Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Dickens of a Fair

    Dickens was good to us. Elk Grove had their 25th anniversary of the Dickens Faire. We signed up to bake pizza and pulled out our Civil War outfits for the event. Since we are civilian Civil War re-enactors it wasn't a stretch to pull them together with a bit of a tweak to appear as Victorian era folks. A larger hat, a different cravat, (that's a tie, for those of you who don't speak Victorian) and some comfortable brogans. (shoes)
    The Victorian era spanned several decades from 1837 to 1901 during the reign of England's Queen Victoria. The Dickens era fell well within those decades from 1836 with his first successful novel The Pickwick Papers to 1870, the year in which he died.  The American Civil War however, was also within those two periods lasting from 1861 to 1865. When I think of Charles Dickens I think of his novel, a Christmas Carol as do most people, I believe. Who can forget Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit and of course Ebeneezer Scrooge? Not to mention the ghosts from his past, present and future. I always enjoyed that story whether I was reading it, watching a theater production or viewing Mr. Magoo as a child with the voice of Jim Backus playing the roll of Scrooge. Oh Magooooo, you've done it again!
   When ever a theme is mentioned I'm first in line to be a part of it. Dickens Theme? Piece of cake...or pizza or something. Sheri & I didn't hesitate to dress the part. Our partners even got into it with their articles of clothing although I had to remove Greg's baseball hat and give him a proper period hat. Not a problem, any good re-enactor will have multiple accessories to change his appearance or help out a friend. My red satin vest is still at the dry cleaners though trying to get the pizza residue off of it.
   The outdoor ice skating rink that was promised to us didn't freeze in time. They blamed it on the equipment as
any good contractor
would. It never really mattered. The street faire was one long block long and we were in the middle of it. Everybody had to pass us twice as they strolled along on a sunny and crisp day. People were hungry and we were ready. Our final pizza count was over 200 by the time we shut down at 4:00 for the parade to come through. By Dickens it was close though, as we ran out of fresh dough, cheese, paper plates and napkins. That was a first for us! I even made a cheese run to keep us going until 4. On previous occasions at the Elk Grove Dickens Fair we had been disappointed by the attendance when visiting it. I just believed the ice rink would draw more people in. It wasn't the ice rink though but the sun bringing the people out and letting them have a dickens of a good time. They told us to expect 10,000 people. I think the organizers did a dickens of a great job and were amazingly prophetic. (I guess I've used that dickens word to death by now!)

   If the ghost of Christmas future was to show at my bedside I definitely would bake pizzas at the  Dickens Fair again next year!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Victorian Pizza

What should I call my next novel?
   We aren't experts. We aren't professionals. We are just a couple of guys who love pizza and hope to share our brand of pizza with others who like pizza. It really sounds cool to hear friends say to their friends in front of you, "Vince makes an awesome pizza." or "You've not tasted pizza until you've tried Vince's wood-fired pizza." Hearing that really gets my excitement up.
   We did the Lodi Street Faire in, where else? Lodi. Had a really good run of sales to the Loditians. I don't think that's really a word. Maybe they're Lodites.
   Real Estate agents will tell you though, that it's, "Location, location, location." They're right. We were snuggled in to our 10 x 10 foot space with the pizza trailer in back where nobody could see it or enjoy the show sandwiched between the Kettle Korn guy and the world famous Lockeford Sausages. Lockeford Sausages has a following and a clientele. People literally drive for hours to stock up on Lockeford Sausage made locally right next door to Lodi in the town of, you guessed it, Lockeford. I guess that would make those people Lockefordians? Anyway, not putting them down at all in any way cuz their sausages are excellent but darn when it comes to a reputation that precedes you and a corner booth with 2 exposures, they win! I wanted to go take pizza samples to the 20+ people standing in line at their booth and swing a few our direction. I didn't, that would be poor sportsmanship. I did enjoy their barbecue smoke from the sausages being grilled over an open flame and a large pan of fresh onions over the fire right where we had to enjoy it all day. It sure beats kettle korn blowing in your face. We did well in Lodi. Our measuring stick has become the Pear Fair and any comparison to it is where we mark it.
   Next on the agenda is Elk Grove's very own Old Town Dickens Fair in downtown Elk Grove. It's been small and poorly attended in the past and you've got to give the poor volunteers some credit for trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear with barely any support from the city itself. This year appears to be different. For one, it's the 25th anniversary of the Dickens Faire in Elk Grove. Whoopee! I had to mention that but the main reason I believe it will be better than any year prior is this year they are actually getting support from the city and putting in an outdoor ice rink. I couldn't believe it myself until I saw the article in today's paper. They are actually going to do it, albeit temporarily, until Christmas but hey, that's taking a shot at being supportive.
   I did request a space next to or near the ice rink as that, I believe, will be the main attraction. Piping hot pizza on a cold day in November while waiting to rent some skates has got to be a perfect combination. The smell of wood smoke drifting across the ice has got to entice those hungry skaters to come check us out while they soak up some heat from the 900º degree oven. It's like leading lambs to slaughter. Shouldn't even be legal but hey, no one's forcing them to skate.

