What a weekend we have had so far!
My siblings blessed me with a celebratory meal last night in honor of my 28th birthday. (And since food is my love language, this was pretty much the best possible gift they could have given me.)
OH, but that wasn’t all! They also created a game based on my all-time favorite “guilty pleasure” show, America’s Next Top Model. It was the most thoughtful and creative idea ever, and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it, even though my own skills as a model turned out to be dismally embarrassing. (I’m truly ashamed to admit that… since I should know better after watching no less than 20 seasons of the show, dagnabbit!) I’ll be telling you more about the game in a bit, because it was awesome and you’ll probably want to start playing it with your own friends at your next get-together. It’s definitely how the cool kids spend their birthdays.
But first, I want to tell you about the food!
I requested a crowd-pleasing meal of lasagna, garlic bread, and Caesar salad (both because I love those foods, and because the rest of my family tends to be skeptical of some of my more outlandish food preferences.) My one extra-special request was the appetizer: A Peach, Basil, and Balsamic Pizza with Goat Cheese and Fresh Mozzarella. (To DIE for.) And you know what? The crowd agreed… it was by far the favorite dish of the night!
I’m sharing the recipe for this fabulous pizza with you on today’s post… since it’s a perfect use for summer’s fresh peaches and also a perfect “party” dish. It’s something special, that is for sure! If you don’t want to take my word for it, take the word of my entire family. 😉 You can scroll to the bottom of this post for the printable recipe. (Also, note that you can simplify it by using store-bought pizza crust or even a pizza crust mix! I am including my homemade crust recipe in case you would like to try it. I think it is well worth the extra time to make your own crust… but do whichever stresses you out the least.)
Now, I must tell you about this game!
We divided into teams and drew from a hat a certain “emotion” that we had to convey in a photograph (using our most model-esque, high-fashion interpretation of the emotion, of course.) As Tyra would say… it is not enough merely to convey “anger” or “loneliness”… you have to make it beautiful. Much easier said than done, I might add!
Our teammates then had to guess what emotion we were trying to portray, based solely on our photo. (By the way, we only got one shot to nail the photo. No do-overs. We’re hard core.) The model who had the greatest success getting his/her teammates to guess correctly was named America’s Next Top Model. Sadly, I was NOT the winner. My lifelong dream of taking home that title will forever remain unrealized.
Nevertheless, I’m pleased to say that my siblings and husband all seem to have gained a much greater appreciation for the difficulties professional models face in their quest for modeling success! (Also, we laughed until our sides were splitting… so I call that a WIN.)
All day as I have reflected upon the events of the weekend, the word “joy” has returned again and again to my mind. You see, we three kids and our spouses agree that this year has been the hardest of our entire lives. I will forever look back on my 27th year of life this way, as a year filled with unthinkable heartache. But the heartbreaking losses we’ve faced this year have also given me an invaluable gift… the ability (no, the need) to find and savor those moments of joy. They are always there! Joy is an otherworldly thing… so utterly beautiful, because you don’t come upon it by chance. You choose it, quite deliberately. You choose to revel in it each time you’re privileged to gather around the table with your siblings. Each time you wrap your 2-year-old into a squishy little hug. Each night you get to lie down next to your spouse and fall asleep to the sound of their breathing. None of these pleasures are guaranteed in life. Each one could be gone tomorrow! But there is beauty in looking life straight in the face, in the midst of all its ugliness, and saying “This is a good life, and I am so very thankful for it.”
That is how I felt this weekend. This has been an ugly year for our family, no way around it. But this life is good. It is so full of joys. I have infinite blessings to be thankful for, and I thank God for them today as I enter my 28th year.
I want to leave you with these precious words from the book of Exodus, which were spoken this morning as a word of blessing over my sister and her husband (as they are preparing to move to New Orleans.)
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Eqypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” -Exodus 19:4
May each of us never forget how God has brought us, victorious, through our own “Egypt” (whatever it might look like), and has carried us on eagles’ wings unto Himself.
Sappily reflecting and praying blessings on each and every one of you tonight,
P.S. Here is the printable for that mind-blowing Peach Balsamic Pizza. It’ll make you very, very happy… of that I am certain!
- Homemade Pizza Dough:
- 1½ C. warm water
- 4 T. olive oil
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 2¼ tsp. active dry yeast
- 3½ C. bread flour, divided
- ¼ C. whole wheat flour
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. chopped, fresh rosemary
- Pizza Toppings:
- olive oil for drizzling
- 12-16 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
- 4 oz goat cheese or cream cheese
- 1-2 fresh peaches, sliced thinly
- fresh basil, thinly sliced
- ½ C. balsamic vinegar (simmered over medium heat til slightly thickened/reduced)
- fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- Note: Balsamic Vinegar can burn easily, so allow it to reduce gradually over medium heat. Do not scald.
- For Dough:
- In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, gently mix the warm water, rosemary, oil, and sugar.
- With the mixer off, sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the liquid, and allow it to sit for 2-4 minutes, until the yeast begins to bubble up.
- Add 2 C. of the flour to the liquid, and beat at medium/low speed (about a 4 on a KitchenAid) for 1-2 minutes. This incorporates air into the dough.
- Remove the paddle attachment from the mixer and allow this "sponge" mixture to sit and rise for 30 mins to 2½ hours. (2½ hours is ideal, but any length of time will improve the flavor of the dough.)
- After the sponge has risen, add in the remaining 1¾ C. flour and the salt. Fit the mixer with the dough hook at this stage, and mix/knead the dough on medium/low speed (about a 4 on a KitchenAid) for about 5 minutes.
- The dough will go from sticky/wet to smooth and elastic. If it still looks very wet halfway through the kneading time, sprinkle in the additional ¼ C. flour.
- After 5 minutes, the dough will have formed a smooth ball. Remove the dough hook attachment, drizzle or spray the dough with oil, and allow it to rise for at least 1 hour.
- After the dough has risen, divide it into portions (depending on how many pizzas you'd like to make.) Allow each portion to rest at least 15 minutes. Then stretch or roll each portion into a crust of your desired thickness and place on a sheet pan dusted with cornmeal. (If the dough resists being stretched, allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes, then resume stretching.) Allow stretched/rolled crusts to rest at least 30 minutes while your oven pre-heats to 400.
- Lightly drizzle or spray each crust with olive oil.
- Pre-bake crusts at 400 degrees for about 6 minutes.
- Remove crusts onto a wire rack and top with another light drizzle of olive oil, the crumbled goat cheese, slices of fresh mozzarella, and thin slices of peach.
- Return pizzas to 400-degree oven for 10-12 more minutes (using the broiler for the last 2 mins. for a bubbly top.)
- Place pizzas immediately onto a wire rack after removing from the oven. Sprinkle basil shreds and Parmesan cheese over the top, then drizzle with balsamic reduction. Slice and enjoy!
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