Helping Hands

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another” Charles Dickens

I’ll never forget that sunny Saturday afternoon in May outside my mailbox.  I inattentively thumbed the weekly ads and routinely strolled to the dumpster to toss them, when I caught a glimpse of a page of coupons that glistened. Amidst the circulars shone a pizza I’d daydreamed of for years; I dashed inside to share the amazing news with Tess.

After years of relentless tinkering, chain behemoth Pizza Hut has finally yielded an ingenious payoff. They took two of their greatest inventions pan pizza and stuffed crust and converged them into a hybrid dubbed the Double Cheesy Crust Pan Pizza.

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What’s better than pizza on a Friday night? 

Friends over for pizza on a Friday night who bring you the new Double Cheese crust Pan Pizza (Thank you, Handy and Anna!).

One of the many perks of being a new parent is the incredible support provided by those closest to us (especially our mothers, Happy Mothers Day!).  From Grandma’s helping with the night shift to friends providing meals and grocery shopping; the level of support we have received is outstanding and so greatly appreciated.

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Pizza Hut please take my money.

For years Tess and I had talked about the possibility of Pizza Hut’s pan pizza conjoining with their stuffed crust.  After years of Pizza Hut tiptoeing around the idea with dozens of pizza concoctions finally, the stars have aligned and they have brought our two favorites together.

The stuffed crust portion of Pizza Hut’s “stuffed crust” is legit, but let’s face it the pizza portion leaves something to be desired.  Meanwhile, pan pizza is just all around righteous with it’s crispy, buttery crust.  With the Double Cheesy Crust Pan pizza, we get the best of both worlds.unnamed-8

The majority of the Double Cheesy Crust Pan pizza is like classic pan style pizza with the exception of a seasoning blend dusted across it and some parmesan baked on the crust.  The crust is not stuffed with cheese as I pictured it.  The cheese forms more of a moat that weaves its way around the outside of the traditional pan crust.

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Cheese moat

Slice support.

Pizza Hut is a Friday night staple for many, just as our family and friends are a constant for us in big life-changing circumstances; like having a baby. Pizza Hut’s new offering came at a perfect time for Tess and I as we work to find our groove in the new rhythm of parenting.

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Ellis and Uncle Andy after some pizza.

 

 

What pizza taught me:

We should nurture our circle of friends and family because just like our favorite pizza they are there for us when we need them.  Tess and I are truly blessed with an amazing network.  Thanks to my ultimate support Tess, happy first Mothers Day!

What I’m eating: Pizza Hut: Double Cheesy Crust Pizza

What I’m listening to: Beach House Pay No Mind

What I’m reading: Emotional Intelligence 2.0

 

 

Patience Has Its Rewards

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet” -Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Last week in the dark lit delivery room of my first child, I came face-to-face with my oldest adversary.  My foe hijacked the clock, stalled it and taunted me with threats of making it go even slower. It was 36 hours since Tess’s labor induction began and my threshold for waiting wavered.  Could I prevail against my biggest weakness impatience?

I used to think waiting for the oven preheat to 425° was a true test of my self-restraint. Now, with a baby plopped on my lap, I realize I have absolutely no patience at all (especially if pizza is involved), but I have a feeling, if harnessed, patience may become one of my strongest allies.

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Celebratory Salvatore’s Tomato Pies.

I was blessed with my son Ellis at 2:28am Wednesday morning after an excruciatingly long labor process that started Monday night! By Wednesday evening all of our well-exerted effort (Tess is the true hero of the story) was rewarded; we celebrated in true Luther fashion with a pizza party in our hospital birth suite.  My brother Jeff and Jaime had the brilliant idea of welcoming Ellis into this world with Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, the notorious Madison area pizza joint.

With locations in Sun Prairie and Downtown Madison, Sal’s pride themselves on using all locally sourced fresh ingredients and have a reputation for being the best artisan pizza in the area. The website describes their rise to fame in Sun Prairie “They quickly built a reputation for crafting pizza like no other…  Using old world techniques of slow fermenting dough from locally derived wheat, locally made cheeses and Wisconsin-raised meats.”

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The tomato pies have a distinct structure that is a family legacy and according to the website has been passed down many generations.  The pizza is basically built in reverse.  It starts with whole milk mozzarella, olive oil, romano and is then drizzled with tomato “red sauce” and sprinkled with basil.

The crust has an excellent char on the bottom and with the sauce on top, its vibrancy really shines through.  The pepperoni is thicker-cut and when baked up turns into crispy little cups that hold a little grease at the bottom. The tomato pies are equal parts simple, elegant and rustic.

