Pizza – An American Staple

Pizza - An American Staple

By-in-large, and by that I mean a large sausage, black olives and mushroom on thin crust, American’s love pizza. Pizza has become an American staple similar to bottled water, mobile phones, coffee drinks, and GPS devices. American’s spend approximately $39.8 billion on fresh and frozen pizza each year. From the chain pizza parlors such as Round Table, Pizza Hut, Straw Hat, Little Caesars, Garlex, New York, Godfather’s, Domino’s, Z Pizza and Papa John’s to the higher-end pizza establishments such as Amici’s, Ascona’s, Skipolini’s, Gay 90’s, Zachary’s and California Pizza Kitchen, pizza is everywhere. Costco even sells pizza for gosh sakes. Every supermarket in the country carries a full line of frozen pizza including Totino’s, Red Baron, DiGiorno, Freschetta’s, Healthy Choice and Stouffer’s. Pizza is big business and I for one contribute to the great pizza economy every chance that I get.

Based on rough calculations, I have determined that in my lifetime I have consumed approximately 3.2 tons of pizza. If you lined up every pizza I’ve eaten side-by-side, you could create a walking bridge from Danville to Australia. If you balled up the equivalent of just the dough and cheese base from these subject pizzas, scientists and engineers might have a reasonable cap for the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, I, like a majority of the American public, love pizza. My mouth waters just thinking about a piping hot pie made of a rich tomato sauce, melted mozzarella cheese, a perfectly baked crust, the right combination of garlic and herbs and a collection of delectable toppings. Whether you like a traditional cheese or pepperoni or a unique combination such as Canadian bacon and pineapple, thick or thin crust, cheese in the dough or one that’s glutton-free, the beauty of pizza is that you can get it made-to-order. If the government really wanted to reduce our country’s growing deficit they would get into the pizza business. The tips alone could fund national parks system.

Thanks for my friends at Wikipedia, it was learned that pizza dates back to the 16th century, where in Naples, Italy it was flatbread covered in a white sauce. Pizza was considered a dish for poor people and not thought of as a kitchen recipe. It was kept warm in copper cylindrical drums with false bottoms packed with charcoal from the ovens and sold on the street. Pizza made its appearance in the United States with the arrival of Italian immigrants in the late 1800’s where it was sold at neighborhood cafés and grocery stores in Italian-American communities. The location of the first U.S. pizzeria is disputable, but it was believed to be in the Little Italy section of Manhattan. An entire pizza sold for $0.05. The modern pizza industry was born when troops who had fought in Italy during World War II returned home with a new appreciation of the delicious treasure they had discovered. Pizzeria Uno, in Chicago, opened in late 1943.

Personally, my relationship with pizza dates back to my toddler years. I was often served Gerber’s Creamed Pizza baby food from a jar. I just couldn’t get enough strained pepperoni and pureed bell peppers, but I never did acquire a taste for the beer flavored formula. As a child growing up in rural Mountain View, Round Table was one of the first local pizza parlors in our area and a trip to that wonderfully edible paradise was better than any meal my mother slaved hours over. Sorry mom. To watch the minimum wage pizza cooks work their craft of spinning a wad of dough in the air was magical. Especially when I would drop a quarter in the jukebox and play the song Dream Weaver by Gary Wright and fantasize about one day being a minimum wage pizza man. When we didn’t eat in we would bring our pizza home on a square piece of brown cardboard covered with tin foil – that was long before the elaborate pizza boxes of today. Monday nights during the fall were a special “pizza time” at our house. My family would all sit around the huge 17-inch black and white television screen to watch an important football game between powerhouses like the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Colts, Houston Oilers and St. Louis Cardinals. Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Dandy Don Meredith would broadcast the action while we eat our triangular slices of heaven off a stand-up TV tray while guzzling RC Cola. Those were good times.

