Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Persistence equals Perfection

 Persistence. If I wanted to buy a freezer from an outfit in Pennsylvania and have it shipped in a timely
manner I would have to consider the obstacles of it being 3000 miles away in a warehouse somewhere in the Keystone state. I called the 800 number and let them know that my freezer had a melt down and I needed one shipped immediately. They checked their computer and saw that they had two of them in their Nevada warehouse. Perfect, I thought. "How soon could you get it to Sacramento?" "In a couple of days," they told me. Not only was it warming up outside but we were to be leaving for Italy for 5 weeks and $1000 worth of food could be in real jeopardy. My original stainless steel, upright, commercial 2 door, reach-in freezer was still cold but hovering around 32º. I needed it quickly. I ordered it. Within a day they sent me an email to confirm the purchase and the shipping bar code so I could track it. When I clicked on the tracking number to see if it was on the truck somewhere in Nevada I saw that it read it was in Pennsylvania and the next truck would be picking it up. I was on fire. I called the 800 number and let them know how mad I was that they had told me it was shipping from Nevada and NOT from Pennsylvania. After going up the ladder and over the heads of the phone receptionist to talk to a manager I fired into him. "They had told me it would ship from Nevada the next day!" I exclaimed in an unpleasant tone. What the heck! "Oh, the Logistics Department told me that they would ship it from Pennsylvania," he told me. Furious because of the overland route and the untimely manner it would take to ship it 3000 miles I had to ask him if the Logistics Department has a map of the U.S. nearby. "Nevada is right next door to California and nowhere near Pennsylvania!" I said in a voice of disbelief.  He tells me then that they were out of those freezers in Nevada although the earlier phone call confirmed there were 2 of them in the Silver state. "Must have been some sort of miscommunication," he said. Not a chance. Lies, lies and more lies. To appease my anger he told me it would go out on the next truck. The phone call ended and I got the next email confirmation that succinctly said that the freezer would be ready to ship in 8 days. EIGHT DAYS? If I wasn't already upset then, I was now. I called him back and reminded him of who I was and the last conversation we'd had. Hmmm, he remembered me. "What do you mean 8 days?"He tells me the last truck was full and the next one goes out in a week. OK, this is the part where language takes a turn and isn't for all ears to hear. "What kind of BS@#$%& is going on here?" I asked in a calmer but serious voice. I've got $1000 worth of food hovering in a freezer that's melting down and it's one lie after another once you've taken my money! What kind of business is this?
This map is just for the "Logistics Dept."
   After he got an unpleasant earful from me he came back with, "Would a $100 credit help?" " No," I said, "it wouldn't," but I have him on the right track now. Wink, wink. "Do me better than that." His next offer was $500. and I calmed down. $500 was better than the $150 offer I expected him to make so I agreed, although my freezer was still coming from PA after leaving the warehouse in a week.
   There was still time I felt. I was able to move the questionable perishables in my mom's freezer and move some items to the house freezer while my brand new True T-49 upright, stainless steel, reach-in, commercial freezer was in transit.
   Normally I'm the kind of guy that if I was to order a steak and potatoes in a restaurant and they brought me a salad and a burrito I wouldn't say anything. But this was over the top and quite unprofessional.
   After the unpleasant days of ordering a new freezer I began to wonder if the credit was for real or another deceptive move on their part. I looked up my account and there it was, a big gleaming $500 credit in my name. I clicked SAVE and then I photographed it right off the computer onto my cell phone. I also took a screen shot just to back me up. Hmm, am I trusting them? Not a chance.
    December rolls around and I start thinking about the credit again. Yup, it's still there but then I start to worry if it has an expiration code built into it. Maybe it's only good for so long and December 31st is less than a month away. What if it vanishes then?
   I can't think of any equipment I might need for Tuscan Sun Pizza Co. so I let it ride. While at my mom's we were watching infomercials together when the Kitchenaid infomercial came up and I thought of all the fun things I could do with that mixer and all of its attachments. I have a mixer I thought. What do I need another one for? I remember spending countless hours on the internet years before and striking out on finding any attachments that would stuff sausage, cut and curl vegetables, make raviolis and pasta and even ice cream and gelato! The KitchenAid does them all! Problem solved!
   I go online and order the KitchenAid mixer from the same company that I had all the problems with before. Remember, that's where my credit was. This time, no problem. I still had another $150 left over on the credit so I went ahead and ordered the ravioli maker to combine with my pasta roller. I suspect there might be some Italian blood in me somewhere since I enjoy their food so much. It might also be that we spent 5 weeks there and the food was to die for.
   I wasn't born and raised in a home where an old Italian mama would spend hours in the kitchen making meals from scratch and passing the recipes down. However, there's no time like the present to teach myself with the help of YouTube to learn the basics and explore the possibilities.
   This year we are hosting the Larsen Family Christmas and as always, we are designing a unique dinner, one to replicate the meals we enjoyed so much from the last trip we took.
   This year I am planning on crepe cannelloni in a red tomato sauce Spaghetti Carbonara in a white sauce, and homemade raviolis in a pesto sauce and along with some of the standards such as Italian meatball soup to start with fresh baguettes and of course,
cannoli for dessert. Notice the red, white and green colors of those three dishes. That wasn't an accident! Maybe with any luck I might become the Italian mama (or uncle) spending hours in the kitchen making meals from scratch and handing down my recipes to future generations. Who gets the KitchenAid though depends on my success. Persistence.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Best of Italy

