You, Me and Teddy

Parenting adventures and activities in and around Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


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The 1st of August in Pictures

Following on from my previous post on Swiss National Day…

running collage

The view on my run the in the morning. The quiet before everything kicks off.

 

chateau de chillon

The Château de Chillon on Lac Leman by Montreux. (I had to add this one as it is just so pretty)

 

1st august fireworks8

Neuchâtel’s fireworks kicking off over the lake.

 

1st august fireworks6

The are set off from barges and people take their boats out for a closer view. You can see the ring of boat lights.

 

1st august fireworks

The grand finale.


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London Baby!

This past year we have made a real effort to visit our family based in London regularly so that they can see the children growing up. They change so quickly at this age and I feel a little guilty that maybe we didn’t visit enough when E was very small.

Our 10 day visit was, however, packed this time with plenty of self indulgent activities. We arrived Friday as that Saturday I had been given tickets for Wimbledon. I love watching live sport and tennis has always been a favourite of mine even if I play pretty badly. We popped down to the local farmer’s market that morning with the kids and picked up supplies for a picnic. The farmers markets have increasingly more popular over the past few years and I love to visit when we are in town. To take part all the producers must come from within 100 miles of the M25 (not many farms in Central London) but they also sell products that you can not find anywhere else. Everything is seasonal and sometimes they do things as a one off. For instance that Saturday we found gorgeous Scotch Eggs (with the yolk still runny) but the following week this particular producer was doing Salt Beef instead.

We left the kids for the day with Grandpa and headed off to Southfields.  It was drizzling when we arrived and we headed straight for our seats. Typical British weather… We were actually lucky to have play that day as we were under centre court’s roof – it rained all day long! There was an amazing line up: our first match was Nadal followed by Sharapova and finishing with our home team star player: Federer. Yes, we brought our flags.

I also haven’t mentioned the fact that it was People’s Saturday meaning that the Royal Box was filled with sport’s stars rather than royalty. We jokingly took pictures of ourselves with the box in the background so we could say we had had our picture taken with Victoria Pendleton, Tom Daley, Beckham, Amy Williams or Sir Bobby Charlton (to name some of the biggest household names). Despite the bad weather we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and treated ourselves to a wee bottle of champagne before we started on our picnic.

Wimbledon

Play didn’t continue till very late that evening and we headed back to discover that the children had managed to amass a lifetime supply of sweets and chocolate as they had spent the day at a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Event which included a chocolate raisin river and candy trees. They had had had a lovely day and a very proud Grandpa informed me how M had been in heaven crawling along this chocolate raisin river eating them one by one… I can only say well done Grandpa and I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that sugar high! It is amazing some of the things that go on in London. Its another world compared to Switzerland sometimes.

fountains and birds

There are some pretty great days out in London for the kids. Sometimes we stay simple and just explore like when we went to the Duke of York Square and E played in the fountains or when we went for a picnic and M chased the birds.

funfair

A funfair in Battersea Park – the view from the top of the Ferris Wheel.

One day I took them to Battersea Park. Battersea Park is just south of the river and relatively small but it is a brilliant place to take kids. It often plays host to funfairs and has an enormous playground for all ages. There is also a zoo, bike rental and a duck pond with pedalos (paddle boat to the non-Brits) and rowing boats.

It was a beautiful day (sod’s law after the weekend) and we rented a bike from London Recumbents called a Nihola. It is a Scandinavian design bike with a seating area in front of the handle bars for two children. This is fab as it means you can keep an eye on them, unlike with the trailer system I have on my bike at home, and it certainly feels safer in traffic. The kids loved being peddled around and I enjoyed watching the world go by. We spotted a statue by Barbara Hepworth on the other side of the pond and signs that a funfair had recently been there but was sadly now packing up. I certainly got my exercise for the day!

bike ride

After our bike ride we went to Battersea Park Zoo. It is only a small one but I think it is better for it as it is never very crowded and its easy to keep an eye on the children meaning they can run wild. It is London prices though and cost us £6.50 for E and £8.75 for myself (M begin under 2 was free). We had our lunch in the café which does a great pick-and-mix lunch box offer for children and E even managed to somehow charm a free ice-cream off the girl working there. The staff are lovely there!

