I’ve read about this book before & been intrigued as well–I really appreciate your point about representation and the assumptions we make about certain food cultures. I don’t know what the opposite of exoticization is, but it seems just as limiting/ignorant. I know basically nothing about Midwest food culture, so I’m putting this on my cookbook wish list.
And this pizza! Going to happen this weekend. With beer, yes?
Midwest is best. Or so goes the rhyme. The more I travel, the more I appreciate living in Madison. It gives me the possibility to travel and provides a soft, welcoming landing when needed. If you’re going to stay in the Midwest, have you considered Madison? Then you could visit Chicago and wave at the traffic on your way home.
Hi Marlena! We do think about Madison a lot. We’ve been visiting at least twice a year for the past few years and love it a lot. I have some general concerns (lack of diversity and state politics mostly) but would not be surprised if we ended up there some day. In the meantime, we’re happy to have it as a second Midwestern home.
Thank you for this post. I have been silently appreciating and cooking from your blog for years. As an East Coast transplant living in Madison, I have grown to love this small Midwestern city and its evolving food culture. I am grateful, though, that Chicago isn’t too far down the road from here.
I found Amy Thielen through the Food Network and every recipe of hers is divine. I love her new twists on things, but she also does traditional Midwest things like fried chicken made with crushed Ritz crackers that remind me of my Grandma. I live in Austin, TX (love it!) but grew up in Michigan and have to say the Midwest keeps a strong tug on my heart.
Chicago has the best damn dive bars! I, too, am contemplating where to settle next and find myself wanting things like a house with a yard, which I never wanted before. What I’d like even more than that right now is that pizza! Looks great.
I’ve often thought where should we go……we are middle aged and I need a change from suburban New Jersey……>California? Florida? The South?
I probably will die here in the New York metropolitan area, it’s in our blood and not sure if the Midwest or anywhere else in the country is ready for me!
But it was a nice thought!!!!
Hi Johanna! That is a good question, and I don’t know the real answer BUT my hypothesis: It’s also called party-cut or tavern-cut, since pizza was often a staple at bars. I think it is cut in squares because it is better/easier for sharing and snacking on. Maybe pizza was more of an appetizer/snack when it first made its way to the Midwest. I like how hospitable the cut seems. Lots of friends can share a pie this way. It also means there are pieces with crust and pieces with no crust. There are so many pizza-eaters who do not like eating the crust end of a slice, and so this is perfect for them. Related story: When I turned 30 one of my best friends (originally from Chicago) threw a birthday party for me in Manhattan and had it catered by a favorite Italian/pizza place. She thought it would be a fun homage to our Midwestern roots to have the pizza cut into squares. But she could not convince them to cut the pizza into squares, no matter how much she begged.
The ‘where should we live’ question is something that comes up a lot for us, too. We’ve both moved around so much, and even in the 5+ years of our relationship, we’ve lived in three different countries. Who knows what the future holds? In the meantime, I think I’ll make that pizza and uncork a bottle of wine.
Amen to that. All of that. My husband and I both hail from southeastern Wisconsin, and many of our Friday night pies are reminiscent of these that we also grew up with and love so much. The classic in the Milwaukee area is tomato sauce, mozz, fennel-y pork sausage and white onions. Guess that solves the dilemma of which toppings to put on this Friday’s pizza! *Cheers* to the magnificent Midwest!
As a (former) Cincinnatian who commonly drove to Chicago for dinner, I had the west coast bug for almost ten years. I agree that LA traffic negates all the city’s benefits, particularly having lived in a city where one doesn’t agree to donate two hours of precious time to each car trip.
The solution? Portland, OR. An unimaginable food culture. A fundamental friendliness of the residents. Gorgeous geography. Mountains, ocean, high desert. A quick trip to all of California.
The bug to move will surface again. At age 61 I gave up my former career to start a baking and pastry management program at the Oregon Culinary Institute. All in.
