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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra Cheese: The Antidote for an Anxious Dad-To-Be

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

With my wife, Tess 39 weeks pregnant my pizza is about to get an undeniable upgrade to family size.  I’m excited about a new addition to the pizza-party, but the anticipation of his arrival and the coming obliteration of my care-free lifestyle has me a little on edge. I know a new little pizza buddy will be the greatest thing that ever happened to me, but it will also be the greatest amount of responsibility I’ve ever taken on and my nerves are getting twisted up like garlic knots.

As I mentally prepare to split my pizza three ways I selfishly ruminate over all the ways life will change.   Will I have the patience?  Will I get enough sleep?  Will my routines be disrupted? Will there be enough time for the things I enjoy?  Will the baby even like pizza?

Fortunately for me, I’ve got one fantastic support system of family, friends, and co-workers who have done wonders over the last several weeks to help calm my nerves. Just last weekend I ventured to Sun Prairie to the home of my brother Jeff where Tess and I were guests of honor for a “Huggies for Chuggies” party.

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There is nothing like the stretch of cheese between friends. 

The “Huggies for Chuggies” party is sort of like a bachelor party for parents, where the host supplies food and libations in exchange for diapers from the guests (aka an excuse to hang out with friends before life changes forever).

For the occasion, Jeff provided pizzas from one of Sun Prairie’s oldest and finest establishments Anna’s Pizzeria.   Anna’s is one of my brothers’ favorite spots in Sun Prairie and it’s easy to see why.  Anna’s is insanely cheesy, I’m talking like at least a quarter inch of melted cheese across the whole pie.  Grabbing a slice of Anna’s is half the fun because you get the most epic, food-porn worthy cheese stretches.

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Epic Stretch

The sauce is sweeter than most but is balanced out by the saltiness of the excessive cheese.  The pepperoni and sausage pizza was even better because of this salt to sweet combination created by the sauce and toppings.  Anna’s menu is extremely old school and basic; pizzas with classic topping options, garlic bread, and soda, that’s it. If you want to get some Anna’s plan accordingly because they are only open 4-10pm six days a week and only accept cash.

Old friends and sage advice over Anna’s pizza.

Surrounded by my best friends and the cheesy pizza of Anna’s I found solace and my anxieties about the future began to lift.  Beyond the pizza, I received encouragement that really meant a lot, things like “you’ll be a great Dad” and “you have nothing to worry about”. I also got some guidance about the day-to-day life of parenting which gave me more perspective.  Soaking up some advice from some new fathers also alleviated a lot of the tension I had built up, I even learned how to change a diaper (thanks Aaron, Sarah, and Alex!).

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The party was a great send off into parenthood.  My friends helped me take a rational step back and realize the anticipation of becoming a Dad can be far more overwhelming than actually taking on the daily duties of fatherhood.

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Me and Brother Jeff (the host that can boast the most roast)

95% of things we stress about will not happen.

Often the anticipation of an event can deal out more anxiety than the actual outcome.   My apprehensions about becoming a Dad are really just fear of the unknown. In the book, Radical Acceptance author Tara Brach makes the point that “the fear of pain is often the most unpleasant part of a painful experience”.

All the things that I’ve worried about will most likely work out just fine and worrying about them will do nothing but make them worse.

Dealing with the worries of becoming a Dad:

  1. Seek advice from someone who been through it before.  Talking through a scenario can bring a lot of relief as we familiarize our selves with the issues at hand.  We can learn and come up with a plan to guide us through.
  2. Try to remain in the moment. Try to accept things as they are, and to do that start out with some deep breaths.  Focus on the feeling of your body, fingers, and toes.  By focusing on our physical sensations, we are brought into the present, where the anxiety of the future is more easily released.
  3. Trust your instincts.  Everyone keeps telling me that once I have the little guy, it will all come naturally.  So, I will trust their advice and just take each situation as it comes, one day at a time.

What pizza taught me:

Becoming a Dad will surely be an adjustment, but as with anything new in life, we’ll figure it out. When anticipation of the future starts wreaking havoc on our emotions the support and guidance of loved ones can melt our anxieties away.  Some extra cheesy pizza doesn’t hurt either.

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What I’m eating:  Anna’s cheese pizza and Anna’s half sausage, half pepperoni pizza (we didn’t even ask for extra cheese, that’s just how it comes!)

What I’m reading:  Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha –Tara Brach

 

Finding a New “Spot”

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change” -Stephen Hawking

After 6 years of searching high and low in Madison for my ideal pizza, I’ve finally come across a place that has earned the coveted title as my “spot”.  The “spot” could be defined as your go-to pizza joint, the neighborhood pizzeria where everybody knows your name, the place you celebrate the good times and find comfort in the bad. Once you’ve had a reliable “spot” it’s hard to move on and find a new one.

After moving to Madison I’ve often struggled to let go of the pizza places of my past.  When selecting a new spot there are so many factors to take into consideration; What type of pizza are you after? Do they deliver? Do you get pleasant and timely service? Do the surroundings feel natural and welcoming?  The biggest factor for me is my “type” and in an effort to adapt to the reality of my new pizza landscape I recently struck gold.

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“spot” worthy

My new spot. 

On Friday night I usually opt for delivery, I want to get home, relax and eat some pizza.  But, I’ve found a place that’s worth a trek after a week at the office. Tucked away inside a golf course club house on the outskirts of Verona, WI resides Dahmen’s.  Dahmen’s is a bustling sports bar with righteous fish fry, famed smoked wings and surprisingly excellent pizza.

