birthday weekend pizza |

There are people who don’t believe in making a big deal about birthdays, but I’m not one of them—and I have my brother to thank.

Adam in Nashville |

My brother, Adam, who is two years and two months younger than I am (but if you heard us together, you’d swear he were the one who’s older), came here to see us last week, arriving around 2 p.m. on his birthday Wednesday and staying through Saturday night. The thing you have to understand about my brother and birthdays is he is kind of the king of celebrating them.

When I turned 21, he took me to a Coach store and told me to pick out one thing I wanted, any one thing, and he would buy it for me—choosing a purse in a store so far outside my price range made me feel like the richest person in the world, and that’s a feeling you never forget. Another year, he surprised me with a party at Ravinia, this outdoor park near Chicago where Tony Bennett was playing for the night. Since then, there have been trips to Maine and, when I was dating Tim, a trip to Nashville, and every year, the building anticipation that my birthday would mean something special and something fun.

It’s his influence that has turned my mom’s February birthday into a family holiday in which we all take off work to do whatever she wants to do, which, last year, meant all three of my family members flying down here to visit together for the first time. It’s his influence that makes me vote for spending Thanksgiving (and my dad’s corresponding birthday) in Chicago every year so I can sit by my dad and tell him why he’s cool. And it’s his influence that makes me want to celebrate anyone I love’s birthday the same way, by saying, Name what you want to do and we’ll do it! I just think it’s such a great gesture, submitting your preferences to someone else’s as a way of celebrating, as a way of showing them love.

So that said, you can understand why, when my brother comes to visit us for his birthday, we want to pull out all the stops.

Birthday Decorations |
Pesto Pizza + Squash Pizza with Einkorn Crusts |

In the days before he came, Tim and I bought streamers at a party supply store, for the first time in my life since, I think, high school “Spirit Week,” and hung them like draping banners from the dining room’s four corners to the ceiling centerpiece. We picked up sixteen balloons and then drove like crazy people from Party City to our house, me in the back seat of the car surrounded by a wall of helium. I made a pumpkin pie. And grain-free chocolate chip cookies. And attempted almond flour cinnamon rolls (which were not a success). By the time we picked him up at the airport Wednesday, the Nashville weather in the high 70s, bright blue skies and sunshine welcoming my brother in, I don’t know who was more excited: him or us.

(Probably us.)

And then, for the next three days, we ate and walked and watched online TV shows and drove around Nashville like we were on vacation somewhere new. Anything he wanted to do, we did—because it was his birthday and we love him and we wanted him to know it.

Tim + Adam |
Adam |

Like the day he arrived, Thursday in Nashville was perfection: stunning fall colors mixed with hot sunshine and temperatures that mean bare legs and short sleeves.

fall leaves |
Us in Nashville |
Nashville Park |

We ate pizza at the farmers market downtown and walked from there to the State Capitol, a gorgeous old structure set so high above the city that when you climb all the stairs to the top, you can look around and see for miles.

Over the City |

It all felt pretty easy, but then it only makes sense that it’d be easy to be around your siblings, at least when your siblings are like mine. Adam is one of the only people still in my life who knew me during my knitting phase, my running phase, my fascination with personal finance—and who’s not only been around, living life alongside mine, but also interested, talking with me about where I’m at, adapting and changing right along with me. He eats like we do, has interests like we do, is OK with sitting still together and being quiet the way that only your close friends know it’s OK to be.

I love him. Of all the things I miss about living in Illinois, he is tops.

Siblings |

Over his visit, we took a whirlwind food tour of the city, the way he and I used to do on trips together, the way Tim and I always do when we hit up somewhere new, and last week that meant birthday dinner at Margot, tacos at Mas Tacos, drinks from Fido, pizza at Bella (we are that place’s biggest fans!). And meals at home were quicker but no less good, especially the pizza we made Saturday before he left, just an hour or so before we bundled up in the turned-40-degree Nashville weather and sent him home.

I hardly know what to tell you about this pizza. If you were coming for dinner this weekend and we knew you could have gluten and dairy, there’s nothing left to decide: this is what we’d make you. We been making the crust for months (it’s a variation of our kefir-soaked spelt one) and every time we make it, it’s magic. It’s thin but not see-through. It’s crisp but not quite a cracker. It’s becoming one of our favorite meals to make, one that comes up in regular rotation every other week or so, and that’s saying something in a household of last-minute dinners.

