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?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Return of the Pear Fair! Pear Lovers Flock To 41st Annual Pear Fair In Courtland « CBS Sacramento-Watch Video below under Reality TV

    Ah yes, the Pear Fair! Friend or foe? Beast or blessing? Dream or nightmare?  I'm not certain but it was no fluke. Our measuring stick has been the Pear Fair since our debut a year ago. We haven't topped it since with about a dozen fairs, festivals, home & garden shows and wineries under our belts. Nothing compares to the Pear Fair. We misunderstood it last year and severely under estimated it's drawing power. This year with a years' experience and training we were much more ready for the onslaught of hungry fair goers. We love the Pear Fair and I do believe the Pear Fair people love us as well. We heard so many comments from people exclaiming how glad they were to see us return. That made us feel welcome for sure!
   The weather was perfect and not too darn hot. I was ready to do battle with hundreds of pear lovers when on the early morning drive over to Courtland to get set up on the last Sunday of July one of my key workers called in sick. OMG, this can't be happening already. Just 4 people to serve the hungry hoards? We'll make it happen somehow but I'm not sure yet how.
    As we were setting up that bright Sunday morning the local news crew was making the rounds and looking for a happy and friendly face. With the news of losing one of my staff I wasn't going to be the happiest one to interview. Fortunately they went over to my wife, Sheri and talked to her. She has lots of experience with public speaking being a teacher for over 30 years so I was glad to see the reporter talking to her and not me. She in turn mentioned her husband was the real owner and so the cameras came over to me. Thanks Sheri!
230 Pear & Proscuitto pizzas on the day!
   I did what I had to do and spoke with them when they asked me to make that scraping sound on the oven floor again while I was tending the fire. I guess even the sounds of getting ready sounds good on the news! So, for those of you with a keen ear can actually hear the sounds of me scraping a fire tool over a brick oven floor. No stuntman was used in making this noise and no bricks were injured I'm happy to report. I guess it all makes for realistic TV. Hmmm,  reality TV.  I could just see it now. A camera crew following me around as I make food purchases, fill out vendor applications, pack a trailer and even get a close- up of me when I'm plugging in a refrigerator! How more real can you get than that? Stay tuned for next week when Vince actually bakes a pizza!!! It's got to make for great TV! Check out our little claim to fame! Reality TV (Sorry, there's a commercial just before the video!)
Hungry pear fair folks lining up for some pear pizza!
   I'm getting a little side tracked while fantasizing about TV stardom. Should be TV Stardumb I think.
   In any event, the Pear Fair has been our high water mark since last year. I really started to doubt myself that the new crew I have. I had told them that we did an estimated 300+ pizzas last year. Are you sure Vince? Sounds like a bit an exaggeration all of a sudden. Did we really do that may Pear & Proscuitto pizzas? Was I stretching it a bit in my story telling? The most since then was probably the 435 pizzas we did in a 2 day event at the Old Sugarmill Winery in Clarksburg last February.

   Meanwhile as we were reaching a critical breaking point, Sheri called our sick girl after finding out the real truth that she was hung over from the night before of partying and drinking and insisted she come in as she had made a commitment to be there. She showed up in good spirits about 1:30 and we worked her tail off. Now that would've been good reality TV!
Converting pears into cash!
 The Pear Fair people are great. No problems, issues, late notices, surprises. Just good people doing what they do best. Putting on one helluva pear fair like they have for the past 41 years. No foe, beast or nightmare here, just a great showing of people bringing with them a healthy appetite for some pear pizza or anything else pears can be converted into. Personally, I like converting the pear pizzas into cash! Wink, wink!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Banjos and Pizzas are for Happier Moments

   Many blogs ago I was writing about taking a trip back east, doing the Civil War thing and eating pizza every chance I got. Well, we made it back there again for the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg or as others will call it, the 150th anniversary in commemorating the battle where so many young men died. The Southerners would call the war: The War of Northern Aggression and Gettysburg as the high water mark.
