Thursday, May 31, 2012

Roll My Eyes And Have A Drink!

Ok, I was going to write about Cotogna last night, but I was too tired.  This has been happening to me a lot lately.  I get exhausted around 9, fall asleep on the couch, but the minute I get up and go to bed, I'm wide awoke!  Then I don't go to sleep till late, get up early and start the whole routine again!  I'd say its stress..... bring it on!
Bill At The Building Department
We got the plans into the Town Of San Anselmo yesterday, though they want two more sets of plans (4 full sets @ $200 a pop!).  $2,000 later and lots of paper work, we wait again.... 3-6 weeks we were told.  This is just plan check fees, we'll see what the final bill is when I have the permit in hand.....bring it on!

I was complaining to my contractor who juggles 4 or 5 restaurant projects at a time in several counties and towns, about all the bureaucracy and how long it takes to deal with these agencies and he said, "Louise, I've finally just learned to roll my eyes and have a drink!"  So that's my new mantra..... roll my eyes and have a drink!

We did have a wonderful meal at Cotogna the other night.  We sat at the bar in front of their beautiful imported Italian wood oven and pizza oven.  It was the best seat in the house, little warm though.  We got to watch everything being prepared and ask a million questions of the chefs.  The pizza was great, though I think my dough is better.  They had some stellar dishes, my favorite being the Green Garlic Sformato with snap, snow peas & pea tendrils.  It was served on a bed of Parmesan & goat cheese fonduta.  It left spring singing on my palate!  I loved the fact that many things on the menu are one price for any selection, for example, all first courses are $17.  Especially the wine, all wine by the glass is $10, all bottles are $40.  I'm sure this all works out in the long run.  It less confusing on the menu, but for those trying to find a deal not so great.
What do you all think, do you think generic pricing is beneficial, fair, less confusing, desirable?

Every time I go to other restaurants I learn something new.  Good and bad, I learn what to do and not to do!   I love to see what other new ideas people are employing, whether for food, service or decor.  It never ceases to amaze me how creative people are, how ingenious, and the extent to which one will push the envelope.  There is something out there for everyone.  Dining has become such a show, its experiential theater for one of life's most basic necessities...nourishment!
A whole blog could be written on nourishment.

bring it on...... 

Ah, look at that porchetta!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Inside Scoop SF - Carey Sweet

Inside Scoop SF » Behind the scenes at Pizzalina and the frustrations of restaurant permits 

Hahaha check this out..... a blog about my blog!  Or should I say "The Blog" about my restaurant opening!  ...... thank you Ms. Sweet.

So tonight after GOOD news from the Health Department, I came home from a spectacular dinner at Cotogna with my bookkeeper and friend Chef Ian, popped open my RSS feed to read through my Inside Scoops, and low and behold I'm staring at a picture of me.  It takes a minute to register, then I see "Pizzalina" and crack up!  Wow, I made the Inside Scoop.  You'll have to pardon me for a minute, but after years of seeing Mark and everyone else I know and have worked with in print, and being star-struck and in awe of those I don't know, this is totally surreal!

But on to the Health Department.... So, my architects Bill Craig and George Federighi, bless their hearts, ran interference for me today and got the whole thing straightened out.  It seemed to be a minor miscalculation that could have turned into a major fiasco, but they caught it, and Bill walked in the new calculations and a hand drawn revision and presto!  Stamped, approved, complete with a signed letter.  I told Priscilla I was going to frame it, she said, "Oh, your not through yet".  I laughed, but I knew it.
Just when things seem the most frustrating, something breaks.  Patience & faith, I keep telling myself.

Tomorrow morning Bill and I take the approved plans into the City of San Anselmo for our Building Permit Application!  Major monument.  Hopefully we'll have our Building Permit in hand in 2-4 weeks.  Now I just have to figure out how to get some more money in the bank quick, seeing as I've already blown over budget on the architect/permit fees!  Lord, encamp your angels all around me.....

More on Cotogna tomorrow......

Monday, May 28, 2012

Health Department

I think I need a Pizzalina license plate and a cute little car like that for delivery!  So I'm thinking, what other cute little retro cars might have the same affect?  Any ideas......

This week was frustrating!  It seems I was working at a lot of little details with nothing to show.  Biding time, research, appointments, awaiting word from the Health Department.  Checking the mail everyday.  I really expected to get a go ahead within the week!  Hahaha.... the letter came last Friday, two weeks from our resubmittal.....

