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To Find Excellent Pizza, Accept Pizza.

“Good luck is nothing but preparedness and opportunity coming together” -Deepak Chopra

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Navigating through life and finding a new favorite pizza place can share the same anxieties, lessons and triumphs.  I uncovered this several years ago after I relocated to Madison, Wisconsin for work and found myself equal parts excited and overwhelmed. I had the stress of a new job, new living arrangements and the biggest challenge of all; discovering which pizza place would become “my new pizza place”?

Pizza compels me.

I should start out by explaining that I absolutely love pizza, more than most things. Everyone knows I have a serious passion for pizza, my friends tease me about it, my co-workers regularly inquire about it, my wife’s embarrassed by it, and my parents seem confused over it.  I crave it all the time and every week build anticipation for my next pizza adventure. So, this whole idea may seam trivial, but pizza, in my opinion is one of life’s finest pleasures.

Gus’ Pizza in Whitewater, Wisconsin is my all-time favorite pizza.  It’s very thin, cut in squares and really cheesy.  In my opinion close to the perfect pizza composition.

Off to my new home.

As I set off for Madison I had nerves about adapting to a new home, it was my first time moving away from the small town I grew up in.  I had traveled a bit and I knew I would adjust and probably come to love it, but at the end of the day I also wanted a good piece of pizza.

Though I had many things on the table, I would commonly find myself asking “How was anything around here going to compete with Gus’ pizza?”  “Who’s going to have a little hand pinched crust like them?” “What place would deliver that borderline excessive amount of cheese?”

Gus’ and their cracker thin crust had transformed into the security of back home, it was a warm a quilt of high quality mozzarella snuggling me in, delicate hints of basil assuring me I’d be ok.  Worse than that, Gus’ had become the metric by which I was judging all other pizza.

I had put Gus’ pizza on a pedestal.

What I was really asking is “How can a new pizza restaurant compete with the idea of Gus’ pizza” I’ve created in my mind?”

In my first few weeks in Madison, what do you know?  I tried too hard to replicate that cheesy cracker thin-crust I missed from Gus’ back home.  Often, I would force a solution: I would order thin-crust pizza from a notorious deep-dish pizza place, then walk away in disappointment because it didn’t live up to expectations.  I would order chain pizza with extra cheese to mimic the “hole in the wall” pizza I craved so much.  I was forcing outcomes into square “tavern style party cuts”.

Then I learned to let go.

I’m an avid reader, especially into mindfulness, behavioral psychology, personal development, leadership etc.  Through my extra curricular learning, I found how to enjoy myself and enjoy pizza even more.

I discovered how to take delight in an experience and let it soak in, the new pizza along the way was a perk. I started reaching out of my comfort zone and trying new varieties of pizza and savoring every bit of the uniqueness they brought.   Along the way I found new favorites and created fond memories.  And of course I found new favorite spots.

What pizza taught me:

When I attached to a specific result in my pizza quests I set myself up for disappointment.  The pictures I created in my mind of how I wanted situations to play out, created unrealistic expectations and often left me feeling like things didn’t go my way.  By opening up my mind to alternative options and to the infinite ways life can go, I felt the real joy of living.  I was free to ebb and flow with the world and let opportunities present themselves.

We should all invite change and different experiences and enjoy them for what they are. I have to force myself to do this everyday, but the results are worth it.  You will be able to seize unforeseen opportunities because you won’t be set on one specific outcome. Know what you want, detach from the result, enjoy the moment and just be; you will find what you’re looking for.

  • What I’m eating: Rosati’s, Madison West, super thin crust (yes, that’s an option) extra cheese, pepperoni.
  • What I’m reading: “The Happiness Hypothesis”-Jonathan Haidt

Pizza-watching

“People are the best show in the world. And you don’t even pay for the ticket” -Charles Bukowski

People-watching is one of my favorite past-times; second only to pizza-watching.  If you’ve ever made a trip around Madison’s capital square for the infamous farmer’s market you know what great territory it is to idly observe people from all walks of life.

Many Saturday mornings Tess and I will find ourselves marching along with the market masses doing the slow cheese-sampling shuffle—inching along like we’re caught in a swarm of zombies stuck in a quadrilateral slog.

