In a previous post (A Day Off in Wine Country) I wrote about how this last summer Dave surprised me with a wonderful day off (aka a Surprise Day), touring local wineries on Vancouver Island like we used to do in New York. Then, just before the end of this last semester, I decided it was the perfect time for me to surprise him too. So Little Man and I went to pick him up at our normal time, but we weren’t going home for a slow cooker super that evening. Little Man “hid” behind his special teddy bear (both in the rear car seat of course) and yelled “SURPRISE!” as soon as Dave got to the car. We then whisked him off to the shore for a walk along the pebble beach at Neck Point.
This Surprise Day was actually inspired by the water table at Little Man’s Strong Start program (more on that program in a future post). For those readers who don’t have toddlers, a water table is a sensory tool where kids can explore different textures and types of things in water. You can fill a plastic storage tub with anything you would like, then put in a couple inches of water… or sand… or whatever you would like. The one that Little Man was playing with had a couple of inches (or a few centimeters, depending on which side of the border/metric unit you prefer) of water in which floated a scattering of plastic sea animals, as well as a number of smooth, rounded pebbles and assorted sea shells. Little Man loved playing with the pebbles in the water and I asked the teacher where she found them. The answer was Neck Point.
Neck Point is a popular pebble beach and walking path in Nanaimo and I had heard of it but not had a chance to check it out yet. The directions posted on the Nanaimo Information website are as follows: “Turn off Hammond Bay Road onto Morningside Drive, north of Pipers Lagoon. Or, you can park at the end of McGuffie Rd and follow a path.” We followed those directions and our GPS and got there unscathed, with about an hour of light left before the sun started to go down. A perfect amount of time for a toddler-sized walk along the beach before food/snack is required.
From the parking lot, you first see a beautiful pebble beach, but to get to the “neck” of Neck Point you need to walk a bit further. We took the trail to the left of the pebble beach and headed in what we hoped was the correct direction. The path curved around to the left, climbing slowly, and passing a couple of scenic benches and picnic tables. Then as we turned the corner and walked into the shadow of the mountain, we saw a beautiful log-strewn pebble beach. With the blue, blue sky and the cries of the cormorants, it was stunning. Little Man scampered down the stairs, over the logs and had a great time threw rocks into the sea. Dave clambered over rocks, over the logs, and out on some sea rocks looking like he was walking on water. In the shadow of the forest with the sun lowering behind the trees it started to get a bit cold, too cold for a picnic dinner. But once we get into springtime, we are definitely going to be giving that a try.
After a bit of family clambering around and pebble hunting, I realized that we hadn’t quite made it to the “neck.” So we continued down the curving path, up a long stairway and raised wooden walkway leading over the rocks, and down again towards the “neck.” During low tides the “neck” consists of a narrow strip of pebbly land that juts out to a “head” of rocks surrounded by sea. We were lucky in our timing and were going out just before the tide started to come back in. The view was gorgeous, and we all had fun climbing around… though I was wishing we had brought Little Man’s lion tether as he kept creeping closer to the edge and wasn’t feeling like holding his parents’ hands while climbing like a little mountain goat. A few tussles later and we decided it was time to head back for dinner.
On this particular night I was going to treat Dave to our favorite Indian place, Amrikos, for dinner. Our plans changed when we discovered that the restaurant had suffered a horrible fire and had moved locations at least temporarily. So our dinner was good, but a bit subdued that evening. To make up for it, the next weekend I made a pizza inspired by one of our favorite restaurants called Farm in Bloomington, Indiana. The food is amazing and it’s still a place that we miss even years after moving from the area.
The Harvest Moon Pizza is inspired by one of their seasonal flatbreads. The Farm version used locally sourced kielbasa and smoked gouda, along with homemade sauerkraut and grainy mustard. It may sound a bit odd on your pizza, but it is absolutely delicious. My version uses more premade items, and switches up the flavors a bit, but it still comes from that homey, cold-weather type of comfort food… on a pizza crust. Feel free to make your own pizza dough, I’ll be sharing my recipe for that in an upcoming post, or pick some up premade from your favorite store or pizzeria. I’d suggest not buying the pre-baked variety, but go for something that is still the dough that you can shape and season to your own liking.