    Jet lag :(  It's such a drag after an amazing 14 day cruise around Italy and a 17 day Best of Italy Rick Steves' Tour through the interior of Italy. Nobody has asked me yet if I ate pizza while we were in Italy for 35 days and we've been home for 4 days now! The only thing I can figure is that they just assumed that pizza was on every plate at every meal of every day so it might sound like a stupid question. The answer to dispel any mystery is, "Of course I ate pizza!" I had to try out the competitions' pizza of course, and see if I could learn anything new as far as ingredients, presentation, flavors etc. I never had time to do a cooking workshop but there was always an opportunity to see where the wood fired oven was located before placing my order in any Italian villa or city. In fairness, I wanted to try some other Italian dishes as well, which I did. Boar was different and quite good. Venison was amazing in a brown gravy stew up north in the Dolomites. The cannelloni was amazing as was the al dente spaghetti and fettuccine.
   Pizza is a staple in Italy. Numerous times while walking around the piazzas I saw no fewer than 3 pizza places all in a row. The menus were extensive and the one that kept coming up that caught my eye was a tonno pizza. Yep, tuna! I had to try it to see what I'd been missing out on. I like tuna. I like it right out of the can. I like it on toast in the morning and sandwiches at lunch time. I like it in tuna salad. However, tuna on a pizza must be something you grow up with because my taste buds were telling me that tuna on pizza will not sell in the USA. You have to grow up on it like with Miracle Whip instead of mayonnaise! The only thing that would have kept me from trying it altogether would've been Miracle Whip and tuna on a pizza. I'll let the Italians corner that market.
    I did see that when being served that the Italians don't cut their pizzas into 6, 8 or 12 slices like we do here in the states. It's very thin. It's served whole with a knife and fork and you cut off pieces in order to fit it in your mouth. Honestly, I prefer a triangle wedge of pizza, picked up with your hands and devoured like a New Yorker would have. In my opinion, knives and forks should be reserved for the boar and venison but never for pizza. Sorry Europeans, that's just the way it should be eaten. That's what napkins are for!
A Quattro Pizza
     The presentation on what I thought a quattro pizza was when I ordered one, was unique as well. In the US, a quattro formaggio pizza is a 4 cheese pizza. I thought I was ordering that. What a quattro is in Italy is a combination of four toppings all separated into little groups on top of the pizza. Salami on 1 quarter, cheese on another, green olives (with pits intact!) on the third and mushrooms on the fourth quarter. It was delicious. I'm not thinking of changing my presentation, but it's always fun to see someone else's spin on a pizza.
   In addition to eating pizza and Italian food we visited many cities that I never knew existed. The WOW moment for me was a German speaking villa in the village of Castelrotto up north in the Dolomite mountains of Italy all decked out like a real Bavarian style town complete with German speaking residents, architecture and signs in German.
View of the Dolomites in Castelrotto
  They had pizza too, but it was my opportunity to feast on German food instead from an outdoor restaurant gazing at the majestic mountains above the town. It was the base town for the European skiers to come to in the winter and take advantage of the snow and scenery. What a treat! I even got a chance to speak some German and drink some German beer while we sat there with our friends soaking up the view. Rick Steves really knew what he was doing when he added this town to the itinerary.
   Two days in Copenhagen. A two week cruise aboard the Royal Clipper around the boot of Italy including stops in Sicily, Greece, Albania, Croatia and Slovenia then return to Venice only to leave quickly to catch a train to Varenna and start the Rick Steves' tour there over to Venice and across the leg of the boot through Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Sienna and Rome can tire a person out but every day was a new adventure and another opportunity to see the sites and eat pizza along the way.
   It's like I've said before, "Nobody doesn't like pizza" and the Italians are there to prove it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Time Traveling Pizza...again!