Though it’s only 9am all the market delicacies like the warm cheesy-bread, fresh curds, beef sticks, and homemade hot sauces begin to remind me of my beloved pizza, but you can’t score a slice at 9am? Can you?

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Up and at’em.

At the square you expect to see folks of all shapes and sizes—statuses and statures; but you don’t expect to get a slice of pizza.  Most pizza shops open 11am at the earliest (some of my favorites don’t open until 4pm), but thanks to Ian’s Pizza on State you can now enjoy a piece of pizza along with your pastries and cold-brew.

Every market season Ian’s hones their revolutionary pizza riffing to breakfast as they start slinging slices bright and early.  You can grab a Denver Omelet slice, a Huevos Rancheros slice or even a sweet Apple Cobbler slice. And if breakfast pizza isn’t your thing, don’t fret, because nestled between Biscuits and Gravy inspired slices and Fruit Parfait pizzas you’ll find all of Ian’s late night classics.

The prime pizza-watching spot. 

Ian’s is the infamous midwestern slice joint that serves up eclectic slices and forever pushes the boundaries of what you’d expect to find on a pizza. My all-time favorites include the “Spicy Chicken Quesadilla” which is a slice with a quesadilla on top of it, Italian Beef complete with spicy giardiniera and of course the Buffalo Chicken layered with bleu cheese crumbles and chicken that packs some heat.

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Whether you want simple or complex there’s a slice for everyone.  Vegan? No problem.  Craving Mexican food? You’re covered. In the mood for pasta?  Do you want Lasagna or Penne Alfredo?  A childhood favorite?  You gotta try the Mac n’ Cheese.

I imagine that a sliver of Ian’s creativity is inspired by the diverse characters you find roaming the downtown area. Perusing Ian’s slice line-up and observing farmers market attendees share similar peculiarities.

People intrigue me as much as pizza. 

When I’m people-watching at the market I can’t help but imagine others daily lives. Where’s home? What motivates them? What’s their routine?  What kind of pizza do they eat?

There’s a lot to learn from people.  Robert Greene in his book Mastery says “the primal source of human intelligence comes from the development of mirror neurons which gives us the ability to place ourselves in the skin of another and imagine their experience. Through continual exposure to people and by attempting to think inside them we can gain an increasing sense of their perspective, but this requires effort on our part.”

Social intelligence is the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes—to take a look through another’s eyes and to imagine how their mind thinks and feels.  Harnessing this skill proves handy in almost any endeavor because it trains us in empathy.  It doesn’t matter how smart or skilled we are if we can’t connect with people.

What pizza taught me:

We all have different backgrounds and values; Ian’s slice selection is as unpredictable as our viewpoints. If we take a glimpse into someone else’s life we can gain a new level of understanding and empathy.

What I’m eating: Ian’s Pizza on State-Buffalo Chicken and Smoky the Bandit

What I’m reading:  Getting to Yes –Roger Fisher and William Ury

 

Hidden Gems

“You can only lose what you cling to” Buddha

What do I want?  Every Wednesday that question wracks my brain; whittle’s my wife’s patience to dust.  So much pizza, so little time, naturally mind goes in circles.

We all face that daily dilemma between a finite caloric intake and an infinite amount of pizza possibilities.  It feels as though we’ve got to pick our battles wisely; line up our cravings, shake ’em down and narrow down the cut.  We’ve got to contemplate crusts, consider cheese to sauce ratios and collaborate topping combinations to ensure a perfect pizza night.

Really though, it’s often after we stop over-analyzing that pizza destiny knocks.

Tess and I gratefully had a babysitter on a Saturday night and set out to relive our glory days of frolicking around downtown Madison, WI.  Fun for us comes from exploring uncharted culinary territory—our favorite past-time finding new restaurants.

To rekindle our spirit of adventure we wanted something new, something hip, somewhere we could observe Madison’s foodie elite.  We figured after 6 years we’d hit every spot downtown, but we had left one rock unturned.

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Natt Spil

Natt Spil has no sign and only accepts cash, but is ever so welcoming to the weary capital square traveler.  The space is as intimate as a Hobbit-hole; a DJ booth and globally influenced decor emit an aura that says “hot-spot for the hip”, the tattoed and those craving finely crafted cocktails.  Apparently, it’s also for those who are hungry for Asian inspired Dim Sum and pizza?

