Pizza Time!

While I’d never make it as a professional chef, I do love to cook. One of the best ways for me to unwind after a long day is to put on “This American Life” or “All Things Considered” and create something. Sometimes that means drawing comics, but when the thing I’m creating is food, it becomes doubly relaxing because I then get to eat the food. And, as we all know, the best food to make and eat is pizza.

Once you have the crust together, making pizza is as simple as you can get. It’s literally as complicated as throwing ingredients onto a plate. A plate made of bread. This is why pre-made crusts are so popular, but I’ve always thought those made your pizza taste like a frozen pizza, and no one wants that.

Fortunately, pizza crust is easy and cheap to make. I’ve seen a lot of recipes that call for a stand mixer, 24 hours to rise, and make dough for three pizzas at once. While those all make for good dough, the method I use is simpler all around. I developed it over the last few years, starting with one of the more complicated methods (I don’t remember which) and adapting it as I went. It’s not fool-proof, but it’s easy to correct any mistakes by adding a pinch of flour or water.

Anyway, here’s how to make pizza Talcott Style.

Possibly not to scaleMix 1/3 cup hot water and 1tsp yeast, let sit for five minutes (until it bubbles a bit).

Add 1tsp of sugar and a pinch of salt.

Melt 1tbsp of butter, and stir it in. Also any other spices to taste.

For the yeast, you can just use one of those pre-portioned packets (the amount is not terribly precise), but if you’re going to be baking with any regularity, jars of yeast are much cheaper. For spices I’ll sometimes add a bit of cumin or paprika, but you don’t really need to add anything beyond the salt.


Like a planet made of breadWhile you’re doing this, place a pizza stone in the oven, set it to 475 degrees Fahrenheit, and begin pre-heating. Pizza stones have gotten pretty cheap and easy to find, and really do make a big difference in the texture of the crust. Just be careful to preheat it along with the oven. Otherwise they can (and do) crack in half when they heat up too quickly.

Once the five minutes are up, and the yeast are awake and bubbling. stir in one cup of flour and knead the dough in your hands for five minutes. Place it in plastic wrap (or a plastic sandwich bag, tightly rolled) for at least 20 minutes. For extra credit, place the ball of dough on top of your preheating oven, which will help it rise faster.

Sometimes I eat half of the tomatoes directly from the can. That is not part of the processWhile that’s going on, you can make the sauce or prepare the toppings. When I make a traditional pizza, my sauce is just a can of tomatoes, simmered with garlic, basil, and oregano. It takes about as long as the oven does to preheat, costs less than a jar of pre-made pizza sauce, and tastes much better. If you buy some pre-minced garlic, the only extra work is opening a jar and shaking some spices in.

And if you don’t want tomato sauce, you can skip this step or work on some other sauce at this point.


One of the nice things about making pizza this way is the fact that so much of the baking and preparation can happen simultaneously. The sauce simmers while the dough rises and the oven preheats. Once one is done, the others are too.

Not shown: chopping veggies.Finally, once the oven is ready, lay out a sheet of parchment paper, and roll the dough into a 12”-14” circle. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfectly round. You can write-off any imperfections by calling it artisanal.

After it’s been rolled out, I like to fold the edges over to make an outer crust. This helps keep the sauce from rolling over the sides. You can also poke holes in the flat part of the crust with a fork. That prevents it from rising in the oven, and adds some more definition. After that, I like to let the crust cook on its own for three minutes before adding sauce and toppings.

Pizza dough can be very violent.
From there, you just need to add some toppings and bake it for however long it needs. That usually depends on your oven and the toppings, but I usually find 16 minutes is a good starting place. I’d also recommend letting it rest for a few minutes after you take it out of the oven, but I do understand that fresh pizza can be a bit hard to resist.

Pay no attention to the dirty stovetop I cropped out of this photo.

Peperoni and kale is an underrated combination.

The Eyes Have It

I died a couple of weekends ago. Well, not me, but the character I was playing.

RIP, Spyra Glass, the three-armed, public radio-inspired, post-apocalyptic mutant gnome.

You might call him "well armed."
There’s something very strange about watching your real-life wife (in character) sort through your character’s belongings after you die (in character).

Beyond that though, I was pretty cheerful about my untimely demise. Character creation is my favorite part of most games, so I jumped at the chance to make a new one.