   We've done a Dicken's Fair. We've done a Steampunk Bazaar. But now, we are doing the Italian Renaissance. The Carnevale Fantastico which was... OK, I'll say it. "A fantastic carnival". How else could I describe it? The colorful air of laughter and merriment was everywhere. Time travelers from the 15th and 16th centuries danced, caroused, spoke, sang, performed and spread joy and entertainment amongst the crowds that attended. Even if we hadn't been working it I would have still attended. Men in tights, women looking lovely, children frolicking, food, drink and good times awaited everyone who was there.
Myself (Chef Vincenzo) and Stephanie
Our Renaissance affair
My translations may not have been totally accurate!
   It was the first Italian Renaissance festival in Vallejo and the first that we had worked. I know what you're thinking, "They didn't have pizza back then during the Renaissance!" However, we were able to finesse our way into it by making a phone call and admitting that we knew pizza wasn't around then but fire was and that's how they cooked back then. Real fire. The event coordinator said to me, "We've called 5 other pizza vendors and no one has committed. You're our guy." Hey, that was easy! That was all I had to hear before I started working on costumes, decorations, menu boards, flags and also our Italian accents and a few Italian phrases. I love a theme and this was perfect for us. One of my workers, Steve, suggested that we ought to give back change in gold coins which I thought was a great idea. Sheri rushed over to the bank and was able to get $200 in gold coated U.S. dollar coins and we just referred to them as Florins for the customers which was the currency back then. The crew jumped on board with their costumes. We had to disguise the trailer by covering it with burlap. We covered the canopy with a piece of burlap that Sheri had sewn to fit and I painted the famous Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci on a strip of canvas to look a little more Renaissance appearing. I added flags and colorfully wrapped poles to the decor and before you knew it, we were time traveling!
   Saturday morning came and the orders started coming in.  Stephanie, my kitchen manager and I had a great dialogue going on using our new found accents where I'd be yelling back to her, "What do you mean 4 more pizzas? I gotta full oven, whats a da matter wit you?" She'd squawk back at me saying, "Take a dees pizzas, I gotta no more room for dem." From which I'd reply, "You sounda like a dose peacocks behind us squawking at me all day long. You tink a your a my wife?" The crowd loved it as they watched their pizzas being baked and were being entertained as well.
   I had hoped to sell 500 pizzas over the course of the weekend and brought enough to fit that bill. By the end of the first day at 6:00 we counted and had sold 392 already! That was great but that only left us a mere 108 for all of Sunday!
   OMG! I can't buy doughs this late in the day. I did have 2 more 96 count cases of dough at home (75 miles away) in my freezer so instead of going straight to our friends house who offered to have us spend the night we dashed home and grabbed the remaining 2 boxes, more cheese and pepperoni, plates, firewood and napkins. The dough had to thaw and our friends had a hot tub so while the dough thawed we soaked. Oh my gosh, we were exhausted and had to do it all over again the next day!
    Sunday was more of the same until about 1:00 when we ran out of the last of the cheese. I asked Sheri to make a cheese run to Smart and Final and had to tell the line of about 10 or 12 people that we are making a cheese run and that we'd have cheese in about 20 minutes. The line dissipated and when Sheri returned I made another announcement that the cheese had arrived.
Men in tights
My friend Sue 
A Renaissance procession
The line reappeared in about 5 seconds and we were back in business. But not for long. The last 192 doughs we had, we used and were now officially sold out 3 hours short of  the festival ending. Secretly we were relieved but I hate to turn down a pizza lover but we had no choice. What I learned from this was that time travelers to any century still want their pizza and I better bring enough so I don't disappoint.
   Once we were officially out of food I took a walk to check out the festival up close. I found my friend, Sue, who was hanging out with the upper crust of society. When I saw her, I said, " So this is where you're hanging." One finely dressed gentleman overheard me and said, "A hanging? There's going to be a hanging?" You gotta be careful of what you say at a Renfair or they might get the wrong idea! We got a laugh out of it and went our merry way.
   Next year I'm thinking of bringing a mere 800 doughs and enough cheese and pepperoni to feed all of the time travelers plus a few more. Even a few from another century! Arrivederci!
Steampunkers time traveling to the 15th century!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How the Italian Renaissance Began

   We are still getting ready and still saving for our 5 week Italian excursion by air, land and sea this coming June and July. At first it seemed like the date would never roll around but now it's just a couple of months away! We're learning our Italian food phrases and checking the pronunciation for which I am glad because the food is what Italians are really known. As an example I learned that if I was to order a pepperoni pizza over there I would have received a cheese pizza with fresh peppers on it. I would want to have ordered a salame piccante pizza. That's good to know if you have your heart set on a certain thing.
Translations are probably incorrect but I was using a
 Rick Steves phrase book and doing the best I could.
   Meanwhile we are gearing up for our first time doing a Renaissance Fair (Carnevale Fantastico) in Vallejo this May 2nd and 3rd before we leave for Italy I have been rewriting the menu boards in Old World Italian.
   I also have learned a bit more about pizza during the Renaissance. First, they didn't have pizza during the Renaissance. I already knew that but I was able to talk myself into the event by talking up the aspect of pizza being Italian. Since the coordinators are putting an Italian theme to the event I worked that angle. Quickly they replied and told me they had contacted 3 or 4 other pizza vendors and never heard back from any of them! I think it was Woody Allen quoting Groucho Marx who said, "80% of life is just showing up!" They were soooo right! We got the gig!
   We went to a workshop they were hosting and from the looks of it we will be time traveling back to Italy where the Renaissance began. We will be tweaking our English Renaissance outfits to appear more Italian although a peasant in England didn't differ much from an Italian peasant. We will be required to speak with an accentuated Italian accent and even disguise our booth and trailer to blend in with the period. Florins were the coin they accepted in the Tuscany region back then. Although Italy wasn't united until about 1835 I believe, we will be baking pizzas under the Tuscan Sun for 2 days accepting the standard fare of Master Card, Signora Visa and of course, Florins, gold and dollars.
    There's nothing like a themed event to get my mind going. A couple of Christmases ago we did the Dicken's Fair in Elk Grove and tweaked it to become more of a Steampunk theme and ended up winning the prize for best booth decorations. We've also done a couple more actual Steampunk events and now we're time traveling once again. I've contacted other themed events but the Civil War re-enactors didn't want us nor did the Celtic Fair but I think it's their loss for not benefitting from my creativity.
   I'm also painting the dome of my oven to look more Italian old world. aged and distressed. It's not just for this event but because it needed to be painted so I'm employing my painting skills to age and distress it to give it more of an authentic look. One guide in Italy a number of years ago said that the Italians weren't big into maintenance as one might witness when you're there but it's what gives the cities so much character.
    Our tent canopy will be covered in burlap to rid us of the white nylon appearance and the trailer skirted in burlap as well to hide the chrome and tires. I was thinking of painting Leonardo DaVinci's Vitruvian Man across the front skirt of the booth with his arms out saying, he would like a pizza this big!
   What's not to like about time traveling with pizza? You get to experience it in another century, another country and another culture.                               I think that if renaissance really had started in Italy then the reason had to be that someone was up late one night trying to put together a midnight snack in the wood-fired bread oven and probably stumbled on a way to tweak that ball of bread dough just a bit by flattening it out, giving it a few twirls and then drizzling some marinara over it. Then he added some leftover mozzarella,  tossed on a few slices of salame piccante and slid it into the oven for a couple of minutes. Moments later, the midnight snack was invented and the  Renaissance was born. The rest is history!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rome...Where it All Started!

