Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Shared Experience

There is something great about a shared experience. That may be why I like cooking so much. After all, the most common shared experience is a meal. In the local curling world, there is another shared experience and for a lot of people, it happened last weekend. The Sir Francis Dykes Bonspiel. This curling tournament is commonly referred to as The Dykes as in:

"You haven't been to The Dykes? You should definitely try to go."

The Dykes is a men's 5 and Under, meaning that all of the players have a maximum of 5 years curling experience making it a pretty level playing field. This year's tournament was the 76th so a lot of curlers in the Northeast have been. I believe the Schenectady curling club sent 5 teams. Albany sent teams too. In all, 20 Northeast curling clubs sent 56 teams. When I curled in the bonspiel, there were 30-something teams. The event just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

One of my favorite things about The Dykes is that it is a tournament of firsts. For many curlers this will be the first time curling in a tournament, first time traveling to curl, first time playing on ice that isn't their club (it is surprising how easily you get comfortable with your clubs surroundings), first time drinking with a team kitty (a kitty is when everyone chips in $20, drinks until the money is gone and then repeats as necessary) and the first time playing in front of a crowd. There were 56, four-man teams and only 8 played at a time. That leaves 192 people (plus other spectators) with nothing better to do than drink and watch the games.

A lot of clubs have added web cameras so they can stream some tournament games. It was fun checking in on the Schenectady teams over the weekend. One team made it the The D event finals, the Sinnett Cup. I have good memories of this event, because I once played in it. This particular match wasn't being streamed online, but the Schenectady Curling twitter account was sending out a shot-by-shot call of the game. I was cleaning some of the house and taking frequent breaks to see what was going on in the game. It came down to the last shot, and it didn't go Schenectady's way, but it was a great effort.

Every fall, curlers that have been to the tournament encourage newer curlers with their stories about The Dykes, encouraging them to check it out. This week, the participating curlers will return with stories of this years adventures. For some, this was their last trip to The Dykes as they aged out this year. Others still have trips left. I bet they are already making plans for next year. And the newest curlers, future curlers that will begin playing for the first time in the fall, well they haven't even heard of The Dykes....yet.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My First Delivery

This happened a little while ago (January 25th if you are keeping score at home), and when I think about it, I still laugh. Like right now.

I bought some pizza boxes from Restaurant Depot. The wind blew open the outdoor cabinet where I was storing them. I didn’t want anything to get at the boxes, so I moved them into the basement. Lately, I’ve been making eight 13.5 inch pizzas when I fire up that little pizza oven. We maybe eat a little less than three. I keep a lot of leftover slices in the storage containers I got for my birthday and we slowly pick at the slices during the week. It’s a lot of pizza…not that it’s bad thing.

I’ve also been flip-flopping between dough formulations and recently made a decision to stick with one and try to dial it in to a repeatable, good pizza. Unfortunately, that requires some self restraint and I really don’t have any. When dialing in the recipe, it’s best to only change one thing at a time, analyze the impact of that change, accept or reject the change and then continue with additional adjustments.

Lacking that level of self restraint, I changed two things in my last go around. I upped the salt and moved to a 2-day ferment by dropping some of the yeast. Madness, I know. As it turns out, I got lucky and it looks like both changes improved the dough. I was making some pretty good pizza that Sunday night. I was filling up, my wife and kids were pretty much done and I had already cooked 6 pizzas with leftover slices all over the kitchen. Two dough balls left. Since making pizza is a lot of fun, I was making these two pies.

Having moved the pizza boxes earlier in the day, they were fresh in my mind. I came up with the idea of delivery. If that didn’t pan out, I have them boxed and bring them to work on Monday. So at precisely 6:22, I texted Albany Jane:

“Any chance you are home…and want some pizza?”

I proceeded to cook a sausage pizza, slid it into a box and giggled. I closed the box and headed out to make the last pizza of the night, a pepperoni. This particular pepperoni was sliced on the thin side and was kind of drying out in earlier pizzas. So I sauced the dough, placed the pepperoni and then topped it with the rest of the cheese I had grated. Probably a bit too much cheese. As I was pulling it from the oven, I got Albany Jane’s reply: “Yes and yes”

I texted back, “See you in a few,” sliced the pizzas and headed out the door, laughing at the idea of delivering pizza. I giggled like a little kid the entire short ride over to her house. I knocked on the door and made my first delivery. Albany Jane took a few pictures to commemorate the event. Basically me looking like a slob, wearing a crummy green jacket covered in flour and grinning holding two pizza boxes. She also took a shot of the pizzas.

