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 ;-)