M is animal-obsessed at the moment and was running in all directions pointing and going “ooooh” while E was busy going in the other direction following the painted caterpillars or footprints on the floor. As I said: I’m glad it wasn’t crowded. It is actually a similar size to the zoo near us up in La Chaux-de-Fonds but much more interactive.

At one stage we crawled through a tiny tunnel to find ourselves peering through a bubble in the middle of a Meerkat enclosure. Once we had seen all the animals we found ourselves in the zoo’s playground. The playground there is kiddie paradise. There is a giant sandpit with mechanical toys, playhouse, trampolines, tractor, firetruck (complete with helmets) and the usual playground paraphernalia. Needless to say that evening they slept well.

zoo playground

By the time the weekend rolled around again it was time for another parent treat as we had tickets for the Monty Python Live (mostly) show. It was great to get to see the old boys (and gal – Carol Cleveland). For the most part it was old sketches but some new bits had been added in especially to the “penis song” which had two extra verses about vaginas and bottoms added which they put up the lyrics for so we could all join in. There was also a rather glitzy dance element added to the show to give it some extra energy – it was these men and women who, for example, performed the “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch as Cleese is, unsurprisingly, no longer able to do it. I am glad I got to see the Python (minus one) and albeit not in their heyday. It is definitely something I will be proud to tell the children when they are old enough to know what Monty Python is!

monty python

It was a lovely week for all of us and I do sometimes miss London despite being happy to live here.


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Ich Liebster Dich

I’m feeling very honoured to have been nominated for the Leibster Award by Kelly at This Mom Gig! I didn’t think I had been blogging long enough to come on to anyone’s radar yet. I came across her blog relatively recently when she was writing about her “high-needs” little girl who reminds me a bit of E when she was a baby. I couldn’t imagine having to raise her on my own so hats off to her.

The Liebster Award is a “pass it on award” which helps lesser known blogs get some extra views from a different audience. I really like the idea as it is often hard to find new and interesting blogs to read.

The general rules are that you:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Answer the 11 questions given to you.
  3. Nominate 11 other blogs with less than 500 followers.
  4. Post 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
  5. Tag your nominees & post a comment on their blog to let them know you nominated them.

So here are the answers to the questions Kelly set me:

  1. What is your favorite season? – I love the season of change best but they are so different… I’m going to have to say Spring right now probably because its topical but I might change my mind again in Autumn.
  2. What is your favorite meal to cook? – Wow, that’s a toughie. Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner or occasion or is it a set menu? I’m going to go with Breakfast as I love how it starts your day on a high note when you do a cooked breakfast. Often its on weekends too and I like begin relaxed when I cook.
  3. What is your earliest childhood memory? – I think it was in Kindergarden when I was about 3. We were having an argument during colouring with some girls and a few boys on whether pink of black was a better colour.
  4. Who in your family are you closest to? – My father. He has been very ill twice now in my life and each time it has brought us closer.
  5. Where would you rather wake up: a tent in the woods or a resort hotel bed? – Tent! I don’t like resorts and prefer having our own space.
  6. What makes you happy? – “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…” but seriously it would have to be sunshine and my family.
  7. How do you take your coffee? – Depends on the time of day and the weather… Normally what the Swiss call a “café” which is like a slightly longer expresso.
  8. What is success? – Being happy.
  9. Dogs, cats, both or neither? – Both.
  10. If you could invite anyone in the world to dinner, who would you have? – My aunt. I miss her.
  11. What is something you’re great at? – Being a mum. I know we all have our moments of doubt as parents but generally I love being a mum and looking after my two. I’ve always mothered everyone really so its not really new and being in hotellerie and food and beverage before has helped. Also I’m frankly pretty average at most things. Let’s skip forward to the teenage years and see if I’m saying the same thing…

