Pizza in the Present Moment

“In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention”-Pico Iyer

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I recently got a healthy dose of mindfulness as Tess and I took a long weekend excursion to the Twin Cities to frolic and eat in a new city.  Our appreciation for all things yummy extends well beyond pizza, we’re not self proclaimed foodies, but we love food and experiencing unique fare in new surroundings.

As we stepped out of the hustle of our daily lives, it became way easier to stop and live in the present moment.  The native Minneapolis folksinger Mason Jennings (one of our favorites) sums it up perfectly:  “Be here now, no other place to be.”

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Meet the Bahn Mizza, our guide to mindfulness in Minneapolis. 

While enjoying the “Bahn Mizza” (a Bahn Mi inspired pizza) at Day Block Brewing in downtown Minneapolis, I took a deep breath and tried to totally experience the pizza and the present moment.  Mindfulness is a practice I’ve been working on for almost half a year and the “Bahn Mizza’s” spicy, sweet and savory asian inspired flavors were fun to sit back and marvel.

The pie had a light base of “gochujang mayo” which was subtle, but provided some background heat and sweetness.  It was complimented nicely by a fresh topping of scallions, a pickled slaw, cilantro and maple-soy glaze. Vietnamese pork sandwiched between the crust and the fresh top layer was the star of the show.  The meat was tender and had a glaze that provided nice texture.

The “Bahn Mizza” provided total proof that sweet and spicy flavors of the east make perfect sense on a charred pizza crust.  Similarly, ancient eastern practices like mindfulness and meditation adapt well to our modern hustle and bustle, as they allow us to take a load off.

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Breathe in pizza, breathe out love. 

Meditation has a variety of positive benefits beyond just taking a breather from the daily grind. Whether it’s a spiritual guru like Deepak Chopra, or an esteemed medical establishment, there seems to be a consensus that meditation can help reduce stress, improve sleep and increase our level of happiness.

According to the Chopra Center website: “A landmark study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital found that as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people feel calmer but also produced changes in various areas of the brain, including growth in the areas associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation.”

Mayo Clinic goes one step further and says some research indicates that meditation can even help with illnesses like depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and chronic pain.

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Tess’ Bitmoji practicing present moment pizza awareness.

Finding a piece of mind.

  • Guided meditation:  I’ve used the app Headspace to meditate for 163 days and feel equal parts rejuvenated, relaxed and grounded.  I do 10 minute sessions which are easy to make habitual and you can choose from different “packs”, I like the one on stress.  While it’s not necessary to use tools like Headspace to meditate or practice mindfulness, it can certainly help starting out.
  • Deep breathing:  I’ve found it helpful to inhale for the count of 5 and exhale for the count of 5.  Also, counting alternate breathes to 10 (1 inhale, 2 exhale) can help get you in the zone.
  • Focus on your senses:  One simple trick I use wherever I may be, is to start out by thinking of my feet on the ground.  I think of the sensation of the carpet or my feet against the soles of my shoes.  I’ll wiggle my toes.  I then go up the rest of my body paying attention to how each part of my body feels.
  • Find some silence:  Turn off all distractions. Simply sitting and being still can help you focus on the present. I try to pay close attention to the details of my surroundings.
  • Visualization:  Picture your negative thoughts and emotions as a little cloud passing by.  Andy Puddicombe the co-founder of Headspace who lends his voice to guide you, describes this visualization: “Our mind is a blue sky. Clouds come and go. We tend to get caught up in the clouds and forget about the blue sky”.

What pizza taught me:

Practicing mindfulness meditation is about acknowledging our thoughts and letting them pass. When we step into the present moment we can calm our nerves, reduce stress and find a greater appreciation for the people, places and yummy pizza that surround us.

What I’m eating:  Bahn Mizza at Day Block Brewing; gochujang mayo, Vietnamese pork, scallion, pickled slaw, cilantro & maple-soy glaze.