Typical Victorian couple of the era

Our outfits while re-enacting with friends at Manassas
  We will attempt to dress in Dickens period costume as we just need to make a few minor changes to our Civil War outfits to adjust to the particular decade. Fact: The Victorian era began in 1837 and dies with the Queen in 1912. Fact: Dickens was a contemporary of the Queen living from 1812 to 1870. Fact: Neither of them actually ate a pizza.
   In the Victorian era they still wore top hats with cravats, frock coats and vests, so that should be easy. The ladies still wore hoop skirts but with much bigger hats and a bunch of lace. Can't let the clothing get in the way of the pizza making. Of course it would probably be more appropriate if I dressed like a chimney sweep since I usually end up pretty dirty from the soot and ash but would you want to eat pizza cooked by a chimney sweep? It's all about romance and marketing too, I suppose. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Heaven's Scent Pizza

   It's been a month now since dad passed away. Wow, it goes quickly and it takes time. Such a paradox. He was proud of himself to have outlived all his brothers and his father but time finally caught up with him. The last of that generation of 4 boys and yet, one sister still lives, his sister Karen survives him. It has to be lonely in some ways being the last one but their legacy will continue in all the children and grandchildren and even some great grandchildren. The Larsen heritage will live on in so many souls.
   Dad enjoyed reading my pizza blogs to mom I've been told. He was proud of us all although he rarely mentioned it. I could tell by his actions though. Their occasional day trips up to Elk Grove to visit for a day or two were always fun and welcome. It also gave me a captive audience when pizza making 3 times a week was a new adventure and I was able to share my latest creations with them. Dad wasn't one to go out to eat as he enjoyed mom's home cooked meals and I think my pizza as well. I know he did mention it one Sunday morning when I got up before them to turn on the oven and get it up to 550º so I could bake them a breakfast pizza. He had never tried one nor had most of us until pizza became synonymous with the word "Vince".  I had been getting somewhat creative and was discovering breakfast pizzas. If I look back into my blogs I seem to recall I did one on just breakfast pizza. I had patterned it after a favorite breakfast of mine from a coffee shop named Perko's. It was a grilled English muffin with sliced ham or bacon, scrambled egg, and a slice of melting cheddar topped with hollandaise sauce. They called it the Benedict Scramble. Twice a week I would eat those for about 10 years along with a few cups of coffee.
   What I kept desiring I think, was the hollandaise sauce. I'm sure it was packaged institutional stuff but I enjoyed it anyway. Hollandaise sauce was to be the base sauce for my fledgling breakfast pizza. I made mine fresh though using lots of egg yolks for that deep yellow color and egg flavor. Next I laid down the mozzarella shredded cheese blend and the used thinly sliced proscuitto sparingly as it is quite salty. On a large family style pizza I would make about 4 wells in the cheese and around the proscuitto to crack an egg into each well into the oven it would go and I would watch carefully as the eggs would begin to cook. About 12-13 minutes later it would come out piping hot with that heavenly aroma, then serve it to mom and dad, Sheri and myself. Dad wasn't ever quick to say how he felt about us, even if it was good, but he was the first to speak up that Sunday morning to compliment that Sunday morning breakfast pizza. I can still see him sitting there munching it down and enjoying it like it was meant to be enjoyed.

My Eggs Benedict Breakfast Pizza
   Dad was too ill this summer to really take a good luck at our newly purchased pizza trailer but he did get to taste our wood-fired pizza at least once for which I am glad. I don't think he had ever tasted wood-fired pizza before except maybe in the Army Air Corp during the 2nd Big One. Naaaah, probably not.

Dad became a B-29 mechanic in the Pacific during WWII
Mom & Dad's 50th

A little wine tasting with mom
The Viking's 75th birthday

His favorite son and daughter-in-law (wink, wink)

Dad enjoyed all the family especially during the holidays.
Dad enjoyed spending time with family

Presley loved his Bestafarr  and misses him too.

   I have lost a blog reader, a pizza fan, a friend and a great dad. I hope he still gets to read these blogs on the other side. Maybe I'll have a contingency of pizza blog readers on the other side if he gets to read them out loud to his brothers. Hey dad, this one's for you!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Got the Pizza and Beer Blues

   Got the blues one more time. Just as I had told everyone about the Blue Moon gig where I was sent to Denver for with the training and all and then never heard from them again I figured my stint was over as a Blue Moon ambassador before it began. No problem, on to other things like murals, TV appearances and wood-fired pizza. That's when the phone call from Denver came in. "Vince, we have a gig for you this week on Friday" they said. "OK, great! When and where?""We'll get back to you."Tuesday comes and goes. Wednesday comes and goes. Thursday finally rolls around and still nothing. I call them back, and they can't believe I haven't been told when and where! Oh, it doesn't sound like it's really going to happen. Just as I was mentally preparing myself for the worst my contact shows up with all the gear, easel, canvas. paints and brushes.
One happy artist!
   The evening went just as planned and just like in training while people lined up to help contribute to the Blue Moon painting. Budding artists, pretty girls and a throng of others who wanted to contribute their two strokes worth. One of the patrons had asked me why wasn't I contributing to the painting? Especially since they had hired artists to do this promotional gig! I had to tell him, "Blue Moon is paying me NOT to paint." "Huh, that sounded funny," I thought. Hmmm, I thought they liked my art, that's why they hired me! Right?! Either way the completed painting will hang at the Pour House in Sacramento where the event took place.
    Meanwhile, I had been called by a former client who had been showing off pictures of the latest mural I had finished for her. Somehow Good Day Sacramento got wind of it for their Dream Destination on the morning show of August 18th. The camera crew and news guy were interested in doing a piece using my mural as a topic. The mural on her back wall was of a scene of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Seven o'clock in the morning, we aired live from her backyard with Tamara, the owner, and I, as we talked about the origination and the construction of the painting. That was a fun little spot, not to mention some free advertising for me!
During all these appearances of paintings and the like, I still was able to fashion a pizza I had only read about. It was called a Bacon & Blue. Sounded good, so I had to do a little research. Bacon, of course gets my mouth watering right away. So the blue had to be Blue Cheese, which of course it was. I had made up some ranch dressing to use instead of a red or white sauce. First a thin layer of shredded mozzarella and a just a sprinkle of the blue cheese. Topped it with some cut up, thick sliced, fried bacon, some chopped green onion and red peppers and mmm mmmm. It's a keeper.
Bacon & Blue