The name is Norwegian (meaning “night play”) and the menu is equal parts Asian, Mediterranean and pizza and that’s exactly the eclectic, eccentric sort of thing we were after.  I would say it’s Madison’s best-kept secret, but people have been telling me to go there for years.

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Stepping into an unmarked door. 

If you’re looking for Natt Spil just follow a trail of logs leading down an alley and you’ll hit their wood-burning pizza oven. The pizza has that great char and chew that you only find when your pie has been kissed by the flames of a raging hot wood-burning oven.

Tess and I opted for the Natt Spil Sausage that came delicately balanced with tomato, chevre, red onion and pepperoncini peppers (my favorite touch).  Bites of sausage and pepperoncini peppers excited the tastebuds with an acidic tang to savory counterbalance.

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Look no further.

Happiness and pizza are spun from the same dough. There are times in life when we don’t know what to do and maybe that’s when it’s more important than ever to detach and let the universe reveal the path.

Meditation master and spiritual leader Lama Gendun Rinpoche wrote: “Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower, but is already there, in relaxation and letting go.”  “Don’t search any further… Nothing to do, Nothing to force, Nothing to want, and everything happens by itself.”

What Pizza taught me:

The harder we try for happiness the further away it gets; just like our satisfaction when we set the bar too high for pizza night. When we relinquish our desires and let life happen that’s when a crispy, pristine Natt Spil pizza unexpectedly plops itself in our laps.

What I’m eating:  Natt Spil

What I’m reading:  Robert Greene Mastery

 

You’re Right

“We are never so vulnerable as when we love” -Sigmund Freud

I was out for pizza in a congested restaurant when I saw the perfect snapshot of a slice; the grease pools glistening—pepperoni’s posed in a way that begged to be captured. As I pulled out my phone, repositioned for lighting and went in for the photo shoot that’s when a hot flash of insecurity slapped me in the face.  I envisioned all the eyeballs in the room locking in on me; their collective gaze projecting scorching rays of judgment that stifled me in discomfort.

I began to sweat as I stewed in my own awkwardness; blushing as I imagined myself, the fool, hunched beside the table like a paparazzi who’d lost it— seeing celebrities in slices of extra cheese.

I felt uncomfortable about the impression I was making on everyone around me.  I was that stereotypical millennial unable to experience anything without proper documentation; that guy who couldn’t enjoy the moment without posting to social media.

Then a heaven-send—a voice chimed in: 

Just live your life man.

My inner confidence stepping up? Some benevolent being interjecting?  Sage advice from The Big Lebowski’s the Dude?

No. It’s my wife Tess.  The voice of reason who puts up with me brainstorming pizza blogs, going in circles about “what’s for pizza on Friday?” on Tuesday and a plethora of other pizza quirks that I’m sure would irk the enlightenment out of a Zen master.

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As usual, she’s right; no-one could care less about the pictures of pizza I’m taking.

Beyond the ability to hush my self-consciousness, and reign in my ruminations, I recently discovered Tess also has a profound pizza insight to share with the world.  Her wisdom came unexpectedly as I arrived home on a Friday afternoon to her preparing a Jack’s frozen pizza. I was giddy to join in on her cheesy, picturesque Jack’s pepperoni pizza, and that’s when I smelled the faint smell of burning.

Wait! What??!  What are you doing!?

I gasped in horror as she recklessly committed unspeakable negligence against a poor Jack’s thin-crust.  The pie was at a torturing 425° for way too long; the sweltering heat blistering and marring the pizzas fair yellow mozzarella complexion.  The pepperonis shrieking as they began to sizzle and spit escape pods of grease across the oven walls that scream Help! Help! Let me outta here!

Charring a frozen pizza within near inches of its poor little life, brings a tear to my eye, but that’s the way my wife Tess likes them; dark brown and nearly burnt (no wonder she does this when I’m not around).

As I waited for an explanation and mournfully looked upon my fried friend, I figured “pizza is pizza” and went in for a slice.