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pepperoni grease cups.

Waiting.

The birth of Ellis was one of the most magical experiences of my life, but there was a ton of waiting around and much of that time was extremely boring.  Although I was restless in the hospital, I realized I should be embracing those seemingly boring moments and appreciating them. I will surely look back on these days as being some of the best times of my life.  Dirty diapers, Doctors appointments and long sleepless nights are on the way, why not try to enjoy them?

There will always be times in our lives when we have to “kill time”; if we handle these moments with a constructive mindset they won’t feel like such a waste. Waiting isn’t so bad if we use our time wisely.

Conquering impatience:

  1. Keep busy.  Read a book, take a walk, write a blog about pizza.  At one point I was meditating in the birth suite bathroom and practicing Spanish via Duolingo as I paced the halls.
  2. Make it fun.  We can make a game out of whatever boring situation we’re in.  We can bring some humor and even make some pleasant lasting memories.
  3. Get Stoic and view it as an opportunity for growth.  We can look at a dull moment as a training of our will, something that will strengthen our resolve for the future.

What pizza taught me:

Patience is most definitely a virtue and is not always so easy to access.  By embracing and overcoming the restlessness and agitation that comes with impatience we’ll prevail. All my downtime at the hospital last week was well worth the wait as I ended up the best reward of all; pizza and a healthy son.

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What I’m eating: Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, pepperoni and half cheese, half veggie

What I’m reading: Learned Optimism -Martin Seligman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza Always Has a Place

“A tradition is kept alive only by something being added to it” -Henry James

Thanksgiving is the ultimate day of gratitude and eating, so where’s the pizza?  The way I see it, on a day devoted to giving thanks and indulging on carb-loaded delicacies, pizza is a natural fit.  I know it doesn’t necessarily fit the traditional flavors of the Thanksgiving spread and doesn’t exactly match the classic ambiance we envision at the table with Grandma, but I believe there is a place for pizza somewhere.

It turns out many other people feel the same way.  And no, I’m not suggesting I was the weirdo that brought a pizza to the Thanksgiving dinner table (though I’ve considered it).  I’m talking about the pizza eating that takes place around the holidays when we are surrounded by family and friends.

Finding a place for some pie. 

Many people enjoy their pizza the night before Thanksgiving to avoid cooking or to recharge after drinks with old friends.  My Aunt Karen used it as an easy meal for traveling relatives with busy schedules in the days following Thanksgiving.  She explained that she had limited time to connect everyone before they departed; pizza was the most viable option.

My pizza indulgence takes place the night of Thanksgiving, long after the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes have made their appearance, when a faint glimpse of hunger starts to resurface.  I’ll be back at home, snuggled into my spot on the couch and while many may grab for the leftover Turkey sandwich, I spring for some pizza.

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Pizza brings a little more zest to round-two.  

For many years my brother Jeff and I have had a “pizza on Thanksgiving night” tradition. With all of the restaurants closed we always had to pick our pizza from the freezer section of our local grocery store or gas station (which ever was open).

Now after all these years I’ve swapped my brother for my my wonderful wife Tess. With this years festivities approaching we contemplated our frozen pizza options and decided to mix things up.

One of my favorite evolutions to take place in the frozen pizza aisle is the addition of cheese sticks.   The cheese stick is basically a sauceless pizza crust, basted with garlic butter, smothered in cheese, cut in strips and dunked into sides of sauce.  Over the years they’ve seemed to become more prevalent in restaurants (Toppers is king, but that’s a whole ‘nother post) and are now to my excitement even popping up the freezer section.

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Portesi Cheese Fries.

So, with a hankering for some cheese sticks and with Toppers my normal go to closed on Thanksgiving day (they are only closed 2 days a year), I went with Portesi thin crust Cheese Fries.  The Portesi Cheese Fries are native to central Wisconsin and hail from Stevens Point.  I originally found out about the Cheese Fries from a friend Steve, who has a serious passion for the garlicky, cheesy breadsticks and firmly suggests you have to go thin crust (there is a rising crust option).

The Cheese Fries are loaded with more cheese than your typical item from the frozen section. They come prepackaged with a marinara sauce for dipping, but with the generous portion of mozzarella and garlic butter base it’s almost unnecessary.

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Time to pop in a movie and preheat the oven.

The debut of the Portesi Cheese Fries into my Thanksgiving routine reminds me that the joy we take from such traditions is up to us and it’s fun to switch things up every now and again.  Our lives will inevitably change and if we cling to traditions too much we can end up disappointed.