   There we are on the patio out back counting pizza tickets and piles of cash adding them up from our last pizza event when my cell phone rings. It's my friend Larry from Pennsylvania whom we have travelled with to Jamaica, China and Las Vegas among other outings. He and his wife, Andrea had booked a 2 week cruise on a 5 masted sailing ship around Italy starting in Rome and ending in Venice exploring 5 other countries along the way for next June of 2015. This was to be an expensive cruise by the sounds and sights of it. It had also been sold out, but he got word that someone had cancelled and they wanted us to go! Immediately I told him there was no way we could afford it so I opted to pass. With some insistence on his part using that old line, "We're not getting any younger." I paused and and had to tell him that if we DID go we would have to cancel our Burningman adventure this summer to save money for Italy. "Can we think about it?" I asked. "No, you can't because if you do it will be sold out from under us as we speak," he said.  Luckily Sheri was there to hear the conversation so I didn't have to sell it to her. Without hesitation, she said we should look it up and check out the ship and the itinerary not to mention the cost. At once she was on the computer and after a minute she said, "I think we should go." Let's see, hmmm, staggering around on the baking hot playa floor of the Nevada desert, amid dust storms, freezing nights, no electricity, eating dirt, little water and smelling nasty for a week OR go on a 5 masted sailing ship around Italy while the crew pampers and feeds you, folds back your bed covers every night after placing a chocolate mint on your pillow along side the bath towel they neatly folded into a cute little bunny rabbit all before waking up in another country along the Adriatic Sea. Well, that's a no-brainer! So we called and booked it. There's nothing like a plastic credit card to nail things down. We are totally hyped now, but suddenly having buyers remorse, since we didn't know how we were going to pay for it. We walked back out to the patio where all the cash and pizza tickets were laying and suddenly it occurred to me. Pizza will pay for it! After all, we're not getting any younger! (To quote Larry). Let's do this thing! We've been doing a lot of events selling our delicious wood-fired pizza that I had been saving the money to spend on something but didn't know what yet. Yes, that's what we've been saving it for, of course!
The 17 day Rick Steves land tour
    We are both fans of Rick Steves who does his travel shows on PBS to raise money for the station and about 2 weeks after we settled into the nightmare of finding airline tickets and working our schedule of being gone for 2 weeks when Sheri says, "I want to do a land tour of Italy." Land tour? "Yes, a land tour with Rick Steves around Italy." "OMG, how are we going to do that?" I asked. "We'll save for it and forgo the unnecessary things like heating the house and eating food." she says. OK, but let's get Larry and Andrea on board with this idea. With a little cajoling they agreed. "Heck, we talked you into a 2 week cruise, I think we can do this 17 day land tour also," he says. Yes! They're in and on board, you might say. This is amazing. Our best friends whom we met on a cruise over 12 years ago, who stayed with me when I broke my shoulder in Jamaica, hung with me 8 months later when a tree broke and fell on us in Napa, suffered another set back when Andrea broke her ankle on the way to the airport in Philadelphia bound for Italy in 2013 causing them to miss that trip and now we are reuniting for another vacation of a lifetime together.  What could possibly go wrong?
   Then in October this year while they were visiting Key West in Florida, Larry got knocked down and was later mentioning how his upper back and lower neck were hurting the next day. After a couple of days of pain they went to see a doctor. Larry had broken his neck! The C-7 was no longer. More like a C-7 and a half! Air vac'd back to Miami Cedar Sinai, he had surgery to repair his neck and send him home a week later in a neck brace.
    I knew Andrea wouldn't want to be bothered with phone calls and questions so we texted. The anticipation of how he was doing was killing us. I'd been through a broken neck back in 1993 and knew how traumatic it can be especially for the care giver, in my case, Sheri. I was expecting to hear that since this happened the whole Italy thing is now off. Fingers crossed we finally got word that they are still going. Larry is improving everyday and Andrea's ankle has healed. I stay away from Napa and falling trees and Sheri is doing her best to not get sick at the human germ factory or as some call it, elementary school, where she teaches.
Larry's new look
   Ten years ago I told Sheri I would take her to Italy for her 50th birthday. Money was tight so I bargained her down to a stay at the Venetian in Las Vegas. When I discovered I couldn't afford that either I told her I'd take her to the Olive Garden Restaurant for dinner but low and behold we ended up just having a pizza and a salad with Italian Wishbone dressing on it. She still stayed married to me! It's also our 40th anniversary in 2015 and she turns 60 next year so off to Italy we go with a 2 day stop over in Copenhagen before actually getting to Rome.
   Rome, the Eternal City was where I first encountered a wood-fired pizza 20 years ago. It's going to be a whole new appreciation of wood-fired pizza when we return. I just gotta keep making those pizzas to get us there and back safely. Yes, and Larry & Andrea home safely too. Arrivederci