First of all, why can't they email like everyone else? 

No stamp of approval.  It's taken me days to cool out and not be pissed off about it.  I really feel like a rant session.  So they had three more points to revise.  Actually two were the same, it seems someone on my team was trying to push something through that's been done in the past, but maybe not doable now.  One was the hood above the wood oven, the other was a floor sink at the dish washing station.  Its all very technical, which is why I've hired professionals.  My guess is they were trying to save me money, but the fact is, it is costing me more time and money.  Now the plans need to be redrawn, resubmitted, and re-reviewed.  So, note to self, don't argue with the Marin County Health Department, just give them what they ask for.

These are the little things you don't see coming.  You can hope for the best, hire the best, be the best, but fate will intervene and humble you.  Hopefully these challenges come to make me stronger, more determined and wiser in the end.   They're certainly teaching me patience.  I'm learning to surrender to the journey!

Happy Memorial Day....
Happy 75th Golden Gate Bridge....

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pizza Day

48 Hours in Fridge & 2 Hours @ Room Temp
Pizza day!  The dough was really good.  I'm very happy with the results.  I would've liked more bubbles to rise in the oven, but all in all the flavor was good, a balance of sour & yeasty, and the crumb texture was great.  I do think I like the results of a 24 hour bulk fermentation with 3 days in the ball stage, it gives it longer for the yeast to develop in the balls.  That's what causes bigger bubbles to form in the oven that crisp up and char,  giving it that beautiful leoparding. 

So Chef Douglas and his wife came over tonight.  We had a lovely evening cooking together.  Cooking and eating together is a great way to get to know someone!  But once again, in the excitement and focus of cooking I didn't get a chance to take many photos.  I've got to get better at that!  We braised some artichokes, made a salad from my first crop of spring greens and radicchio & sausage from Jane's farm raised pig.  By the time we got to the pizza we were so full we only made 3 pizzas and even then there was lots left over!  Margherita, tomato sauce with the sausage, fresh garden chard, pickled red onions, black olives, mozz, & grana, and roasted eggplant, sausage, castelvetrano olives, calabrian chilies, mozz & grana. 

I'm looking forward to working with Chef Douglas, I like the way he thinks about food, he's spontaneous, fastidiously clean, thoughtful and completely in love with his wife!  I like that.  I'm confident he'll be able to head up the kitchen at Pizzalina!

Now if we could just get our go ahead from the Health Department, we'd be one step closer to being open!

Bring it on.....

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Preparation Day

24 Hours Later

Dough balls are growing!  24 hours in the fridge, they've doubled in size and are starting to show signs of bubbles trapped within.  A good sign.  Should be perfect by tomorrow. 

Also making up a batch of sausage from my friends small and loving farm in Penngrove, Split Rail Farm.  It's a beautifully marbled cut of pork butt, butchered from one of her pigs that are raised in a large pasture with room to root around and play. They are fed kitchen scraps that are cooked into slop along with there regular piggy food. I almost don't want to use such an incredible piece of meat for sausage, but why not the best?!  Anyway Jane and her husband are farmers, chefs and their farm is 100% sustainable and organic.  Jane was my neighbor and my sons babysitter back in the day, so I'm so happy to support her.  We'll certainly be featuring some of their products at the restaurant.  You can check out their website and visit them at the Saturday Larkspur Landing Farmers Market

Ready for another week, hoping to hear back from the Health Department!


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Phase Two

2 Days Later
 It's ALIVE!  48 hours later, as you can see, its forming beautiful bubbles.  That's the war between yeast and bacteria, but more important, its what makes those glorious bubbles that rise in the crown of the pizza crust, char on the outside, and remain chewy and flavorful on the inside.... Oooo, yummy!

So anyway, out onto the table it goes, it gets cut up into portions, approximately 9.5 oz each and then they are hand kneaded into nice tight little balls and placed into the dough proofing box.

The box is now back in the fridge where they will proof another 2 days.  Monday is pizza day.  I'm a little curious about how this 2 & 2 day proof will turn out.  The dough is an art and a science and I can't help myself, its all in the experimentation that you learn the essence of its nature. There are so many other factors that go into the dough, but that may be a posting for another day!

