familiarity.
We realized the other day that since we instituted weekly pizza nights, we haven’t ordered pizza to turn a bad day around like we used to…not once. Coincidence? Maybe. But then again, maybe not.
Happy Valentine’s Day, friends. No matter what your version of “pizza night” is in your relationships, I hope it never fails to bring you and the one you love closer together.