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Bogle Mind Boggle

     A mind boggle at Bogle. Yes, that's Bogle Winery and Vineyards right across the river in neighboring Yolo County. (If you're a red wine drinker than I'd suggest the Essential Red and the Old Vine Zinfandel.) On a whim a couple of years ago I drove out to Clarksburg in Yolo County and stopped by Bogle Winery to see the manager or anybody who would listen that I owned a mobile pizza trailer and was willing to share it with anybody who'd have me. I brought my card and walked upstairs to the tasting room. I was cold calling but when you have a product that you believe in it's more like sharing than cold calling. Bogle has a beautiful venue back in the vineyards along side a creek and far enough from the main road that you don't even hear traffic. I introduced myself and explained what we do. The manager took my card and said, "Thanks for coming by." OK, so I gave it a shot. Three summers later I get a call from Shaun, the manager and asking if I was willing to come out to Bogle and do pizzas on a Friday evening for their music venue called Alfresco Night. I anxiously drove out there wearing my pizza print shirt and reintroduced myself. Shaun was a very personable young guy and he explained what Alfresco Night was. I immediately loved the idea and he went on to say that, "You can't run out of food." Apparently I was replacing the pizza guy who did run out of food and apparently didn't care. Shaun went on to say that maybe it was partly his fault for sharing some of the Bogle wine with that pizza crew and maybe that was partly his fault. Hearing that there was to be only 300 to 400 people at this alfresco night I wondered how many pizzas we would actually sell. It was an evening of music on the lawn from only 5:00 to 7:30 and a captive audience who could bring in picnic baskets if they chose but I heeded his warning anyway. Two days before the event an email was sent out to all Friday evening vendors by Shaun to reinforce the policy of not running out of food! OK, I get it, come prepared!

   Friday in June rolls around and we are just back from Alaska. I am prepared for another overly excited event coordinator that thinks his event is different and better than all the others. I heed his warning while joking to my staff that, "We might get busy. Yeah right." Five o'clock and the people are rolling in and finding themselves a spot on the lawn. 5:02 and there's an order! 5:05 and there's a line. 5:10 and we are up against a line 20 people deep! Holy #*@! and that translates to $$$$$! The band is rocking away, my wine glass with an inch of wine is sitting on the deck of the pizza trailer while I'm shoveling 6 to 8 pizzas at a time in and out of the oven! Flashbacks of the Pear Fair are going through my head. This doesn't happen every day. We're all in high gear, all five of us, and the orders keep coming. Some are 6 to a ticket! 6:00 comes and goes and there's no end in sight. I look over my shoulder and they're still lined up 20 deep! "My god, Shaun wasn't kidding!" There is no place for the customers to go since we're the only vendor and the nearest food is 5 miles away. "We've got to keep this up." All I can think about is don't run out of food. "Is it 7:30 yet? Have we fed them all?" Finally the music ends and the orders slow down. A few musicians belly up to get a pizza and we're standing there in amazement. Are they serious? Is it like this every Friday night?
    We met the crowd head on and fed them all. Shaun had planted an employee in the mix to gauge us. Once he goes through the line to place an order the turn-around time was about 4 and a half minutes. They were impressed! So was I! "Let's count the tickets and see what we did," I said. One hundred and ninety four pizzas in 2 1/2 hours was the count. That averages out to 77.6 pizzas an hour. That's got to be a pizza record, at least for us anyway.
    Shaun had set us up for 3 Friday night al frescos and now I was a believer. "Come prepared," he had said. Thank the pizza gods we were prepared!
    The next time we did Bogle we did an astounding 238 pizzas in the same length of time which averaged out to 95.2 pizzas an hour! I told Shaun that if the pizza police were out they would've caught us exceeding the speed limit. I set a personal best that first Friday with 10 pizzas in the oven at once. The second Friday I broke it twice with 11 pizzas in the oven at once. Somehow I was able to snap a picture while juggling those eleven pizzas as proof that I wasn't exaggerating! Sure the photo is a little blurry like those bank robber photos you see the bank cameras snap and you think, "He looks a little like my uncle or maybe the neighbor down the street." It's definitely clearer though than the photos you see (or don't see) of Bigfoot in the mist behind some foliage with a shaking camera.
Eleven blurry pizzas! A personal best!
    After two successful Friday evenings we were asked to stay and do the Passport Weekend which was various wine tastings and produce stands out in the Clarksburg area.
The lawn and vineyards at Bogle
    The third alfresco night was equally successful which got us their corporate event to serve all the Bogle staff and sales reps as a catered event in which we were able to chat with a number of the Bogle people and talk wine and pizza. Ronnie, an outside rep who hired me was there and what a sweetheart she was.  Not only did she send me home with a sampler bag of 6 bottles of wine but when I went to deposit the check on Tuesday I noticed they had written it for $100 more than it was supposed to be. I called her voicemail and sent her an email letting her know about the mistake. She texted back and said, "Deposit it, it's a tip!" That goes in my Italy fund for next year! You gotta love Ronnie!
   Oh, that glass of wine the first Friday night with only an inch in it? It still had an inch in it when the last pizza came out of the oven. That's how busy we got! Fortunately the staff their loved us as we do them and more wine was available! Cheers to Bogle, a mind boggling winery and alfresco event!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Par-Baked Pear Fair