I had to head out because it was a Sunday night, kid showers, bed time approaching and clean up my mess - all that fun Sunday evening stuff. I got home just after 7:00. Forty minutes, from spur of the moment idea to done. And no joke, it still makes me smile.

Back in the fall, I was all set to make too much pizza and we invited a family we know over for dinner. It was a really fun night. I ran into mom and the kids leaving the afterschool program the Monday following my first delivery. According to her mother, my pizza has stuck with my daughter’s friend. Every pizza since has been, “Good, but not as good as Casey’s dad’s.”

I promised her the next delivery.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

People Suck (but maybe not everyone - updated)

I follow a bunch of different pizza sites (apparently I have obsessive compulsive pizza disorder) and this was in the pizza news today.

Westport Car Dealership Messes With Pizza Delivery Guy, Feels Internet’s Wrath

It's easy enough to see what happened. A bunch of people at a car dealership ordered about $43 with of pizza and soda to be delivered. The guy that paid the driver had two twenties and two fives. He gave them to the driver expecting seven ones back. But he never asked for change. The driver left assuming he got about a 15% tip, which really isn't all that unreasonable to have thought.

A call is made, the driver comes back, and returns the $7. The driver also tries to understand why he got called back and that's when it starts to get ugly. Luckily it's all words and it doesn't turn into a fist fight. The driver leaves and one man is probably just being a loud mouth but he is talking about calling the pizza shop to get the driver fired.

I actually have some personal experience with a guy like that. It was back in my construction inspection days in the late 90s. A bunch of fill wasn't properly compacted. I told the site manager it didn't pass. He wanted to see the Troxler Nuclear Density Gage (fancy, right?) do the test. No problem. I set it up and started to run a 30 second test. He asked why I didn't do the minute test. I said I can run the minute test if you want. The guy lost it. Apparently he wanted know the different between the tests. My correct response should have been to explain the accuracy on the reading increases the longer the tests takes. I certainly wasn't rude and didn't raise my voice, but at the same time I wasn't a waiter in a cloth napkin restaurant.

I'm guessing this guy had a shitty day and decided to take it out on me. I was kicked off the site and told he was going to call my boss to try and get me fired. It was a weird feeling. I had been with the company for over a year and didn't think I'd actually get fired. But what if I did? Probably not the best thing to put on a resume.

The guy was true to his word. During the 10 minute drive back to the shop he had called and continued his tantrum over the phone with my boss. When I go into the office, my boss was waiting for me and I was greeted with a, "What the hell happened?" I shrugged my shoulders and told my story. Turns out our versions of the story were very different and my boss knew the construction site manager was completely full of shit before he was 3 sentences into his rant. I bet the pizza shop manager knew the complaint was bullshit and was being PC by saying he took the call seriously at first.

The people at the car dealership come off as assholes. And someone else that is stuck working with them, put this video of their co-workers online. Not sure if someone at the car dealership loses a job but this doesn't paint a flattering picture of the dealership. Maybe the lose some sales and commissions, maybe not.

In this case, I'd say the customer is wrong. Let's just try to be a little nicer to each other. And if you must throw a tantrum and be a jerk, leave the pizza out of it.
UPDATE: Maybe everyone doesn't suck 

In other random pizza delivery news, a group of real estate agents in Michigan tipped a pizza delivery man named Rob with a few winning scratch off tickets, a $25 Visa gift certificate, a friendship bread, notes of encouragement and appreciation...and a cup of cash worth $2,084.

It's a much happier video to watch.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My first trip to Guptil's

I had a minor flashback to my childhood over the weekend. I grew up in southern Connecticut during a time that in-line skates didn’t exist. We had roller skates. Four wheels on each foot. I can vividly remember skating up and down our driveway with other neighborhood kids. We were leaning over, one arm behind our backs and the other arm moving in time with our feet as we were “speed skating” like Olympic champion Eric Heiden.