It now falls on me to nominate my 11 favourite blogs with less than 500 followers:

  1. The Clear Parent
  2. Teaching Every Day
  3. Eat Sleep Bake Repeat
  4. Freedom Home Learning
  5. it’s ok to call your kid an asshole…
  6. Mom Goes On
  7. familydaystriedandtested’s Blog
  8. Two Three Or Not Two Three…
  9. Life Changing Moments
  10. The Peachicks Bakery
  11. A series of changes

Here are your questions:

  1. How did you decide on the title of your blog?
  2. In your opinion, what is the best blog post you’ve written so far? Give us the link.
  3. What’s the best advice you ever received?
  4. If you could live anywhere in the world where would you choose?
  5. What would be your ideal day out?
  6. What is your favourite recipe? (Can you share it?)
  7. What is your most cherished memory?
  8. How many hours did you sleep last night?
  9. If you had to live in a decade other than the current one, which would you choose?
  10. Who is your favorite author?
  11. What makes you laugh out loud?

I look forward to reading your answers!

Liebster Award


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Green Houses

Nope, not another gardening post but rather I’m going to tell you about the concept of Les Maisons Vertes.

The original Maison Verte was created by Françoise Dolto, a psychoanalyst, and his team in Paris in 1979. Based on his experiences treating children he decided to create a centre where parents and children would be welcomed. The centre would be the ideal place to talk through issues and general worries and thus solving or preventing further problems.

“The important thing is that the child should feel secure and be autonomous as early as possible.
The child needs to be sure of himself, free to explore, and left to his own devices to test his abilities with his peers”

(Françoise Dolto, Les étapes majeures de l’enfance)

The Centres are a space to listen and to chat, but also to meet and relax with other children and adults.

There are currently about 15 or so Maison Vertes in Switzerland as well as others in France, Belgium, Spain, Russia, Japan and potentially others I haven’t heard of. Despite a few differences they all stick to similar principles:

  • All are open a number of half days a week.
  • They welcome young children (0-3/6 year olds) accompanied by one or two adults.
  • You pitch up, without reservation, whenever you like.
  • They are all run on an anonymous basis (only the child’s name is written on the board at the entrance).
  • They are free although a symbolic donation is asked of around 3 francs.
  • The team who work there rotate on a regular basis to it is not them you become attached to but rather the place.

There are certain basic rules too:

  • All children must eat and drink in the designated area.
  • All wheeled vehicles must stay in the marked zone.
  • Any children playing with water (or other messy activity) must wear an apron.

We actually have two in Neuchâtel: one in La Chaux-de-Fonds and one in Neuchâtel town. Our local one is called La Courte Echelle in Neuchâtel town on Fausses-Brayes. It is open Mondays and Tuesdays 14:30 to 17:30, and 8:45 to 11:45 Wednesdays and Thursdays.

IMG_9533

While I despair at the lack of things for young children here in Neuchâtel this really is truly dedicated to them and parents like myself. I love the international aspect of these centres. When you walk into one you will almost certainly hear 2 or more languages being spoken. Sometimes it is simply Swiss languages from different regions but regularly enough there will be other English speakers often not from the UK or the States but rather from Asia or Africa. Who would’ve thought in small town Neuchâtel?

It is a bit like going to someone, who has lots of really cool toys’, house (that is the vibe you get). It is all very relaxed with sofas around the place for parents to sit and chat, or you can sit and have your tea (quatre heures as the Swiss call it) at a table equipped with highchairs. They have free sirup for the kids and you can buy a drink for yourself or bring your own. The drinks are really not expensive though if you do fancy a hot drink (the charge is simply to cover their costs).

la courte echelle

There is a cosy sitting room area too with books and playmats which is idea for young babies. I used to go and sit with M when he was very small (able to breastfeed him discretely with the nursing pillows available) and E would run off and play with the other children of her age.

feeling at home

We often spend a fair bit of time in the soft play room which is always good fun. M spend some time pushing around a giant ball – he’s really starting to get there with the walking. It won’t be long now!

