Joie de Vivre in LaLa Land

For the first time in my life — or at least since I found it around the age of 16 — I lost my joie de vivre. So, I went to LA to try to get it back. I like LA; I know many people don't. Maybe I'd have to stay there longer than a week to start to hate it. I definitely couldn't live there without making $3M an episode. And, I'd need an episode to begin with. But, I just can't resist the sun. And, I love Hollywood history. It doesn't go back that far, so it's not hard to learn, and it's filled with interesting facts and places — like the house where Michael Jackson died (as our tour guide gleefully announced: He never made it to the hospital people!). Or the park on the Paramount lot that Lucille Ball had built for publicity shots with her kids, capturing moments of "good" mothering before she sent them away and went right back to work.

I guess the thing I love most about LA is it's so unlike anywhere I've ever lived — even a palm tree in a ditch by a gas station reminds me that I'm on vacation. And this year, in particular, I really needed a vacation. Okay, so my life isn't Haiti or Japan, but it's felt at times disastrous to me. I've been sad. I'm never sad. And that joie de vivre that I can generally count on to pull me out of any situation took a hike, so I went to LA to get some of the fake stuff. They can make anything happen in LA, right? So, for a week I went searching for the fa├žade of happiness and joy. I gazed at the Pacific ocean! I drank two margaritas a night! I stalked Diane Keaton! I was sorted by the real Warner Bros sorting hat! I made it into Gryffindor! I saw Kurt and Mercedes from Glee! I was clearly visible in the Tonight Show audience behind a guy who could eat eight raw hot dogs in 30 seconds! I rode the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier! (Okay, more scary than joyful for me, but at least I was on the ocean); I ate cotton-candy-wrapped foie gras! I used valet every day! And, I ate this pizza:

Pretty much one of the best pizzas I've ever consumed.

Maybe that list wouldn't make everyone happy. But, it made me happy. And the best part is it made S happy. For those of you who are parents, you know that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child. And, because there was no work or school to bring either of us down, we could create our own movie of our lives. But, like everything in LaLa Land, it disappeared the minute the director called a wrap — in this case when we boarded the red-eye back to the cold and gray of Boston where spring hadn't quite yet sprung.

But the sun is now out, and today is a good day. It started with leftovers of this pizza I will always crave and tried to recreate for you.

Porchetta and Artichoke Heart Pizza
inspired by the "Centurion" pizza at Hostaria del Piccolo in Santa Monica: the perfect antidote to the terrors of Ferris wheels and life.

1/2 c sharp provolone, shredded
1/2 c mozzarella, shredded
1/4 c pecorino romano, shredded
1 recipe of this dough (or use your own favorite pizza dough or, like me, go to Clear Flour Bread and buy a ball of dough for $3)
8 slices of this porchetta (or slices you purchase in a high quality specialty shop. In Boston you can find okay porchetta at Russos and much better porchetta at the South End Formaggio)
4 baby artichokes trimmed, held in lemon water
1 T olive oil
2 T minced garlic
1/2 t red pepper flakes

Saute artichoke hearts in olive oil until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. While hot, add 1/4 c of water, cover, and steam until you can just pierce them with a fork. This shouldn't take too long, depending on the size. Season with salt and pepper, cool and slice thin. Set aside with porchetta and cheeses.

Preheat oven to highest setting (500 - 550 degrees).

Dredge dough in a bowl of flour to coat and transfer to dry work surface. Holding one edge of dough in the air with both hands and letting bottom touch work surface, carefully move hands around edge of dough (as Gourmet says, like turning a steering wheel), allowing weight of dough to stretch round to roughly 10 inches.

Lay dough flat on lightly floured pizza pan and continue to work edges with fingers, stretching it into a 14-inch round. [I used to have a pizza stone but it broke and I've been happily using a non-stick pizza pan from Target ever since. But, if you have a stone, feel free to preheat it, roll dough out onto a bakers peel and do the burn-defying stunt of getting the dough from the peel to the hot stone.]

Stir together cheeses and sprinkle a quarter over the dough, leaving 1/2 an inch border. Cover cheese with slices of porchetta and artichoke hearts, sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Cook garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring, until just fragrent, 30 - 40 seconds. Spoon over pizza.

Bake until crust is golden brown, 12 - 15 minutes.

It will make you happy. I promise.