To my amazement, it was extraordinarily crispy and delicious.  The cheese had more of a bite to it; more of chew, a deeper flavor too.  Who can argue with crispy pepperonis? I became intrigued by this “almost burning the pizza” cooking technique and the following day I insisted she teach me her secrets.

Upon plopping a Jack’s in the oven I inquired about how she knew when to take it out and she responded: “Once I smell it, I know”.  Long story short, you leave it in the oven for a period that seems way too long and then sprinkle parmesan cheese on it as soon as it comes out so it melts on it.  

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The right one.

Tess is notoriously right and I appreciate her shooting me straight and telling me to chill the F’ out with the pizza nonsense from time to time. Having open lines of communication and tolerance for each other allows us to experience new things, like burnt Jack’s pizzas that are delicious.

Sometimes we have to muster up and give a little more than expected to those we love. We may have to take that 5am shift with the baby or go out of our way to the grocery store, maybe even assure our loved one that no-one cares about excessive pizza pics.  By pleasing them with a little extra effort—  a little more finesse we can exceed their expectations, then it all comes back around.

I’ve heard successful relationships are comprised of the attitude that it’s 90% giving and 10% receiving from both parties involved.  What that means is we should always be prepared to give way more than we expect to get back.

What I learned from pizza:

Successful relationships are comprised of more give than take. The more we give the more we get and a beautiful cycle is born. It’s those little things like the assurance at the restaurant or the lesson on burning a Jack’s properly that add up and build a stronger bond.

What I’m eating: Jack’s pepperoni (nearly burnt with parmesan sprinkled on it)

What I’m reading: Side Hustle –Chris Guillebeau

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No Place Like Home

“We carry our homes within us, which enables us to fly.” John Cage

As the 4th of July weekend approached I was feeling restless, my brain held hostage by an exhausting work-week and an ever-broadening list of “daddy duties”.  I was bored with Madison. I wanted to run, to get free, to feel like a kid.  I wanted summer fun; a glistening sun, a pine-laden horizon, friends, fireworks and some great pizza (that’s a given).

I wanted that sense of freedom that arises when you get out into the country or dunk yourself into greenish-blue Wisconsin lake water; resurfacing with a rush—a swirl of adolescent giddiness.  That feeling of leaning back and looking into a vibrant blue sky blotted with fluffy, pillow-like clouds; your day-to-day tensions melting away like sidewalk chalk in the rain.

Most of all I wanted the excitement of seeing my favorite people and eating my favorite pizza. The question is then, where can I capture all these classic 4th of July feels in the same spot?

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Going home. 

Tess and I got a sitter for Ellis (Thanks Mom!) and ventured back to our old stomping grounds Whitewater WI. for the 4th of July, with our eye out for everything I’d been daydreaming of, especially my crème de la crème of Wisconsin pizza: Gus’ Pizza Palace.

If you know me or have read any of my stuff you may realize that Gus’ is not just any old pizza to me; it’s the best pizza, my favorite pizza. The all-time greatest pizza. It’s the rule—the measure—the standard by which I judge all pizza.

For the longest time, I was nervous to even write about Gus’ because it’s so special to me, I was worried about whether or not I would be able to do it justice. Or, worse yet, what if it had changed in some way.  I’ve only had the chance to eat it a handful of times since moving, but I figured I’d try to let the legend shine.

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Confession: I went to Gus’ twice in one day.

If you grew up in Whitewater, you undoubtedly know the passion and loyalty that the locals share for their Gus’ pizza.  It’s the gold standard for small-town, thin crust, cheesy pizza, sliced up in squares since 1962.  That’s right, it’s a legacy, it’s been whipped up by the same family using top-secret family recipes for 56 years (way to go guys!).

For Whitewater folk, it’s lovingly known as “Greasy Gus'”. 

Though they keep their formulas confidential, my conspiracy theory has it that the legendary grease factor is due to them using slices of mozzarella instead of shredded like most pizza places.  When the cheese melts in their old-school deck-ovens, the grease collects on top of the slices and creates this delicious blend of grease, melty cheese, and sauce.  I’ve had no other pizza that accomplishes this unique consistency. It’s bliss.