You’ll have fewer days to enjoy the convertible in Portland (rain); however, the benefits far outweigh any detriment, an 11-month growing season being only one of them.
I’m not really from the Midwest (or maybe I am; many people tell me that Pittsburgh is more Midwest than east coast, although I’m not entirely convinced. But how does one really define the mid-Atlantic region? Perhaps this is a cookbook waiting to be written), but I’ve been curious about Amy’s book since it first came out. It seemed homey to me and somehow comforting; maybe it’s because mosquitoes and onion dip are two things I can relate to quite well. Thanks for the cookbook suggestion!
I often wonder about where I’ll end up settling, too; ever since I finished grad school, the question of the next step has been hanging over my head. For now, I’m in the lovely East Bay (who could ever complain about the avocados?), but I don’t know if I’m one of those people who wants to be Californian for life. There are so many decisions to be made in the near future, although I often think that life–work, economics, life style–makes the decisions for us and we just like to think we’re in control. I hope that’s semi-comforting.
You have a fantastic way of writing about Chicago that I love. I’ve lived many places, but Chicago will always be home to me. It’s a glorious city and I hope someday to return, for good. But for now I’ll live vicariously through posts like this. Thank you so much! D
The comment box asks me “What do you think?” and I think you are spot on. Yes, to building a life wherever you are. And yes to not being able to see what’s right in front of you. And yes, yes yes, to pizza!
We live in Switzerland right now. It’s temporary, which means that I’m constantly thinking about what’s next. And about all those friends at home who are setting down roots, buying houses and mowing yards. I need to remember that what I have is great too – adventure! alps! paris in 4hrs! I should put a list on my fridge for all those moments I’m ready to pack up our teeny apartment and head home.
Thanks for introducing me to Amy Thielen and this pizza. Good pizza doesn’t exist in Zurich, so it’s all about making it at home and I need a new recipe. This one sounds perfect.
I knew that pizza was Chicagoan the minute I set eyes on how it was cut. Oh, round thin-crust pizzas cut into squares! They’re the best ever. Needless to say, I grew up outside Chicago, and even though I do indeed remember things like spinning around icy cul-de-sacs in a minivan at 7 am in 1991, I miss it so. :) And this cookbook sounds like something I need on my shelves immediately.
I have to second Linda’s comment regarding Portland. This green land is some of the best I’ve ever experienced. I love visiting other cities but coming home is always the best. Though I will say that there is plenty of snobbery mixed in with the friendliness…. just saying :)
Such a great post about homelands and hometowns, and such a great pizza! We have a couple restaurants here that make a delightfully thin “cracker-crust”…. they call it “Northwest style”, I apologize. I mean I’m glad we’re not the only ones that call it that :)
Great post, Tim. I’m only 23 but I’ve been obsessed with the same question (must be the post-graduation phase). Parts of me wants to look at a map and find some very cool place that I’m “meant” to live in, but most of the time I just kind of take a fatalist position and think that even if we hate where we grew up (ahem, rainy urban wasteland Seattle suburb), life would be a little emptier leaving it. Life isn’t much without all the arbitrary but seductive rules we grow up in, whether it’s cutting pizza into squares or never being allowed to own an umbrella…
I grew up in Wisconsin (and pizza cut in squares! It’s such a great bar snack for a group of people) and moved to Maine for graduate school. I won’t finish my degree for a while, but I’m constantly thinking about where I’ll end up. Since I married an oceanographer, though, it probably won’t be back in the Midwest. I am longing to get my hands on this book; the Midwest has really been left out of the slew of regional cookbooks coming out lately. Until this beauty. I love your words here about the Midwest and its ways.
It’s been really interesting to get to know the Midwest while visiting my fiance’s hometown in Iowa. His parents, originally from Detroit, have lived in Iowa for decades now. I love visiting! People are so friendly! Not something I’m necessarily used to since I grew up in Miami. I mean, you can tell the difference just by the way people drive.