In honor of fall and in homage to what we had at Bella, we topped one with roasted squash puree, onions, apples, pecans and Pecorino. Because of the parsley pesto we’d made the day before, we made another with pesto, garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella.

Squash Pizza |
pesto pizza + einkorn crust | - check out that air pocket!
having birthday pizza |

Both were fantastic, which was such a satisfying close to Operation: Give Adam a Good Birthday Trip, but more than that, they were such a treat to eat, the three of us, standing together in the kitchen and dining room, gathered together, celebrating.

Adam's Plate |

Because of who we were celebrating with.

There are technically five recipes listed here, in the following order for your reference:
Parsley Pesto Pizza
Parsley Pesto
Squash Apple Pizza
Squash Pureé
Einkorn Pizza Crust

Parsley Pesto Pizza
Serves two to three

We made two different, very good pizzas, but the honest truth? This version stole the show.

1 einkorn pizza crust***, rolled out very thin
Parsley pesto*
A few handfuls of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
Fresh mozzarella, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
A couple dashes of salt

Preheat oven to 425F and place pizza stone inside (this is key in achieving the hold-together-well, crackery crust, but if you don’t have one, you can still make the pizza on any other oven-safe dish). Top crust with pesto as a base covering; then arrange tomato halves, mozzarella slices and garlic all over. Salt. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until crust is lightly golden on edges. You may wish to brown the cheese quickly under the broiler at the end.

*Parsley Pesto
When I was making this pesto, I had a general idea of what I wanted in it, but the proportions were a complete guess. So it was a nice surprise when using about one cup of almost everything actually produced a pretty fantastic result. What’s equally nice to remember about pesto, however, is that all the proportions are easily adjusted.

1 bunch fresh parsley
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup shredded Pecorino cheese
3 cloves garlic
1 cup olive oil
around 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine parsley and pine nuts in food processor; pulse until well-blended. Add Pecorino cheese and garlic; pulse again. While blending, add olive oil in a steady stream through the top opening of your machine. Add salt to taste. Add more oil to reach desired texture. To turn into a salad dressing, add more olive oil and the juice of one lemon, adjusting oil until consistency is right.

Squash Apple Pizza
Nothing says fall like an almost-dessert pizza topped by squash, caramelized onions and apples. Inspired by lunch at Bella Nashville in the downtown farmers market, easily our favorite pizzeria in town.

1 einkorn pizza crust***, rolled out very thin
A few tablespoons of butternut squash purée**
1/4 onion, sliced into thin strips
A few sprigs of fresh arugula, torn roughly
1 apple, peeled and diced
A handful or two of pecans, chopped finely
1/2 cup to 1 cup shredded Pecorino cheese (to your preference)

**Butternut Squash Purée
Makes two to three cups
I love the flavor of pumpkin, but when it comes to freshly roasted purée, there’s nothing like squash. Not only does this purée make an excellent pizza topping, but it also can be substituted one-to-one for pumpkin purée in recipes, often for even better results.

1 butternut squash, halved, seeds removed
Coconut oil

Preheat the oven to 375F. Place squash halves on baking sheet and rub top and bottom with coconut oil. Roast for around 30 to 40 minutes or until a fork easily pierces the flesh. Let cool. Scoop out insides into a food processor and store in the fridge to be used when you like (or, eat some hot with a big spoon).

***Crispy Einkorn Pizza Crust
Makes two freestyle pizza crusts

For more information on einkorn flour and why we’re using it, see our previous post on apple tarts made with einkorn. For a similar pizza crust that uses spelt (or you could use all-purpose), see our kefir-soaked pizza crust recipe.