There were also regular after-school roller skating events in the school's gym that were fun too. I remember a roller skating version of dodgeball where all the kids kept skating around in an oval while our school principal tried to bean the students with a Nerf ball. Get hit, you're out. It was fun for the kids and probably a little therapeutic for the principal. Occasionally, there would be a trip to a roller rink in Stratford, CT. In the early 80’s that rink was packed with people, the musical was loud, and the flashing disco lights would have made John Travolta proud.

Sunday afternoon, there was a Girl Scout event at Guptil's in Latham. It was the first time I have ever been inside the rink. I’ve been there for ice cream plenty of times but never to skate. I’ve tried ice skating a few times, never tried the in-line style skates and can’t remember the last time I laced up roller skates. This experience was either going to be uneventful or extremely painful.

The skating area is pretty much exactly how it was in Connecticut back in the 80s. A big oval with a few areas to pull over and stop skating. A huge disco ball. And while they could have deafened everyone there with the speakers that they had set up, they just paid pop music at a reasonable level. There was the skate cop - a rink employee out there skating all the time making sure all was well. Kind of like a beach lifeguard. She even had a whistle and wore a Captain & Tennille style hat.

There were a lot of people just doing there best not to wipe out. But there were also all of the same stereotypes that were skating around the roller rink back in the day. There was the guy skating around in his own world with his own music blasting in his ears while he mentally went through a choreographed routine. There was a group of “cool” older teenagers whipping through the crowd faster than they should be. C’mon dude, why would you buzz by a 5 year old kid just trying not to fall? There were also parents that looked like they used to skate a lot (and maybe still do) bringing their kids. You can tell the serious roller skaters because they have their own skates that aren't plain and look like they went with a costume. And in other people watching news, one conservative local radio talk show host appears to own his own skates. The skates looked new. Maybe they were a holiday gift.

Action shots!




Remember something like this?

This is what a waiver used to look like. No signatures, no initials, no copies in triplicate.

It was a fun time. Pretty much all over these Girl Scout events are fun. In the end I was a little sore, but it was probably more from trying to keep one of my kids from falling while we skated around the rink. I’m not going to pick up skating as a hobby, but I’d go back if they have this event again. It’s a decent winter activity. And it’s winter. Very, very winter. I think today's high was yesterday's low.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wait...what did I just say?

I’ve never liked going to the dentist. Kramer from Seinfeld would call me an anti-dentite and he’d be right. After leaving the dentist’s office on Monday morning, I figured I’d stop by Restaurant Depot on the way back to the office and pick up another 50 pound bag of pizza flour. You know, a reward for being so well behaved at the dentist.

I went with a 50 pound bag of Full Strength flour. For those keeping score at home, the last bag was Hummer Flour, and the first bag was All Trumps. I had forgotten Restaurant Depot carried Royal Oak lump charcoal so I grabbed a bag of that too. Roaming the aisles, I picked up a few more things. The last thing I grabbed was a package of 50 small pizza to-go boxes. I was probably giggling a little when I took them off the shelf and just thinking about them now makes me smile. Whenever I daydream about making pizzas at home in a wood oven, I also imagine sliding a fresh pie into a box and having one of the girls walk or bike a pizza to a neighbor. A small, in-neighborhood pizza delivery service. Wouldn’t that be great?

I figured this outdoor closet that we have would be a good place to keep the boxes. Our basement has filled up surprisingly quickly. As I was walking toward the closet, a contractor putting new gutters on my neighbor’s house looked down from his ladder and saw me with 50 pizza boxes over my shoulder. He started a conversation asking about my gutters which we both agree suck. He explained a little about his gutter system and I said I was planning to replace the gutters when the roof gets re-shingled. I’m hoping to 5 more years out of what’s currently up there. He offered to leave me some information on the gutters and I said I give it a look.

Then he said, “That’s a lot of pizza boxes. Do you own a pizzeria?”

“No, not yet.

“Six years ago someone would ask me if I had a contracting company and I’d say 'not yet' but now I do and it’s the greatest.”