   Sheri and I were selected to be greeters at the Soldiers Cemetery or what is currently called the Gettysburg National Cemetery. To be a greeter one has to apply by filling out forms online, providing photos of our 19th century outfits and be willing to stand at the gates in 90º temperatures with skyrocketing humidity and be willing to greet spectators with a cheerful yet somber voice as they entered the cemetery grounds. Hmmmm, cheerful and somber? Don't know if I can do that but I'll give it a try. The Boy Scouts were there to light the 3500 luminaries that glowed in the dark over the Gettysburg dead. We got the chance to meet some of the Boy Scouts and inform them that 100 years ago at the 50th anniversary of the battle that the Boy Scouts actually helped out enormously for the surviving veterans reunion of the battle, both north and south. They set up tents, did their laundry, provided assistance to the handicapped and helped to feed them. These young scouts had no idea that their legacy is connected to the whole ordeal. I was glad to be able to educate them as their troop leaders should have but they probably had no idea either.
    It almost seemed fitting that when taps was played that Sunday evening and the 21st century military marched by in perfect order that the heavens opened up and poured down on us in torrents. Almost like saying they were washing away the scars one more time and to start fresh tomorrow.
   I learned something about pizza that week in Gettysburg. Pizza is a little like a banjo. A what? Yes, a banjo. You can't be in a somber mood and play a banjo or eat a pizza. Pizza is for happy times like a banjo is for brighter times. It just doesn't seem to be appropriate after walking past so many graves of so many young men who gave their life to preserve the Union and turn to your wife and say, "Ready for a pizza now?" I don't mean that disrespectfully but in reality it's hard not to be moved after seeing so many luminaries and hearing taps being played. Pizza can wait, I thought.
    In fact it did wait. Once we got to Philadelphia I figured we would be gorging on pizza at different places every night. As luck would have it our hotel was right next door to the Reading Train Terminal which has since been changed into a food court for 70-80 amazing choices of food types, styles, ethnicities and flavors. None of them were connected to a franchise as it was all real food in the best sense of the word. One night I skipped the pizza for the lasagna which was amazing. Another night we heard someone walk by and raved about the chicken being out of this world so we ate chicken that was every bit as good as we had hoped. Another evening we discovered the German fare and ate grilled bratwurst. There were so many choices, including Amish treats that we don't get at home or at least near Sacramento that we had to try as many as time would allow. We did have pizza in Boston and while in Gettysburg we tried a pub that served amazing food that we needed to sink our teeth into.  Even after the re-enactment we thought about getting a pizza on the way home. However, as Picket's charge ended a couple of rain drops fell followed by a few more and then the heavens opened up on us. By the time we reached our car about a mile away our 19th century outfits were drenched to the bone. Sheri was smart enough to bring a change of clothing. I, however, am the eternal optimist and said it wasn't gong to rain. That left me either in soaking wet clothes or strip down to my boxers and t-shirt which were only partially wet. We found the first place we could called Lincoln's Diner, walked in a little sheepishly and sat down wearing my solid blue boxers. Nobody even noticed.  Pizza wasn't on the menu so I settled for the meatloaf. Pizza will have to wait one more time. It did wait...all the way until we finally returned home and had 6 days to prepare for the return of the Pear Fair. The amazing Pear Fair that we cut our teeth on in our opening pizza debut a year ago. Was it a fluke, could we really have sold close to 360 pizzas that day and was it to  repeat like the year before? Only 6 days to order the food, repack the rig, get the crew together and bake pizzas like there was no tomorrow. Being a guest greeter at Gettysburg was one thing but cranking out the same number of pizzas again this year would prove to be quite another.
   To be continued in: The Return of the Pear Fair.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wood-Fired Chili Pizza

   What do you do with an oven that has reached 900º over the last 3 days selling over 300 pizzas to hungry Home & Garden customers? You do what other pizza oven owners have told you to do. You've closed it up. It's surely cooled down enough on the hour drive home and sat in your driveway another 15 hours so it's got to have cooled down enough. The coals are out. There's no smoke. Just sticking your arm through the opening tells you there isn't much hot air in there so you go buy a beef brisket, season it, put it in a Dutch oven with beer and potatoes and onions and carrots. Pop the lid on and slide it into the oven for a nice slow cook of several hours and forget about it. Did I say, "Forget about it?"Apparently I wasn't supposed to forget about it. On my way out to the mailbox I got a whiff of food cooking in the air. No, that was food cooking. I ran back into the house, grabbed some pot holders and ran back out. By now, moms are walking their little kids home from school and I must've looked panicky. I dashed between them, pulled off the oven door and quickly removed the lid to the Dutch oven. At this point a picture is worth a thousand words. I didn't need a thousand words. Only one. Burned. Kingsford probably would've recognized it and maybe even applauded me. "Honey, dinner's ready!" Well, I knew better than to yell that out as the neighbors surely would've known otherwise. The aroma had turned to odor. Those school moms sure would've been laughing. I should've been but I had to recover quickly. What to do next? Go back to the store, buy another roast and try again tomorrow and this time keep an eye on it.