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Just my kind of pizza as a matter of fact.  Dahmen’s serves up pies that are reminiscent of my favorite hole-in-the-wall joints that have that thin, cut in squares, loaded with cheese pizza. Every bite actually had me reliving the pizza glory days of my youth (especially Rosa’s Pizza in Whitewater).

 

The crust is moderately thin, has a char on the bottom and gets nice and crispy around the edges (the edge pieces were my favorite).  You can tell they use good quality cheese and they have an awesome hand-pinched sausage.  Overall they have a really balanced pie.

A good indicator of a place being spot worthy is if the locals are loyal to it and this is the case with Dahmen’s.  The place is always busy and with its sports bar type feel would be a great place to catch a game. Dahmen’s is perched over the Hawks Landing golf course so the view from the restaurant is exceptional, they even have a sunset gallery on their website to showcase the epic sunsets.

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Epic sunset

Adapting to change.

Though it took me a couple years to find my new spot in Madison, at Dahmen’s I found a perfect transitional pie, bridging the gap between what I’ve always loved in pizza and my new location. It was hard to adjust at first, but now I’m happier than ever.

Change is inevitable in our lives and how we adapt is critical to our success or failure.    Even in something as simple and solid for us as pizza there will always be disruptions, like Dominos nixing breadsticks or Toppers scrapping Hidden Valley Ranch (booooo!), if we can pivot with these ebbs and flows we’ll come out on top.

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Here are a couple ways to cope when we’re faced with change. 

  1. Keep an open mind. When we keep an open mind during transitional periods and try not to hold on to the past we can accept our circumstances and find a solution faster.
  2. Prioritize. Figure out a way to keep intact what’s important to you.  Through times of change, we may have to compromise, but we shouldn’t have to let go of the things that are meaningful to us.
  3. Plan. Develop a strategy to deal with our new situation as it happens.  If we’re mentally prepared adapting to change can be a lot easier.

What pizza taught me:

There will always be points in life when we have to adapt to new circumstances. By successfully navigating transitions we can find a whole new level of fulfillment and if we’re lucky maybe even some spot worthy pizza.

What I’m eating: Dahmen’s at Hawks Landing sausage and pepperoni

What I’m reading: Originals –Adam Grant

 

 

 

 

There is More Than Enough Pie to Go Around

“Abundance is not something we acquire, it’s something we tune into” -Wayne Dyer

I checked a box off my 2018 pizza-goal list and tried Sammy’s pizza in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Sammy’s was recommended to me last summer as the contending hole-in-the-wall dynasty to the Cranky Pat’s Pizzeria locations in the Fox Valley area. At Sammy’s I not only found the undeniable champion, but also the closest comparison I’ve ever had to my beloved Gus’ Pizza Palace in Whitewater.

I also came to the realization that there is no limit to the amount of great pizza to be discovered in this world.  If there was another place as good as Gus’, there could be 5 or 10 or 100’s out there to be uncovered.  The endless amount of amazing pizza yet to be found has me inspired.

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The Grease Factor of Gus’ pizza in Green Bay.  

Right down the way from the legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI. sits a pizza establishment that has earned my allegiance almost as much as the Pack-Attack.  Sammy’s thin crust excellence deserves to reside by such a renown institution.  When it comes to midwestern tavern cut, Sammy’s may be the very best I’ve had besides Gus’, and for me that is a bold statement.

Sammy’s delivers the Gus’ grease factor.  Actually they share many similarities; from the delightful pools of grease, to a hand-pinched crust and a thin square cut, Gus’ and Sammy’s seem like long lost brothers that were stripped away at birth.  They uniquely share many of the same simple components that for me make the perfect pizza.

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Embrace the grease.

Our waiter at Sammy’s revealed that the trick behind their consistent greasy awesomeness is in using sliced mozzarella cheese instead of shredded.  Gus’ uses the same technique and what transpires from the melting of the sliced cheese in a super hot deck pizza oven is decadent pools of scrumptious grease that form on the surface of the cheese.unnamed-1

There is something magical about a greasy, cheesy bite, when the sauce and grease mix into a perfect concoction and meld together as you take a bite.  Their hand pinched sausage is also dynamite.  The only downside to Sammy’s is that I can’t eat it more often.

There’s plenty of great pizzas out there.

Though it saddens me I can’t eat Sammy’s everyday, I realize how fortunate we are to live in a world that has such an abundant amount of pizza.  It’s fitting that another goal of mine in 2018 is to live with an abundance mindset.

An abundance mindset was defined by Stephen Covey as ”a concept in which a person believes there are enough resources and successes to share with others.”  By looking at the world as being filled with potential, we move from living in the fear of not having enough and open up to abundance.

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Adopting an abundance mindset. 

  1. Avoid a scarcity mindset. The opposite of an abundance mindset is a scarcity mindset and is rooted in the fear that there is not enough.  Covey explains “People with a scarcity mentality think there is only so much in the world to go around.  It’s as if they see life as a pie. When another gets a big piece, then they get less.”
  2. Imagine the possibilities. It’s said there are over 61,000 pizzerias in the United States alone.  Think of all those great pies just waiting to be tried!
  3. Live with appreciation. If we view each moment as a gift and give thanks we open up and invite all the good that surrounds us.  Covey says “When people are genuinely happy with the successes of others, the pie gets bigger.”

What pizza taught me:

By embracing an abundance mindset we open ourselves to life’s plentiful opportunities as we’re not limited by the fear of scarcity.  I will live in peace knowing there is more than enough great pie to go around.

What I’m eating:  Sammy’s Pizzeria Green Bay, WI.  Cheese pizza and half sausage half green olive and pepperoni.

What I’m reading: Judgement Detox Gabrielle Bernstein

 

 

 

 

 

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