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Pizza!

This is National Pizza Bake Week, and I love pizza. I love it hot or cold, deep or thin, homemade or purchased. To be honest, I’m kind of a purist when it comes to pizza. It must have mozzarella and tomato sauce. I’m open to dessert pizzas of all kinds, though.

According to online food dictionaries, pizza is a yeasted flatbread generally topped with tomato sauce and cheese, baked in an oven.

The word “pizza” first appeared in a Latin text from the southern Italy town of Gaeta, then still part of the Byzantine Empire, in 997 AD; the text states that a tenant of certain property is to give the bishop of Gaeta duodecim pizze (twelve pizzas) every Christmas Day, and another twelve every Easter Sunday”.

The ancient Greeks covered their bread with oils, herbs and cheese, and in the 6th century BC the soldiers in Persian King Darius I’s armies baked flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields.

Modern pizza evolved from similar flatbread dishes in Naples, Italy, in the 18th or early 19th century. Prior to that time, flatbread was often topped with ingredients such as garlic, salt, lard, cheese, and basil.

It is uncertain when tomatoes were first added and there are many conflicting claims.

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Need a Wedding Planner?

Many, many couples will be getting engaged over Valentine’s Day. One of the first decisions they’ll likely make is whether or not to use a professional wedding planner. If you’re going to get married in a small ceremony with just a few friends and close family members, you may not need the services of a planner, or your incredibly organized friend or family member might be able to help with wedding details. But if you are looking at over 100 guests, you should at least give it some thought.

I know several planners, and one of the best things about hiring a professional is that they know the potential pitfalls, so they can help you avoid them. They can also be a wonderful resource for trustworthy vendors—caterers, bakers, alterations, music, photographers, videographers, etc. This is especially important if you’re planning to get married someplace other than where you currently live. After all, things may have changed in your hometown. That great venue you always dreamed of may now be derelict, dilapidated, and dingy. (There are wonderful male and female wedding planners, but the majority of the planners I know are women. So, for the sake of ease, I’ll be using female pronouns throughout the rest of this column.)

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Fresh in February

There aren’t a lot of fruits and vegetables that are specific to February. One that not many people seem to know much about is fennel, though I’ve read that it’s the most popular vegetable in Italy. It has a bulb-like base, stalks like celery, and feathery leaves, and all of those are edible. It has a mild licorice flavor. It’s a member of the parsley family. And just one cup contains almost 20 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin C. You'll also find plenty of iron, fiber, and potassium.

Choose your fennel by looking for small, heavy, white bulbs without cracks, browning, or moist areas. The stalks should be crisp with bright green, feathery fronds. Once you have it home, wrap it in plastic and store it in the fridge for up to a few days. It will lose flavor as it dries out.

As for cooking fennel, as I said, you can eat all parts of the fennel—the bulb, stalk, and fronds. Use any of them to add flavor and texture to salads, slaw, or pasta. Thinly-sliced raw fennel adds a sweet licorice flavor to salads along with a satisfying crunchy texture. If you want to soften the flavor, you can sauté, roast, or grill it. Use the fennel stalks in place of celery in soups and stews or as a “bed” for roasting chicken. You can snip the fronds and use them like dill or parsley. The fronds also make a lovely garnish.

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Warm Up with Some Soup

The weather is cold here in northcentral Indiana. While I’m not a big soup eater, the occasional bowl of chili, vegetable soup, or tomato soup really hits the spot. Here are a few tips and a family favorite recipe.

• Cream- or milk-based soups don’t freeze well. Make those in small batches—just what you can reasonably eat in a day or two.
• There are two great ways to freeze your soup for later. You can portion it into zip-style freezer bags, then lay them flat in your freezer. This saves room. Another option is to line cups or bowls with plastic wrap or freezer bags, add your cooled soup, and then place them in the freezer. Once they’re frozen solid, slip the frozen soup out of the cups/bowls. Wrap them tightly in the plastic wrap or squeeze the air out of the zippered bags. When you want to eat the soup, remove it from the plastic or freezer bag. Now you have a perfect portion of soup for your cup or bowl.
• I think potatoes lose their pleasing texture when you freeze them. So, I remove potatoes from my soup before freezing, then add fresh ones when I’m ready to serve the soup again.

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Don’t Give Up!

We’re a few weeks into 2019, and the vast majority of people who made resolutions have already given up on them. Please don’t do that. Here are some steps to take to get back on track.

Evaluate

The first step is to make sure the resolution you made or the goal you set is a worthy and achievable goal. Take a real look at the goal you’ve set and honestly evaluate it. If you realize your goal is unrealistic, adjust it. You may not be able to give up all desserts forever, but you might be able to switch to fresh fruit for dessert twice a week.

Begin Again

You fell off the wagon. You had decided that you were going to eat clean for 2019, and last night you ate an entire chocolate cream pie for dinner. Uh oh. Forget it. That was the past. Start anew today. Don’t wait until Monday or the weekend. Each day is a brand-new day. Start over now.

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Come On Get Healthy!

Statistics show that most people have already abandoned their New Year’s resolutions—especially resolutions to get healthy. If that’s true of you, don’t give up yet.

Making a change for the better shouldn’t be daunting for you. Think of health changes like snowflakes. Snowflakes are tiny and of little significance on their own. But when you pile enough of them up they can bring a large city to a standstill. Here are a few little snowflake changes that are easy to make. Add one at a time, and pretty soon you’ll notice an avalanche of good health.

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Fresh in January

I don’t usually think about fresh produce in January, since we’re well past harvesting anything fresh from our gardens here in Miami County, Indiana. Of course, a lot of people are thinking about fresh produce as they start working on the number one New Year’s resolution—losing weight/getting healthy. Have no fear. There are plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your local grocery store to help you with that resolution.

The term “winter squash” covers a wide variety of squash. You’ll find hubbard, acorn, butternut, banana, buttercup, delicata, kabocha, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, and turban squash. Don’t worry, though. Choosing and storing rules will be the same for all of them. The thick skin that protects the squash makes it a little harder to make a choice. You can’t squeeze them to judge freshness. What you want to look for is a squash that’s heavy for its size and free from soft spots, bruises, and mold. Don’t worry about bumps and discolorations. They’re part of the charm of squash.

Store your squash in a cool (50°-55°F), dry place until you’re ready to use it. You should be able to store your squash for a few months as long as you keep it cool and dry. Wondering how to use a new variety of squash? You can use it the same as any other squash. The one exception is the spaghetti squash, which is often used as a substitute for (surprise!) spaghetti. Just roast or steam it, then scrape the flesh into strands and top it with marinara sauce. It doesn’t taste like pasta, but it has a similar texture. Also, the mild, almost bland, flavor (not sweet like most squash) won’t interfere with the flavor of your sauce.

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Setting Goals for 2019

On Tuesday, 2019 will begin. What do you want to see happen in 2019? You know the old adage: those who fail to plan have planned to fail.

Now, I don’t do resolutions. My joke is that “resolution” is Latin for something I know I should do but have no real intention of doing. You know—lose weight, stop smoking, eat better, exercise, etc. Goals are different.

Goals are measurable and have timelines. Instead of “lose weight” you set a goal of losing 10 pounds by Easter.