   This last week Sheri's sister and brother-in-law were driving through on their way from Arizona to Oregon. It seemed like the logical thing to do, which was pull the pizza trailer out of the garage and fire it up for them. I had watched a TV show that featured mobile food trucks and one of them was a pizza trailer. One of their signature pizzas was getting great responses from the customers. A combination of cheeses that made me ooze with curiosity. Mozzarella, Fol epi, Provolone and Blue Cheese baked on a docked dough coated in a garlic olive oil and basil bits. The final touch was a spray of truffle oil over the top. I have to say, it was better than any cheese pizza I had ever tasted with an earthiness from the wood-fired oven and again the truffle oil it made for an elegant and rustic pizza at the same time. 
    Hand crafted, wood-fired pizza on your driveway. If that doesn't drive away the blues then I need to change hobbies and professions!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

We have pizza! Hello? Anybody there?

A not so busy Claire
Pesto & roasted tomatoes
   Life is funny, when you're looking one direction waiting to catch the ball it seems to come at you from behind and hit you in the back of the head. We were flying high from the Pear Fair success and 6 days later, feeling invincible, we did the Soul Food Festival in Stockton. Just another one day event so we had put together a specialty pizza for the Soul Food crowd. It consisted of pepperoni, Andouille sausage, red & green peppers with red onions and a dash of Louisiana hot sauce. Thinking it would be like the Pear Fair all over again, we were ready this time. My brother Chris and his 18 year old daughter Claire, were with us and another friend from Starbucks named Cliff, to round out the staff to 5 persons again since my partner/brother, Greg was back in Minnesota with his wife and children attending a family gathering.
   They told us that the festival would open at 10:AM. We were organized, set up, plugs plugged in, fire stoked, aprons on and anticipating the crowd with baited breath. Then it was announced that a marathon running past the entrance would delay the opening until 11:00. We waited and then the health inspector showed up. We're good, I thought. Should be a cinch. That's when we discovered the electricity to our booth had shut down. No refrigeration, no hot water at the hand wash station. All the booths at our end of the fair were going to be shut down through no fault of our own. The city of Stockton had filed bankruptcy awhile back and they had only one maintenance engineer on duty who had completed his tasks and left. Now what? Fortunately somebody was able to reach him and get him back and the power turned back on. Phew! The fair opened up and a few people trickled in to look but nobody was buying pizza. What a shocker that was to me and a bit embarrassing as well. I kept telling my staff, "It wasn't like this at the Pear Fair. No, really."
    Being new to this, I take the blame for being inexperienced and booking a festival that wasn't particularly pizza friendly. People come to a Soul Food Festival to eat soul food, not pizza. Even if we did have our Cajun pizza advertised everywhere, they came for what they can't get at home. Deep fried fish, shrimp, smoked BBQ etc. but not pizza. We didn't even clear the food costs but we did learn several important lessons. The main one I think is, don't try to compete with a whole class of foods. One item fairs like pears, garlic, asparagus, apples etc. is what people, I think, are looking for in uniquely prepared foods. Not to worry, I got the message and we'll rethink our thinking once more, I think!

Chris as the fire keeper baking a pie


The Jazz Band with Tamara singing

 Several days later I am out in the garage, straightening things out in the pizza trailer the phone rings. It's a recent mural client that I had completed 2 murals for. She says, "Vince, would you like to be on TV?" "What's up, Tamara?" She was proud of the two murals I had painted for her and showing them off at work. Somebody got wind of it and said that Sacramento Today is interested in doing some coverage on me. "Really?!" I said excitedly. Be at my house Saturday the 18th for a TV interview and possibly some in-studio time to talk about that other career I have aside from pizza, you know, painting murals. Too cool! Dare I say, I've never watched that show? Just like the Blue Moon thing when they had called, I had never tasted a Blue Moon beer. I guess I live a rather sheltered life. For me, this is huge! Free air time interviewing me? What do I wear? Do I need a hair cut? What if I stumble over my words or God forbid, say something stupid! It will be at 7 in the morning. I hate myself at that hour. I wake up stupid, my brain isn't working, I'm hungry, that bright light in the sky makes me squint, my bones hurt, and I can't find my keys or my glasses. Also, I never turn the TV on in the morning as I really don't want to hear everybody's chipper voice telling me what a beautiful day it is in Sacramento. Basically, everything is an annoyance to me that early. I can't wait to get my morning coffee at Starbucks. Then, and only then, am I starting to wake up and be normal. I'm just not a morning person. So, to pull this off will be something of an act on my part. I'll just have to remember that they're interviewing for my art and not my pizza. Should be fun. Hmmm, I wonder which side is my good side.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A more than fair Pear Fair