IMG_9540

Then we went to go and play with the cars in the “wheeled vehicle room”. All cars, tractors and bikes must stay in this room at all time. Surprisingly the kids obey the rules well I guess because everyone else is doing the same. It was rather soothing being in there with a little African boy while his Mummy sang to him and M bounced up and down on his tractor.

IMG_9538

It is fairly adaptive for most ages; La Courte Echelle is for 0-5 year olds. E tends to spend an inordinate amount of time playing with the water toys, making cakes out of Playdough or making tea for all the dolls in the kitchen but M was far more interested in the cars this time round.

I never feel hard done by parting with my 3CHF donation when we go and often I give a bit more if I can to support the cause. They suggest a donation of 3CHF but it is means dependant and generally symbolic – if you can’t afford it or haven’t got money with you you can pay it another time. That’s the Swiss for you. I expect in anywhere else in the world this service would probably get abused and then it would have to close. La Courte Echelle has been running now for 15 years and I hope it continues to do so for much longer.


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Timetravel

Neuchâtel has been the site of various habitations going back thousands of years. Due to changes in the water level of the lake many artefacts have been preserved and consequently found around Neuchâtel allowing archaeologists to trace the history of different cultures that have lived in the area.

We spent the afternoon at our local archeology museum (the Laténium).
“Archaeology explores the world of those who have fallen silent. At the Laténium, the dialogue between Man and Nature takes us from the present back to the prehistoric hunters 500 centuries ago.”
The earliest relics in the museum are from the Ice Age (40000 – 13000 BC) We met a bear and examined his rather large teeth.
Iceage
E seemed rather phased by the Bear model (but not the teeth) however she didn’t blink an eye going around the Paleolithic hunting scenes where they were gutting deer. I found it pretty fascinating how much archaeologists have learnt about these ancient people. Finished idols and jewellery made out out of materials such as amber, fossils, shells or stone have allowed them to track the movements of tribes between here and Germany and trade over greater distances.
It is very interesting to see just how advanced these ancient cultures were. Here is a reconstruction of a late Bronze Age village (from 3000 years ago) and house which was built to scale outside. The fact that the houses were built on stilts meant that they could withstand the frequent flooding before the water levels were regulated. Livestock were often kept under the houses too (I guess when it wasn’t flooding).
bronze age dwellings
E loved looking at the boats. There are many wrecks still in the lake buried in the mud but some have been unearthed along with their cargos. As a lake community the boats were essential to the people that lived here and are still a big part of the culture with nearly everyone having access to a boat in the summer.
boats
The Iron Age (800 – 1 BC) was the age of the La Tène (a celtic people). While they were never a true empire with a centralised power the Celts left a lasting imprint on all the cultures they came into contact with. We generally think of them as a waring and bloody culture but after examining the ornamental art which they left behind we get a slightly different more complex picture. This was a culture which was while violent at the same time cultured, intrepid and inventive. E loved the Jewellery and had her heart set on one particular knobbly looking ring.
celts
Like the rest of Europe the Romans resided in Neuchâtel from 476BC – 1AD. While the whole museum had some activities for children this bit was actually fairly packed with games in comparison with mosaic puzzle, guessing game and a printing activity where you could see how the Romans printed their pottery.
romans
After the Romans we skipped forward to the Middle Ages. A lot of the Medieval architecture is actually still intact so we can really imagine how it used to look. E had good fun reconstructing a house puzzle representing how houses were extended to accommodate growing wealth and families. The house was an imitation of one of those in the Landeron (a beautiful nearby medieval town). There were also some reconstructed patches of flooring which E decided were for walking on so she spent a good 5 minutes walking backwards and forwards on the protective glass.
middle ages
If you thought E couldn’t get much loopier then she decided to mimic a gargoyle.
gargoyles horizontal
We left the museum with a goodbye kiss for one of the reconstructed busts of a Bronze Age child (here we always do kisses to say goodbye) and skipped the café and shop to run to the playground.
bye bye
Outside there were more artefacts and reconstructions on display not to mention the theme playground on the lakefront.
Below you will see a collective grave construction from the Neolithic era. It was moved from the lake front between Auvernier & Colombier and reconstructed on site when the museum was constructed.