He continued to tell me about his company and I suddenly realized that my response kind of made it sound like I was actively working towards owning a pizzeria. You don't need a psych degree to analyze my quick, subconscious response. While it is true I occasionally go through Craigslist and look at local pizza shops and equipment for sale (doesn't everybody?), these pizza boxes were more of a smile than a business plan.

I doubt not yet will ever turn into yes, but I should be ready…just in case. I should probably stop typing and make some dough.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Watching what you eat...literally

Alright, this need to start with a confession. I'm really not proud of this and I probably die a little inside every time I do it but...

My kids love tacos and quesadillas. With our beef supply, there is no shortage of ground beef and these can be pretty quick dinners. What haunts my dreams is that the kids prefer Ortega's 40% reduced salt taco seasoning mix over any spice combination I have ever put together from scratch...sigh...oh, the shame. Must be the autolyzed yeast extract and the caramel color. On the plus side, they really like my pizza, which to be honest, is much more important to me.

I gave up trying to make my own seasoning mix and usually you can find 2 or 3 packets of this in my cupboard. Turns out, Ortega recently had a voluntary recall of these spice packets. Apparently one of their third party vendors sold them some spices with traces of peanuts and tree nuts and none of that information made the label. If you aren't allergic to either, who cares? But my oldest can't eat peanuts. It's a mild allergy. A spoonful of peanut butter will make her sick and pretty uncomfortable. Tagalong Girl Scout cookies look a lot like Thin Mints and that mix up happened once. She has been fine eating things "processed on machinery that also processes peanuts and tree nuts" which seems to be a lot of labels as companies appear to go into full cover your ass mode. It's not one of those extremely severe allergies, just something we watch.

Well, I had no idea the taco seasoning mix had been recalled until the phone rang. It was a robo-call from Price Chopper letting my wife know about the recall. I must have bought some seasoning there, swiped my Advantage Card and that data went off into the little tubes of the Price Chopper computer databases. So thanks for letting me know about the recall, Price Chopper...but it is a little creepy you remembered I bought it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Unfortunate, but necessary preparations

When we first bought a house just before we got married, I picked up an old, hearty snow blower that had just had the engine rebuilt. It served me well. That first winter we went away for New Years and came home to at least 18 inches of snow in the driveway. That snow blower (which is actually older than I am) took about half an hour to clear it. Over the years, that snow blower cleared that driveway and a neighbor's driveway every time it snowed. I didn't want any money from my neighbor but he gave me a little each spring and again in the fall. The snow blower essentially became free. Once in a while the snow blower need a little work and I got surprisingly good a maintaining it.

Last winter was our first winter in this house and got a lot of snow last year. It seemed like even more when the plow was done with the street. After one particularly nasty storm, I cleared the driveway, went to the office and came home to a huge solid pile of snow that was taller than me at the end of the driveway. My trusty late 60's 5 horsepower Ariens couldn't handle that snow. It eventually got it done, but it struggled the whole time. Then something went wrong with the engine at the end of the season. Luckily there wasn't a snow storm that required a snow blower after the motor quit. I don't know enough about engines, but I was pretty sure it was something a engine person could figure out quickly. So, I gave it to my friend Joe. Joe took the snow blower home and quickly fixed her up. He fixed her up so fast that I think he felt a little bad about taking it. Something about the carburetor, a bolt and something else I didn't understand and she came right back to life.

The quest for the next snow blower had begun. I checked Craigslist all the time. I found one that looked promising in Saratoga, but it would have been a real hassle to get the snow blower to my house so I passed. Just as I was starting to regret passing on that snow blower, I found and ad in Want Ad Digest and bought this:

Isn't she pretty? Used, but still really shiny and not many hours on it. I've upgraded the engine from 5 to 9 horsepower. She runs great and looks like she can move a lot of snow. Plus it is the right width to fit nicely in the garage and still be able to open a car door. And it has safety features. That's something new. There was nothing safe about my old snow blower. If I fell down, that thing would have kept going down the driveway, into the neighbors yard and wouldn't have stopped until it sank in their pool. For some reason the state recently (and suspiciously close to election day) sent me two tax rebate checks. Pretty much found money. In my cheap mind, this beast didn't cost $150.

My new snow blower....I hope I never need to use it.