Sometimes you just can’t explain human behavior

It’s my favorite time of year: Cooler days, falling leaves, pumpkin picking, apple cider donuts . . . and people acting really, really weird.

I was recently at a friend’s house for a casual get together, and I brought my 15-year old daughter. She had nothing else to do that day and wanted to see how my friend had redecorated her house, so why not?

There were a few people I knew there, many that I didn’t, and everyone was wrapped up in conversation, so my daughter (let’s call her Joy) and I hung out in the kitchen, munching on snacks. I spotted someone I know (let’s call her Gerty) in the living room talking to a group of people and gave her a polite wave.

Gerty was dressed for this festive occasion in head-to-toe black, her slight frame barely solid enough to hold her steady on impossibly tall black boots, hair characteristically pin-straight, her mouth a bright red gash. She can be a little severe, our Gerty.

Suddenly she was right in front of me. How did she cross the room so fast? Did she glide? Not possible in those boots, I would have heard her clumping toward me.

“Hi there,” she said. “Hi!” I responded, then gestured to Joy, who I don’t think she had ever met. “This is my daughter, Joy.”

If things didn’t already seem a little off, they were about to get weird.

Gerty turned toward me, eyes wide, moved in so close I thought she was preparing to lick my face, and said with a tight grin, barely moving her lips:

“You brought . . . CHILDREN?”

I really had to think about my response. Mentally I looked around the room to make sure I hadn’t misjudged the audience. There was food, there was wine, there were lots of people about my age engaged in loud, happy conversation. There were no strippers, no gimps, no one was cursing, no one was naked. Why not bring a child?

My next thought was: Technically Joy isn’t a child. She’s close to 16 and could pass for 18. In fact, one of the guests had previously (jokingly) recommended she have a shot since we lived close and could walk home. He had no idea she wasn’t even old enough to drive.

I opened my mouth to say . . . I’m not sure what . . . Probably “Uh?” and Gerty, who was sandwiched between me and Joy, turned her back on Joy, effectively pinning her against the stove. Joy looked over Gerty’s shoulder at me with a slightly panicked expression. I shrugged, as if to say “She’ll move along soon, I’m sure she’s not aware that she is suffocating you with her black turtleneck.”

Then Gerty spotted someone she knew on the other side of the kitchen, and although the distance was only about 8 feet, she started bellowing to get their attention. Meanwhile, she hadn’t moved. Joy was still pinned, holding a cookie up in the air, unable to get it to her mouth since Gerty was leaning against her.

That’s when I went from puzzled to angry. When you introduce someone, the absolute minimum response required in a civilized society is to say hello and make eye contact. Ignoring the introduction and then turning your back on the person you’ve just been introduced to is beyond rude. But then preventing them from moving while shouting to someone else? To me, that’s baboon behavior.

Thankfully Gerty tottered away before I could smack the physically passive aggressive personality right out of her body. I considered tackling her but there wasn’t much room and I would most likely take other people down at the same time.

Instead, I told Joy “She’s just . . . a little unusual. You know some people, not aware of their surroundings. Loud talker. Close talker. Socially tone deaf.  I’m sure it was nothing personal.”

For all I know, that’s true. But it doesn’t excuse the behavior. And it made me wonder: Are some people just hard wired without basic human empathy, or the skills needed to analyze a situation and behave accordingly? If so, is the ability to act like a social animal something that can be learned through intense training? Or are people like this just destined to go through life offending everyone, yet fortunate enough to be oblivious to the negative effect they have on others?

So many questions. But I don’t want to spend too much time pondering them. If my observations are accurate, at least one out of 5 people seem to have the makings of a true sociopath. From now on, I’ll trust my gut and walk away instead of waving at them.

Mediterranean Mashup: A Delicious Disaster

I made up a recipe awhile back for pizza with a Mediterranean theme—spinach, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, feta cheese, etc. I painstakingly took photos of each step as I made it, intending to post the recipe here. Then I looked at the photos: The pizza itself, with each topping added one by one. It was essentially the same photo over and over. That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works!

I never said I was especially bright.

So, I invited my friend Karen over one night, and we re-enacted the making of the pizza, with “action shots” instead of pizza shots. Ok, there are a few pizza shots too.

