Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary



Lunch Lady Husky Tuscan Rustic Pizza

~The Lunch Lady Cookbook Presents ~

Lunch Lady Husky Tuscan Rustic Pizza


Hey there fellow gustatory travelers, gastronomic wanderers, and seekers on the epicurean path! This is the Lunch Laddy, Michael Gillan Maxwell coming to you across space and time with a spontaneous and unplanned outburst that has morphed into a new installment of The Lunch Lady Cookbook. Today we venture down the path of one of the most sacred and venerable of all comfort foods ~ the time honored classic with humble beginnings ~ PIZZA.  Ah yes pizza ~ and I’m here to tell you, that unlike some of the other recipes in The Lunch Lady Cookbook, this IS a staple served in Middle School cafeterias by Lunch Ladies the world over.

Lunch Lady Action Figure

Some of the most delicious pizza ever is an elemental combination of the most basic staples ~ dough topped with simple everyday foods such as tomato sauce, vegetables, cheese, and meat. The ‘traditional” pizza is about as simple as it gets ~ flattened dough topped with olive oil, fresh sliced plum tomatoes, chopped garlic, fresh shredded basil and baked in a wood fired brick oven. However, this simple dish can also be rendered as a gourmet delight with endless variations. Certainly entire books have been written on the subject. However this is not the realm of Lunch Lady Husky Tuscan Rustic Pizza.

Go ahead ~ sing it with me peeples ~ in fact ~ try saying it 10 times real fast and see what kind of trouble you get into ~ Husky Tuscan Rustic Pizza. It’s a tongue twister and a mouthful to say, and it’s also a mouthful to eat. You can make everything from scratch. It’s really not that difficult. Dedicated true believers will settle for nothing less. In fact I have a friend who went so far as to construct a wood fired brick oven for bread and pizza in his own backyard. However, even though the Lunch Laddy has a reputation for going to extremes, he took the path of least resistance on this one and this particular recipe uses commercially prepared fixin’s and leftovers from the Lunch Laddy larder. In fact it could  just as easily have  become  Lunch Lady Slum Gullion Stew, but I’m glad it didn’t. By the way, “why Husky Tuscan,” you may ask? “Is the Tuscan husky or is the Tuscan rustic or why Tuscan at all Lunch Laddy? Just friggin’ tell me!” I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I am in love with the very IDEA of Tuscany, although I’ve never actually been to Tuscany. I’ve been to Tucson, which is no where near Tuscany, but it’s almost spelled like Tuscan. “Tucson ~ like Tuscany, only different.”

Gnaw Bone City Limits

Sorry. I tried to find a sign that said “Tucson City Limits”, but this is the best that I could do. But I digress, so ~ getting to the point, I present:

Lunch Lady Husky Tuscan Rustic Pizza

This is the stuff I used:

(While this version is admittedly a carnivore’s delight, it’s easily adaptable to vegetarian or vegan cuisine. There’s undoubtedly gluten-free dough as well. If you’re lactose intolerant, well, I’m not even gonna go there. Just don’t use this recipe.)

1 Package pizza dough (already mixed from my local supermarket)

1 Jar Joey’s Famous Italian Pasta Sauce ~ Fra Diavalo (Hot&Spicy) Made in Syracuse

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Spices ~ basil, garlic powder, black pepper, red pepper flakes

Ground beef (Left over taco meat, but it worked)

1 Spinach and feta chicken sausage

Roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, chopped sweet onion (also from taco night)

8 0z package Italian Cheeses ~ mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, asiago, fontina & romano

  1. Lightly flour some surface ~ I used a butcher block, but a counter top will suffice.
  2. Bend, spindle, mutilate, roll, push, prod, poke, pinch, coax & coddle dough into whatever the hell shape it wants to take. (This is the “rustic” part) I somehow ended up with a shape that looked like the state of Minnesota. I kind of felt like Richard Dreyfuss with his mashed potato mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “This means something!” 
  3. Coat lightly with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (Extra virgin olive oil in a 450 degree oven is about as close as you can get to sacrificing a virgin in a volcano without actually doing it.)
  4. Season the state of Minnesota (dough) accordingly with spices.
  5. Spread sauce evenly over crust. Don’t go right up to the edge because it gets legs, runs all over the place and makes a helluva mess. Nobody needs that.
  6. Top with the aforementioned meats and vegetables sliced and diced to your own discerning specifications.
  7. Spread 6 Italian cheeses.
  8. Pop in oven pre heated to 450 degrees. (Unless you’re at my friend’s house, in which case you open the door to a roaring fire, singe your eyebrows and set your hair on fire, & use a 6 foot paddle to place pizza on hot bricks dusted with cornmeal.)
  9. Bake for about 15 minutes (much less if you’re using my friend’s wood fired oven)
  10. Let rest and cool for at least 5 minutes. (unless, of course, the roof of your mouth is made of asbestos and impervious to the boiling hot cheese sticking to it)
Implements of Destruction



One of my favorite blues albums of all times ~ Showdown ~ Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland  An absolute classic. Albert Collins’s telecaster is an icepick in the temple (in a good way) Robert Cray’s voice and strat ~ smooth as silk and Johnny Copeland is a funky, soulful, visceral presence throughout. Their cover of T-Bone Shuffle will blow you away and you’ll never be able to fall in love with another cover of that song again.