2.5 cups einkorn flour, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 packet dry instant yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup plain kefir (or yogurt might work)
1/4 cup warm water (i.e., not hot to the touch but warm enough to activate the yeast)

In a medium bowl, stir together 2.5 cups einkorn flour, olive oil, salt, yeast and kefir. Add warm water, and stir until it starts to come together well. Using your hands, knead dough in bowl until it forms a nice dough (you can add up to 1/4 cup extra warm water or 1/4 cup more flour if the dough seems too dry or too wet to come together). You want the dough to be soft and pliable, but to not stick to your hands too much. Form into a ball. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top; roll the dough in oil until it’s covered. Cover and leave in a warm place for at least an hour and up to overnight. When ready to use, split the dough in half and stretch and roll each one out onto parchment paper, flouring your hands and the dough as necessary, freeforming the dough into two crusts.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Kathryn

    This has made me realise that I’ve completely got out of the habit of treating birthdays (both my own and others) like a special day; I love how your family celebrates and treats each one like the occasion that it should be. I can definitely learn from that!

    I stumbled across your spelt pizza crust the other day and put it on my ‘to make’ list and this post has made me realise that I need to make it sooner rather than later. So delicious.

    1. Shannalee

      Kathryn, Please try it. And if you do, let me know what you think! I’d love to hear if other people love it as much as we do. : )

  2. Lan | angry asian

    this post makes me want to celebrate birthdays everyday, which i guess really means celebrate Life everyday. happiest of birthday wishes to your brother who sounds just so swell!

    1. Shannalee

      I love that idea. I’m regularly reminded that I want to celebrate the everyday beauty in life, too. (Also, PS, love the word swell! So 1950s.) : )

  3. Deliciously Organic

    What a lovely Birthday celebration! One of these days, when I can tolerate grains again, I’m going to make this Einkorn pizza. Looks divine!

    1. Shannalee

      Thank you, sweet Carrie! For your sake, I hope you can try this sometime soon… but in the meantime, we’re all benefiting from your amazing, creative grain-free recipes!

  4. Mallory

    Having siblings that you love spending time with is great…I always look forward to having mine visit and there is always a list of places to eat and drink that they would enjoy. Such a wonderful celebration! and the pizza!…Two loves of my life, pesto and pizza…so the combination is always a hit!

    1. Shannalee

      Mallory, I am so with you on pesto and pizza. We first tried in this last summer with our kale pesto, but this parsley one was just as good. Count me on the bandwagon!

  5. Ashley

    Your family sounds like a dream. I loved reading this and hearing about your birthday traditions. And now seeing that it’s lunch time in our parts all I’m thinking about is this pizza. Lovely post.

    1. Shannalee

      It should be said, Ashley, that the original idea for using parsley in pesto was from your site! Tim has been wanting to do it ever since you wrote about it, and you were right (of course!) — amazing.

  6. Anne Zimmerman

    So so fun! Makes me excited for all the November birthdays in my family.

    1. Shannalee

      Hooray! Hope there is much celebration ahead!

  7. Jessie Bryson

    Lovely! This post made me call my little sister, who is a little fireball and celebration queen (and who also happens to live in Nashville!). and then made me contemplate if I could make pizza for dinner….Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Shannalee

      What a fantastic description you wrote about your sister! I love that she’s a fireball and even more love that you called her after reading this post.

  8. kelly @ kellybakes

    What a wonderful post! My older sister is the thing I miss most about CT [where I’m from]. Whenever I’m home, we plan our time around eating at all our favorite haunts and stuff ourselves silly.

    I love this post because I have a soft spot for birthdays. I have outstandingly bad luck with mine [beware the ides of march–Shakespeare wasn’t kidding!], so I try to make other peoples’ as special as possible. And, something has to be said for the feeling you get when you walk through a crowd on your birthday, sauntering through strangers with the secret that it’s your special day and they have no idea! When I’m tempted to be a grump, I try to put myself in check by treating every stranger I meet as if it’s their birthday [because it really could be!]

    1. Shannalee

      Kelly, I have to tell you, when I got married last year and looked ahead to the first birthday I’d celebrate away from my family here in Nashville, I was nervous. I just knew that without my brother it would be doomed (every birthday I’ve spent without him has been fully worthy of the ides of March warning). And it was my 30th! My poor Tim was a real champ, especially considering the expectations he married into, and I am glad to say my birthday was unforgettable and such a delight. But I know just what you mean about the expectations and trying to find ways around them — love your idea of pouring into other people as a way to celebrate.