latenium outsideWe had a good play and explore outside and I think we will definitely have a few Laténium inspired activities this week. This is the first time I have take the kids to my favourite Neuchâtel museum and I’m glad it actually stood up to the toddler test.

Stay tuned for more!


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An Olympic Outing

Sometimes plans change. 

On Saturday we went on a day trip down to Lausanne. I thought let’s take the kids on an outing to the Olympic museum as hubby needs to do some shopping and that will just bore them. However, when it came to leaving Daddy, E decided she wanted to stay and have some extra time with him so it was just M and myself.

We walked down the lake front through Ouchy past the port and a fantastic playground, giant chess set and peddle boats but it was a bit chilly to stop except to admire the view. Simply stunning and I have made a mental note to repeat the experience with E in the summer (with ice cream from the Movenpick).

ouchy2

This was my first trip to the museum which has just reopened after almost 2 years of renovations. It was fairly easy to find with an impressive entrance.

OLYMPIC MUSEUM

We took our time exploring the Olympic park (the gardens that surround the museum). They are filled with various sporting themed sculptures and M found them just as intriguing as I did and we particularly liked the sculpture “Cyclistes, sculpture by Gabor Mihaly”.

ART

There were 3 parts to the exhibiton. Firstly we visited the temporary exhbition on “The Russian Avant-Garde & Sport”. The exhibition took you through the history of the olympics in russia and how it was introduced by the Communist movement (the Tsars had never joined the Olympic movement) and then how artists had adopted the movement. I found it interesting seeing the evolution of sport and art through image and film but it was rather adult oriented with few interactive sections. While it was fascinating to me M was much more involved in his biscuit so we didn’t spend too much time on it.

We crossed over to History of the Olympics exhibit which was instantly more visually stimulating with more animations, buttons to press and flaps to lift. I knew that the Olympics had originated in Ancient Greece as a celebration of Zeus but I hadn’t realised how Greece at that time was not a united country but rather many individual warring states. The original Olympic games were a moment of peace for these states which united the Greek world. It is impressive that around 2800 years ago over 40’000 people attended the games as spectators or participants.

Democracy, respect and fair play

It was a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, who revived the games in 1894. His philosophy was to promote “harmony between body and mind, the joy of effort, the struggle for perfection and respect for others.” He wanted to create a universal institution or rather “state of mind” which “no race or time can hold an exclusive monopoly on” – a truly democratic concept.

These values still inspire the movement today and the international torch relay symbolically ties all the competing nations together. I enjoyed seeing the different torches that have existed over the years and in particular checking out the ones I recognised.

uk torch

We skipped quickly through a room of costumes, mascots and architectural models of past Olympic stadiums and headed to the basement exhibit.

Downstairs were the best bits of the whole museum (in my opinions) Firstly we played a spotting game where you have to press a button in a wall of buttons the moment it lights up. Then we went to explore some of the other games (it was like a games arcade in places).

In between the games there was some really pertinent information. One wall was dedicated to images of different athletes and their body shapes. I have tried to piece back together the photos I took of it:

olympic ladies

“Professional athletes all have very different bodies. Ideal characteristics vary depending on the sport, it’s evolution and that of the equipment used. As a result today’s ideal body may not be tomorrow’s ideal body.” Athletes, Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein, 2002

olympic men

I loved this as it relates so much to every day life. All of these men and woman are so different but all are champions in a sport. In order to succeed they have recognised their talents and motivated themselves to go beyond the norm. They are all beautiful for what they have achieved. We never normally see such a range of bodies being celebrated like this with the media being flooded with just one ideal body type.