The crust is super thin—cracker thin and has a hand pinched rim that is efficient in holding an excessive, greasy pool of cheese.  The crust is like a little floury canyon. (Ahh, writing this makes me want to dive right in).

unnamedSimplicity and home go hand-in-hand for me.  With my Gus’ I follow suit; I want the pizza in it’s most pristine form: cheese. I’m a sucker for good quality cheese pizza.  I want to bask in the harmony of the cheese, sauce, and crust; let them join together and do a  sacred dance.  If a pizza place can’t get plain cheese right, then I see no future.

Tess often goes for green olives or we’ll share a pizza with gyro meat on it with a side of tzatziki sauce (their gyros are bomb by the way, meat carved from the spit and all).  I’ve heard rave reviews of topping combinations all over the map; from black olives and feta (put on after it’s cooked), to bacon and onion, to onion, green pepper, extra sauce, extra cheese, the infamous Gus’ Special and as I previously mentioned my friend who will give his right arm for beef, bacon, sausage.  I’ve even heard the old-timers talk about the joy of shrimp on their Gus’.

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Gus’s in recent years also got into the cheese-sticks biz to stay competitive in the college market and their sticks are holy wow, topped with at least a quarter inch of mozzarella, definitely among my top 3 three cheese-sticks (that’s a whole separate blog post).  Also, I just gotta say potato wedges, do it.

 

My 4th of July fuzzies wouldn’t be complete without Gus’. 

Just like home, Gus’ is one place that seems to be a constant in a world that’s always changing; it’s one thing all my old friends and family still share in common. For almost 60 years they’ve stuck to their guns and for the most part, the product goes unscathed (though I always remembered more cheese, my grandma agrees).

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Cheese-sticks

In my glory days, I remember the goal for my friends and I on the 4th was to throw the biggest party we could, now it’s scrounging for babysitters and exchanging parenting tips (did you try this new swaddle!?).  That’s what makes life exciting, it’s constantly evolving as we are.

Phil Knight the founder of Nike says in his biography “Life is growth. Business is growth, You grow or you die.”  Whether it’s new additions to our families or nuances to our holiday traditions; we get reminders every day that everything changes, yet there is a resemblance, a fragment of the past that we can cherish.  That’s Gus’ for me.

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Potato Wedges.

What pizza taught me:

Simply going home can be all the negotiation our nagging mind needs in order to chill itself out.  It’s been six years since I left Whitewater and everything feels different but familiar at the same time. There will always be a part of me that finds comfort in going home and Gus’ is a piece of that history.  I hope everybody has a place like that.

What I’m eating: Gus’ cheese pizza, gyro meat pizza with side of tzatziki, cheese-sticks, wedges

What I’m reading:  Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike –Phil Knight

 

 

 

What’s Your Go-to?

“There are not more than five cardinal tastes; sour, acrid, salt, sweet and bitter, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted” -Sun Tzu

We all have a “go-to”—the quintessential pie that hits our spot, that classic combination or twist on toppings that just sings to our soul; beckons us back for more.  The “go-to” could also be defined as our interpretation of the perfectly concocted pie; our favorite toppings, perfect cheese, proper portions, on the appropriate crust.

For me, it’s most often pepperoni and excessive cheese, for Tess it’s green olives, for my Dad it’s the kitchen sink. I have multiple friends who would give up their first born child for beef, bacon, sausage at Gus’ in Whitewater and a work colleague who gets sausage, bacon, jalapeno everywhere he goes, no matter what.  That’s the power of the “go-to”.

“Go-to’s” are like excuses, bellybuttons, opinions, and assholes in that everybody’s got one. That’s the beauty of pizza in general—everybody has their own spin on it and it’s reliable.  Therefore, “What’s your favorite pizza?” is my all-time favorite question because it’s a topic of conversation almost anyone can entertain and have a good time while doing so.

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Glass Nickel: the default for the many Madison folks.

Though, I’m pretty committed to thin crust, every now and again I’ll get the hankering for some extra cheesy hand-tossed pizza loaded with toppings and for that, my Madison go-to is Glass Nickel. Glass Nickel was founded in 1997 in Madison, WI, and now have several locations across the state.

When I think Madison pizza I think Glass Nickel and it makes sense because many in the area find Glass Nickel and the term “go-to” synonymous.   Everywhere I turn whether a luncheon or work-function there’s a Glass Nickel box in the vicinity—when I poll friends and colleagues Glass Nickel is the common denominator.

