May 2014

family pizza night!

From Scratch – Family Pizza Night

In my last post, I talked a little bit about the comfort and security that we all (kids and adults alike) feel when something is repeated so often that it becomes expected and even anticipated.  This includes the things in our life that makes us feel like all is right in the world as long as this one thing remains constant.  For our family, one of those things is our family pizza night.  That might sound a little overly dramatic but it has become a tradition for us and something that we look forward to and always brings us together in a joyful and playful mood.  And, now that the kids are getting old enough to help out in the kitchen, they enjoy making their own personal pizzas and being able to choose which toppings (and how much of each) will adorn their little creations. 


Our pizza night tradition started many years ago after I had read and internalized the wonderfully inspiring book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver, which is all about eating local and feeling connected to the food that you put on your family table.  This book, along with Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, was the beginning of my education about organic and local food that has since become what some may call an obsession, but certainly a healthy one!  In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s daughter, Camille Kingsolver, includes monthly meal plans and introduced me to the idea of planning our family meals in reverse of what I had been doing in the past.  Up to that point, I would clip recipes out of my favorite foodie magazines – Food and Wine, Cooking Light, Everyday Food – and save them in a file where I would pull them out on a weekly basis and use the ingredient lists to create my grocery list for the week.  Then I would go to the grocery store and buy what I needed for each of these gourmet recipes.  This was all great (and usually delicious!) except for the fact that I inevitably ended up buying produce that was out of season, which means that it did not contain the optimum amount of nutrients, supported some economy other than the one where I lived, and contributed to increased fossil fuel usage by using trucks and boats and trains and airplanes to get to my grocery store.  And, when it comes down to it – whether or not I believe in “global warming” – it just feels good and right to support someone who lives one town over from me and who I can physically TALK to at the local farmers’ market and who is supporting their family by providing organically-grown produce that tastes so much better, and is so much healthier than the organic food that I had previously been purchasing at the grocery store.  So now I plan our weekly meals in reverse…I start with a list of what is in season that month (or a list of what we are picking up from our CSA that week) and come up with my own meals that include those ingredients.  It’s been wonderfully liberating and allows me to be much more creative and inventive in our meals than I ever could have been while clipping recipes from magazines. 


After that long diversion from the topic at hand…let’s get back to family pizza night.  Long story short, I loved the idea of having a family pizza night as it was described in Kingsolver’s book long before we even had a “family” outside of Joe and I.  But then I realized, why should we wait?  Even though we did not yet have children, that was no reason that we could not choose Friday nights as our pizza nights and start making homemade pizza every Friday night.  So we did.  And it was fun!  And delicious!  Fast forward another seven years, and we now have three mini-chefs who love to be involved in making our homemade pizza. 


So, here’s how we do it.  First, we make our whole wheat pizza dough in a bread maker.  This is the recipe that I use (it makes enough for two pizzas, which is hardly enough to feed all of our hungry monkeys these days!):


13 ounces warm whey (or water)

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons ground flax

1 tablespoon honey (plus more if you want the taste of a “honey wheat” crust)

4 cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast


Here it is coming out of the bread maker:

homemade pizza dough in bread maker


Next, we split the dough into however many pizzas we are making that night.


making homemade pizza - splitting the doughmaking homemade pizza with kids - dough ball



Then, we knead the dough balls for about one minute.


making pizza with kids - kneading the dough making pizza with kids - kneading the dough making pizza with kids - kneading the dough


Then we let the dough rest for 15-30 minutes.  Next, we roll the dough out into the desired shape and let rest for another 30-45 minutes.


making pizza with kids - rolling the dough


At this point, we also preheat the oven (with a pizza stone already inside) to 450°F so that the stone has about 30 minutes to heat up.  Then we prebake the crust on the pizza stone for three minutes and remove from oven.  Next, we add sauce and toppings to our crusts. 


making pizza with kids - putting on the toppings


Return to the oven at 425°F for about 7 minutes.  Remove and cut into slices and serve!