I played around with a number of ideas, but I kept coming back to gnomes. I’ve always felt a bit of  kinship with gnomes (I blame my father and Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet’s Gnomes) and am always drawn to crafter/tinkerer characters, so once I came upon a gnomish idea, it stuck.

Which left me with a bit of a problem.

This being a LARP (Live Action Role Playing, yes this post just got dorkier), the character was going to look an awful lot like the guy playing him (me). And, since I’m not quite dedicated enough to do something drastic like shave my beard for a character (I know, I know, what kind of nerd am I?), that meant I needed a different way to make him stand out.

I changed his clothes, the color of his beard, and dropped the third arm. That helped a bit, but it still looked like my old character wearing different clothes (much dirtier clothes, I might add).

Of course I called him Oscar

It turns out that none of that really mattered. All it took to drastically change him was the shape of his eyes. By making them oval instead of circular, the character’s whole personality changed.

The trash bags might also help a bit.
This is a lesson I should have figured out years ago.

When I first started drawing myself for my comics, I didn’t even bother with eyes. I thought that the opaque glasses look would make me more distinctive, and I enjoyed the challenge of shaping the frames to match my emotions. But everyone I talked to about it Pointed out that it just made me feel distant and robotic.

Of course it's about dinosaurs.
It took me a while to take that to heart, but once I did add pupils, my eyes became much more expressive. Humans connect to eyes, and it’s striking how much of a difference two dots can make.

Yep, more dinosaurs
My eyes stayed the same for a few years, until I got new glasses that were rounder. At first, this change was just a way to reflect the shape of my new glasses. They were circles, so my eyes became circles. But I noticed that the round eyes brought out a more innocent, friendly, even curious, look than my rectangular eyes ever did. I [would like to] think that matches my personality better than the snarky, sarcastic, attitude projected by the rectangular eyes. It’s subtle, and a bit reductive, but that’s what cartooning is all about.

Now I'm thinking about dinosaurs.
And now I take it even further, drawing myself in an even more cartoonish style, with my eyes big, round, and the focal point of the figure.

You might recognize me from Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog. Hello.
To bring this post full-circle, I started drawing myself this way after trying to capture Spyra, my character from the beginning of this post. That character was embodiment of the curious and silly parts of my personality, and those just happen to be the sides of myself I want to project when I draw myself.

It’s amazing what you can learn from a mutant gnome.


I spent a good bit of my teenage years as a mad-scientist god, watching over worlds destined to be destroyed once I got bored with them.

Bawhahahahaha!SimEarth was one of my favorite games. At its simplest level, it was an expanded version of SimCity. A micromanagement game that allowed you to control every aspect of a planet from the moment it collected from the dust of the early solar system. But my favorite part was imagining the stories of the people I created. Every type of multicellular creature could be made sapient and start a civilization. This meant that their icon was now represented by that creature carrying a stick (sticks being the standard measurement of intelligence).

TOOL USING DINOSAUR. I will never get tired of that idea.Of course I made vast dinosaur civilizations, and I was always happy to uncover the sapient plants and robots through Easter eggs in the game.

I think we would all watch this movie.And then there were the trichordates. The game just presented them as long extinct, but their icon made them look something like three-armed starfish. I could picture dinosaur people (most of my life has been spent imagining dinosaur people), I could picture robots and killer plants, but a race of creatures that had actually been gone for hundreds of millions of years, and which I’d never heard of, was hard to resist.

I have imagined a lot of details about this civilization. If you're nice to me, I promise not to tell you all about them.I’d be lying if I claimed that SimEarth taught me much about trichordates. What it did do was sit in the back of my mind like a little time-bomb of curiosity. Years later, as the rise of the internet pushed us firmly into the Information Age SimEarth predicted, I tried to google Trichordates.

While there isn’t much out there (in part because the actual name is Tribrachidium) what we know is fascinating. Instead of three-armed starfish, they looked more like discs, almost like tri-radial trilobites. The Melbourne Museum and Encyclopedia of Life both have some photographs of fossils and reconstructions. I’m struck by how small they are, but of course our own ancestors were once that size. I’m also struck by how profoundly different life on Earth would have been if radial symmetry had dominated. Almost everything on Earth is biradially symmetrical, from insects, to mollusks, to fish, to us. Imagining those three-armed monsters twenty years ago gave me another way to appreciate the interconnectedness of life today.