Bet you can't wait to see those little dough balls tomorrow.... I can't!  So, here is the million dollar question..... What is your favorite pizza topping?


Its Alive!

9.5 oz

Hand Kneaded Into A Tight Ball

Back Into Fridge Till Monday

Long Fermentation

24 Hours in the Fridge
So, I've tried giving my bulk rise a 24 hour rise, then balling for the remaining 3 days and I've tried giving my bulk rise the full 3 days, and balling 24 hours before making pies.  This time I'm going to do a 50/50.  All this talk of rising and balling is making me hungry.... LOL!  But here is a picture of the dough 24 hours into its refrigerated bulk fermentation.  The beauty of the long cold rise is it retards the over development of the yeast and gives the flavors a chance to develop.

With all the flack wheat and gluten is getting these days I thought it was important to talk about the benefits of naturally leavened bread.  I know for myself there is a huge difference in how I feel afterwards if I eat pizza that has a dough with a quick rise, commercial yeast, as apposed to a long fermented, natural yeast dough.  My stomach is getting real good at telling the difference.  Check out this article on the  subject.  Don't forgo pizza, just eat GOOD pizza!

Bread was first leavened by the Egyptians around 2300 BC.  They discovered that a mixture of flour and water left uncovered for several days bubbled and expanded. If mixed into unleavened dough and allowed to stand for a few hours before baking, it yields a light sweet bread. This kind of natural leavening remained the basis of Western bread baking until the 20th century when bread made from commercially prepared yeast was introduced.

Naturally leavened breads rise over time (6 to 8 hours or more) by the action of wild yeast spores drawn into the sourdough starter from the air. Mixing the starter with more flour and water and a little salt forms bread dough. As the unique and complex family of friendly bacteria thrives on the nutrient-rich whole grain flour and mineral-rich sea salt, they produce carbon dioxide gas. Fermentation continues, and the leavening or expansion of the bread dough creates a fine-grained, moist texture.

In the process of making sourdough bread, during the rising time (called proofing, or fermentation), bran in the flour is broken down, releasing nutrients into the dough. In particular, the phytic acid (phytin) in grain needs to be 90% neutralized in order for the minerals, concentrated in the bran, to be absorbed by the human body. According to experiments done in Belgium, phytin can be neutralized by natural bacterial action and to a lesser extent, by baking. In naturally leavened bread, the combination eliminates all phytin, while in commercially yeasted breads about 90% remains.

Furthermore, with sourdough bread, complex carbohydrates are broken down into more digestible simple sugars and protein is broken down into amino acids. Enzymes develop during proofing which are not lost in baking since the center of the loaf remains at a lower temperature than the crust.

It’s the fermentation, partly from lactobacillus, that makes eating good quality bread an aid to digestion of all complex carbohydrate foods, in this case grains, in the way fermented vegetables like kimchee and sauerkraut help aid digestion in the bacterial formation of probiotics. It helps restore the functioning of the digestive tract, resulting in proper assimilation and elimination. These beneficial bacteria help control candida albicans, whereas baker’s yeast is a pro-candida organism. Naturally yeasted bread, made in the old world traditions, truly is "the staff of life" as it actually enhances the immune system.  Taken from: Sourdough Bread and Health by, Mark Sircus AC., OMD

This book is an amazing book on naturally fermented dough.  And the restaurant is fabulous and the photographs inspiring.  I recommend it highly if you'd like to pursue making healthy bread at home.

Diggin' the Hipstamatic app!


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dough Days

Feeding The Washed Starter
Ah ha, making dough!  For the next couple of days I'll take you through the process.  There will be lots of pictures so you can see the beautiful yeasts developing.  This recipe is always a work in progress because yeast is such a living thing.  Everything effects it, probably even my mood, which was good today so I'm hoping for awesome dough.  I'm having my new chef and some other chef friends over for pizza next week so I hope for a great batch of dough.  I always experiment a little.

Freshly Mixed
Here is my 4 day process:  I start with a sour dough yeast that is a combination of 2 yeast strains, one from Sicily and one from the Naples region of Italy.  I keep it in the fridge and revive it when I'm going to make dough.  So on Monday I gave it a good washing (added half again water, gave it a good stir & poured out all but 1 cup), then I proceeded to start feeding it.  1/3 cup of rye flour, 1/3 cup 00 Caputo flour & 2/3 cup water.  Thereafter, until today, I fed it every morning the same way, pouring off all but 1 cup of starter, and adding the flour mix & water in equal amounts. You can always substitute fresh yeast like you buy in the store, which is best.  Use about a 1/4 cake for this amount of dough.

