Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Persistence equals Perfection

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Best of Italy

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Time Traveling Pizza...again!

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How the Italian Renaissance Began

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