What I’m reading: The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere -Pico Iyer

What I’m listening to: Mason Jennings “Be here now”

 

 

 

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Piecing Together the Pie

“The path to success is taking massive determined action”- Tony Robbins

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Whether it’s New York style, Chicago deep-dish, or my favorite Midwestern tavern cut; the crust, sauce and cheese are the fundamental building blocks of all great pizza. All the ingredients must compliment each other and meld together before the true masterpiece, that is pizza, comes to life.

Like all good pizza needs a solid foundation, we too can benefit from a solid base of constructive habits and behaviors.  Equally important to having that base is implementing it.  With the help of a large greasy slice of New York style pizza I will take an important step towards forming my foundation.

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Practicing what I preach about pizza.

It’s 6:30 pm on a Friday night, I’m ready to be home and ready to relax.  All day I’ve looked forward to putting my feet up and enjoying some Pizza Di Roma delivered to my door.

That’s right Madison friends, Pizza Di Roma the New York style slice joint just opened a westside location that shows promise in delivering slices the size of my head to my house.  I tried to order last weekend and was assured this week the slice delivering would commence.

So, I’m at home, sweatpants on, ready to beach out and binge on some huge slices of New York style pizza.  I excitedly dial their number as i sink into my easy chair.  That’s when I hear the most dreaded phrase in the known pizza universe (besides “we’re out of cheese”):

We’re not delivering, would you like an order for pick up?

Sniffle….

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Are slices the size of my head delivered to my door too much to ask for? 

Can I suck it up and put into action the core pizza principles I go on about?  Here goes…

  1. Learn from the failure:  I could have called beforehand to make sure they delivered, next time I will do that.
  2. Detach from the situation and remain positive with some supportive self-talk “It’s Friday and it’s pizza time, the world is at my finger tips”.
  3. Give thanks and be grateful:  I remind myself I’m fortunate to have this day to eat delicious pizza.  This is a brand new business, give em a break.  Thanks Pizza Di Roma for opening a westside location!
  4. Take action: I’m putting on real pants and driving there to pick up some huge slices of pizza!

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The road to Pizza Di Roma is paved with insights and BBQ chicken slices.

None of the ideas I’ve discussed so far mean anything unless I put them into action in my day to day.  So far, I’ve recognized that detaching from thoughts, learning from failures, practicing gratitude, giving to others and always operating with enthusiasm are the building blocks to living a happier life and seeing some personal growth.  What is more important than me sharing these principles, is that I must practice them.

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What pizza taught me:

Just like a pizza needs it’s crust, sauce, and cheese to make it complete, we too must have a solid framework to rely on.  Learning and growing everyday is fundamental, but putting our thoughts into action is where the magic happens.

  • What I’m eating: Pizza Di Roma 18″ pepperoni and extra cheese pizza.  Slice of BBQ chicken and bacon.
  • What I’m reading: “Extreme Ownership” Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Catching Up With a Slice

“Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.”

grilling-pizza-e1499625290913.pngThere’s nothing like grilling pizza over open flames with friends on the 4th of July. That’s right, to celebrate this great nation’s independence Tess and I joined a couple of our dearest friends Adam and Micki to grill homemade pizzas. Enjoying some pizza on a beautiful summer evening feels like the perfect way to catch up with good friends

We’ve also come together to give cheers to a milestone in the girls growing essential oil empire (They sell and lead teams for Young Living essential oil products, good stuff).  After a lot of hard work Tess hit the silver rank within the company and Micki hit gold, which is pretty darn cool in the essential oil business.  I’m very proud and happy for them both.

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Celebrating my own pizza milestone. 

Along with the girls I too feel I’m about to a experience a benchmark moment in life as I’m about to grill my first pizza. I stand back and watch in wonder as the first crust hits the grill. Dancing flames kiss the bottom of our hand stretched oil-ladened dough.