2 Hours
Today, Thursday, I made the dough.  You start by measuring out 3lbs 12oz of Caputo 00 flour in a mixing bowl.  Then get 1 liter of 79 degree water.  Today I mixed into the water 3/4 cup of the natural, sour dough yeast with 1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast because I couldn't get any fresh yeast at the store.  I prefer just a pinch of fresh yeast to give the dough a more yeasty taste and it also gives the dough reliability that the sometimes unpredictable sour dough lacks.  I love the sour dough flavor, but too much can mask the yeasty flavor of the Neapolitan style pizza dough I've fallen in love with.  So I've settled on this 50/50 combination.

4 Hours - Ready To Use!
Putting the water & yeast combination in the bowl of a mixer, add 1/2 the flour and mix on the lowest setting for 5 minutes.  It helps to hand mix it some at first if you're using an electric mixer.  Then add the salt and the rest of the flour.  It's always good to hold back a cup or so of flour to see how wet the mixture is.  You can always add more flour but you can't take it back.  Too much flour or too much mixing will make your dough tough, hard to handle, and chewy.  Not good, the wetter you can work it the better.  Mix it again for 10 minutes at the lowest speed.  Today my mixer overloaded after 5 minutes so I just took it out of the mixer and hand kneaded it for another 5 minutes.  You just want the gluten to start forming but not over work it.  The magic happens over the 4 days where the flavor and gluten continue to develope! 

Water and Yeast
So then it goes into the large container you see here and is left out at room temperature, which today was 71 degrees.  You can see how much it grew in 5 hours.  This proofing time is a changing target, what you want is for it to at least double in size and the time it takes to do so will depend on temperature, humidity, yeast type and freshness, so get a personal relationship with your dough! 

Off it went into the fridge, and off I went to choir rehearsal!  Singing to your dough may or may not help.  Like plants and pets, its controversial, but for me its therapy, and all life goes better with songs and praise!

To be continued.......

5 Minutes Mixed

Hand Kneaded

Done, Ready To Proof

Ready To Rise

5 Hours Doubled - Into Fridge

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mothers, Seeds & Laying Low

My Mamma Back in the Day
Happy belated Mother's Day!  I hope you all had a lovely day mothers, and were treated royally.  Next year, you'll all be able to come to Pizzalina for a wonderful Mother's Day brunch or dinner. 

I had a great day, very full.  I started out the day with my Sunday School class.  I love me my church children.  We had a little discussion about the commandment to honor thy father and mother, and what that means, and then we made bracelets with colorful glass heart beads for their moms.  After church I went home and had a delicious lamb kabob diner with my son, mother, brother and sister.  We celebrated with fresh squeezed minted lemonade mimosas.  By days end I was exhausted, and I'm still recovering from running a little too much last week.  I've spent the last few days laying low, doing paperwork, accounting, computer work, phone calls, planning and strategizing. 

But it is also spring, and time to get my garden up and growing if I am to be able to harvest wonderful, exotic vegetables for the restaurant!  I've spent the last week preparing the beds.  I'm only able to turn one bed at a time (hand dug).  Gone are the days I could turn the whole garden in a day without blinking.  Now the old body just don't bounce back like it used to!  So, day by day.  But I did get my seeds from the Italian Seed Company and I can't wait to get them in the ground!  I'm hoping next year I can actually hire someone to create a real sustainable farm on my little homestead, complete with chickens, goats, rabbits, and plenty of herbs, veggies, fruit trees and maybe we'll even try our own vineyard!  My neighbor has some great syrah on his property that I hope to have on our wine list, so why not?!  What could be more local, sustainable, organic than that!

cheers lovelies & remember to honor thy father and mother  .......

Friday, May 11, 2012

Victories large & small

So I started this week's post with the Health Department and Charles' upcoming graduation and I'm finishing this week with a praise report!  First off, Team Pizzalina (that would be my architects & contractor) got everything on the list redesigned, redrafted, compiled and submitted today.  If all goes well I may be signed off with the Health Department by the end of next week!  Then its off to the City of San Anselmo for our Building Application.  Step by step, small victories, one foot in front of the other.  Just when I was starting to get antsy and impatient.  Yesterday and today I felt anxious and cranky, like things weren't happening fast enough, too many loose ends, nothing felt final or concrete.  Everything hanging in the air.  Limbo.  No peace.