The museum continued to impress me with its education section on diet and how athletes must eat for their different sports and to maintain a healthy body.  There was also a section littered with inspirational quotes by top athletes reflecting the 3 Olympic Values: Striving for Excellence, Demonstrating Respect & Celebrating Friendship. Luckily the animations kept M entertained while I could read the blurb.

I found the whole place very motivational. The Olympic committee endeavour to educate about democracy, respect and fair play. The whole Olympic spirit is about striving to do your best while creating an environment where bonds can be forged breaking down barriers of culture and race.  The museum is not only great for young children but also for teens and adults. It is a bit pricey (for Switzerland) at 18CHF per adult but I will definitely be back with the kids and I recommend a visit if ever you are in Lausanne.


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P-P-P-Pizza!

Its oh so easy to just buy a pizza ready-made and pop it in the oven (or even easier to pick up the phone) but actually they are pretty simple to make from scratch. Here is my lazy guide to pizza making that even the kids can do.

Ok, so there is a little bit of work involved: You have to buy the ingredients at the shop and make the recipes at some point. This does involves some kneading by hand (if you don’t have a kneading attachment on your mixer). Kneading is a great workout though and can help release a lot of built up tension.

Here is my pizza dough recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver:pizza dough

Ingredients
  • 1 kg white bread flour or Tipo ’00’ flour, or 800g strong white bread flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 x 7 g dried yeast sachet
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 4 tsbp extra virgin olive oil
  • 650 ml lukewarm water
  • semolina flour for dusting (you can use normal flour but I prefer semolina)

Method

Sieve the flour and salt on to a clean work surface (or into your mixer with kneading attachment if you have one) and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straight away, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about eight pizzas but I roll thinly.

I tend to make this and freeze 2 thirds as 1 third is enough for us as a family. If you freeze it into pizza size portions it is easier later.

When I know I want to make pizzas I just pop a couple of portions in the fridge the night before and it is perfect the next day and ready to roll. (That’s the lazy bit as I don’t actually have to make the dough when I want to make pizza).

I roll them out just before we are going to eat on to semolina flour as it gives it that nice slightly grainy base. I don’t really throw my pizza about much as I tend to lose it to the floor but feel free.

The next stage is the tomato sauce. Here is the perfect pizza sauce recipe and so easy to do. This is also a staple I have in the freezer pre-portioned and I take it out to defrost with the pizza dough the night before:

Pizza prep

Even Teddy helped

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1kg tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper

Method

Cook down onions until they are soft and then add the garlic. After one minute add the other ingredients (except the salt and pepper which you add right at the end to taste) and simmer for an hour. The sauce will be nice and thick and relatively chunky at the end but you can purée it if you are less lazy than me.

So this is why I said it was easy. For me it is a meal that doesn’t generally involve any cooking on the actual night: E loves to cook and the assembly is a task she can pretty much do alone. I supervise the rolling if we don’t want too many holes in our pizza bases but the rest is up to her. I like to promote independence in our children and even had her chopping button mushrooms from about 18 months (with her baby knife). I believe that there is no better way of learning than letting your toddler take part in everyday tasks. Of course there is a limit to how much you can bake (and actually consume) or what you can allow your child to clean without it becoming dangerous hence we do crafts too.

The great thing about pizzas is that you can put anything on them. Yesterday was fairly basic though as I had made a mushroom salad at lunch so that went on with some lardons left over from a quiche we made.  As for cheese we went classical again with Mozzarella and Parmesan.
The kids picking out which pizzas were theirs.

The kids picking out which pizzas were theirs.

They took about 20 minutes in a 220°C oven. If you can heat it from the bottom element only and preheat the baking trays this helps you to get the lift and air in the dough like in pizza-oven baked ones.
Calzone
We made two medium pizzas and one giant calzone. Please do give it a go as it really isn’t as daunting as it looks. Happy pizza making.
pizzas