BEVERAGE PAIRING: Il Sogno Sangiovese

Totally Tuscan

OK ~ so this is where things finally get totally Tuscan and you know we’re not in Tucson anymore Toto!  One sip (or, in my case, one massive gulp) will have you saying: “Hmmm ~ Tastes like more!”  That’s AMORE!

Husky Tuscan Rustic Pizza

Concert Review ~ Greg Brown

Greg Brown at The Hangar Theater

Greg Brown at The Hangar Theater ~ Ithaca, N.Y. March 16, 2012

Dan Smalls Presents presented Greg Brown played at Ithaca’s Hangar Theater on Friday March 16. Hats off to Dan Smalls for bringing someone like Greg Brown to a venue like The Hangar.  It was the perfect venue for this concert; small, intimate, with great acoustics, and not a bad seat in the house. It’s the kind of venue that allowed Greg Brown to establish a personal rapport with an appreciative audience. Perfect fit – Slam Dunk – Total Home Run!

Greg Brown has been an icon on the singer-songwriter scene for a long, long time. He’s from Iowa, born there, grew up there, and even with the peripatetic life style of a troubadour, he still calls it home. My curiosity was piqued by this because I grew up in the midwest and spent a couple of formative years of my childhood in Iowa. I’d heard some of his music, the odd track here and there on various anthologies, and he was a regular on A Prairie Home Companion, but it wasn’t until his epic 2000 release, Convenant, that I got totally hooked. This is one of those rare collections on which every song is a perfect, sparkling jewel. I’ve almost worn out the grooves on this CD from playing it so much. Oh wait, CDs don’t have grooves, but you get the picture. After 12 years and a lot of other music, this still remains one of my favorite collections of anyone’s music. I’ve been waiting to see Greg Brown ever since Covenant came out, and his performance at The Hangar exceeded all my expectations. Part of the beauty was that nearly every song he played was new to me. His planned playlist did not stop him from spontaneously going down unexpected roads. He also played songs “that he wasn’t sure he could remember” and “that just popped into my head.” His cover of Merle Haggard’s Where Did America Go was so poignant, heartfelt and timely that it almost brought me to tears. I so admire that kind of authenticity, and I am honored that he felt comfortable enough with us to take those risks.

Greg Brown is tough to hang a label on. Is he a folk singer – a singer of Americana – a blues musician – a humorist – a story teller ? He is all of these and more. Although, one thing I know for sure, he’s not an opera singer. But I like that about him. His voice is deep, rich and sonorous; often dipping so low down into the bass range that it almost feels like he’s slipping off the edge of the planet, or at least off the edge of his chair, and taking you with him. His vocal style is so relaxed, loose and casual that it feels like he’s not even really trying to sing, almost approaching the notes with a loose approximation before finally zeroing in. But it works – damn it – it really works. His voice reminds me of the most comfortable pair of jeans you’ve ever worn, or a 20 year old Kentucky bourbon that slides down like velvet and warms you right down to where you live. And it’s not an affectation. It’s Greg Brown singing only the way Greg Brown can sing. He fully inhabits his voice and uses it as a true vehicle to tell the stories in his songs.

This is all supported by flawless, crisp guitar technique. An absolute virtuoso of finger picking technique mixed with rich, lustrous strumming, he frequently employs dropped note tunings to add a deep bottom end. Greg Brown is also one wicked good blues player. The first few songs were so deeply rooted in the blues it felt like my feet were stuck in Mississippi River mud. He sings songs and tells stories about people and places, Iowa farmers, long, quiet highways in the midwest that go on forever, love, loss, nature, raising children, dogs, sticky situations, aging and everyday life. Greg Brown is truly authentic and one of a kind. It was a great concert. I loved it, and I’ve already listened to Covenant twice today. If you listen to Pandora Radio, create a Greg Brown station. You won’t regret it. Another thing you won’t regret is going to a Dan Smalls Presents show at The Hangar Theater. If you go, look for me, I’ll be there!

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