It is easy to find and stay in a routine during the work week. Each day I cuss out my alarm and stumble down the hardwood-floored hallway into the kitchen and determine if there is anything (breakfast) edible. I’ll shower and get ready and dash down the stairs and into the garage and fight other commuters en route to Cerritos. I am out the door each morning by 7am and am able to leave the office most days before 5pm. I get home from work and see the pile of dirty dishes and empty refrigerator and decide my best option most nights is dining out. I appreciate the many eateries downtown Long Beach that are within walking distance of my apartment.
Filling time and finding things to do on the weekend is a more difficult task. I have played golf, walked along the beach front, taken scenic drives along the coast. I prefer to always have something on the calendar to look forward to, such as the trip to Las Vegas to see my folks. The calendar for this past weekend was circled for a quick trip to San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
I was excused from work early for the drive to San Diego but still battled traffic along I-5 for the 100 mile drive south. My only mission was to be in Ocean Beach in time for sunset and I barely met that goal. After the sun disappeared into the ocean I sat down at South Beach Bar & Grille for a tall Ballast Point and tacos. I considered staying longer and further exploring OB but instead got back in the car and ventured to the Gaslamp Quarter. This detour took me further away from my hotel and the area was bustling with Friday night activity. I decided against testing my parallel parking skills or paying $10 for a garage since I was only there to check the area for one brew. I’ll come back and do San Diego properly over a long weekend and Padres game. I did eventually make it to Karl Strauss brewery near my hotel thanks to a wayward and distracted UBER driver. My bartender was friendly, though the nearby patron may have thought she was too giving when she mistakenly included his credit card with another guest’s bar tab.
The whole reason for this excursion to San Diego was for the golf tournament on Saturday. The weather was perfect, there was no fog delay, and the players teed off both nines Saturday morning. My hotel offered a free shuttle to Torrey Pines and I was on the grounds after 10am. But there was one problem. It didn’t even occur to me until happily stepping off the shuttle that I didn’t have my ticket. I still don’t know where it is. Thankfully I had enough foresight to scan and save the bar code and was allowed to enter the tournament after showing my phone. Things like “being on time” and “remembering stuff” are traits I’m still working on. I keep my keys and wallet and phone huddled closely together so I can (usually) leave home fully equipped. Any alteration to that formula usually spells disaster.
The first half of my day was spent admiring as much of the property as possible. I followed Rickie Fowler but felt isolated on a handful of holes in one segment of the golf course watching the bottom end of the leader board. I eventually made it to the back nine and was near Ian Poulter and Andres Gonzales when each made hero shots from off the fairway. I had a good view of the final Moving Day threesome of Harris English, Jhonattan Vegas, and Nick Watney for the final stretch of holes.
One regular aspect of my weekends since moving has been coaching youth basketball. We had a disappointing away game before the Super Bowl holiday, but finished strong at the regular season Sunday on-campus at Long Beach State. The NJB Lakers played two strong games and finished on a high note. We will now head into the postseason and I won’t know what that entails until a meeting Wednesday evening. After how poorly we played at Westminster and how awful the officiating was and how many grey hairs were grown, it was a pleasant surprise to make such an improvement in the Sunday doubleheader. Perhaps playing inside an NCAA Division I venue was enough inspiration to pay attention and push the ball on the fast break.
Monday is National Pizza Day! It is routine to eat pizza every Sunday night, which I enjoyed at a New York style pizzeria yesterday after an apartment cleaning party. I suppose I’m willing to have my arm twisted and head out again after work this evening to celebrate with a proper pie. I was given recommendation to visit PIZZAMANIA, and I won’t turn down such an aggressively, cleverly named joint. Taco Tuesday is the only true obstacle interfering with the notion of eating pizza every day of the week. Pizza is the foundation of my food pyramid.