Adam is the pizza-grilling veteran among us, he is also a pizza-lover extraordinaire (like me) and director of corporate operations for Toppers Pizza (he loves pizza so much he made it a career, respect).  I grow excited as I listen to him explain his plan to execute three delicious pizzas over the open flame.

“It’s all about the olive oil” he insists as he applies a coating to a pizza crust awaiting its turn to hit the heat.  He also reveals that cooking both sides of the crust is the real secret to crispy homemade grill fired pizza.

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Gathering for some grilled pizza.

I was blessed with a lot of quality friends and family time over the long holiday weekend and such interactions felt long overdue.  As the years go on, hangouts seem to happen less and are more challenging to organize as schedules quickly fill up.

Pizza is a great way to connect with our favorite people.  Pizza can provide the perfect motivation and excuse for us to get together.  Pizza offers a great way to maintain our relationships, build new ones, and celebrate life’s victories.

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Use pizza to connect.

It’s as simple as inviting your best friend to a new pizza place or throwing a pizza party for your whole crew. Pizza is the perfect food to cheer us up or celebrate our accomplishments.

With some quality social time all the effort and hard work we put in all week feels worth it.  At the end of the day, it’s all about the people we share our pizza with.

What pizza taught me:

Staying physically and mentally healthy is very important, but equally important is keeping healthy relationships. Everyone loves pizza, so use it as a tool to connect you with those you cherish the most.

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What I’m eating: Grilled homemade pizzas:

  • Pepperoni and sausage with fresh mozzarella.
  • Buffalo chicken pizza with fresh mozzarella, blue cheese crumbles and diced buffalo chicken pieces on a ranch base.
  • Mushroom and fresh mozzarella on a white sauce base, topped with pesto drizzle.

What I’m reading: Deepok Chopra “Creating Affluence”

Photo Credit: Micki Oldenburg

To get more info on essential oils contact: tessrad@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

Look on the Bright Side of the Pizza Buffet.

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them”-Epictetus

IMG_6255As I’m stuck at the back of a long line at Ian’s Pizza in Madison WI. I reflect on the importance of maintaining pizza optimism.  It takes consistent practice to look at my little white paper plate as half full.

Neglecting pizza with negative self-talk. 

“I bet they’ll run out of Mac and Cheese” I whisper to myself as I squeeze through the entrance into a completely packed Ian’s Pizza by the Slice on State Street.  A long line of shuffling customers snake around dividers at a pace that’s a little to sluggish for my liking.  Some antsy patrons stand on tippy toes and crane their necks to catch a glimpse of the glowing showcase of eclectic pizza on display up ahead.

Here I am at the tail end of the line, butterflies beginning to swirl as I start to ponder the slices I want being rapidly plucked off the line.  The eager crowd in front of me dismantling my hopes and dreams of Mac N Cheese pizza and Buffalo Chicken pizza and Quesadilla pizza.

“They’ll probably just have some veggie slice left” I whimper to Tess.

“I bet they don’t even have plain cheese anymore.”

Pull it together dude, you’re a pizza optimist. 

I need to flip the script. Luckily, I’ve been working on my positive outlook.  I’m learning I just have to rephrase the negative chatter that enters my mind and spin it in a positive direction.  I have to switch my gears from slice scarcity to slice abundance (easier said than done, I know).

It starts like this:

“I bet they’ll run out of Mac n’ Cheese.”

translation:

“If they run out of Mac n’ Cheese, I can try some other slice with pasta on it, I think they have a Penne Alfredo slice!”

Chin up:

“They’ll probably just have some veggie slice left”

translation:

“I bet a veggie slice with a bunch of feta on it would be delicious.”

The future is bright:

“I bet they don’t even have plain cheese anymore.”

translation:

“I’m at Ian’s Pizza, the slice possibilities are endless, who cares about a slice of plain cheese!”

Pizza perspective; you can choose optimism. 