  9. Katie

    I’m so with you on treating birthdays like a big deal! Celebrating yourself once a year is important. I celebrate my birthday for at least a week, I throw a big party doing exactly what I want (i.e. I don’t worry about what other people might want to eat/drink/do) and shamelessly become the center of attention. I always make waffles the morning of and I love it. I love that your whole family does the same thing, but for one another – it looks like you treated your brother right for the whole weekend! Great post.

    1. Shannalee

      Birthday waffles! Love that idea! And you know, I like what you said about my family’s doing it for one another. Truly, my brother started it, and I’m glad he did… there’s a lot of joy in sharing someone else’s.

  10. Kendra

    I have three sisters. They’re awesome. Love them. Wouldn’t trade them. Cool. Moving on.

    I’ve always wanted a brother. Like, baaaaad. When I was younger, it was because he’d bring his hot friends home and I’d impress them with my knowledge of college basketball and my chocolate chip cookies that would make them all propose after a bite. But now, I want a brother because of this. It’s just so lovely to share something the way you two do. And CLEARLY I love that he’s rocking mustard jeans. You two are cut from the same cloth… literally.

    Happy Birthday, Adam!

    1. Shannalee

      1. You have THREE sisters! How did I not know this? We need to hang out more. Oh, wait… you live in North Carolina. Boo.

      2. I always feel like you sort of know Adam because of that one summer lunch we shared with you on our sibling trip. Wish we could do that again.

  11. nicole

    I love, love, love your brother’s emphasis on celebrating birthdays to the fullest – I wholeheartedly agree and try to do this, too! Hooray for wonderful younger brothers – mine lives in Maine, which is a long way from California, and I miss him everyday. So nice that you two are so close.

    1. Shannalee

      Hooray for birthdays, Nicole, and for people like you and my brother who believe in celebrating them! Such a bummer to be far from people you love — even with Adam eight hours away, it feels too far. On the plus side, Maine (well, and California) is a great place to getaway… : )

  12. Elizabeth Belof

    Happy birthday, Adam!!

  13. Sarah

    I just wanted to tell you again how much I enjoy reading what you write. I have Loved the pizza crust recipe you posted several years ago (the super forgiving one) and make it every Friday night for our family. It’s a hit! I must have missed the spelt crust somewhere along the line, but now I want to try it, too!
    I think of Adam everytime the girls pull out our old copy of _Emperor’s New Groove_. :) Happy Birthday, Mister! Thanks for letting us celebrate in a tiny way with you.
    Your whole family is beautiful, Shanna, inside and out. It makes me smile to hear about the times when you get to be happy together. :)

    1. Shannalee

      You sweet girl. I miss you, professor! : )

  14. Pingback: Ebook Launch! Written Together: A Story of Beginnings in the Kitchen and Beyond | Food Loves Writing

  15. amanda

    I am a first-time comment-er and long-time fan, and just wanted to thank you for this awesome pizza dough recipe. Made it yesterday (loving einkorn!) and it came out perfect. I didn’t roll mine quite as thin, but the bottom was still nice and crisp and it cooked perfectly. I also made the dough a few days in advance, then just stuck it in the fridge (when it came time to bake, I let it sit out for an hour or so before shaping). We did arugula pesto + butternut squash + goat cheese + mozzarella on one, and mushroom pesto + chicken + sauteed mushrooms + fontina on the other. So, so good. Next time I may try subbing in sourdough starter for the yeast, but I’m reluctant to mess with such a good thing. thanks again :)

    1. Shanna Mallon

      I love hearing that, Amanda, and hello! So glad you stopped by to comment. : ) This pizza crust is one of our staples and I love that you made it, too. Also, love that you’ve jumped on the einkorn bandwagon — we’re big fans. : )

  16. Pingback: Einkorn Pitas + a Giveaway! | Food Loves Writing

  17. Pingback: Spicy Sweet Potato Quesadillas | Food Loves Writing

  18. Andrea


    What do you think about using this recipe in a bread machine?


    1. Shanna Mallon

      Hi Andrea! Given that this dough requires such a minimal amount of kneading, I don’t really see the value of doing it in a bread machine; I’m not sure it would be easier in the end. That said, people adapt recipes to bread makers all the time, so if you try this, please let me know how it goes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>