This creature does not have a pointy stick, but, on the other hand, it did actually exist.In a way, this is still how I understand the world. When I think hear the world “albedo” I imagine the adjustable sliders in the environmental menu. When I think about “biomes” I think of the squares of plants and sand I would place on my world, hoping they’d catch on (usually they were overtaken by flora more suited for the region’s climate). “Terraforming” brings to mind my often-futile attempts to remake Venus and Mars (the latter wasn’t too hard, but the former was tricky). I don’t know how much I actually learned from SimEarth, beyond the difference between prokaryote and eukaryote, but words and concepts in the game served as hooks for me to hang ideas on when I encountered them again.At the time, the graphics seemed amazing.

That Spells DNA

        The idea came to me on my way to work. Driving down I-71 in the early morning light, I was listening to Marc Cashman read Neil Shuban’s Your Inner Fish, which brought to my attention the fact that you can extract DNA in your own home.

Mind Blown

        My first wedding anniversary was coming up, and I’d been struggling with finding the perfect present for Valerie.

Something simple but meaningful.

Something that spoke to our love and connection.

Something that wouldn’t be on the list of traditional anniversary presents.

        DNA was the answer!

Our wedding invitations featured an octopus for Valerie and a dinosaur for me. We’re both dorks who are interested in science, and the idea of extracting octopus and dinosaur DNA, then blending them together, felt geeky, romantic, and exciting. I had initially considered keeping the gift a secret, knowing that a vial of DNA would be (at the very least) unexpected, but the idea of unlocking genetics in my kitchen was too neat to keep to myself. I’m glad I gave it away, because following a romantic dinner with experimental biology was the best way for us to celebrate our first year of marriage.

DNA ummm

        We bought frozen octopus at CAM, and dinosaur is easy to find if you’re willing to settle for avian therapods (in this case chicken). I would have preferred to use Iguanodon meat, but that might have been a little harder to track down. If you happen to have a good source for Iguanodon steak, please let me know. One thing we learned, which should have been obvious, is that raw food works much better than cooked. Freezing, on the other hand, didn’t seem to present any problems.

        Instructions on how to extract DNA all follow similar steps. We based our process on these steps from the University of Utah:

1: Get some material that has DNA. Plants or meat would work best here. Rocks, not so much.

2: Blend it with water. A cup or so will do. You’re basically making a soup at this stage.

3: Strain out the big chunks over a glass jar, until it’s about half full (or half empty, if you’re having a bad day). Again, it’s best to think of this as a soup. We actually used a cheese grater for this step, after realizing a coffee filter was too much.

4: Add a few pinches of salt and dish soap, and let it sit for ten minutes. The salt and soap break down the cell walls, which well let your DNA escape. For added effect, use a klaxon as the alarm sound on your phone.

5: After the alarm goes off, add a pinch of meat tenderizer and stir it gently. You want to spread the enzymes throughout the soapy soup to help break down the rest of the cell, but you don’t want to stir so vigorously that you shred everything in there.

6: Now gently pour in the rubbing alcohol, filling the rest of the jar. Be careful to just let it run down the wall, so it can sit on top of the slurry. The alcohol will draw out the DNA, and you can collect it with a toothpick.


7: Store your DNA in a jar full of alcohol.

        I’m shocked by how easy this was. DNA seems like such a magical concept; the instructions to make you, to make everyone you’ve ever met, to make ever bit of life on Earth.

It’s only been sixty years since DNA was discovered.
In a lab.

It’s the kind of thing scientists work with.
In a lab. 

It’s the focus of every crime drama of the last fifteen years.
Set in a lab. 

It’s what John Hammond used to create Jurassic Park
In a lab. 

And here I was, with my wife, surrounded by cats, in our messy kitchen, pulling a strand of dinosaur DNA out of a jar and sealing it in a vial.

It was a powerful moment.

An exciting moment.

A moment I never thought I’d experience.


        I was also struck by how white and gooey the DNA was. Years of stock art and scientific illustration had made me associate DNA with brightly colored coils, clearly labeled with GATC, but the boring reality of DNA made it more real, and more fascinating. DNA is just protein, so of course it will look just like any other mass of pure protein you would expect to see on your anniversary night.


You know, like egg whites.