To adopt a positive pizza outlook I try to acknowledge my negative thoughts and challenge myself to reframe them.  Then I attempt to creatively find the upside in my situation.

If some kid grabs the last slice of Quesadilla, it’s perfect timing for a Spicy Chicken Taco.  No matter what, I’m walking away from Ian’s pizza with some delicious slices and I can’t complain about that.

What pizza taught me:

Choosing optimism is not always easy, but if we consciously remind ourselves to practice positive thinking the pizza buffet always looks bright. By recognizing our negative self-talk and applying a positive spin we’re not left at the mercy of our emotions and we can enjoy whatever slice comes our way.

  • What I’m eating:  Ian’s Pizza by the Slice, State Street Madison WI. Mac and Cheese slice, Buffalo Chicken slice, Pepperoni slice.
  • What I’m reading: “The Daily Stoic”-Ryan Holiday

 

 

Pizza at the End of the Tunnel.

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced everyday.”-Jim Rohn

IMG_6318Life’s not always extra cheese and pepperoni.  If you’ve followed me thus far you probably think I’m an obsessive pizza freak, just eating pizza all day and always seeking more.

You may wonder how did this pizza loving weirdo lose 70 pounds in the last year and a half?  I’ll address the elephant in the pictures of me from 2012 right now.

It’s true that I am a little crazed over pizza and do frequently daydream about it, and write about it, and take pictures of it.  What I haven’t revealed is that strict routines and daily practices have helped me become a healthier individual and pizza is only a piece of the pie.

Pizza is the prize I win at the end of a good week.  Pizza is my reward.  I’ll share how I earn it.  Hopefully I can offer some helpful takeaways for others as well.

Disclaimer:  If my personal routines outside of devouring pizza do not interest you (which I totally get), do not read on. 

Discipline.  

The strategy I’ve followed has yielded an average of 1-2 pounds lost per week for the last 18 months.  I’ve done this while eating massive amounts of pizza on Fridays and cheating most Saturdays too.

Many of the healthy habits I’ve adopted come from what Tim Ferriss recommends in his podcast, blog and books, specifically his book “The Four Hour Body”.  My diet when I’m not eating pizza is similar to the Slow Carb diet he offers.

Basically, Monday-Thursday I’m very strict and try to limit my carb consumption to 50-70 grams a day and I don’t eat any white carbs (bread, pasta, rice etc).  Sunday is kind of an in-between day where I avoid carbs, but still wanna enjoy the weekend, so I may nibble on some naughty things a little more than I would during the week (like cheese).  Friday night-Saturday I pretty much eat whatever I want.

Here is my current Monday-Thursday diet, exercise, supplement and mindfulness regimen: 

6:20 am:  Wake up and eat breakfast:

  • Eat half an apple.
  • Take supplements:
    • One scoop Athletic Greens: 75 ingredient super-food/supplement cocktail (it’s like the ultimate multi-vitamin, with antioxidants and probiotics).
    • Vectomega: DHA/EPA, Phospholipids and Peptides (basically the good stuff you want from an Omega-3 supplement),
    • D3 2000 mcg
    • B12 Methylcobalamin 1000 mcg (sublingual)
    • One scoop Jarrow collagen bone broth dissolved in hot water.

7:05 am: 25 push ups, drink 24 ounces of water.

8:00 am-Noon:  Attempt to stand at my desk roughly 50% of the time (while I’m on the phone usually). Drink 48 ounces of water.

12 pm: Lunch:

  • 10 baby carrots
  • Half grilled chicken breat or 2 slices of deli turkey.
  • 7-10 almonds or mixed nuts
  • piece of cheese (sometimes two, I have a hard time with cheese portioning).
  • Another scoop of Athletic Greens.

1 pm-5pm: Again, attempt to stand at my desk at work 50% of the afternoon.  Drink 48 ounces of water.