By the time I got to high school, and then on through college, pizza became as much a social networking medium as it was a meal. Pizza was our Facebook. Back in the olden days, people actually met face-to-face to talk and find out about each other. Pizza was an affordable, delectable, plentiful food source used to nutritionally enhance a group gatherings or an inaugural romantic interlude (aka, first date). You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know if you locate a pizza joint anywhere close to a high school or college you’ll probably be printing money assuming the pizza you cook up doesn’t taste awful. Come to think of it, we even frequented the awful tasting pizza places too if they had a large screen television programmed to a sporting event and cold/cheep beer.

Today, as a mature adult and responsible father, I still consume pizza approximately 2.5-15.75 times during any given month. Pizza is an easy dinner decision after a long week of work. Pizza is a logical meal choice to serve at a birthday parties or when the kids have friends over to the house. Pizza is too convenient to not pick-up following a mid-week school function and how many times do we grab a pizza on the way home during a typical suburban weekend day spent racing around the greater Tri-Valley attending a variety of sporting events such as little league baseball, softball, soccer, football, lacrosse, swim or track. It’s not documented anywhere, but my rough guess is that my family has celebrated 132 youth sports season ending parties at one local pizza parlor or another around the Town of Danville. If a simple slice equaled a share of restaurant stock, I would be the controlling partner of both Garlex Pizza and Primo’s by now.

It’s funny how reliable we can become upon something like pizza. Sadly, I can admit that I’ve eaten cold pizza for breakfast, heated up pizza for lunch and gone out for pizza for dinner…..all in one day. Added to the traditional pizza options, there are a quandary of pizza type products such as, pizza pockets, pizza rolls, pizza bagels, pizza flavored Doritos and Jamba Juice’s new pizza flavored smoothie. OK, I’m kidding about the smoothie, but obviously the pizza industry continue to thrive and for good reason. Pizza has become an American staple.

Embracing Change: Moving Forward and Trusting Life

Embracing Change
If you’re like many of us, you’d love to experience more control in your life—more control of your health, more control of your income, and more control of the health and wellbeing of your loved ones. Yes, our Wish Lists for wanting to be “more in control” could most likely go on for pages and pages…right?

For this reason, in my Danville office, I’ve posted a copy of the Serenity Prayer that was originally written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It reads:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

This popular prayer reminds us to embrace the serenity that results from knowing the difference between what we DO have the power to control and change—and what we DON’T have the power to control and change. Focusing our energies in areas of our lives where we DO have power offers us great opportunities.

Meanwhile, gaining more control in our lives, while we embrace change…requires trust. Trust that, if we keep moving forward we won’t step into a hole that causes us to trip and fall. Or that, if we do trip and fall…that we will be able to stand back up, dust ourselves off, regain our bearings, gather positive resources/tools, and proceed forward once again (hopefully with lessons learned and wisdom gleaned).

So, thinking about your own life, how willing are you to trust yourself today as you embrace change and move forward? Are you able to move forward with an open heart…knowing we each experience many joys and sorrows in our lives?

As I share about this topic, I am reminded of the article I wrote in my September 2009 ALIVE column. In this article, I was acknowledging the loss of a local restaurant in the heart of downtown Pleasant Hill, The Left Bank. When it was in business, I frequented this restaurant to eat a meal, after which I’d sit for a bit, while writing my ALIVE column. The restaurant became one of my environmental “Creative Muses.” And, after it closed…I missed it.

While many local businesses and jobs have dropped away during these tough economic times, I used The Left Bank example in my past article to explore the various stages of the grief process. They are:

  • Shock/Denial/Numbness
  • Fear/Anger/Depression
  • Understanding/Acceptance/Moving On

In my private practice, I remind clients that it’s normal and healthy to go through the three stages of recovery—no matter if the loss is small or large. The greater our loss, however, the higher the intensity we’ll feel during each stage of the recovery process. Consequently, the greater losses require more time for us to move from one stage to another—and it’s not a straight shot; moving back and forth between the stages is healthy, too.