   Intense is the only word I could think of to describe our debut as pizza makers. The quaint little town on the Sacramento river named Courtland could almost be the backdrop for Andy, Barney, Floyd's barber shop and Goober's filling station. Courtland will be a new word in my vocabulary as well as Pear Fair for years to come. We thought that to make our debut in a small rustic little town we could make a soft entrance into the world of food vending and if we screwed up that nobody would really notice. We would comfortably handle the small trickle of folks by talking to them from our little 10' x 10' booth and convince them to try a wood fired pizza from our recently purchased pizza trailer/oven. We figured it was Courtland. Nobody intentionally goes to Courtland. They just whiz on past it without ever giving it a thought. There was no signal, no intersection, not even a Goober look alike filling station. A great place to get our toes wet. Yes, I have been wrong before but never so much as thinking Courtland would be an easy training ground for our fledgling pizza business debut.
   We arrived early, set up quickly, then had to move the pizza trailer about 3 times to make everyone around us happy then we had to move our booth back 5 feet to accomodate the trailer position which killed about 30 minutes of our precious time to get ready. It was just Greg and myself at 6:30 in the morning with 2 and a half hours until opening and it seemed doable. Then our wives and niece showed up on time and before we knew it they were telling us the fair opens in 7 minutes. Wow, where did the time go? Not a problem, I thought. Nobody but me eats pizza at 9 o'clock in the morning. We'd have plenty of time to go use the bathroom, have a snack, check out the other vendors, browse the classics at the car show and still make adjustments to the booth, throw another log on the fire and twiddle our thumbs for another hour until some hungry fair goers decided they were hungry enough to buy a pizza.
Sliced pear, mozzarella, gorgonzola, proscuitto & walnuts
   At about 9:02 we took our first order. A pear pizza with proscuitto, mozzarella, gorgonzola and walnuts was the first call. Huh, somebody really wants a pear pizza? They aren't my favorite pizza but we were asked to accomodate the crowd by putting a pear pizza on the menu. Of course we will just to make them happy. Was I wrong again. After the end of the day about 70% of our pizzas sold were pear and proscuitto. I'm thinking now, "I need to rethink my thinking!" From that first pizza order until about 3:30 in the afternoon we sold pizzas like they were the last pizzas on earth. Not one of us ever got a break, a lunch or a moment to rest. We took orders, assembled, baked, cut and turned out pizzas in a storm of hungry pizza eaters. There was never a pause for small talk, chit chat or even a glance over our shoulders. We worked furiously in the heat and the heat of the oven for 6 and a half hours until we were able to look up and see what a mess we had made. Nobody kept a count of how many, there wasn't time. I believe our break lasted 12 minutes before the early dinner crowd started lining up.
3 hardworking girls.

That stool didn't get use until about 3:30!
   I thought to myself about that Kenny Rogers song called The Gambler where he sings, "You never count your money when your sittin' at the table, there'll be time enough for counting, when the dealin's done." I turned to Greg and told him the last thing I remember was the health inspector was here and going down the checklist. That was over 5 hours ago!
   The fair closed at 6:00. I couldn't have been happier to see those pear people go home. Criminy, doesn't anybody cook for themselves anymore? Go home, watch the Olympics, get a life, just don't ask me for a pizza anymore today!
    When we finally got to breathe a sigh of relief, the smiles started coming across our faces. We did well, I think. We patted each other on the back with words of "great job everybody." Then the mess appeared in our eyes. It might have rivaled hurricane Katrina. So, we have a few bugs to work out. Let's not go over it now. We'll fix it next time.
   After an hour of clean up and packing the trucks we hurried home to change out of our battle fatigues and go for a swim. Sheri was counting the cash. "Huh," we broke my goal. While sifting through the destruction of the day, Greg finds a back pack that had another $472.00 in it. OMG, we broke the our goal in grand style. Apparently that was an earlier stash of cash that we had emptied because the cash box was getting full. It was that kind of day, a few surprises like cut fingers and a friend there to help bandage the cut. A whip cream canister used on the dessert pear pizzas went wild in the condiments and shot all over the gorgonzola while the health inspector was there.  Even my brother from Oregon dropped by on the way home! I had a couple of burned pizzas that had to be re-fired but with some great teamwork we made it through.
   Yes, it was intense. Intense heat, intense crowds, intense work but mostly intense comraderie as we pulled together to make our debut a success.
   Oh, by the way, I'm still cleaning equipment, utensils, clothes, table cloths etc. making a cash deposit (finally, after all the out-going expenses) and now getting ready for next Saturday's Soul Food Festival in Stockton. Putting together a food order, more cleaning, resting and looking to work out some of the bugs. No pear pizzas next week but  this time but I'm thinking maybe a Cajun sausage with red, yellow and green peppers. More to my style!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tuscan Sun Pizza Co.