    The once again, amazing Pear Fair has come and gone. Who would've thought that we could break previous years records with a little small town home grown pear festival along a road most people wouldn't drive during the day let alone at night. In a town called Courtland along Hwy 160 is a lone courthouse that I suspect fathered the name for this sleepy little village along the river. The people there are enthusiastic, supportive, full of energy and excitement when it comes to this event. Its like Mayberry on steroids. Whatever their formula is, it works. News crews come out, people line the road for miles trying to get in, and vendors are in place. The Pear Queen has been crowned, the car show is shining and the weather always seems to cooperate.
    Just days before in order to streamline and make things more efficient I had spent 2 days bar-baking 450 doughs to bag and have ready to dress and bake. Par-baking will take away the unpredictability of the weather proofing fresh doughs too quickly and sticking to the sheeting between layers. They are easier to handle, won't cool the deck of the oven as much and make a great crunch when you cut them. This is huge when it comes to helping eliminate frustration on the job and speed things up!
A couple hundred par-bakes cooling before bagging
   To be honest, I wasn't excited about the Pear Fair the final few days before the event. The weather had been in the triple digits all week and we were going to cook just like our pizzas. 102º was the prediction and it can zap your energy and enthusiasm, especially when you're standing in front of a 900º pizza oven all day.
   Sunday morning rolled around and when  I peaked outside at 6:00 A.M. it was overcast! Clouds were hovering all over the sky. Hmmm, this isn't what my i-phone was telling me. I like this better. Generally if I don't like the weather one app on the phone is predicting, I will open up another app to get a confirmation. If the second prediction is a little cooler with a slight breeze and a cloud cover, I'll go with that one! That's more to my liking! Off on the horizon as we were driving over there from Elk Grove I could see rain falling in the west, probably near Vacaville or Suisun. No rain in Courtland, just a beautiful 72º. As it happened the clouds didn't burn off until about 12:30 which was awesome. I was even burning pear firewood that day so I think the message in smoke went directly upwards.  We were being blessed by the pear gods!
   The crowds came and we hunkered down for the pizza storm that we were ready for. I added a 6th person to the crew, my niece from Boise State had been visiting her boyfriend that she met up in Idaho who happened  to live in Elk Grove, of all places. She was excited and ready to work. I didn't know what kind of worker she would prove to be but found out quickly she was as versatile as a Swiss Army knife. (That generation probably doesn't even know what a Swiss Army knife is so maybe she was as versatile as a smart phone). We had her as a back up on every station and she performed well on each. After I heard she had worked 4 of the 5 stations I asked her if she wanted to bake a few pizzas. She jumped in willingly and completed the task standing on her toes to see in the oven! What a kid! Her brothers were equally impressive the night before when we pulled the trailer into Courtland and set up. There's nothing like a couple of strong athletes to show their uncle how tough they are and how quickly they are to learn. Later in the day they hauled in more ice for us as the day grew warmer and the first 100 lbs. of ice was nearly gone. It's a shame they live up in Oregon where I can't tap into that energy more frequently. They'll even work to be paid in pizza!
   I set a personal best of baking 9 pizzas in the oven at one time and a company best of baking 438 pizzas in a day. Pear and proscuitto was the pizza of choice once again. Who would've guessed?
   There wasn't much time to gloat about our new records and how everything worked like a well oiled machine as the next event would be the return to Bogle Vineyards just 2 weeks and 2 miles away. Bogle is where we get tested for speed, quality and accuracy in a 2 and a half hour window of putting out the best quality we can in a very limited amount of time. More on that next blog but I have to say how proud I was for all the Tuscan Sun staff that didn't make a single mistake or get flustered the entire day. It's hard to imagine that we could do any better next year but the organizing, the passion and the stamina show when it's crunch time. Speaking of crunch time. That's the sound a well baked pizza makes when you cut it for those four hundred plus pizza lovers at the Pear Fair. Mmmm, wood-fire pizza at it's best!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pizzas for Sail!