    I thought to myself,"Stick with pizza." Yes, pizza makes more sense! So, I was hoping to find more uses for my mobile pizza oven. Finally it dawned on me. Pull out the books and start checking out more pizza recipes. I found one that I thought looked promising. Chili Pizza! Yuba County Fair Grounds at the Home & Garden Show was my testing ground. People love chili and people love pizza. Why not try them together? With a batch of my 5 hour chili with no beans in it I decide to put it on the menu. A scoop of semi-spicy chili on the dough, a few chopped onions and sprinkled with some cheddar cheese and some jalapeños by request, I created my first chili pizza. Friday we advertised it and we sold one. My crew laughed at me. However, we had 2 more days to try it again. By Sunday afternoon we had sold out! My crew had finally got up the guts to try one, well, maybe a bite of one. "Oh, that's good!" they exclaimed. Too bad they hadn't tried it sooner!
   The Elk Grove Chili Cook-off is coming up in June. June 8th to be exact. I was told by the event co-ordinator to offer chili if I could. Apparently you can taste the chili from the different competitors and vote on your favorites but you can't buy a bowl of chili. What's the point of that? I had a banner made up specifically for the cook-off saying Wood-fired Chili Pizza. I'm predicting that we sell more chili pizzas than any other. As for the wood-fired brisket, it's not going to make it on the menu soon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Taking Pizza to Wine Country

    We went wine tasting in the Amador Valley last summer with our friends Larry & Andrea from PA and got to talking to the wine guy who pours those little sips of wine. He was fun, personable, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We got to talking about more than just wine when I saw an opening in the conversation that led to talking about pizza. I talked, he listened and before I knew it I was reaching into my pocket to whip out a Tuscan Sun Pizza card to him. He looked at it and studied it and started asking about the Pompeii oven pictured on the card which led to more conversation about pizza. Andrea was on crutches after breaking her ankle on an almost trip to Italy. I say almost because as they were leaving the parking garage in Philadelphia to get over to the airport Larry found out he was a dollar short for the garage attendant. Andrea had to get out of the car, go open the trunk to pull out her purse when the car behind them rolled up and caught her leg between the bumpers. Andrea fell with what appeared to be a bruised leg which quickly swelled up and instead of going to the airport they went to Emergency. There, she had pins and plates implanted into her ankle and the trip to Italy wasn't going to happen. What a let down! However, their timing was such that with the help of some Vicodin they decided to fly out west a week later and hook up with their friends who came in from Australia down in San Jose. Sheri & I drove down to San Jose to meet up with them then bring them back to Elk Grove to hang with us for a few days before jetting back to PA.
   What a trooper Andrea was to hang tough and not let the accident bring her down! With a leg brace and some crutches we went wine tasting in the Amador Valley. That's when the eventual conversation started with Steve, the wine pourer, who graciously brought a stool over to Andrea so she could rest her leg.
    About 4 months later Steve emailed us about doing a pizza event at the Terra d'Oro winery called a Tour of Italy set for March 2-3rd of 2013. We were excited to do a winery and such a beautiful one at that! Fast forward a few weeks and the pizza gig fell through. However, the same day it had fallen through another winery, The Old Sugarmill from Clarksburg just across the river from us called. Sheri & I have tasted wines out there on numerous occasions in the past. They wanted us in 10 days to sell pizza at their Port & Chocolate event! Sweeeeeet!
   After the dismal attendance in December of the girls' high school basketball tournament in Antioch we still had 2 freezers full of pizza product. This is a winery and this crowd will be more sophisticated then a bunch of high school kids. We need to up our game and put some pizzas on the menu that were a bit more sophisticated. Thanks to the information provided by Albert Grande's website: Pizzatherapy.com and a pizza book written by my pizza hero Tony Gemignani we were looking in all the right places. Our menu consisted of 5 pizzas. Naturally we had to put a Margherita pizza on the menu using fresh mozzarella, Tony's marinara sauce recipe topped with fresh basil. Next we looked up his Fig & Proscuitto recipe which we altered slightly then a Bacon & Bleu recipe from our friend Ron Arguello who is also in the mobile pizza business, a Pesto & Sun-dried tomato pizza and finally a standard spicy pepperoni. No carnival pizzas here!