    I can't believe more than a month has passed since my last blog. We've been so busy jumping through the hoops that our wonderful government leaders have set up for any small business trying to get it together. Any of you that have been through it know exactly what I'm talking about. Add food to the equation and more agencies want their share of the yet-to-be-earned profits well in advance. I won't get into the whole bureaucratic bull---- that speaks double talk in a foreign tongue but just to give you an idea, the health department requires fly netting on all four sides of the makeshift kitchen under the canopy when doing events in public areas. OK, I get that. However, when they go on to say you can have one side open to work the BBQ, pizza oven or whatever do they even remember that flies can fly and easily go around to that opening and get in anyway? Why don't they just have us post it four or five languages in big red, easy to read lettering that says, flies are not allowed in the kitchen area? It would make as much sense! Alright, I'm getting sarcastic but at least I'm making sense!
   Much has progressed since buying the pizza trailer. Papers are getting signed, forms being filled out, questions are getting answered, website being constructed, fees,  distributors sought out, advertising, fees,  printing, safety issues, fees, permits, fees, DMV, more questions, more answers and on and on.
   So, you ask, "How's the pizza business going, Vince?" Do you want the long answer or the short answer? Short answer: "It's going great!" Now the long answer. We have 2, possibly 3 events lined up for the end of July and early August. The 40th annual Courtland Pear Fair in Courtland, CA along the river in Mayberry, uh, I mean Courtland will be our first professional gig. It's a one day event with a car show, parade, Pear Queen and food vendors using...guess what! Pears! If you guessed it, then I suppose you've been to it before and already knew the answer.
   Next question will be, "Vince, have you ever made a pizza with a pear in it?" Obvious answer is, no, I haven't but I am going to be making a couple of them for the Pear Fair as requested by the event coordinator. One will be a savory pear pizza using gorgonzola over an olive oil coated dough, thin sliced proscuitto and thinly sliced pears, topped with walnuts. Yes, it's been done before and no you won't find it at Pizza Hut.
   The other will be a dessert pizza. This one I really liked and we have done it. Nutella goes on first, thinly sliced pears, pecans, and then topped with whipped cream or powdered sugar after it comes out of the oven. Wow, what a treat for dessert lovers!
    On August 4th we will be doing the 4th annual Soul Food Festival at Weber Point Park in Stockton as they are evolving into an international food event and welcomed us warmly when we told them we had a mobile pizza business. We have the option of designing a soul food pizza for the event but are not required to. However, we have been working on the menu and trying the basil pesto pizza with mushrooms or fresh tomatoes and another we have tried called Bacon and Bleu which quickly became one of my favorites using ranch dressing, bleu cheese and bacon. Oooooo that was good!

   I also got the website up and running: should get you there. Hopefully we will have some event photos to post once we've done an event or two. If you wish to check us out on Facebook we will try to keep it active and current. I'm not a Facebooker nor do I even know how to navigate the site but a lot of people do look there so I'm trying to reach the masses. Please pardon my Facebook naivete when checking it out. I suppose I'm old fashioned and would rather talk to people in person and not just in a 150 words or less. I suppose, maybe I should count my blessings that all these government agencies don't require you to find them on Facebook.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Home is where the hearth is

   People aren't surprised when I tell them, "We're in the pizza business now." I think I am surprised though! This Pizza Journey started over 2 years ago with some research, experimenting, a bunch of interest and a few silly blogs along the way as well as a few slices of pizza too and not knowing where it would take me. Now comes:

                                   Act II.