Wedding guests creating the landscape on canvas
   So, what have I been doing since I don't seem to be blogging lately? Well, just for starters I have been welcoming spring time in as the assortment of paint jobs,  pizza events, Steampunk events, Civil War events, and travel opportunities arising along with the murals, paintings and wedding requests. Weddings? "Really? Yes, weddings!" I have now had two requests to paint at a wedding. One, I have been hired for the other didn't like my price. Helwig Winery out in Amador is a first class winery with all the wedding features anybody who could ever hope for with a majestic 360º view of more vineyards and landscape, sunset and beauty was the wedding couple's choice location. I still haven't even done a pizza event for a wedding yet and already I am being asked to paint a wedding? Who wants Elvis, karaoke, jugglers, mimes, pizza tossers and such if you can have an artist?! The reality of it is that I don't paint but encourage the wedding guests to create the painting. I just supply the canvas & paints, supervise and coach them and the painting becomes the guests gift to the bride and groom! What the heck, if it pays OK, I'm there. Cool idea too, I'm hoping it will catch on!
Terry Isaac
One of Terry's wildlife paintings in acrylic
Another of Terry's masterful works
    It's funny how the ball will start to roll sometimes with an innocent comment during a TV show while watching an episode of Kitchen Nightmares with Chef Ramsay. Sheri commented that she doesn't hear his British accent anymore. I told her, my friend Terry who's wife is British, that after a few days of visiting them I noticed I didn't hear her accent anymore either. "Hey, let's Google Terry and see what's going on in his life and the art world of wildlife paintings" Sheri said. We paused our show and Googled him. June 8, 2014 Terry is the featured guest, speaker and workshop teacher aboard the Celebrity cruise out of Vancouver BC to Alaska for 7 days. Holy #$%! Terry, my buddy from college is the hot topic aboard the Celebrity Century cruise ship! I want to go! We've never been to Alaska although we have been on a number of cruises. How is this going to work? I have a 3 day pizza event at the Yuba County Airport doing the Western Aviation Regional Fly-in Airshow from June 6th through the 8th. The ship sets sail on the 8th out of Vancouver B.C. and I don't even know if I can get a room on it. The deeper I dig, I find out it's been sold out. Bummer. I really would liked to have been on it and surprised the heck out of him. It's been 6 years since he flew me up to Penticton, BC just to paint his new house then the following year Sheri and I flew up there to spend some time with him, meet his new British/Canadian wife, Kathleen and go to an Elvis Festival. Oh, he would be shocked I'm sure, if I showed up at one of his onboard workshops as I was going to use the alias Hans Hansen to register. Nope, the cruise is all sold out. "Wait a minute, what about a waiting list?" I did the typical online searches and nobody will put you on a waiting list. "I'll call the cruise line directly." Nope, not even them. I told my story to the cruise line agent and apparently, if you can find one with a sympathetic heart they really do have an unofficial waiting list. Well, at least the agent does if the cruise line doesn't. She told me she would monitor it daily and give me a call if something opened up. "Someone on that cruise must be going to an Elvis festival,an air show or wood-fired pizza event and cancel out at the last moment," I thought.
   What do you know? A room opened up and we're in like Flint! I couldn't believe it. A couple of weeks later we get an email from Expedia Cruises with our room assignment on it. It says we're booked on a family size veranda balcony! I can't afford that! But it's a free upgrade with probably a string or two pulled by my friend or one of his staff. "Never mind, we'll take it if the price remains the same!"
   Now, I have to plan accordingly for the 3 day air show pizza event, the wedding painting, and now the Alaskan cruise all the while getting a root canal, paying all the bills ahead, setting the drip systems to water, repair the pool vacuum while Sheri finishes up her last week of teaching 5th grade for the season. Piece of cake!
   We refer to these as God-winks. If it's supposed to happen then somehow it will. If it defies logic, planning, strategy and common sense then it must be a God-wink. We were able to use our frequent flyer miles for the airfare to B.C.. My crew is willing and able to carry on the pizza event while we're gone, the root canal will be finished 3 days before we go, Sheri will be done teaching for the summer while all the travel logistics have fallen into place and our passports are in order. I'm also signed on to Terry's workshop for the 2 days at sea and just realized I can write my share of the expenses off in my taxes next year!
   How cool is that? Selling pizzas while I'm sailing away at sea with my friend of 37 years who is the star of the show. I think God is winking at us!
   He certainly is because I just got this little notice as I was about to publish this blog. Check out the video below. It could've happened while we were away! Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor? Wink, wink ;-)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Dicken's Fair They'll Remember

Professor Nefarius Brainstormer
   This is the latest in my pizza journey. I've written about the history of pizza, the evolution of pizza, the flavors of pizza and some silly stories and adventures about pizza throughout my pizza journey. Who would have thought that making pizza would take me time traveling back to the 19th century in the world of Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Jules Vern, Nikola Tesla and Steampunk? A year ago I didn't even know what Steampunk was!
   The Elk Grove Dicken's Fair has been around now for 26 years. The event coordinator told me they were having a trailer/booth decorating contest for the best Victorian decorations and costumes were optional but welcome. Hmmm, I wondered how I could go above and beyond the typical Christmas decorations that everyone might be using. I didn't wonder too long before I got the idea to steampunk our trailer and outfits. We are already Civil War re-enactors so we had 90% of the outfit in hand. The month of September I spent out in the garage building a death ray that would make Nikola Tesla nervous and proud. Not to nuke pizzas but as a fun item to display and  attract more pizza lovers to our booth. Next were the hats. The hats are a must. People of the steampunk era (a fictional reality that never happened that evolved into the future with only the power of steam, since electricity was nothing more than a parlor trick). Hats had goggles for exploring or scientific work or using in their flying machines or for just plain good looks. Gears were evident everywhere and a symbol of high technology. In October I constructed 3 hats for my wife, myself and a fellow worker. In November I worked on steampunking the trailer while a friend added organ pipes that pumped out steam and classical music. I have never worked so hard for a pizza event in preparing as I have this one. What helped to motivate me was the prize of a free vendor space plus $100 but who needs motivation when you have a killer idea?
   When November 30th rolled around I was excited to set up. We crammed liked the Superbowl was on in an hour and got things going. The fire was stoked, I was stoked, my crew was stoked and we were ready. When the event coordinator came around she looked  in amazement at  all the work we had done and said it gave her goosebumps just looking at it! That's what I wanted to hear! Quickly it was 10 o'clock and we were baking pizzas. People gathered and enjoyed our steampunking efforts as they looked at the death ray, took our pictures, watched steam come out of the organ pipes and ordered pizzas. Before long and some 150 pizzas later the judges came around  dressed in their Victorian outfits and they stood and stared. I introduced myself and the young lady said to me, "I just love Steampunk." "Oh, that's got to help," I thought. When she returned a second time to just soak it all in she was practically speechless. I think she was wondering why I went over the edge just to decorate comparing me to Chevy Chase in his Christmas Vacation movie and how he went over the edge decorating his house for Christmas. It's not hard to answer, I wanted to win!
   Two weeks prior Sheri and I had gone to our first Sacramento Steampunk Society party all dressed in our finest gear sort of as a tryout for our newly fashioned couture. At the evening' s end I was selected best male steampunker. Now I was shooting for my second victory. About 4 o'clock the coordinator came by once more and said, "We need to talk." Hmmm, did I do something wrong? So I listened in very closely and she says, "You won..... by a long shot!" Hot diggety I'm 2 for 2 but not without the help of my crew and wife all participating.
Wearing your corset on the outside is demonstrated by Steampunk Sheri 
I love my new chimney!
A little steam for a special effect