    Beautiful warm weather on a windless day brought the wine tasters out in droves without the kids. At $20-$25 a person for the entrance fee at The Old Sugarmill we wondered how many pizzas we would actually sell.  I had estimated 50-60 pizzas per day due to the numbers we had sold at street events of this size. I admit openly that I have estimated every crowd at every event incorrectly. Once again I was way off. On Saturday we sold over 220 pizzas at a rate of 36 per hour. The most pizzas I had baked simultaneously in the wood-fired oven was five. Saturday I reached 9 and never burned a single one. All day long I was floating 4 to 5 pizzas at 900º. Sunday was nearly as amazing. Joani assembled pizzas at a constant speed of proficiency and accuracy. Chris & Greg expedited while Sheri ran the orders from inside the food court and took in wads of $20's and making change all day long. Even at 58 years old she can still work a crowd, make them laugh, educate them about wood-fired pizza and still make a few tips. What a team effort that was. I was proud of each and every one of them. Even my brother Dan showed up with my 86 year old mother who pitched in and ran orders up to the front and restock the ice chests while Sheri's sister laid out doughs and and helped out in all departments. Her sister, Florence was visiting from Arizona and her and Sheri weren't going to even work the event this weekend but got roped in anyway out of pure passion and consideration. I'm sure glad they were there. Couldn't have done it without them!
   You can do all the math and give it your best shot at anticipating a crowd but when the weather invites you outdoors and wine tasting is in the air it can make wood-fired pizza all the more special and that much more tasty. Can't wait for the Old Sugarmill to call again! We'll be there!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pizza for Eternity

   2012. The Mayans may have been wrong or maybe just misunderstood. December 21, 2012 came and went like any other day of the year and we're all still here. Not that I'm surprised at all as I could've easily purchased enough dough, cheese and food for 1000 people prior to 12/21/12 and not paid for it until after the world ended. I had enough faith in our modern day calendar to go ahead and pay for it upon pick up as I usually do. So what's up with those Mayans?  Maybe their calendar was off by a few millennia. Should've had an Iphone perhaps. Either way, we're still here and I have enough pizza to feed an army right now.
    Deer Valley High School in Antioch called us to do pizza and told us that they were so busy last year at this girls' national basketball tournament their snack bar couldn't keep up with the demand of Ho Ho's, licorice sticks, Pepsi, Ding Dongs and Twinkies that they thought we'd make a killing. We were one of 2 vendors just 10 steps away from the gymnasium doors. It sounded promising. After 2 days of dismal sales we bailed. The hot dog vendor hung around to Saturday but when I checked on him at 2:00 that day he had only sold 15 french fries, 9 hot chocolates, 2 hot dogs and 1 hamburger. The food won't go to waste as both freezers are jammed full but the fact that we were the best prepared that we've ever been was disappointing. It's taken us several events to work out the bugs but this time we had it all. We had Christmas lighting, work station lights, rubber floor mats, space heaters, a new cash register, flyers, loads of paper plates, napkins, extra help on call and plenty of enthusiasm.
   I had even cooked up 5 gallons of my favorite pizza sauce in a new 20 qt. pot I just purchased so we didn't have to use the institutional pizza sauce. Man, we were ready!
   So, forget about the basketball tournament and we'll turn our efforts towards other events. The Artisan Cheese Fest in Petaluma looks like fun. There's an Amador Valley Winery who is interested in us for early March and then there's a soccer tournament in Sacramento with plenty of open dates and no pizza vendor on the schedule. Even Lodi's Street Fair contacted us again about selling pizza in May!
   I don't feel like we failed only that the stars weren't aligned or something. Maybe I should've consulted a Mayan. Heck, Steve Jobs' computer "Lisa" was a failure! When the copy machine was invented and shown to Xerox they said, "Who needs copies? If so, we have carbon paper." Even Edison tried 10,000 times to get the lightbulb to work before he succeeded. He eventually told a reporter who asked him if he feels like he at first failed. Edison looked at him and said, "No. I now know 9,999 ways how NOT to make a lightbulb."
   Like Edison, we will keep on keeping on. Sure, the freezers are full right now but if you look at the bright side, even if the world was to end tomorrow we can have as much pizza as we want  going with us into eternity. Let's see, our pizzas cook at around 900º. I wonder what the temperature of Hell is?