   My brother and I connected with a  family in Spokane, WA who weren't even thinking about selling their business until my friend, Marty Martin shot them an email with 3 questions: "Are you happy with your rig? Are you happy with the company who sold it to you?" And thirdly, "Would you be interested in selling it?" Marty had told me, "if you get me a list of 100 owners' emails, I will find 10 that are willing to sell." I was able to get only 8 owners' email address and he fired off the 3 questions to all of them. One of the two who responded who were moving back east and we ended up buying the rig in Spokane, pizza trailer and the whole business at a huge savings. The rig was only 11 months old, in perfect condition and included everything for a turn key operation.
   It was about a 20 hour drive up to Spokane so I had Greg listen to a CD called the Legends of Pizza with interviews of famous Pizzaiolos interviewed by Albert Grande. The opening song before the interviews was a band singing, "Ima lovin' da pizza, alla da time." It really sticks in your head! We spent the night at another brothers' house in Bend and continued north the next day. Once we arrived in Spokane we called the owners and asked if we could see the rig the evening before the purchase with which they had agreed. Upon knocking on their door, we heard a loud bark from a big dog. I said to Greg, "It sounded like a Golden Retriever bark," somewhat jokingly. "If it is... they're good people." Sure enough Rocky, the 120 lb Golden Retriever greeted us at the door with a tennis ball in his mouth. Another black dot in my book! The next morning after a rest at a Motel 6 we anxiously got our stuff together to make a career change from 30 years of construction to the food industry.
    After inventorying everything and throwing in a bunch of Washington grown apple wood we had to get Greg's truck over to a place to wire in the electric brake system on his truck that attaches to the trailer for the long downhills across the mountains. We were naive to think a half day's work and a few hundred bucks would cover it. The shop worked meticulously on it all day and into the next. They held the truck for 27 hours. We were able to get a ride to a nearby Rodeway Inn and spend the night, eat at a truck stop across the street and walk back to the trailer hitch place with our suitcases in hand. They wrapped it up at about 3 that afternoon and finally we were on the road out of Spokane. Eight miles to be exact when his truck shut down on the freeway. After several futile attempts to revive it, we called AAA. First, his truck was loaded on the flatbed and the pizza rig was in tow. Back to the trailer hitch place as we suspected they might be guilty of causing the problem. Another night at a Ramada Inn this time and they would analyze it and hopefully correct the problem. We were told the engine's computer had shut down and they had checked the state of WA for another to no avail. Even if they could find one they would not be able to program it, so, we again, had it towed to Toyota.
   Upon dropping it off at Toyota they told us that they've never had a computer quit on them and this would be a first. Was that good news or bad news? Toyota then told us it would be 4 days before they could get another either from southern California or Kentucky even with overnight express. Our hearts sank. It was definitely bad news. They drove us back to the hotel we had vacated earlier and we attempted to book 4 more nights. They were sold out due to a marathon in town. Now what? Within minutes they called us and told us a room opened up and we were in, even if it was a smelly smoking room. We grabbed it.
   We were on foot so we walked a mile down to a Starbucks as we had 4 days to burn and no place to go. After trying to get our brains reprogrammed for 4 more nights in Spokane, the additional money it would cost for hotel, food, and repairs plus the time away from our families we settled in for the comfort of a hot cup of familiar coffee. We sat for about an hour trying not to talk about $2000 or more spent on a new computer when my phone rang. It was Toyota. "Your truck is ready to go!" said the cheerful voice. We stared at each other, we stared at the phone and we couldn't believe our ears. First thing we have to do is spend the night and get rested up since it was already 4:30 in the afternoon. Then we have to cancel the next 3 nights at the Ramada Inn. Toyota said they would come and get us but in our jubilation I told them we would spend the night and pick it up first thing in the morning. Had I been thinking clearly we would've picked it up now, spent the night anyway and at least have some wheels to go out and eat or to a movie or something. It didn't matter, we were ecstatic. Toyota delivered! They found a problem with the wiring coming out of the computer that had been rubbed raw by the fan belt but not visible to anyone. They knew we were a long way from home and getting a new wiring system would take days so they soldered it up, water-proofed it and tied the wires back away from the fan belt. $220 is all they charged us! A great big black dot once more! We were going home! We had planned originally on one night in Spokane but ended up spending 3 nights and nearly spent 6 nights. I'm not knocking Spokane but spending 6 nights in any city that isn't home or at least Kona or Waikiki is a long stretch!
   I had called a friend of 32 years near Portland earlier on the trip whom I wanted to see, get a home cooked meal and roll our sleeping bags out on the floor and told her about our (mis)adventure.  I really wanted to see Carla and her family but this trip was taking turns left and right that were unpredictable. As it ended up, we did get to stop at her place with a bottle of wine, get a home cooked meal and visit for about 90 minutes then hit the road again. It had been 6 years since I saw her last and it was just like seeing her right where we left off. She and her husband, Gary got to see the rig, ask a few questions about it and then we had to say goodbye. The return trip was uneventful so we enjoyed the boredom and lack of surprises. And now, just like Dorothy said, "There's no place like home." Oh yeah! "Ima lovin' da pizza, alla da time!"

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Serendipitous Pizza

   Serendipitous is a word I use every so often when referring to things that seem inter-connected. I use to like to connect-the-dots when I was a kid in those game books and see what the grand picture would be. Lately a series of serendipitous events have transpired that have me once again connecting the dots.
   My brother called to have me help him on a job in the East Bay area. Something that has never happened before, in 28 years but I came down, we did the job quickly and went to get a burger and a Starbucks. Our conversation evolved over hot coffee into,"Vince, are you going to paint houses and murals the rest of your life?" Instead of blowing off the question I told him what I would rather do as we get along in age. "A pizzeria would be my choice but Sheri isn't behind me on that after watching too many episodes of Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay." "Too much risk and never a day off," she would say. I told him I had seen a couple of mobile pizza trailers on the internet that made pizzas in a 1000º wood fired oven at sporting events, wine festivals, farmer's markets etc. and he started sitting up a bit more straight and listening. Huh! I had an audience!
   Greg had been laid off from his construction job after a couple of decades due to a slow economy. I just drove 65 miles to do a 4 hour job because work has been so scarce. Suddenly our words were more enthusiastic and questions and answers flew around back and forth. He was interested in being my partner in a mobile wood fired pizza business. I wasn't even looking for a partner but our combinations of skills and knowledge seemed very compatible. This was the first of numerous black dots.
   I just started reading a new book about the building of the Panama Canal. The conversation with my brother was still fresh on my mind. Were we acting out of emotion? Did we really think we should do this? Can we make it and a partnership between brothers work? Then I read the dedication written by Teddy Roosevelt, "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with these poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live live in the gray twilight but knows not victory or defeat."  This was written for me! Black dot. By now, Sheri was starting to see the black dots and was as enthusiastic as I was. Mobile pizza trailers are versatile and allow for time off, no huge overhead, and still have unlimited income potential. Another black dot.
   Next, of course was money to invest in our new idea. Two years I had joined a class action suit against our home  builders due to a few corners that were cut during the construction of our house. I just received a check from the attorneys for $6,771.29 that I never thought I would see. That's four dots now. Greg, turns 55 in May this year and can access is 401K without penalty. Five dots.
   We got busy on the internet and considered the idea of building a pizza trailer until we found The Fire Within mobile pizza trailers that are built in Colorado using a Forno Bravo Oven. I am already familiar with their product since I subscribe to their newsletter. Six dots. Later, checking out's newsletter I happened to see one of my pizza mentors, Albert Grande, endorsing Forno Bravo's ovens. Wow! 7 dots! This picture is starting to make sense. Not only can I see where it's been, I 'm really starting to see where it's going. Call it planetary alignment, synchronistic, coincidental, divine intervention, God winks, or just dumb luck, I just can't help seeing where it's going.
    We were able to contact a couple of owners of these rigs to see them first hand and hear what they had to say about their young businesses. One in particular, was owner and operator of Soleil Wood Fired Pizza, Ron Arguello in Brentwood who graciously answered all of our questions when my brother and I and our wives went out to see him. We were all fired up at that point and decided to contact The Fire Within and make the next move. Go home, wait for tomorrow, and order the trailer. As I pulled into our neighborhood there was a gardening truck, it's vanity license plate read, ARGUELLO. Another dot.
   Meanwhile, Greg had just learned that his oldest daughter got 4 of her front teeth knocked out in a lacrosse game. Being that he is laid off, his insurance was laid off too. Uh oh, the dots weren't going to connect this time, or so we thought. We were on the verge of sending Colorado a certified check but our affiliate credit union said they can't send it, we'd have to go to our original credit union. A little bump in the road. No big deal, we'd wait a week and order it if the teeth episode didn't kill it financially for Greg. As luck would have it, Greg's other daughter came home from school and mentioned that since Heather had just signed up to be a lacrosse referee she was covered by insurance. Being a player didn't qualify for school  insurance. That bit of oral surgery would've cost about half of what a pizza rig would cost! Another black dot! Even when obstacles seemingly arise they appear to be only imaginary bumps.
   That next day I walked into a different Starbucks from the one I go to daily near home and saw a friend I hadn't seen in awhile. He's a negotiator and business man who owns a Dinner My Way franchise and is a small scale Gordon Ramsay type consultant who helps people to reignite and reorganize their struggling businesses to make them more successful. I showed him the picture of the rig we were going to buy and he said, "I hope you haven't pulled the trigger yet." "What do you mean?" I responded. "I'll find you that same rig for less," he said. "No way, there aren't that many of them around but if you think you can, then go for it." I told him with an air of confidence that he'd never find one. Two days later from that conversation he had found several! Two of them were ready to sell their business due to health or unrelated issues. I couldn't believe him but he forwarded the email responses to me and sure enough, he had! Is that a big black dot or what?! Sheri said that we should invite him out for dinner. He could have whatever he wants and we'll eat crow.
   Today we are just a thin pizza away from purchasing a pizza trailer, including the whole business; equipment, refrigeration unit, firewood and website included. That will be the final dot in the picture that says, "Vince, with your brother Greg, you're going to be real pizzaiolos!"

