The Walk to Dogwood’s

Here are a few photos from my walk to Dogwood’s (Local Market). My walk starts at the alley directly across from our house. It’s a paved alley on a bit of an incline. I like walking it because there are always interesting things to look at and photograph. It’s funny to see what people do or don’t do with the back of their house. A couple of houses have very small gardens on their piece of land that borders the asphalt alley. One gardener has thyme, sage , parsley tomatoes, peppers and mint in a very small space with a width of about 2 feet. I am always tempted to pluck a tomato or pepper.

Fig leaf

La Tavolata

I haven’t worked for about 10 or 11 weeks. The first couple of weeks I felt a tremendous sense of peace and joy. I was part of a very stressful work environment and leaving that environment was simply a relief.

Since I’ve been free I have baked and cooked and spent lots of time with my wife Anne. She has this really funny laugh that I have heard on two occasions this past week. It is the kind of laugh that kids display when they’re horsing around. It’s also the kind of laugh that is uncontrollable and when I see her like that I am really happy.

I think she is getting a little tired of having the old man around. I’m definitely not that old and I am definitely not old enough to be” hanging around like a retired man, but for now, this present moment we are together like two old birds.

I have found joy in simple life. The daily tasks of making dinner for my family, going to the post office with Anne, baking macaron cookies for the 10th time, starting a fire in the wood oven, making pizza dough over and over again, baking loaves of bread, cleaning out the garage, picking up dog poop, turning the compost pile, and recently making fresh vegetable juice that nobody else but me will drink.

When I am in Italy I am amazed at the simplicity of life. Days are spent “living” whatever that may be. Most of the time it includes frequent stops at the local bar for “un caffe” or a  stop in the piazza to talk with a friend for more than just a few seconds.

Cooking lunch or dinner for a family is a big deal. Eating that dinner together with the family is an even bigger deal. In Roma it’s called Tavolata (Big tables filled with people enjoying, eating, living life to the full) This past 10 weeks I have had lots of time for Tavolata and I am so so grateful that my family Anne, Patrick and James are at the table with me. The only exception being when there is a basketball game on the TV and James has to plant himself in front of the game with the plate balanced on his knees. That’s OK.

James Pizza

My son James made this pizza. He did just about everything except to roll out the dough which is always Conner’s job.
His pizza was one of the best that we’ve made. It reminded me a bit of Mozza’s, but it’s not quite there yet. We will keep trying. Saturday Steve and Lorevic are coming over and we will make some more. Here’s another picture.

An Old, But Still Working Espresso Machine

I have had this machine since May of 2006. It has been in my garage since that time sitting on a table covered with a plastic tarp. One of the few things in the garage that I have taken the time to cover. My garage is very old and extremely dusty and full of cobwebs.

I got this machine out of one of my restaurants that had been sold. I found a dealer to buy just about everything except this machine. I hung on to it even though at the time it wasn’t working. It had always been kinda a clunker. It worked on and off and most of the time it was off.

I had it looked at by the manufacturer, Pasquini. They said the machine was old and needed lots of work. They claimed that many of the parts needed to be replaced and I would be better off replacing it with a newer model. I didn’t quite believe it. It didn’t make sense. The machine was sturdy. It seemed to be made well. How could it need so much work. They quoted me a price of up to $1000.

I took the machine anyhow and left it in the garage. My plan was to use it in my own restaurant or possible in my home if I could find space for it.

It languished in the garage for years and I wasn’t anxious to do anything about it because I remembered the prognosis of the Pasquini people.

A few months ago I lost my job and the dream of opening my own restaurant was ignited one more time. I figured I would need an espresso machine so I decided to have the machine checked out again by someone other than Pasquini. I called Bill Humphrey The Espresso Guy. I had met Bill at one of my other restaurants. He was the first person who I had ever met who could fix an espresso machine without stealing from you. He was fair, honest and pretty quick.

I dropped the machine at his house and waited for the call. I expected the worst “Aw Bill it’s not worth repairing. Forget about it”, but NOOOO. When he finally called he said “Wow, that’s a pretty good machine. Just needed a little tune-up”.

What you gotta be kidding me. That sat in my garage for 6 years for no good reason.
I learned some lessons from all this:
1. You never know.
2. Get a second opinion.
3. Trust your gut.
4. There are some honest people out there who want to help you out. You just have to find them.
5. Expectations are not always right.
6. Some things are worth holding on to.
7. Can’t live without espresso. oops. I already knew that one.

Here is a picture of Bill The Espresso Man right before he started working on my machine.

Imagine this

I heard a very funny story the other night. It stuck in my craw and reminded me of my childhood. My niece’s boyfriend told a story about growing up in Los Angeles. He and his friends used to fly June bugs as though they were kites.

Imagine this: A string, maybe a kite string or perhaps some thing a little lighter is tied to the leg of a June bug and the end of that string is tied to your index finger. With the June bug flying like crazy trying to escape you are walking around with your arm held high without a care in the world.  Funny isn’t it.

When I was a kid my friends and I would put pennies on the railroad tracks and wait for trains to roll over them. Once the train had a passed we would retrieve our pennies. They would be wafer thin with Lincoln’s face smeared off as if it never existed.

Imagine this: You are hidden in the bushes next to the train tracks. The wind is blowing and you’re afraid the train conductor will see you hidden in the willows. You wait patiently for the train to pass and when it does the ground shakes. You can feel the massive train and it almost pulls you right out of the bush, but you hold yourself down. When you get to the tracks you peel off the penny. It’s still warm and you set it in the palm of your hand and look for your friends. You all collect in a clearing and compare pennies.

Back then it was just another day, but today it is a wonderful memory that was ignited my the image of a June bug on a string.

The Spaceship has Landed

Ever since my first trip to Italy in 2003 I have wanted to work with a wood burning oven. I love the way everything cooks in a wood oven. I love the charred spots on pizza. I love the way bread develops a crispy crust. I love the deep golden color of the bread. I love the flavor that the wood imparts on meat roasted in a wood oven.

Enough said. I could go on forever talking about food and wood ovens.

This desire to work with a wood oven has taken on a life of it’s own leading to a craving to open my own restaurant with a wood burning oven as the centerpiece. Luckily I was presented with an opportunity to buy a used wood oven from a restaurateur who decided that his Indian menu had no need for wood. The oven weighs 3500 pounds and sits on a stainless still rack. The cement oven is hidden by a metal cylinder. There is a little smoke stack on top that gives a hint that this thing is an oven, but if you happen to look at it from behind you would have thought I might have gotten it off the set of Star Wars.

To get this oven I had to pay a glass company to remove a 6 by 6 foot pane of glass so that the moving company could reach their forklift through the window to retrieve it. It was then loaded on a massive truck and transported to my house where I had to dismantle a creaking old fence so that the oven could be lifted onto the patio.

There it sits in all it’s glory. Beaming. My wife named it the Spaceship. She set one flower pot next to it to soften some of the stark uniqueness that this new addition has added to our oasis in the backyard.

With all that said it sure does make a mean Pizza. You are all welcome to stop by for some pizza pie.

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