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Pepperoni & Sausage pizza with extra cheese (that I didn’t have to ask or pay for!)

Extra cheese without asking for it.

I personally appreciate Glass Nickel because I don’t need to order extra cheese, they come loaded that way. They use a “house cheese blend” that bakes up with a great oozy and gooey consistency.  The crust is stretchy and filled with little air pockets, like a good artisanal bread and is dusted with cornmeal.

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cornmeal dusted crust

While many times I will opt for classic pepperoni and sausage (dynamite hand-pinched sausage) I have to say they are on top of their “specialty” game.  Some of the stars include the Fetalicious, which is a pie loaded with tons of feta, the Thai Pie complete with Thai peanut sauce, and my personal favorite and “chicken bacon ranch go-to”  The Ranch.

As far as chicken bacon ranch pizza’s go, The Ranch is far superior.  First, off they use good quality chicken that is slow roasted in-house.  Roasted in-house? What pizza place does that? They use these little crispy bacon bits, red onions, and fresh tomatoes that are nestled in a bed of mozzarella.  The best part though is the creamy ranch base that bakes into the crust to form this pillowy, velvety golden base.

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Slice of  The Ranch

Go-tos are not only reliable, they’re relatable. 

You can’t read a book by its cover, but can you read a man by what he orders on his pizza?  I love learning about other people’s favorite pizzas because it almost feels like a glimpse into their soul; a quick look at their quirks and what comforts them.  When you ask “what’s your favorite pizza?” it feels like people open up to you one topping at a time.

Henry David Thoreau said, “is there a greater miracle than to see through another’s eyes, even for an instant?”

The go-to is so intriguing because it can be so simple for some and so complex for others. I have a different go-to for pretty much every different pizza restaurant I frequent, so I get it.

What pizza taught me?

Your go-to is that pizza you can rely on; it’s that pizza that’s faithful to us when we need something familiar. Go-to’s offer us a way to connect and learn from others. The next time you’re stumped on how to spark up a conversation just ask “what’s your pizza “go-to?”

What I’m eating: Glass Nickel The Ranch and Deluxe

What I’m reading: Never Lose a Customer Again Joey Coleman

 

 

A Trip Down Memory Aisle

“The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.” -Vladimir Nabokov

When I was little one of my favorite occurrences was free pizza samples at the grocery store on a Saturday morning.  I’d be grocery shopping with my Mom and luck would have it our cart would roll by a little old lady tending a metal pizza oven, serving up tiny squares of piping hot pizza on little paper napkins.

For me, that memory is filled with mystique and a tinge of longing.  That’s nostalgia. 

Nostalgia is that warm, happy place that lives in our memories.  It’s the emotional feeling I get when I see that Pizza Hut commercial from the early 90’s with the kid’s playing baseball (The one before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on VHS).  It’s that sentimental state I get into when I think about staying in on a rainy night, popping in a frozen and getting cozy on the couch with a movie.

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It’s my yearning for Rocky Rococo’s $1 slice Tuesdays when school let out in 8th grade; knowing I didn’t have a care in the world.  The thrill at 2 a.m. in college to have a grease soaked cardboard box with something that resembled pizza in it.  And how my Mom knew that I wanted squares and Jeff wanted triangles when she divvied up our frozen pizza growing up.

Nostalgia provides euphoria in the good times and can console us in times of loss. I’ve often turned to the fuzzy feelings of nostalgia when times get dark.

Fond memories and an oven preheated to 425˚.

I’m not one to get hung up on celebrity news and fanboyism, but I felt an immense sadness by the passing of Anthony Bourdain. He got me excited about exploring the world through food and writing about it.  He was a voice of reason. Though I don’t know the guy beyond reading his books and watching his TV shows, I felt like I lost an old friend.

Maybe that despair comes from the realization that all things grow and die, or that everything changes and that’s scary.  Maybe it’s witnessing an icon fall, and knowing those we look up to have their own weaknesses that can ruin them. Either way, I do believe recounting the beauty of our past can aid in that pain, so we can move forward. In homage to my fallen anti-hero, I spent my last pizza night revisiting the first season of No Reservations circa 2005 in which Anthony kicks off the show in Paris, France. It brought me back to a better place after a rough week.