The entry for November 23 (Thanksgiving) in Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic is fitting “The things we are attached to can come and go, our reasoned choice is resilient and adaptable.  The sooner we become aware of this the better.  The easier it will be to accept and adapt to what does happen.”

What pizza taught me:

Embracing a tradition can bring a lot of warm nostalgia, but we shouldn’t be bound by old ways.  We can change locations, invite new guests, or add some pizza, all that matters is that we enjoy ourselves and our favorite people.

What I’m eating: Portesi thin crust Cheese Fries

What I’m reading: Ryan Holiday The Daily Stoic

 

 

Communication is as Key as the Crust

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives”-Tony Robbins

Recently I had the extraordinary honor to be the best man in my brother Jeff’s wedding.  In true Luther fashion we couldn’t let a life-time milestone pass us by without some pizza.  Jeff and his bride Jaime not only had some amazing wood-fired pizza at the rehearsal dinner, but even surprised everyone with late night Dominos at the reception.  They know how to pizza party.

In preparation for my best man speech I contemplated the qualities of a lasting relationship. As I swept my mind for the characteristics that keep two people together forever, I kept circling back to communication.  Sharing pizza with our loved ones is a no-brainer, but it’s even more important to share our feelings with them as well.

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I’m a proud member of the pizza planning committee.

At Oakfire Pizza in Lake Geneva a long table of family and friends reminisce and enjoy some laughs around an elegant spread of neapolitan style pizzas.  Love is in the air as we excitedly share in anticipation with the bride and groom and some thin chewy pizza.

Little did everyone know that thoughtful planning went into the array of pizzas before them.  My favorite best man duty was working with my brother and Jaime to pick out the pizzas for the rehearsal dinner.  I was delighted and deeply honored that my brother asked me to help finalize the pizza selection

Putting our heads together for the perfect pizza spread.  

We took into account everyone’s likes and dislikes we delivered a feast of pizzas for the whole family.  Of course a classic cheese option was necessary, so we went with a Margherita that consisted of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, pecorino romano and olive oil.  The sauce was vibrant and was a nice contrast with the subtle smoothness of the fresh mozzarella.

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Slice of Margherita

My personal favorite was the Diavola which was basically a pepperoni option that came with soppressata (spicy italian salami), mozzarella, fresh basil and pecorino romano.  The spicy italian salami, had a nice spicy kick and seemed to be a hit at my end of the table.  Another fan fave was the Bosco; a sausage and mushroom pie with mozzarella, fresh basil and pecorino romano.  The sausage was crumbly and savory.

It was a beautiful sight to see our ideas come to life as the pies were plucked out of a big wood-fired oven and served right before our eyes.  We communicated effectively to provide a dinner that would suit everyone’s tastes, we even had a gluten free option. Of course Jeff and Jaime were the stars of the rehearsal dinner, but the pizza we brainstormed up was definitely a highlight.

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The Diavola

Communication is key.  

According to best selling author and speaker Brian Tracy in his book Advanced Selling Strategies “Most of your success in life will depend on your ability to get along well with others, and on the quality of your relationships. Phycologist Sidney Jourard found that 85 percent of a person’s happiness in life comes from happy interactions with other people.”

Several communication practices I’ve adopted that have helped me in my own relationships.  

  1. Listen.  Great communication is more about listening than speaking.  When we actively listen to those around us we become invested in them, and in turn they build trust in us.   Jeff, Jaime and I realized we needed a gluten free option, a cheese option and a pepperoni by taking into account everyones desires.
  2. Keep it simple. We can take note from the Margarita pizza and remember sometimes less is more.  Often a clear cut, concise message is more effective.
  3. It’s all in the delivery. We need to be mindful of the way our message is received.  Our message can be drastically misconstrued by the tone of our voice and the pace of our delivery.  We don’t want to come off harsh, impatient or sarcastic.
  4. Give more than you take.  When we open up to others it should be to benefit one another and compromise. We should accommodate and work to solve problems, so both parties end up happy.

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What pizza taught me:

In a solid relationship communication is key.  Just as important as sharing our pizza, is sharing our thoughts and feelings with the people in our lives.  Congrats Jeff and Jaime!