Moving on now, I am happy to report that as I write this article today, I’m sitting in the recently opened restaurant that was formerly The Left Bank. The exciting new eatery is—Jack’s Restaurant & Bar (60 Crescent Drive, Pleasant Hill). Three Clayton-raised brothers own the restaurant: John, Dave and Chris Marcovici. The restaurant is named after Dave’s little son.

After finishing my delicious Jack’s House Salad (and a nummy Butterscotch Crème Brûlée for dessert), I’m happy to say that I’m moving forward to embrace this current opportunity to trust life and gratefully enjoy this moment. While my writing is flowing in this lovely new environment, I remind myself that I can keep my fond memories of “the old,” while opening to new experiences available to me from “the new.”

Of course the principle of trusting life, opening your heart again, and moving forward—doesn’t simply apply to bonding to a new local business. This principle applies to moving forward after a variety of life’s disappointments, losses, and heartbreaks. After all, courageously saying “yes” to life is a sign that even after a cold, harsh winter we still possess the ability to deepen our roots, sprout new leaves, open our blossoms…and receive the glorious warmth of the sun.

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a certified clinical hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author of the 2-CD Set, Weight Loss: Powerful & Easy-to-Use Tools for Releasing Excess Weight. She is also the author of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Her CDs and her book are available from John Muir Women’s Health Center online store: www.womenshealthcenterstore.com/books1.html.
Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or info@TrinaSwerdlow.com. To receive her free newsletter, “Trina’s Transformational Tips for Mindful Living,” sign-up at her site: www.TrinaSwerdlow.com (Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.)
Photo by Susan Wood, www.SusanWoodPhotography.com

Miracle on Jones Street

Miracle on Jones StreetIn one of the most drug traffic areas in the world, a miracle is taking place. Right in the middle of the Tenderloin in San Francisco, where drugs are traded openly on almost every street corner, a school is being built to save the kids.

I want you to imagine a young girl walking to school. Picture her weaving in and out of drug dealers, and prostitutes. Imagine her having to step over homeless people, coming to intersections where all four corners are covered with liquor stores. Picture her not being able to make eye contact for fear of being hurt or harassed.

What I’ve just described to you is not a scene from a movie set, or a figment of my imagination. It’s the reality for 3,500 students each and every day in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. The fact is that if no one steps in and helps, it will get worse. The exciting news is that there is hope.

There is a school in the heart of this dark place, committed to helping make sure that these kids have a firm foundation for a life that includes hope and a future. The San Francisco City Academy is that beacon of light in the inner city of San Francisco. For 11 years the City Academy has been providing excellent educational opportunities for the underserved children of the Tenderloin District. These kids are being taking from a path of gangs, violence, and prison, and set on a new path towards educational opportunities, healthy relationships and success.

Johnny tells the story of how the San Francisco City Academy changed his life.

“At an early age I witnessed my dad die from an overdose of drugs. My mom and I suffered after that, finding ourselves in and out of the shelter system. Every morning we would have to leave the shelter at 6:00am and wander the streets for two hours until school started at 8:00am. It was a terrible time for us, and I found myself wondering every night where I would sleep. I found myself with a broken heart and no love on the inside. I was really struggling in school, fighting, and cursing a lot. Then one day my mom took me to the academy and my life hasn’t been the same since. I now know there is a God that loves me, there are people that care for me, and I’m doing well in school. I now have the dream to go to college and become a professional football player. If it wasn’t for the San Francisco City Academy I don’t know where I’d be.”