Premade whole wheat pizza dough (white flour dough can be used too)
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk, preferably whole milk but any grade will do
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
1 tsp. dried mustard powder
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the canned stuff)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp. herbs de provance (or other dried green herb like thyme, basil or oregano)
½ package kielbasa, sliced into ¼ inch rings (save the rest for another meal)
Small can of sauerkraut, drained
1 ½ cups good quality white cheddar, freshly shredded
Preheat your oven to 450 Fahrenheit. If you have one, this is the time to put your pizza stone in your oven. Mine stays on the lower rack all the time, so it’s always there when I want some solid, ceramic-based heat.
First, make your roux, or mixture of butter (or other fat) and flour. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Once the butter is melted whisk in the flour, and keep on whisking for one minute. Watch your roux like a hawk, and do your best to not let the flour color, turning down the heat if necessary. After a good minute, slowly pour in the milk, whisking all the while until everything is smoothly combined into a thick béchamel. Add the bay leaf, garlic clove, nutmeg, and mustard powder to your sauce, and cook gently for about 5 minutes or until very thick, stirring often. This is not a light béchamel for pasta, but is a thicker version for the white sauce for your pizza. Your sauce will be more robust rather than dainty. Once the sauce has thickened whisk in the parmesan cheese until velvety smooth. Taste your sauce for seasoning, adding a little salt and pepper if necessary. You should have a slight bite from the mustard, but it should not be overpowering. Once the flavors are to your liking, take the sauce off the heat and set it aside.
If you have a pizza stone, it should already be heated in your oven. If you do not have a pizza stone, place a large baking sheet upside down on your middle oven rack. This will serve as your stone.
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, and then add your kielbasa slices to the pan. Continue to cook and toss your kielbasa until it is golden brown in spots. Then turn the kielbasa out of the pan onto a paper towel- lined plate and set it aside.
Using lightly floured hands and board, roll or stretch your pizza dough out into a circle. I like whole wheat here, but if you can only find white flour dough that is good too. The dough should be rather thin. Pierce the dough all over with a fork (or dough docker… I love mine. It does this task in about one second), leaving a scant inch border around the edges for the crust to rise. These little holes will keep large bubbles from forming in the middle of your pizza dough.
Transfer the dough to a pizza peel, or if you don’t have one you can use a metal pizza pan or the back of another large baking sheet. Drizzle the dough with a little bit of olive oil, and then sprinkle over the Herbs de Provence or other dried green herb mixture. This ensures that you have great flavor in every layer of this pizza. Slide the dough onto the pizza stone or upside down baking sheet in your oven, and bake for about 10 minutes or until starting to brown in spots. The crust may not yet be fully cooked, but I find this step creates a crisper and less doughy crust, and it will finish cooking in the next step.
Remove the pizza crust from the oven and transfer it back to your work surface. Now you get to put all the pieces together. Slather the crust with your mustard cheese sauce, leaving a border around the edges for your crust. Scatter the browned kielbasa evenly over the sauce. Then scatter a thin layer of sauerkraut over the sauce. You likely won’t use the whole can, but can serve the extra in a small bowl for passing at the table. Lastly, cover the pizza generously with your shredded, white cheddar cheese. This is where I have to fight off big boy and little boy hands from snatching the cheese right off the pizza before I can get it into the oven. Slide it back in the oven before an all-out battle breaks out in your kitchen.
Bake this for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese melts and gets bubbly and brown on top. Sometimes I switch the oven to broil, and then stand guard like a hawk until the cheese is nicely browned. From personal experience, don’t step away from a broiling oven for a second or you might just get a bit more “carmelization” than you hoped for. Remove the pizza from the oven, and let it sit for a moment so it isn’t “hot lava” hot. Then slice, serve and enjoy! We like to serve this with a harvest or Oktoberfest ale, and a green leafy salad with sliced apple and walnuts and a balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious!
Click here for a printable version of the Harvest Moon Pizza recipe.