5:15pm: Snack time; usually another 10 almonds or mixed nuts, couple pieces of beef jerky.  Stretch for workout.

5:45-7:10 pm: Exercise:

  • Ride exercise bike 30 minutes while reading a book (Two birds, one stone! and more importantly I don’t get bored).
  • Walk on treadmill for 20 minutes while listening to music (Ipod on shuffle, it’s eclectic and again saves me from boredom).
  • Monday and Wednesday three sets of 20 burpees. Tuesday and Thursday three sets of 50 kettle bell swings followed by 25 pushups.  On kettle bell swing days I drink a protein shake afterwards.

7:20 pm: Drink 24 ounces water.  Meditate using Headspace app (work-out my mental muscles).

8 pm: Dinner:

  • Salad: Spinach, shredded carrots, I’m a sucker for Olive Garden dressing, but it’s probably not good for you.
  • Protein: Chicken or steak usually.  I give most things some Mexican flare with salsa, onions, cheese, avocado and hot sauce.
  • 1/2 cup of Black beans or Pinto beans.

8:30 pm:  De-stress and relax with the help of some essential oils: I apply Frankincense, Australian Blue, Acceptance, and Myrrh.  Tess got me hooked on these, they are great for chilling out.

9:40 pm: Before bed supplements that knock me out and keep me asleep throughout the night.

  • One Tablespoon apple cider vinegar.
  • One capsule Nature’s Purest Garlic 6000 Allicin mcg.
  • One Tablespoon Naturally Calm Magnesium with Calcium.
  • Two Capsules Nature’s Purest “Rest Factors”.

9:50 pm: Turn on Dohm white noise machine, apply Dreamcatcher essential oil for sleep.  I sleep like a baby for 8 hours and repeat.

Holy cow that’s boring.

Nothing too fancy here, I’m just eating minimal carbs, no sweets, no starches, working out a lot, and drinking plenty of water.  I also keep mentally healthy and energized with good sleep and meditation.

So, that’s how I lost a whole bunch of weight, while still eating pizza and enjoying myself every week.  I gotta admit I feel pretty darn good and the pizza is more enjoyable when I don’t regret it afterwards.

What pizza taught me:

Pizza is my prize at the end of the tunnel. It tastes better when I feel I’ve earned it. Now, I deserve some pizza.

  • What I’m eating:  Tess’s homemade pizza-bake (pepperoni, mozzarella, onion, mushroom, egg, fresh basil, Di Salvos pizza sauce).  No carbs, so I can have a piece given I have a pizza withdrawal/breakdown mid-week.
  • What I’m reading: “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”-Angela Duckworth

 

 

 

 

 

Practice Pizza Gratitude.

“Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.”-Seneca

lucilleSometimes we need to stop and count our pepperoni.  It can be very challenging to stop and appreciate what we have in life.  Michelangelo put it best in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze “Please, please. A moment to reflect.”

Lucille in the rain. 

My wife and I go out on a date night once a week and I believe it has been instrumental to keeping our relationship so strong.  Our last date night we strolled downtown Madison to a new pizza restaurant called Lucille.

A trickling pitter patter provided a cozy soundtrack as we skipped to our reservation in the rain.  A gutted out, revamped and ready for pizza ex-Isthmus newspaper building laid the scene.  Tall windows lined the towering two-story, open-space layout.  Natural light illuminated the aged brick walls and dark wood hue of the interior.

Soaking it in.

Tess looked beautiful and the aroma of pizza baking filled the sky-high ceiling.  A mixture of flourishing restaurant noise and Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” offered the perfect score.   Was I in pizza restaurant dreamland?

It was great to slow down and appreciate my wife, some new pizza and a pretty righteous ambiance.  Taking the time to mentally note all of the elements of the night I was grateful for created a deep level of joy for me.  It also reminded me I wasn’t always good at taking the time to feel thankful for the wonderful things in my life.

Gratification and Gratitude.