The Ultimate Death Ray

Steampunk Pizza Oven
   What a kick it was to entertain the fairgoers and explain to those who asked what the death ray was for I explained, "It was for shooting down stray planets threatening our part of the universe." In addition to the death rays, organ pipes, steam and costumes I had propped up an explanation of what Steampunk was for those who were seeing it for their first time. It read: Steampunk is a neo-Victorian Era, evolving out of the 19th century where steam is the energy of the future. Explorers, inventors, scientists and daring young men in their flying machines built the reality that has become the Steampunk Era. The women then were sassy, classy and a little bit trashy. Hopefully we made this a fair that they will indeed remember!
Notice the steam from the organ pipes?

Professor Brainstormer talking about the Death Ray

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Steampunk Pizza!

   The journey continues often in ways you would least expect. We've done a number of fairs and festivals and always have a couple more lined up in our sites to get our wood-fired pizza out there. The one festival I have prepared for more than any other is the upcoming Dickens Fair in Old Town Elk Grove. Last Christmas my wife and I decided to drive 2 hours into the city of San Francisco and visit the real Dickens Fair. I say real because it has no equal when it comes to recreating the look, sound, feel and smell of old England in its merriment during he Victorian era. The famous Cow Palace had been transformed into a 19th century city with shop keepers, street performers, scientists, explorers, inventors, snake oil salesmen, food vendors, chimney sweeps, street urchins and yes, even the Queen, Queen Victoria to be exact. In the air was the aroma of chestnuts that were actually roasting on an open fire!
   Being that we are Civil War re-enactors we already have the 19th century civilian outfits. All we needed to do was tweak them a bit to be British and we were a perfect fit. While walking the streets of merry old England we had both noticed some characters that we were not familiar with. I stared in amazement and  tried to identify the portrayal these attendees were doing. I finally had to ask and their reply was, "Steampunk." What punk? "Steampunk," they said. Hmmm, Steampunk, I'd never heard of it but I had seen it before. Most of us old enough to have seen an old Jules Verne type movie have seen it. Think of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A more modern use of Steampunk might be the movie Wild Wild West with Will Smith and Kevin Kline. Remember the huge mechanical spider? Steampunk was an era of post Victorian modern advancing into the future without the use of electricity but steam. Inventors who built death rays, time machines, flying airships and mechanical devices of every conceivable type. Often they were over built, weighing heavily and with the use of lots of gears, sprockets, rivets, gadgets and of course steam.
   I was intrigued. Steampunk is a current genre of Cosplay and art. What-play you say? Another new word in my vocabulary is Cosplay which is short for Costume Play. Being that we are both costume people and not just
for Halloween, I needed to explore it. If you Google "Steampunk" and put it on Images you will get the meaning and now have a new word in your vocabulary as well. Besides being Victorian modern it is really cool stuff. The death rays and time machines don't have to actually work but a few moving pieces will always make it appear to look like it really works. Welders goggles are adapted to look as if they are flying machine protective eye wear or scientific viewing devices. Lots of hand guns in every conceivable style from pistols to long range shooting devices. Boots adorned with gears, time pieces and gauges of every sort, hats with mechanical devices and even prosthetic articulating
mechanical arms for god only knows what!
      So what does this have to do with pizza? Everything and nothing. As I mentioned, the Old Town Elk Grove Dickens Fair coming November 30th will see Steampunk for the first time. We will be baking pizzas there but in addition to that we will dress in our Victorian Steampunk costumes which we have devised. The pizza trailer will also be tweaked to appear Steampunk with organ pipes, steam and anything else we can think to add to it. The reason being is Elk Grove is holding a contest for the best booth decorations and the winner will be given free vendor space at the next Elk Grove event. Several hundred dollars in value. I intend to win that prize so that's my incentive. But also to be fair, Civil War ladies were not the prettiest women on earth so to glide on over to the post Victorian age of Steampunk where the women are
cute and sexy isn't so bad of a shift! The Steampunk genre, I have learned has been around for at least 20 years! People of all ages have taken it to another level integrating it into everyday devices to "steampunk" them.
I think I will need to study this genre of art and Cosplay for quite some time! Currently, in addition to our outfits and hats with goggles, I have already built a death ray, some hand pistols and am working on an airship next. Yes, an airship that hopefully will hover above our heads at the Dickens Fair. You'll have to wait until the event to see if I can really pull it off. When I have a thorough understanding I will be able to write the next chapter of Steampunk involving the making of Steampunk pizza I hope!
By the way, what would go on a steampunk pizza?