Let’s start with the first photo, above. This shows you everything you will need to make the pizza—except the fresh oregano and basil. I thought of those after I took the photo.

ARGH! I mentioned artichoke hearts, but I didn’t use them this time, so they are not pictured above. But really, wouldn’t artichokes be overkill at this point? Use them if you like, though. They are good. Use the softest parts, chop them into small chunks and add them with the rest of the toppings in Step 8.

Here’s a complete list of ingredients (minus the artichokes):

Pizza dough (or premade pizza crust)
Ricotta cheese (low fat)
Mozzarella cheese (part skim)
Feta cheese (fat free)
Frozen spinach
Fresh oregano and basil (or dried)
Sundried tomatoes
Garlic (any kind—fresh/chopped, jar/minced, or pre-roasted cloves like I used here)
Kalamata olives
Seasonings—salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

Step 1:

Preheat oven to 375. I put it on convection bake. If you have a pizza stone, even better! Let it sit in the oven to heat up.

Step 2:

Microwave the frozen spinach until thawed, dump in a strainer (I sometimes call it a colander, what do you call it?) and press it down to get as much liquid out as possible. I used a paper towel to absorb some of the liquid. Watch out, that spinach can be very hot. Let it sit there and cool.

I didn’t take a photo of that part. I got distracted by something shiny.

Step 3:

Roll out the dough.

This turned out to be more challenging than we thought. Sometimes I’ll get a premade, already baked crust, so you can dive right in with adding the toppings. This time I got a fresh ball of pizza dough, thinking that the texture would be better. That was true, but it took some wrestling and a lot of flour to get the dough rolled out. Make sure to leave the dough in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. Once it warms up, it’s harder to work with.

We put a light layer of flour on a piece of parchment paper (the pizza will stay on this during cooking) and used a rolling pin to roll the dough out as thin as possible.

Oops, I lied. Sorry. We didn’t put the dough on the parchment paper, and it was hard to pull it off the countertop. Put the parchment paper down first, then a layer of flour, then the dough.

I would like to say that we ended up with a perfect circle, but it was more like a lopsided square. Someday I’m going to learn how to throw a pizza to make it round.

Pizza 4

Before adding any toppings, brush the whole surface of the dough with olive oil (all the way to the edge).

Step 4:

Cheese!

Pizza 5

Spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese on the dough, stopping at about an inch from the edge. I think we used most of the container. Add some salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes if you like it a little spicy. I like it a LOT spicy.

Step 5:

Add the spinach.

Pizza 6

It’s easiest to use your fingers to drop pinches of the spinach all over the pizza.

Step 6:

Sprinkle on the entire bag (yes, the entire bag) of mozzarella cheese.

Pizza 7

Finally, add the feta cheese. Just use as much as you like. We used the whole container.

Step 7:

Fresh oregano . . . and fresh basil.

Chop about a tablespoon of oregano (or dried), and as much basil as you like. We used about a quarter cup. Sprinkle these all over the pizza. I put these on now instead of the very end, so they wouldn’t get dried out while cooking.

Ok, I lied again. I made the mistake of putting them on at the end, and they got crispy. Don’t do that. Put them on now.

Step 8:

The rest of the toppings. Chop your sundried tomatoes, olives and garlic, and add those in any order you like.

Pizza 10

We only took a photo of chopping our pre-roasted garlic, but we really did also chop the olives and sundried tomatoes. In any amount that you like. I used roughly a small handful of each.

This is where you can add chopped artichoke hearts if your heart (get it?) desires. I’m picky about mine: Even though everything in the can is edible, I usually strip off the outer layer of the artichoke heart before chopping because it’s a little stringy/chewy.

Man, I really need to get new knives.

Here’s roughly what the pizza will look like before it bakes. I hope for your sake that yours is round.

Pizza 11

Step 9:

Into the oven!

Pizza 12

Transfer the pizza, still on the parchment paper, to your preheated pizza stone. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can place it directly on the center rack.

It was a good thing Karen was there, as the pizza transfer takes at least 3 hands. We had 4 hands, and still almost dropped it.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, checking often once you hit 15 minutes. If the cheese is melted and the crust is just slightly brown, it’s done.

Step 10:

Eat! Here’s the finished product.

Pizza 13

It was delicious. Enjoy!