Currently, a new building is being built to educate 350 more “Johnnys.” This place will continue on a legacy of giving a hand up to those who most deserve it—our children. Right now you can sponsor someone like Johnny. For $38 a month you can help provide a great education, hot meals, after-school opportunities, and basic medical services for one of these children. We need help; we have no support from the City or government to fund our school. We need a miracle to complete this school. Our goal is to make sure that this new building is filled with children who need hope. Would you be one of those 350 Sponsors? For more information please contact: City Impact, 230 Jones St., SF, CA 94102. Phone: 415.292.1770 or email: Clintladine.sf911@yahoo.com

Trendy Eats: VESU

VESU
VESU
VESU

Situated on the corner of Locust and Cypress in downtown Walnut Creek, VESU restaurant is a treat for taste and sight. The name VESU is derived from both owners’ last names; Christopher VElez and Melisa SUitos. This very tight knit family run business is co-managed by Jon Sloane and Jeff Suitos. VESU’s management strives to take the best care possible of their clientele. They achieve this by having an owner or manager on site and circulating through the space. They have also successfully hired a very competent and capable bar and wait staff.

From the street VESU stands out among more traditional facades in downtown Walnut Creek. The sleek wood paneling on VESU’s exterior is a welcome touch of modernity and draws passer-bys into the modern bar at VESU. With a flat screen TV and over-sized sliding glass windows, guests enjoy a break from the hustle and bustle outside but still reap the benefits of the warm summer breeze. We recommend taking in the sights and sipping on one of VESU’s signature cocktails. The “Blue Velvet” made with vodka, fresh blueberries, lemon, sugar and velvet falernum is refreshing and delicious. Another favorite of ours is the “Hot Lips” made with tequila, ginger, lime, sugar, cilantro, and Fresno chile. We think its best described as similar to a spicy margarita.

VESU

Private dining room


Modern and elegant, VESU’s dining room is spacious and appointed with well selected artwork and dining furniture. Abstract paintings hang gallery style and are actually for sale. The stunning walnut barrel rolled ceiling is just one of the many contemporary touches throughout the restaurant’s décor. We also liked the ambient lighting provided by rustic filament pendant lamps which hang above tables. The back dining room features a reclaimed wood table with a live edge- lending a casual but sophisticated look to the private dining space—perfect for that cool elegant party you have been meaning to throw.

This globally diverse, small plate menu is the brainchild of Executive Chef Robert Sapirman and is one of a kind. Here he shows off his enthusiasm for local, farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients keeping VESU’s global footprint as small as possible.

VESU

Columbia River King Salmon with crispy shallots, leek fondue, & pinot noir syrup


Kicking off our dining experience was the country line farms wild arugula salad; this unexpected treat incorporated almonds, a poached egg atop the fresh arugula finished off with a light but incredibly flavorful vidalia onion dressing.

If you go into VESU and don’t try the Colombian “arepas” griddle cakes you are doing yourself a serious disservice. This braised pork dish has amazing flavors of citrus on the pork and a poblano pudding; while it is not a spicy topping it does pack a powerful flavor punch. The 38 north chicken drums were also delicious, getting their name from a farm 38 miles North of Golden Gate Bridge demonstrating VESU’s commitment to incorporating local and organic ingredients into their delicious offering. Other stand-out small plates include the caramel-glazed pork ribs with kim chee (which is a lovely mix of white vinegar, ginger, garlic, chili paste and cabbage), the Ahi Tartare with sancho berries, chili oil and nori and lastly, the Carne Asada with crispy sopes and cheese.

Moving onto the Entrees: We highly recommend the free-range chicken breast. This particular dish comes with purple potato gnocchi and rose lane farms rainbow chard. VESU’s Char-Crusted grass fed flat iron steak served with delta asparagus, butterball potatoes, and sauce béarnaise is delectable in both taste and presentation and should not be missed!

VESU

Coke Farms Beet Salad, Frisee, midnight moon goat cheese, prosciutto cracker


In our experience ordering several of the small plates and a few entrees was more than enough food for two. If you are dining in for the first time we think it’s helpful to ask your server for guidance. The staff at VESU is well versed on the menu and can provide insight on their diverse offering. We are very excited about this new addition to downtown and cannot wait to visit again soon. With their delicious, inventive and exciting menu, modern bar, and tasteful dining room, VESU is committed to delivering an experience that is unique and memorable. Whether you come in for dinner, or for a cocktail you are sure to enjoy.