The Faithful Frozen

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”-Aristotle

When we order pizza at a restaurant, we are at their mercy. Our satisfaction largely depends on interactions with staff, the preparation of the pizza and the delivery of it.  Whether we encounter a rude employee or a cold pizza, there is a lot that can go wrong and it almost seems the odds are stacked against us.  

The frozen pizza on the other hand is in our control and is the perfect example of consistency. When you tear off that plastic wrapping, you know exactly what you’re in for.  You may have to rearrange a few pepperonis, but after 12 minutes in the oven, you and that pizza are golden.

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The pizza you can count on. 

The frozen has been a staple my whole life; comforting me at grade school sleep-overs, nourishing me as an afternoon snack in High School, and coming to the rescue at the wee hours of the morning in college. Even now into my 30’s the frozen pizza offers a platform to bond and connect with old friends.

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As a safety measure to avoid burning down our cabin we cooked our frozen pizza’s outside in a toaster oven. 

At a rented cabin in the North woods of Wisconsin a smörgåsbord of Jack’s and Tombstone frozen pizza’s helped feed my brothers bachelor party. We took turns tending a little toaster oven that continually churned out frozens all weekend long.

“What would you like on your Tombstone?”

One of the highlights for me was digging into a Tombstone classic sausage pizza.  The pizza was sprinkled with pea-gravel sized sausage that became embedded in a melty layer of cheese upon baking. 

The Tombstone original has a slightly thicker crust than most thin crust frozen pizza’s. When it comes out of our toaster oven the crust is a golden brown around the edges.  The middle is pooled with white melty cheese and grease from the toppings.  Sauce bubbles up through cracks created by the running of the pizza cutter.

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Consistent as the crunch of the corner piece.

The frozen pizza is a timeless classic because you get the same trusty pizza every time. If we take a lesson from the frozen pizza and we are consistent and disciplined in our positive behaviors, we improve.  We become reliable.  Retired Navy Seal, author and podcaster Jocko Willink says it well and simply with the title of his new book: “Discipline Equals Freedom”.

Willink describes how we have a psychological advantage when we consistently set ourselves up for success.  When we have the right mental attitude and follow healthy routines we feel in control, and it’s freeing.

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How can we begin to reach frozen pizza level consistency?  

  1. Be dependable. The frozen pizza is available 24/7, it’s reliable and pretty darn tasty.  We can be that rock for the people in our lives. Trust is everything.
  2. Stick to a routine.  There’s a certain level of comfort that comes from the predictability of a routine. When I make a Tombstone pizza I know what I’m going to get.    
  3. Follow through on goals. When we know our target, we can continually take steps to hit it. The outcome of the frozen pizza is up to us. We’ll end up with a properly cooked pizza if we preheat the oven correctly and set the timer.
  4. Reward yourself. When our pepperoni’s are in order, the oven is set at a proper 425º and we pull out a perfect bubbling pizza, that’s magic.  Take a moment and bask in it’s excellence.

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What pizza taught me:

We can take a lesson from the faithful frozen pizza by consistently sticking to positive practices. With rountines we can become as reliable as the frozen. 

What I’m eating: Tombstone-Classic Sausage Pizza

What I’m reading: Ryan Holiday The Obstacle is the Way

 

 

 

Cheat Day with Extra Cheese, Please

“Everything in moderation, including moderation” -Oscar Wilde

All hail the magnificent cheat day, where we can indulge in guilt-free pizza with extra cheese and extra pepperoni, because we’ve earned it. Whether we’ve persevered through a week of work or stuck to our exercise and diet routines, the cheat day can be the light at the end of the tunnel and we should take full advantage of it.

Pizza and the wonderful cheat day go hand-in-hand. This perfect match both soothes us and nurtures us, simultaneously reminding us to unwind and have some fun.  For me, it’s hard to fathom letting a cheat day pass without some form of pizza making an appearance.

