Wood Fired Pizza for February | News

Here in northwest Indiana, February is a paradox: As the shortest month of the year, it always drags on as the longest.

This beautiful, deep layer of snow is turning into gray slush and slippery ice. Temperatures hover below zero, but occasionally taunt us with a spike above zero. In mid-February, the old man winter grows old. I’m already thinking of that first scent of spring where the air softens and takes away the hard edges of cold and frost. But I know that we will have to wait a good month before the winter lets go.

In our backyard, however, we sometimes pretend that these things don’t matter. Last week when the mercury soared to 38° I dug a path through the last layer of snow on our deck and patio, emptied the 8 inches of white stuff that had accumulated on our outdoor furniture and cleared just far enough away from the wood-burning oven and fireplace so that the winter sun melts the remaining moisture. I hoped to continue our tradition of eating outdoors, despite the wintry weather. And the next day, the sun has done its job so we invite my sister and her husband for a wood-fired pizza.

First, Jim starts a fire in the wood-fired oven because it takes a while to get it up to temperature. Then he makes a nice bonfire in the hearth. And he grabs a bright tablecloth from our southern France hideout for our outdoor side table. While he’s out, I’m making the pizza dough. Its rise time coincides with the heating time of the oven.

I prep the toppings and grab the last jar of homemade tomato sauce from the pantry shelf. And to put us in a warm and southern atmosphere, I concoct a cocktail that we brought back from our stay in Tennessee last spring. Made with fresh orange juice, bourbon and ginger ale, it brings a summery touch to the taste buds.

By the time our guests arrive with a cooler bag full of cans and bottles of beer, the deck and patio are ready, the sheepskins on the chairs. We sit around the fire pit with our drinks and catch up after what feels like several weeks of deep winter. Light twilight turns to night. The flames rise to warm us and from time to time the wind blows smoke in our eyes.

Soon it’s time to make pizza. We gather the ingredients and tools on our deck table and I prepare each one while my sister breaks up the artichoke hearts and my brother-in-law checks that everyone still has drinks.

The fire is ready, Jim slides the pizzas on the hearth by two. As they come out steaming, he places them on the plates and cuts them. These plates add warmth to our lap as we enjoy every bite and the conversation goes on. For us, it’s our first time around the fire since the loss of Stella, the dog. The warmth of the family and the flame lessen the sadness.

As the night turns into a deeper night, the cold begins to make inroads. It’s time to come in. For this little moment spent outside, we have the impression of having kept winter at bay. We say our goodbyes. It’s time to sit around the indoor wood stove.

Maybe in a month I won’t have to plow one of these evenings. Here I hope!

Kara Kemp cocktail

(for a drink)

Fill a rock glass with ice cubes. Add orange juice from ½ orange (I love Cara Cara oranges), ½ oz. Bourbon, ¼ oz. Amaro and ginger ale to fill the glass.

The good life Rachel Shenk has been a baker for 30 years. Born and raised in Belgium, she has lived in Goshen since 1973. She has been writing about food, travel and the good life for about 10 years. You can join her on her Facebook page, The good lifeor at his cheese factory in Goshen, The Wedge.