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Chance to Pause

   I have been writing this pizza blog for over a year now and usually before it goes out, my editor and wife (Sheri) will add punctuation, correct grammatical errors and give it the once over.  She teaches 5th grade and has been teaching that level for as far back as I care to remember. Of course, in their curriculum, it will include a lot of writing skills, which includes grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, introduction, main content, and ending as well as the typical spelling words to learn. Math, science, reading, and history round out the curriculum as well but writing is where I happen to fall prey to the 5th grade teaching vulture that I occasionally let proof read my blogs for correctness before publishing.

   She hates my run on sentences but even worse, hates that I don't put enough commas into my blog writing. Commas are for a pause, I thought but if I stop to pause, I will lose my train of thought and get writer's block or have to go watch something mindless on TV until I regain that train of thought again.
   The rules of English grammar have changed since I was a kid. I can remember a time when we didn't have to put a comma before a conjunction like and or but. Now, she says, we are supposed to. "I teach this stuff so I should know," she says. I suppose punctuation economy isn't as important now as it used to be. There seems to be an abundance of commas these days, so I don't have to be so cheap about using them and spreading them around. Growing up in house with 4 brothers we had to learn to share and do without the unnecessary things but stock piling punctuation marks for a rainy day just wasn't something we learned to do. We did learn to make do and it became a way of life into our adult years as well. Sheri, my grammar vulture, I mean, my lovely wife of 36 years, will read this and want to add anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen commas into the blog. I let her go at it and she sprinkles them down like feeding pop corn to a bunch of ducks. When I hear that many keys clacking on the keyboard I have to look over her shoulder and see what could've been so barren that she has to throw in that many commas.  I suppose they are free but I was raised not to waste anything worthwhile, even if it was free. 
   One day I walked in on her when she was clacking away with her teacher/vulture look at my blog. I had to interrupt her and say, "Oh Sheri! By the way, Google called, and they say they're running out of commas, so lighten up." The last thing I want is Google sending me a bill for excessive comma usage in my blog.
   She could be right though. If I did use a larger palette of punctuation marks I might not be apt to have so many run on sentences. Is that such a crime though? When they run out of criminals on America's Most Wanted are they going to start looking for grammar offenders and fugitives of run on sentences leaving a paper trail all over the internet while creating a real shortage of commas across the country?
   It could be worse, I suppose. Being frugal with the cheese or pepperoni I might upset somebody. Suggesting that pizza night will only be one night a week would be a shame. However, I am able to get even with her when I tell the true story of how we met in 1973.
No Buttflies!
    I was working at a Girl Scout Summer Camp in Arizona in the kitchen when she, as a counselor, came in to meet the cooks wearing her blue jeans which she had embroidered with colorful little rainbows, flowers and mushrooms. Remember, it was the 70's! Amidst all the googah was her favorite saying, "Butterflies are Free" only, she had a typo. When I showed her the mistake which actually read Buttflies are Free, she hadn't realized she left the e r off of butterfly when embroidering it. I had been the only one to detect her mistake. She married me anyway and from that point on I became her expert speller and years later had to spell check her Master's Thesis before she turned it in.  Maybe all this comma editing is her way of paying me back. BTW, she hasn't seen this last paragraph so it may be short a couple of commas. She proof read everything above this and added 4 commas, a quotation mark and one set of italics. OK, I added this picture, so now we're even!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mile High Marks for Pizza and Beer