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Pizza, pizza.

On a crisp fall Saturday afternoon I decided to cheat to my heart out.  I’ve worked out, eaten clean and put in extra effort at work all week, so now it’s time to pizza party.  This cheat day I passed a Little Caesar’s and spontaneously pulled a u-turn for a “Hot N’ Ready”  I haven’t had Little Caesar’s since college and a cheap greasy pizza sounded like it would hit the spot. The power of the cheat day took affect, anything goes.

I picked up a “Hot N’ Ready” and in true cheat day fashion I splurged, spent an extra $1 and got the “Extra Most Bestest” which is an extra cheese and extra pepperoni pizza.  I even got an order of “Crazy Bread”.

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Many may argue against the likes of Little Caesar’s, but I do not discriminate. That Saturday afternoon Little Caesar’s, the notoriously cheapest pizza of them all was exactly what I wanted and that’s all that matters in a quality cheat day.  The point of cheat day is to fulfill your desires and indulge on your every whim.

Now and again we need to give ourselves a break.

Taking some time off is just as important as the hard work we put in.  Having a good balance in life keeps us sane and makes all of our efforts feel worth it.  By allowing ourselves to take a breather, we can stay focused and avoid burnout. We can reflect on our accomplishments and rejuvenate, so we can get back at it again.IMG_0688

Not only is the cheat day soothing for the soul, but it can also be good for us physically.  Tim Ferris references the cheat day in his book The Four Hour Body “I make myself a little sick each Saturday and don’t want to look at any junk for the rest of the week.  Paradoxically, dramatically spiking caloric intake in this way once per week increases fat-loss by ensuring that your metabolic rate (thyroid function and conversion of T4 to T3, etc) doesn’t downshift from extended caloric restriction.

That’s right: eating pure crap can help you lose fat. Welcome to Utopia.”

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Recharging the batteries

The cheat day after some hard work is truly a beautiful occurrence.  I believe there are  several components to setting yourself up for a righteous cheat:

  1. Work hard, eat pizza hard.  Make the cheat day a goal at the end of the week.  A cheat day has to be earned, otherwise it doesn’t mean much.  Likewise you have to commit to yourself to return to your normal routine/work habits following the amazing day.
  2. Take mental notes: I’m a planner, so I like taking note of all the cravings that have teased me all week and I try to make them happen in some shape or form.  This leaves me feeling satisfied after my cheat day has come and gone.
  3. No regrets: Be prepared to forgive yourself for whatever debauchery occurs on cheat day. Tim Ferriss says “There are no limits or boundaries during this day of gluttonous enjoyment”.
  4. Live in the moment.  Feel gratitude for the day you get to indulge in.  Let go of last week’s worries and future anxieties and enjoy the present. Go with the flow, eat whatever pizza your heart desires.
  5. Let yourself off the hook.  Don’t worry about other people and just do what you want; satisfy that craving with pizza your partner or friends don’t normally care for. Go easy on yourself for a day.

What pizza taught me:

We have to have balance in our lives. A healthy dose of relaxation is just as important as the hard work we put towards a goal. There is no better occasion than the cheat day to enjoy some guilt-free pizza.

What I’m eating: Little Caesar’s Hot N’ Ready “Extra most Bestest”.

What I’m reading:  The Four Hour Body -Tim Ferriss

 

 

 

 

 

Practice Makes Perfect Pizza

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” -Bruce Lee

I’ve visited several old-school pizzeria’s around the midwest that put their pizzas in paper bags for carry-out.  No sturdy box to protect the precious cargo, just a flimsy paper bag and a cardboard base.  Though this seems odd and impractical, I imagine if a place has been practicing this for decades they’re putting a pretty darn good pie in that bag.

An established pizzeria like that can pack a big ol’ punch of nostalgia into their pizzas, and recently that’s exactly what I have been looking for.  “Hole-in-the-wall” pizzerias have always intrigued me.  I admire their pizza and ambiance, but I also can’t help but wonder how they got to where they are?  How does the “hole in the wall” earn their “hole” and keep customers coming back?

