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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Because of who we were celebrating with.
Parsley Pesto Pizza
Serves two to three
We made two different, very good pizzas, but the honest truth? This version stole the show.
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.
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
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.