   Blue Moon came knocking and I answered. I did, along with about 40 other artist from around the country.
   As a side gig to my mural painting and pizza making I joined the Blue Moon team as an independent contractor to engage patrons at happy hour around Sacramento and encourage them to help create a Blue Moon crafted painting by picking up a brush and adding their touch to the canvas.
   Blue Moon flew me back to Denver to attend their training where we met up at the Sandlot Brewery built right into the cornerstone of the Rockies baseball stadium, Coors Field, in downtown Denver. As a part of their promotional efforts to get people involved and drinking Blue Moon Artfully Crafted Beer, we, as artists will be on sites during Happy Hour at selected bars and venues as ambassadors to Blue Moon around the country. My area, starting in April of this year, is Sacramento and vicinity.
   They call it the 16 year overnight success story as Blue Moon has broken the threshold into a trendy market of crafted beers. Their anchor beer, an unfiltered Belgian White is served with an orange slice on the rim setting them up visually to be noticed. It apparently has worked. They are even being noticed and desired in Europe, the beer making continent for centuries.
   After  a short lecture, slide show, tour of the brewery, and beer tasting we got a visit from the brew master himself. He had set out to become a pediatrician, took a left somewhere near a Coors sign and ended up being educated in the brewing of beers in Belgium where he earned his PhD. He is one of 5 people in the U.S. with a PhD in brewing. I guess someone else will be caring for all those children he hoped to care for as beer became is number one baby.

A Blue Moon Ambassador adding some color
Works in progress

One of the original paintings of which we will duplicate

Blue Moon Brew Master
Coors Field 
Mile High Combo-Thumbs Up Dino!
   Before leaving for Denver I checked out some pizzerias on the web and found within walking distance of my hotel a little place called Mile High Pizza with great reviews. Smaller than a shoebox but a warm atmosphere and an excellent pizza I sat down to a combo with mouthwatering flavors and a thin chewy crust. It was near closing time when I began talking with one of the pizzaiolos named Dino. Very knowledgeable and friendly once I engaged him in some pizza conversation. He had been trained in Naples and is the son of a pizza making family, so we traded a few stories about tomatoes, cheese, yeast and of course, Tony Gemignani, who is my pizza guru.
   I had to overlook the fact that they are Bronco fans there in Denver and mentioned to him my pizza blog where I had been pulled over by the CHP before Halloween dressed up as the Oakland Raiders' dead Al Davis. I told him I would give him high marks for his pizza, which I am. However, I won't forgive him for being a Bronco fan though. I wasn't able to finish the pizza, although I tried, but didn't want to throw it away either so they boxed it for me. Just 10 steps out the door a young homeless man asked me if I had a cigarette, which I didn't but I responded by asking him if he was hungry. He said he was starved and I believed he was serious to a fact. I handed him the warm pizza and hoped that made his day and warmed him up a bit in the below freezing, icy, dry air of Denver. I thought later, he may have even been a Bronco fan at some point in his life but I think that even dead Al Davis would've approved of feeding a hungry Bronco fan. Rest in Peace Al.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Volcano Proof Pizza Oven

Pizza Romana III at Pizza Rock
    So we went back to the K Street mall in Sacramento and met up with our friends to try another one of Tony's creations. The Pizza Romana III caught our eye. Nearly 2 and half feet long on a crisp, thin crust in a rectangular shape you could order the pizza combinations with 3 divisions of delights. The rectangle is separated into thirds. The first 3rd was the appetizer pizza with cherry tomatoes and arugula over the mozzarella and sauce. The second third, or the main course you might call it, was his famous meatball pizza. Sliced into six 3" squares each meatball sat on a layer of mozzarella on top of a white cream sauce with garlic. Oooooo, that was good. The final third was what you might call the dessert portion. Using Gorgonzola cheese topped by dates and pecans, apples, honey and finally a thin string of Nutella. Tony takes pizza making to a whole new level and then some.
A typical Pompeii Oven named for the
 ruined city of Pompeii built prior to 79 A.D.
Rex's Pizza since 2012
    Talking with our friends after dinner, we begin to discuss building pizza ovens again. Specifically, Pompeii ovens built of brick and mortar. My friend, Dean had ordered a set of plans and has since finished all of his backyard projects which leads him to what must be done next. Build a Pompeii pizza oven. I have had people interrupt me and ask what a Pompeii oven is and what it might look like. I forget that not everybody reads my blog or is up to date with what used to be the main style of oven several dozen centuries ago in Italy. A Pompeii oven looks similar to a dog igloo but built of bricks and mortar. Approximately the same size as well. We actually got to see some while visiting Pompeii years ago. The dome shape helps not only to contain the heat but to wrap the heat around all sides of the oven distributing it evenly. After building a fire in it and burning it down to the red hot coals, one would push the pile of coals off to one side near the back thus leaving the brick floor open and clear for baking a pizza right  next to the fire. These ovens can reach temperatures of 800 to 900º! Food cooks quickly and a thin crust Margherita could cook in under 2 minutes. The most remarkable thing is that it can survive a neighborhood volcanic eruption and still be used 2000 years later! Let's see a Kenmore oven from Sears claim that!