A sketch from one of Tara’s schoolmates about delivering pizza to bush dwellers with a craving. Photo by Tara Neilson.

A sketch from one of Tara’s schoolmates about delivering pizza to bush dwellers with a craving. Photo by Tara Neilson.

Pizza delivery in the wilderness

If there is one luxury bush dwellers envy city dwellers for, it’s pizza delivery. When I was a kid, every teacher of the bush school I attended decided this was an exploitable situation and used it in order to help finance school field trips.

And, thanks to that, every year, at this time of the year, I get an urge for pizza and to be traveling somewhere on the ferry. Along with other fundraising activities, our school’s pizza delivery gambit (and the school district generously matching every dollar we earned) allowed us to go on trips along the Inside Passage to visit Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, and Haines. We also managed some international travel to Prince Rupert and Smithers, Canada. Later, Hawaii was not beyond the school’s reach, thanks in large part to wilderness residents’ hunger for delivered pizza.

How it worked was that the school would buy the ingredients (or accept donated ingredients) and would make the pizza dough ahead of time, storing it in the freezers of locals living in and outside the village. In the school newspaper, delivered to every resident, was a pizza order form with a list of ingredient choices to be checked for up to two pizzas.

Then, on the designated pizza night, the dough was gathered and the kids, with teacher supervision, would have an overnighter at the school, using the school’s and the attached teacherage’s ovens to cook the pizzas.

Every school kid from the oldest to the youngest had assigned duties, from grating mounds of cheese (watch those fingers!—the less said about that the better), to crying over the diced onions, to compiling the pizzas, to delivering them.

The delivery was my favorite job: Carrying our warm boxes of pizza into the cool night, smelling the cheese, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, and pepperoni mixing with the gasoline fumes from the outboard and the musk of low tide as we skiffed from one village home to the next. We’d walk up private docks or beaches to a door, shining our flashlights, hearing a private generator purring. The door would open, revealing an electric light lit scene of anticipatory faces gathered round a table.

Because my family lived so far out in the bush, my parents agreed to have their pizza delivered to my grandparents’ home in the village, and they’d stay the night and make a party of it. I could tell they were enjoying not only the luxury of delivered pizza, but a night away from the kids.

We didn’t hold it against them. We were having a blast away from the adults. After the last pizzas were delivered and clean-up had concluded, the teachers were understandably exhausted, faded to the sidelines, and even fell asleep. The kids had the run of the school all night long and we made the most of it.

Some of our inspired ideas included piling bean bags below the upper story loft, climbing onto the half-wall and leaping into space, landing (hopefully) on the bean bags. We played a version of volleyball on the play deck that we fondly called “kill ball” with a complete disregard for anything approaching rules, or concern for life and limb.

When we tired of that we played flashlight tag, ghosting through the dark playfield, through the woods surrounding the school, darting from one foundation piling under the school to the next. Each of us had a flashlight clutched in a sweaty hand, breathing fast as we peered into the blackness, ready to stab our fellow with a spear of light at the slightest movement, but terrified of giving away our position and being speared in turn.

One year my sister, a schoolmate, and I cleverly climbed into the large ball box to hide and accidentally locked ourselves in. It was a long time before anyone found us, despite our yells and pounding, and during that time we discovered that our schoolmate had a gaseous reaction to eating pizza. In the entire history of tag, never have kids wanted to be “tagged” so desperately as we did that night.

Highly non-educational movies were put on the school’s educational TV and VCR and we’d lie around on gym mats watching and munching popcorn and guzzling homemade root beer that a schoolmate’s parents had donated.

I remember wandering around the school in the early morning, when things had wound down, and gazing upon an apocalyptic scene of desks and chairs piled haphazardly, burst bean bags oozing their pebbly entrails, and students lying about in various attitudes of post-debauchery exhaustion.

I came across my little brother Robin perched precariously on a stool just outside the kitchen. He was surrounded by empty root beer bottles, had one clutched in his hand, and was slumped over, snoring.

Pizza night was officially a success.

I can’t say that at this time of the year I miss the rigors of an overnighter, but that craving for travel and pizza is deeply ingrained. Since circumstances don’t allow me to travel at the moment, I’ve decided to at least enjoy a piping hot pizza delivered to my door. Admittedly, the pizza will be delivered by me — but then, I’m the most experienced pizza delivery person in the area.

One-person gluten-free stovetop skillet pizza:

I’m gluten-free these days and have created an easy recipe for those times when pizza is immediately required.

Crack 1 large egg into a small bowl. Finely crush 1/2 cup Rice Chex cereal. Mix cereal with the egg to form a stiff dough. Film the bottom of a 3.5 inch skillet with olive oil. Press the dough into the skillet until it reaches all sides. Cook on one side under medium low heat (on the stove top) for five minutes and flip, turning the heat down to low. Spread pizza sauce on the cooked side, arrange grated cheese on it, and add what toppings you desire. Cook until cheese is melted. Enjoy!

Tara Neilson writes this column “Alaska For Real” for the Capital City Weekly. She also blogs at www.alaskaforreal.com.

The pizza order form in the school’s paper. Photo by Tara Neilson.

The pizza order form in the school’s paper. Photo by Tara Neilson.

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