With that basic idea, we have been able to create many wonderful pizza creations.  Here is a specific recipe that we made this spring for one of our pizza nights.  We used local spinach, onions, bacon, honey, milk, and garlic.  Even the kids will eat greens when they are on top of a pizza!  Enjoy 🙂


Spinach, Caramelized Onion, and Bacon Pizza
a great recipe for family pizza night!
  1. 6 bacon slices, chopped
  2. 10 ounces fresh spinach
  3. 2 cups sliced onion
  4. 2 teaspoons honey
  5. 1 tablespoon butter
  6. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  7. 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  8. 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  9. 1 cup whole milk
  10. 4 ounces grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  1. Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and set aside, reserving drippings. Add spinach to pan with bacon fat and sauté 2 minutes or just until wilted. Place spinach in a colander, pressing until barely moist. Add onion and honey and a pinch of salt to the pan and cook for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add flour and pepper, stirring with a whisk, and cook for 30 seconds. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook for 5 minutes or until thick and bubbly, still stirring constantly with the whisk.
  3. Spread the milk mixture evenly over the prebaked pizza crust and top with the spinach, caramelized onion, bacon, and Parmesan cheese. Bake for an additional 7 minutes at 425°F or until golden brown.
Life From Scratch

The Dirt: My favorite wood splitter

There is a saying that there is a tool for every job, and that is as true in homesteading as it is anywhere else.  When we first got started on this adventure, we were a little overwhelmed by exactly what tools we needed, which products offer the best value for our money, and which ones to stay away from altogether.  To share our experiences, we plan to do a series of product reviews that we are calling “The Dirt”, where we will review the best and worst of the homesteading products that we have tried.

Today, I am highlighting one of my all time favorite tools…the wood splitting axe.  Specifically, the Chopper1 Axe.  With the winter over and us being solidly into our springtime routine, it feels like an odd time to be writing about splitting wood.  But, such is life in homesteading.  No sooner are we through one winter before we start preparing for the next.  Spring is actually a great time to split wood, giving your logs plenty of time to season before you need them to burn clean and hot when the cold winter sets in again come fall.  In fact, I have not yet finished all of my wood splitting for next year, and I am feeling a little behind about it!

The Chopper1 Axe is made by a small company in Phillipsburg, NJ, and is one of the toughest axes that I have ever used.  I use this for almost 100% of my wood splitting needs, except for making kindling, where I use a smaller, lighter axe, or sometimes a hatchet.  This ends up being about 3-4 cord per year, consisting mostly of oak, beech, and maple, including logs that are 24″ or more in diameter.  Most of my neighbors use hydraulic splitters, and they wonder how (or why) in the world I do all of mine by hand.  In addition to my sheer love of splitting wood by hand, this axe is my secret.  Here are a few specific reasons that I love it…

1) It can split almost any piece of wood – The axe uses a simple technological enhancement in the form of spring loaded wedges that, when the head strikes a piece of wood, exert a tangential “sideways” force that greatly enhance its effectiveness.  With a little experience in knowing where to strike a piece of wood and a little technique in how to swing a slightly heavier axe (more like a maul than a standard splitter), this axe is capable of splitting all but the most gnarly and knotted logs.













Figure courtesy of

2) It is extremely durable – This is one seriously tough tool.  From the solid head to the finely crafted wood handle, everything about this tool is built to last.  The only part on the tool that has failed in all of my years of using it is the springs that attach to the wedge.  I break about one per year, which are cheap enough that I just keep a bunch on hand and won’t have to worry about it for another 10 years or so.  This is actually the same kind of axe that I grew up using…my Dad still has his, which is >20 years old at this point, and it still works as well as the days that we chopped wood together when I was still a little boy.


My Chopper1…a little weathered and rusty (shame on me), but always ready to work

3) Not only is it made in the USA, but it is fairly local to us – It is really important to us that we support local family owned businesses.  This is a great opportunity for us to do that, with the benefit of getting a great tool that will last a lifetime.

At $90, the Chopper1 is a little more than you will pay for a regular wood splitting axe at the local hardware store, but the extra money is well worth the splitting power and the durability of the axe.  If you split your own wood, and enjoy doing it by hand, this axe comes with my highest recommendation!