Once or twice a week, I walk over to Neighbor Jim’s house in the late afternoon for a game of Scrabble. He typically asks me if I would like something to drink first, and I typically say yes, and because he is the frequent recipeient of excellent gin from his son the distiller, he’ll often make us each a martini, or sometimes a gin and tonic. While he measures and pours, I set up the Scrabble board, shuffle the tiles around, and write our names across the top of a piece of paper. We take turns keeping score. 

We are both well educated, both former teachers, and both avid readers, thus you might think it likely that we’d take turns winning. We don’t. He beats me almost every single time. I don’t know if it’s because he has a better vocabulary, or if it’s a matter of strategy or just plain luck. I often think of great words to use with my seven tiles, words that insinuate themselves from the majority of my letters, but I’ll inevitably be short one or two and rather than settle for a different, often smaller word and fewer points, I’ll hoard my letters, waiting for the elusive k or u for instance. Naturally it never arrives, or I draw it too late. While I don’t think the drinking of cocktails in any way impairs my ability to organize letters creatively, especially since I rarely drink more than one, I can’t completely eliminate that as contributing, at least in part, to my poor track record thus far. Maybe I relax just a bit too much. Win or lose however, Jim is a gracious host, taking no offense at all when I curse and disparage him under my breath.

Sometimes the game will go on so long our stomachs will begin to rumble and one of us will notice the clock and say something about it being dinner time already, then Jim will invariably suggest that he order a pizza to be delivered. Pizza is not on my diet, but I’m not as strict as I once was. After I veered off course one day and realized I don’t feel any worse if I eat a few slices of pizza once in awhile than I do if I remain grain-free, I began to allow myself the occasional lapse. Usually we’ll order the special, one medium two-topping, thin crust pizza, and we’ll split it, half pepperoni and mushroom for Jim (he always gets the same thing) and half veggie for me. Because I can only get two toppings at a time to comply with the terms of the special, I rotate combinations of the different vegetables. 

One day I suggest in advance that at our next Scrabble soiree, I make us a pizza from scratch. I search online for grain free crust recipes, and find one that got great reviews. That afternoon I sift, shape, roll and prebake the crust, chop sundry fresh vegetables, and grate three different kinds of cheese. Then I bake a chocolate cake using another recipe I found online that calls for 4 cups of zuchinni as the foundation rather than flour. It’s all very time consuming but I feel good about our dinner being healthy and homemade. I telephone Jim: “Pre-heat the oven,” I say. “I’m on my way.”

I stagger out the door and across our condo complex balancing trays, containers and a cake pan. Once inside Jim’s house I place everything carefully down on the kitchen counter, pop the pizza in the oven, and plop down in a chair at the table. While the pizza bakes we begin our Scrabble game and sip our cocktails. When the pizza is ready we are both disappointed. It isn’t just the taste, it’s also the texture. It falls apart in our hands. I give it two thumbs down.

I tell Jim that next time, I’m going to try a recipe I saw that uses cauliflower as the basis for the crust. He shudders visibly but recovers quickly and asks for a slice of cake, which he eats in small bites while proceeding to trounce my ass in Scrabble.

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