I hear you on the where should I live question! I wish I were one of those people who had her heart set on living in x city. It would make things so much easier! Til I figure it out, I hope I get the chance to try out calling a few different cities home. Maybe even one in the Midwest.
p.s. totally picturing you and Bryan in a red convertible! You should rent one the next time you’re in LA. :)
Out of all the foods in the world, pizza is the most important to me…it has so many emotions attached to it, so many memories. It’s the one food that always comes with stories both while making from scratch and eating.
Also, hope I get to run into you in the beautiful city that is Chicago soon, farmer’s market or somewhere else equally wonderful!
Huh. I always thought that was St. Louis-style pizza. That’s what they call it in St. Louis, at least. Hope you figure out the right place for you. I’m a California native who’s lived in the Midwest, the South, and now in France, and everywhere I’ve lived has had incredible upsides *and* downsides. The fun is finding them all…
This post has come at such a perfect time for me. My husband and I are relocating from Boston to central Illinois this summer and I’m by turns thrilled to learn a new food culture (I’ve always lived on the East Coast) and terrified to leave what I know. I received Thielen’s book late last year and love it. The peppered pork roast is delicious (and the leftovers make perfect Philly-style roast pork sandwiches). Thanks for sharing your love of the Midwest–it’s so comforting to hear people with excellent taste embrace the region.
Ha, I’ve been in Chicago 10 years this past January, by way of Cleveland and upstate NY. I love sport peppers (so sad I couldn’t find them even in Wegmans the last time I was home) but still put ketchup on my hot dogs and square pizza reminds me of grade school cafeteria lunch.
I love living here though. After this past winter, I seriously considered moving somewhere warmer, but you know, the first day of nice weather made me realize how much I love having 4 seasons and how much more I appreciate the nice weather than then if it was beautiful all the time.
I grew up in the Midwest as well. Now I live in the South, but your prose really had me reminiscent of my formative years. I found myself nodding my head and quietly saying “hell yeah” to the part about cutting our pizza in squares.
For me, the “where do I want to live?” question is increasingly directly tied to what means would be required to live the way I want to live in _____ (insert locale under consideration) and what does that mean for retirement, etc. I’d love to live in San Fran, but it would mean working more and longer in perpetuity and that’s a trade I’m not willing to make. Calibrating the different values that matter to us seems even more challenging later in life than it did when fresh out of college.
I’m from the East Coast and my husband is from the Midwest — somehow between Ole Bay seasoned blue crabs and tater tot hot dish, we make it work. I’ll have to get the cookbook. The cracker crust pizza looks divine!
I love this. Square-cut thin-crust pizza always reminds me of sleepover parties. Have you read Bill Holm’s book The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth? It’s a book of beautiful essays that addresses living in the Midwest, among other things. Isn’t that a great title? It contains one of my favorite essays ever, The Music of Failure. It’s worth a read, especially with an impending midlife crisis!
Hey! This is Madelyn who lives in Jerusalem, again. I loved the recipes you posted from the Jerusalem cookbook, and thanks to you there’s another cookbook I need to buy! That’s because I grew up in Indiana (3 hours due East of Chicago–Fort Wayne area) and this pizza recipe already tugs at my heart. I’ll take squares over triangles any day! You hit the nail on the head with, “backyard parties eating off of paper plates and being bitten by mosquitoes.” Thank you for sharing this find!
This is one of those “that’s my life” posts that one reads once in a while. After some world traveling, I ended up in Chicago in the late 1980s to go to grad school. I stayed for 25 years. Chicago became my home, was the place I became a man (or my slightly bent definition thereof), was where I created a family.
I moved away twice, once to Paris and once to New York, but Chicago pulled me back both times. Something about that damn city…
Finally, about two years ago, Seattle called my name. I love it here and this time the move appears to be sticking — but good ol’ Chicago has claimed happy, permanent residence in my soul, DNA and personal history.