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A Slice of History: Pizza Through the Ages
Although voracious aficionados can suck down several sauce-laden slices in mere minutes, pizza didn’t develop in a vacuum—an Italian political vacuum, that is.
Founded around 600 B.C. as a Greek settlement, Naples in the 1700s and early 1800s was a thriving waterfront city. Technically an independent kingdom, it was notorious for its throngs of working poor, or lazzaroni. “The closer you got to the bay, the more dense their population, and much of their living was done outdoors, sometimes in homes that were little more than a room,” said Carol Helstosky, author of “Pizza: A Global History” and associate professor of history at the University of Denver.
Unlike the wealthy minority, these Neapolitans required inexpensive food that could be consumed quickly. Pizza—flatbreads with various toppings, eaten for any meal and sold by street vendors or informal restaurants—met this need. “Judgmental Italian authors often called their eating habits ‘disgusting,’” Helstosky noted. These early pizzas consumed by Naples’ poor featured the tasty garnishes beloved today, such as tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies and garlic.
Italy unified in 1861, and King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889. Legend has it that the traveling pair became bored with their steady diet of French haute cuisine and asked for an assortment of pizzas from the city’s Pizzeria Brandi, the successor to Da Pietro pizzeria, founded in 1760. The variety the queen enjoyed most was called pizza mozzarella, a pie topped with the soft white cheese, red tomatoes and green basil. (Perhaps it was no coincidence that her favorite pie featured the colors of the Italian flag.) From then on, the story goes, that particular topping combination was dubbed pizza Margherita.
Queen Margherita’s blessing could have been the start of an Italy-wide pizza craze. After all, flatbreads with toppings weren’t unique to the lazzaroni or their time—they were consumed, for instance, by the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. (The latter ate a version with herbs and oil, similar to today’s focaccia.) And yet, until the 1940s, pizza would remain little known in Italy beyond Naples’ borders.
An ocean away, though, immigrants to the United States from Naples were replicating their trusty, crusty pizzas in New York and other American cities, including Trenton, New Haven, Boston, Chicago and St. Louis. The Neapolitans were coming for factory jobs, as did millions of Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; they weren’t seeking to make a culinary statement. But relatively quickly, the flavors and aromas of pizza began to intrigue non-Neapolitans and non-Italians.
The first documented United States pizzeria was G. (for Gennaro) Lombardi’s on Spring Street in Manhattan, licensed to sell pizza in 1905. (Prior to that, the dish was homemade or purveyed by unlicensed vendors.) Lombardi’s, still in operation today though no longer at its 1905 location, “has the same oven as it did originally,” noted food critic John Mariani, author of “How Italian Food Conquered the World.”
Debates over the finest slice in town can be heated, as any pizza fan knows. But Mariani credited three East Coast pizzerias with continuing to churn out pies in the century-old tradition: Totonno’s (Coney Island, Brooklyn, opened 1924); Mario’s (Arthur Avenue, the Bronx, opened 1919); and Pepe’s (New Haven, opened 1925).
As Italian-Americans, and their food, migrated from city to suburb, east to west, especially after World War II, pizza’s popularity in the United States boomed. No longer seen as an “ethnic” treat, it was increasingly identified as a fast, fun food. Regional, decidedly non-Neapolitan variations emerged, eventually including California-gourmet pizzas topped with anything from barbecued chicken to smoked salmon.
Postwar pizza finally reached Italy and beyond. “Like blue jeans and rock and roll, the rest of the world, including the Italians, picked up on pizza just because it was American,” explained Mariani. Reflecting local tastes, toppings can run the gamut from Gouda cheese in Curaçao to hardboiled eggs in Brazil. Yet international outposts of American chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut also thrive in about 60 different countries. Helstosky thinks one of the quirkiest American pizza variations is the Rocky Mountain pie, baked with a supersized, doughy crust to save for last. “Then you dip it in honey and have it for dessert,” she said.
The world of pizza has certainly expanded way beyond Margherita-ville.