What I’m eating:  Oakfire Pizza; The Diavola; soppressata (Spicy Italian Salami), mozzarella, fresh basil, pecorino romano

What I’m reading:  TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking Chris Anderson

The More Mozzarella the Merrier

“If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” -African Proverb

Ordering pizza with a group is great; the more people, the more pizzas you order. The best part though is sharing that pizza with the extraordinary people that surround us. Every August my family gathers in Door County and we have an annual “Luther Bash”.  We sing karaoke, hit up a supper club, take long walks and lucky for me, we eat pizza.  Delicious wood-fired pizza.

A weekend getaway filled with great conversation and plenty of laughter reminds me of how awesome my family is.   It also reminds me the importance of maintaining and continually expanding a network of great people in our lives.

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A feast for the whole family.

Approaching Door County on a Friday night I strategize with my Mom over the phone about what to order from Wild Tomato Wood Fired Pizza and Grille in Fish Creek, WI. My mom has arrived a day early and bless her heart has offered to pick up pizza for the whole family.

In the 4 hour car ride up north Tess, my brother Jeff and his fiancé Jaime have come up with a delectable plan for our Friday night pizza party. We account for everyone’s likes, dislikes and imagine the right variety for our whole family.  We then coordinate this to my Mom.

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The mouth of the wood-fired oven.

When we arrive to our vacation destination, we are greeted with hot fresh pizzas and a packed condo of buzzing Luthers.  My wonderful Mother even went one step further and snapped pictures of the pizza that you see in this post.

That’s the power of a solid network. You have someone to share ideas with, lean on, and lift you up with a smorgasbord of wood-fired pizzas (along with pictures).

 The wood-fired wonder of the North. 

You may associate Door County the seasonal Wisconsin getaway with wineries, cranberries, sailboats and scenery, but would you expect some of the states best wood-fired pizza?

When I discovered Wild Tomato Wood Fired Pizza back in 2010, I suddenly felt a whole new level of appreciation for the relaxing touristy peninsula.  If one of these puppies existed in Madison, it would be my go to spot.

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The “Sausage and Pesto” with Goat Cheese

“Sausage and Pesto” perfection.

For several years now my immediate family has made it a tradition to get the “Sausage & Pesto” pizza with goat cheese added to it (Tess’s amazing idea, I married well).  The wood-fired pizza has a sturdy charred crust that provides an excellent chew.  The crust is just thick enough to hold a bountiful yet balanced layer of of high quality ingredients: Italian sausage, fresh diced tomatoes, fresh basil, pesto and our addition dollops of goat cheese.

Some combinations seem so simple, yet fit so perfectly that when they come together, you wonder why people don’t do it more often.  The ingredients of the “Sausage and Pesto” pie come together and create a pizza that is fun and memorable.  Just like the Luther Clan; we come together and create a comforting and supportive network.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

While family is often at the core of our network, continually expanding our circle is important.

“Networking is when you create a far bigger family around you than you could have ever imagined.” states best selling author and podcaster James Altucher.

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My uncle Pete’s combo: Sausage, pepperoni, mushroom and onion.

He references his podcast interview with Scot Cohen The Best Networker in the World. PERIOD. “Networking is when you create your “scene” over years. The people you can help. The people you learn to help. The people who can connect some dots and you become happy when you can introduce them to people who connect other dots.”

Harvey Mackay businessman and New York Times best selling author says in his book Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty “If I had to name the single characteristic shared by all truly successful people I’ve met over a lifetime, I’d say it is the ability to create and nurture a network of contacts.”

Developing and maintaining your network. 

  • Keep it fun by bringing enthusiasm to a conversation, be optimistic and uncover a shared interest.  One of my favorite ways to spark up a conversation is to ask someone about their favorite pizza.  You can’t go wrong.
  • Be a good listener and let others share what’s on their mind.  Give your full attention to them and affirm what they are saying. By being an attentive listener you become a trusted ally.
  • Reach out to your favorite people every couple months.  Always work on maintaining relationships even if it’s just a call, text or a simple “Like” on facebook.  Share a picture of some pizza you enjoyed.
  • The more the merrier holds true. Always add to your network.  The more we extend ourselves to others and create new relationships, the more opportunities we open up.  And the more excellent pizza we come across.
  • Have patience with those in your network and hold them accountable.  Sometimes we need to lean and sometimes we are leaned on, taking the initiative to help others will solidify a life-long bond.

What pizza taught me:

Surrounding ourselves with great people makes life exciting, enjoyable and sometimes even easier. Pizza is always there for us in the good times and the bad, and if we play our cards right so is a solid support system of family and friends.

What I’m eating:  Wild Tomato Wood Fired Pizza and Grille

What I’m reading: Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty – Harvey Mackay