And pizza made at home? Three years ago, a friend and I instituted a weekly pizza night. A tradition strong enough to convince him to move to Seattle, too. We haven’t missed a week, and no two pizzas have been the same. My advice is, go wild with your toppings. Make whatever kind of pizza you can imagine, because everything is good baked on a flat crust!
In my experience (as a native Californian), midwesterners have a hard time living outside the Midwest. I’ve known lots who’ve moved to California only to wish for and eventually make plans to move back “home” to the Midwest. California is too… intense, expensive, unfriendly, or who-knows-what for them. I feel bad for the midwesterners. No other region is full of such kind, generous, outgoing people.
I grew up in NYC and spent summers with my cousins who lived in a little town of 150 people 7 miles from Galesburg, IL. I loved those summers filled with delicious fresh corn, barbecued ribs, and ice cream socials. We walked to the general store for sticks of gum that cost 1 cent a piece and picked up the mail at the Post Office, which was a little corner in the hardware store. We spent Sundays tooling around the Mississippi River in my uncle’s motorboat and picnicked on sandbars eating my aunt’s delicious fried chicken, coleslaw, and potato chips – same menu every Sunday. The sky was huge, and the dirt was black and loamy with a scent I can sense whenever I think about it. After years of living in NYC, attending the opera and the ballet, I am retiring to a small country town in upstate NY, and I credit my love and longing for the country to those happy childhood midwestern summers.
I grew up in Montana and have moved frequently around the country with my husband. He hails from WI. We’ve lived in Seattle, Nashville, and now, upstate NY. My cooking palate and preferences have changed a lot from what I grew up eating. We ate meat and potatoes five days of the week. The other two days were most likely cheeseburgers or pizza. Slushburgers, spaghetti (with ground beef), and Tex-mex tacos (also with ground beef) were staples. My mom was a great cook. But it’s interesting to look back at how different certain regions of the country are in terms of cooking. Most of our desserts that we ate were of Scandinavian origin, especially around Christmas time. The older ladies of our church were such great bakers. I really wish I could have spent more time with that generation, learning all of the tricks of their trade! Gonna check out this cookbook.
It’s nice to read a blog from my hometown. So many of the blogs I read leave me wanting more greenery (which at times is lacking in Chicago) or mountains (most definitely lacking in Chicago). I spent the last year and a half away from the Midwest but I’m back and have really tried to get creative on how I can feed the part of me that loves wide, open spaces. Lake Michigan sure helps. I went an hour out to the Indiana Dunes last weekend and even though surrounded by factories, it’s still pretty. I’m thinking maybe I’ll attempt cross country skiing out there this winter.
Well, I’m rambling but like I said, it’s great to hear some midwest pride and reminders of what makes living here so great.
I looked at your Chicago guide and was a bit surprised to see Big Star absent from the list. Maybe overrated but one of my favorites for sure :)
Thanks for checking in. My Chicago guide is not meant to be comprehensive, it is just a list of places I eat at a lot and enjoy. I think it is sometimes helpful to people visiting Chicago. I like Big Star, too. But it would not be a place I recommend to visitors from other places, and to be honest I don’t find myself wanting to eat there that often myself. It requires a certain energy. And the same kind of taco joint is present in many other towns.
Lovely to read such in-depth comments. This is my first time visiting your site…got here because of your “cracker-crust” pizza, reminds me of the Kraft Pizza Kits that I would so much like to prepare from scratch! Will definitely give this recipe a whirl. I can relate so much to a “love of place”. There is something about memory of where one grew up…flavors, colors, smells, seasonal activities…they are hard-wired into our brains so that wherever we move, there is always a tug on our hearts to experience it all again to feel content…perhaps to revisit youth. I live in north central Canada, have traveled the world in my younger years but I always “come home”. Yes, the winters are harsh but it makes spring and summer so much more sweet. Love your site and will check in regularly.