With the rapid pace in our lives it can be difficult to savor the most basic things.  I often find myself striving for gratification and getting my fill at all costs, when I should be practicing gratitude. Being thankful is much more satisfying and also healthier for us mentally. We can excel by swapping our gratification with gratefulness.

I try to stop and remind myself of how appreciative I am to have each bite of pizza in my life.  I remind myself to cherish the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of each occasion just like that night at Lucille.

What pizza taught me:

Life moves fast, it’s easy to let it pass us by and miss the best parts. Taking a moment to appreciate what we have can make everything much more enjoyable.  By giving thanks we fully savor the moment, our loved ones and of course our pizza.  Follow Michelangelo’s advice and take “a moment to reflect.”

  • What I’m eating: Lucille, Madison WI. Steel pan pizza: “New Glarus Spotted Cow fermented crust, house-milled tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, with a caramelized cheddar crust”, pepperoni and onion..
  • What I’m reading: “Unshakable”-Tony Robbins
  • What I’m listening to: Lou Reed “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”

If You Love Pizza, Give it Away.

“For it is in giving that we receive” -Francis of Assisi

Do you want the last slice of pizza? I know I do, I also want the first one, second one, the crispy corner one and the cheesy middle one.  What are the chances I’m getting the slice I want in a room full of equally crazed pizza-loving friends?

I’m proud to say the odds are pretty good these days (we even shared with a FedEx guy last weekend!).  This behavior was not always the case.

Wrestling to get a slice.

I remember back to slumber parties I would attend while growing up and how filling my pizza appetite felt so difficult. The chance of getting the last slice seemed nearly impossible, even getting a fulfilling amount was a challenge.  Picture a rabid pack of sweaty 13 year-olds lunging on a pizza, snarling and devouring it’s entirety like a pack of starved wolves.

It felt like the goal was to shovel down each slice as fast as possible in hopes of getting another.  This struggle to adequately meet my pizza needs haunted me through daycare, middle school sleepovers, even into college parties.  After awhile I was conditioned to grapple for whatever pizza I could get my hands on.  Eventually I started acting selfishly and feeling bitter when I didn’t get my way.  I had developed a sense of pizza entitlement.

The pizza universe shines down.

As I got older, I started reading more and became intrigued by ideas commonly presented in eastern philosophy like mindfulness and karma. I’ve always been intrigued by karma; the idea that you get what you give or you reap what you sow.  That idea always seemed so simple and practical; live and treat others well and things work out well.

I realized I had to start sharing my pizza, and start exchanging some good karma with the universe. Learning to give was a challenge at first, as I fought the selfishness I had developed.  I had to figure out how to be content with my conditions and to empathize with others.  I had to get back to the basics of what makes pizza fun; enjoying it with someone else.

Give it away and enjoy the party.

The true greatness of pizza is it’s ability to connect us with other people.  Pizza is delicious and fun to eat, but it’s all about the time we spend together.  When I share my favorite pizza with others and get to see them light up the same way I do, a new level of happiness emerges.

Sometimes after I’ve shared a slice, I’ll receive one back when I want it even more.  Though I’d like to think it’s karma, I always try to remind myself there is no keeping score and I should expect nothing in return.  Giving is all about helping another person and the reward is knowing you brought them satisfaction.

What pizza taught me:

When giving to someone the highlight is knowing you contributed to their happiness. Pizza is delicious and versatile, but more importantly social and fun. Sharing it is the best part.

Learning to let go of the things we desire most in life is tough, but worthwhile. If you want to enjoy the best pizza, let your last slice go to someone you love and the law of karma will bring that slice full circle.  It’s the circle of pizza.

  • What I’m eating: Rosa’s Pizza, Whitewater WI, sausage and pepperoni.
  • What I’m reading: “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success”-Deepak Chopra
  • What I’m listening to: Do Make Say Think “Horripilation”

 

Photo credit: Sarah Kroll