But after a beautiful walk with my friend Mimi along the San Francisco Bay and a trip down to Santa Clara to see Charles' Senior Mechanical Engineering Project Presentation, all was kinda put into perspective.  Not only was the presentation incredibly good contextually, and their devise a sound and viable product to better the marketplace, but Charles, Greg & Keegan were all great public speakers!  I watched as they mesmerized the professors, judges and industry leaders in the room.  Smiles, curiosity and pride passed over these peoples faces, and at the end of the presentation they were flooded with tough questions that they handled with just as much precision and poise as the testing of their devise.  I got home tonight after an uplifting choir rehearsal to find out they had won first prize for their project in both Junior and Senior Divisions.  Go Team Railwave!

Its important at times to let go, step back and look at the bigger picture, turn off the chatter, celebrate others, and trust God for all else.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Live, love, laugh...

My new motto, makes the thyme taste better!
A good and beautiful morning to you!  Man, the weather has been incredible.  I'm trying to get my garden together but there's been so much to do!  Gonna go get my tomatoes today and turn over the soil.  I've found a great online seed catalog that specializes in Italian seeds, can't wait to start a bunch of stuff for the restaurant!  I used to smuggle seeds back from Italy in my suitcase, thank God for the internet!

We got a letter back from Environmental Health on Saturday and I'm pleased to say, from the looks of things, the laundry list isn't too bad.  Gotta check with all the "powers that be", the architects to see how bad it really is.  If all can be corrected quickly, we could be through the health department by next week, then its on to the city!  That is great!  I'm impressed,  they said it would be 20 days and it was 18 days!

So phone calls today..... I also meet with Chef Douglas today to bring him up to speed on the design and permits, etc.  This week I need to get some things finalized, I hate all these things hanging in the air.  I guess I need to get used to it.  Hahaha, some things you really have to give up trying to control.  What you learn in this process is, the mission is bigger than you!  It's like having a child.  You give birth to them, and shape them and teach them, but God made them unique and special in their own right, with their own gifts and mission.  At some point, who they are starts superseding who you think they should be, and they walk into their own.  I have a feeling this restaurant process is the same way!  I can shape it and mold it, and coax it into being, but at some point, if I listen, it will fulfill its own predestined purpose.  Where's my tambourine?!

If it turns out like my son, Charles who I am so incredibly proud of and is graduating next month, I will be more blessed than I can ever count.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012


When all else fails, and the week is full of boring, monotonous details, I put on a photo that makes me remember why I'm doing this!  Here's this weeks photo if inspiration, the first pie I made at the Verace Pizza Napoletana where I got my Pizzaiola certificate.  A damn fine pie I might add.  There's plenty more of those to go around soon.

So this week has been lots of phone calls and meetings.... pricing, info, bids on all kinds of boring but necessary business stuff.  Some of it redundant, more of the same, payroll, merchant services, HR, tables/chairs/banquettes, dishwashers, exterior signs, lighting, concrete & plaster colors for floors and walls. Back and forth with approvals for the storefront designs and outdoor patio which has to be compliant with the ABC.  On and on.  Then I started looking into these new iPad/cloud based POS systems.  They're very attractive and less money than traditional POS.  I'm researching, but I think some maybe better than others.  Anyway, thank God I have time now to make these decisions informed, instead of last minute under pressure!

Finally got my Pizzalina Facebook page started tonight.  Please search me out on Facebook and "Like" me.  Hahaha, it seems so pathetic to ask people to "Like" you!  But it does spreads the word.  My friend Alicia Brooke Gray is helping me get all my social networking act together.  She admonished me today for not having my site up.... bad me, I really knew better!  I'm grateful to her for helping me get the whole thing up and working together in an interactive manner.  She manages several business social media accounts and is also doing some press work for me.  So if you need any PR or media marketing,  she's awesome!  Oh, did I mention she's a killer photographer -

I have to give my Macy back tomorrow..... boo-hoo.  You see I'm just her foster mom while she's here waiting to be bred by the Guide Dogs For the Blind.  It's amazing how quickly you can get attached to a sweetheart dog!

Ciao bella.....