What pizza taught me:

Moments are fleeting, but our memories are not.  Nostalgia can help us look past our current problems and see the bigger picture; the reasons why it’s worth getting up, dusting off and pushing forward.  When the world gets dark I’ll recall strolling down my favorite aisle with my Mom and find solace in that little old sample lady and the tiny slice she served.

What I’m eating:  Tombstone Original Pepperoni, cut in squares on a paper napkin.

What I’m reading: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life Anne Lamott

 

Picking Up the Pizzas

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Victor Frankl

You want that perfect pizza night?  Murphy’s Law: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Ordered thin crust? You ended up with thick.

Excited about extra cheese? Looks like you got easy.

What about that side of sauce?  Forget about it; the driver forgot it.

Pessimism? No, just life. It’s easy to view these pizza mishaps as tragedies, but every day we will be faced with late deliveries, missing toppings, and cold pizzas. For most of my existence my knee-jerk reaction to life’s little jabs has been with anger, frustration, and despair, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

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The wrong Roman Candle.

Spring had sprung and it seemed like the perfect Friday night for pick-up, so Tess and I hit the road.  We opted for a scenic drive with baby Ellis in tow to a hip little joint called The Roman Candle.

After arriving at our Fitchburg location (there are four Roman Candles in Madison) the hostess dropped my heart to my stomach when she began searching her computer for our order with a perplexed expression.  After a couple “hmms” and a “are you sure it’s not under a different name?” I knew I had made a major goof.

I had placed our online order to a location about 30 minutes away.  Suddenly in my mind, I was the ultimate failure; the guy who ruined pizza night, the inept husband and worst father of the week; squandering all the fun Friday night hangs.

I was now faced with a hard decision and time was of the essence.  Drive further from home for cold pizza or place a new order and wait out another 25 minutes for a fresh order.  At that moment I had two choices: dwell on the problem or make a decision and work towards the solution. 

We decided to take the wait, but we couldn’t decide on a pizza, so we ordered three. 

Roman Candle is a unique spot; the menu is chock full of specialty pizzas that highlight ingredients you don’t normally see.  Items like beats, arugula and artichokes provide an elegant twist. Though pricey, but I gotta say they churn out really well-portioned pizzas. It’s nice to find a pie that’s so well balanced, with high quality ingredients to boot.

Tess’s usual is The Professional.  It starts with a blend of pesto and alfredo and is then topped with feta, broccoli, roasted chicken, and bacon.  The orginal version comes with green peppers and jalapenos too.  This combo seemed whacky to me at first, but it works.

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I went for their signature The Roman Candle with a few additions.  The pie has a spicy  base called firecracker sauce and is then covered with house-made ground sausage and banana peppers. I added thick artisanal pepperoni and extra house blend cheese. The combination of the meats and banana peppers create a salty, tangy flavor explosion.

I’m not usually one to jump for a taco pizza, but with the quality and craftsmanship of Roman Candle, I had to give their El Jefe a try.  This is definitely not your average taco pizza, the El Jefe begins with a taco sauce and alfredo mix and is then topped with cheddar, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and drizzled with sour cream.

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While waiting we got to catch up as we rocked a crying baby in the parking lot.  It was nice.

In that moment I changed my perception from wasting 25 minutes, to getting piping hot pizzas fresh out of the oven.  I accepted my situation and shifted my outlook from negative to positive and was able to drive off happily into the sunset.

In author Mark Manson’s bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k  he explains “We don’t always control what happens to us but we always control how we interpret what happens to us as well as how we respond”   Manson echoes the ancient Greek philosophy Stoicism which called this our “reasoned choice”.  “Reasoned choice” is basically the idea that our perceptions are the only thing we truly control and whether we view them as a blessing or a curse it’s up to us.

What pizza taught me:

When life throws us a big ol’ misshapen dough ball it’s up to us knead it into the pizza we want. Whether we stub our toe, lose our keys, or hit all the red lights on the way to work  how we respond is in our control.

What I’m eating: Roman Candle: Party for three: The Profressional, The Roman Candle, El Jefe.

What I’m reading: Mark Manson The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k