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A cult classic.

So, Tess and I strayed off the beaten path to find some good old fashioned hometown pizza and arrived in Neenah, Wisconsin.  I took the advice of a co-worker and tried Cranky Pat’s Pizzeria.  After my colleague described this place as having a “cult-like following” I had to look it up.

After perusing Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews I’ve come to learn that Cranky Pat’s Pizzeria has been a Fox Valley staple since 1955.   If you scroll the online reviews you can see that people take this place very seriously.  Loyal locals throughout Oshkosh, Appleton and Green Bay sing the gospel of their greasy thin-crust hometown hero. I figured Cranky Pat’s was a great place to observe the characteristics that lead to small-town pizzeria success.

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A taste of Titletown.

The pizza is ultra thin. It may have been the thinnest pizza I’ve ever had. It’s cut in squares and covered with a glistening layer of greasy melty cheese.  It’s definitely a nice portrayal of my favorite midwestern style tavern-cut.  They make their own sausage in house too; it’s served in medium-sized hand pinched chunks.

On the side we tried the “Cranky Sticks” which were basically a small thin pizza, without sauce and basted with garlic butter.  The “Cranky Sticks” are cut in strips and served with sauces for dipping.

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It was fitting we enjoyed our dinner at Cranky Pat’s during a preseason Green Bay Packer game on a Thursday night.  Even for a preseason game the bar was packed and a live DJ read raffle tickets and played pump-up songs during commercials.  Though the level of devotion these folks share for Cranky Pat’s might pale in comparison to that of the almighty Green and Gold, they do seem pretty committed to their cracker thin-crust pizza.

Cranky Pat’s gave me the same nostalgic sensation as my favorite Gus’ Pizza back in Whitewater, Wisconsin.  In both of these pizzerias you get the sense that they have been around the block and they know what they are doing.  While so many new restaurants fail, these places stand the test of time.  It’s said that only 10% of new businesses survive three years. So, what makes our old-school favorites stick?

The 10,000 hour rule.

The 10,000 hour rule says that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” is needed to become the master of a craft.  I figure I’ve been alive for around 11,000 days and I’ve eaten pizza probably somewhere around 2,000 times.  According to the 10,000 hour rule I’ve got a long way to go before I become a true pizza eating pro.

Cranky Pat’s has been around since 1955 that means they have hand-crafted homemade sausage, cut pizza into squares and put it all in a bag for 62 years.  The owner and employees have spent thousands of hours honing their craft. Places like Cranky Pat’s and Gus’s Pizza (est. 1962) have put in well over 10,000 hours of making pizza and you can tell in their product.

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10,000 pizzas devoted.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s New York Times best seller Outliers he says “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” He gives the example of The Beatles hitting their 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” by playing 8-hour sets, seven days a week in Hamburg, Germany years before their mass success in America.  He also discusses how Bill Gates hit his 10,000 early on with unique exposure to computers and coding as a teenager.  That experience allowed him years of extra practice and a huge advantage in the emerging computer business in the 1970’s.

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The takeaway from these success stories is that you’ve got to put in the time to be great at something.  Practice and dedication are what enable people and businesses to achieve the highest level of accomplishment. Years of commitment to honing a craft is a big piece of what allows establishments like Cranky Pat’s and Gus’s Pizza to create lasting legacies.

What pizza taught me:

By devoting our time and committing ourselves to a skill, we can master it. A quality pizza consistently served over 62 years is bound to become a “hole in the wall” cult classic, even if it’s served in a bag.

What I’m eating: Cranky Pat’s Pizzeria; cheese pizza, sausage and pepperoni pizza, “Cranky Sticks” with ranch and marinara.

What I’m reading: Outliers -Malcolm Gladwell

 

 

 

 

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