Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Oven Progress Reprt

Alright, when I last wrote about the oven, I had finished the perlcrete insulation layer. I put a thin layer of fireclay (my understanding of fire clay is that is it basically silt with a lot of alumina so it can get really hot, so it really just very fine, fancy pants sand) to smooth it out. Did you have any idea there was a really big ceramic supply store in Troy?  I had none. Really nice people there. Anyhow, the top of the perlcrete was a little rough and I didn't want it poking into my fiber board insulation. InsBlok 19. I've got 2 inches of it on top of the perlcrete. I've got a little of the board leftover for insulation a future oven door.

Now we're getting into the actual oven. The biscotto I had shipped in from Ital isn't as thick as a single firebrick. But the biscotto plus a split firebrick is less than a quarter inch taller than a firebrick. So using more fireclay to level eveything, half the oven floor is biscotto raised up with a split and the rest of the oven is just one firebrick high. Hopefully the pictures make more sense. Unfotunately the canopy I have over the oven throws some shadows that mess up the pictures, but it is more important that the insulation board stays dry.

With the floor in, I moved into production brick cutting for the oven walls. To help get to the wall height I wanted, I came up with using cut splits on the bottom, then a firebrick split wall liner backed with refractory concrete to make a 3 inch thick wall. Once again, pictures will probably help.



Once the base of the wall was done, I had to cut the splits that would line the inside of the wall. To get them to fit nicely, the sides had to be beveled and the tops needed to be cut at an angle to meet the dome. It took a little figuring out, but I like how they came out.

Next was the rest of the wall. I found some flexible cardboard-ish board that was pretty cheap at Home Depot. On face of the board was a shiny smooth. I used that face as the inside of the form. The board wrapped into a circle pretty easily and I held it in place with concrete blocks and stacks of firebrick I was already stockpiling for the dome. To reinforce the wall, I used welded wire mesh. The same stuff that goes into a sidewalk. The concrete I used was a homebrew refractory mix. 3 parts sand, 1 part hydrated lime, 1 part fireclay, 1 part Portland cement and 2 parts broken up pieces of firebrick. Yes, I spent hours chipping bigger pieces of firebrick into tiny pieces of firebrick. And I thought I had enough, but I didn't so I had to hurry up and chip some more. I also ran out of sand in the middle of this too. oops.

At this point, I think it looks like a mini Colosseum. From here, it's time to build the dome. So far, I've got two courses of brick set.

I hope to cut Row 3 on Thursday and maybe put it up on Friday. Hopefully the weather cooperates and I can make some progress over the weekend too. So far it's fun, even with a few glitches. There's one brick that moved a little and I'm going to be the only one that notices, but it is going to piss me off until the end of time. And it feels like I'm going to get good with a trowel just in time to set the last brick. But overall, I'm enjoying it and I think I would have regretted not at least trying to build the oven myself.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rochester Pizza Tour

I was on my own in an unfamiliar city. I vaguely remembered hearing about good Neapolitan place awhile back on Twitter.  So I tweeted off to OG Woodfired Pizza in Buffalo for his recommendations. He suggested Fiamma e Vino but he also passed on my suggestion request to some people he knows in Rochester. Here's the list (in order of strength of recommendation) I got.

1. Fiamma e Vino
2. Fiorella
3. Branca
4. Amore (but that recommendation came from word of mouth, no visit)

Fiorella is closed on Tuesdays so I was left with 3 places. Looking at the map, the easiest order would be Fiamma, Amore, then Branca. This route would give me about a 15 minute drive between places to recuperate.

Fiamma looks like a nice neighborhood restaurant. It's a little bit dark inside but nicely decorated and has an open kitchen. I asked for whatever pizza they thought was best that had sauce. I could see the waitress punch in the order at the servers stand and then the ticket came up at the pizza station. Then my waitress disappeared. The place wasn't crowded so the server should have known that the pizza was going to be ready within 5 minutes of placing the order. The pizza came out of the oven, the pizza maker rang the bell and then went off to do something else.

The pizza sat...I wasn't timing it, but it felt like at least 3 minutes.
I almost went to get it myself but thought that would be pushing it.
The pizza maker came out, saw the pizza, rang the bell and went away. The waitress still wasn't in the room.
This happened one more time. Still not there.
Then she appeared, gave me some bread and cleared another table still not realizing the order was up.
The pizza maker called over another server and told him to let her know and put the pizza in back.

He wasn't going to serve it. It sat too long. He made me another.

This time she was waiting for the pizza when it was plated. It was the Capricossa - sauce, parma cotto, mixed mushrooms, mixed olives, mozzarella,  basil and olive oil. I thought the dough could have used a little more flavor but the topping combination was really good (going to steal it) and I inhaled the whole pizza. I liked the way the pizza was served too, uncut on a plate with a pizza cutter tucked under the pie. I'd sow you a picture but the restaurant was too dark and I'm not brave/stupid enough to take flash pictures in a dark restaurant.

I figured I'd try one of their white pies too. I got the San Danielle - mozzerella, cherry tomato, baby arugula, San Danielle prosciutto, shaved parmigiano reggiano and a balsamic cream. Now this pizza maker clearly isn't screwing around...when he was brought the freshly sliced prosciutto he showed the person that did the slicing what was wrong with it (I couldn't ell what he said but he held up a slice and pulled) and then sent him back to slice more. If he's not happy with a pizza, it's not going out. This pie was also very good. I liked the way the crust was cooked a little better on this pizza - less (but still some) char on the crust and more of an even browning. I only ate half of this one and took the rest to go. I'd like to come back with 10 people and try a lot of the menu. A few items look really delicious. But there was more pizza to try and I was on the clock. Amore closed at 9:00 and it was almost 8:00.

When I looked up Amore, I saw the full name was really Amore Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar, by Wegmans. Are you kidding me? A Wegmans restaurant. What I didn't realize is that Amore is tucked in the corner of a really big Wegmans grocery store. But once you are inside, you are in an Italian restaurant. No idea that a produce section is 50 feet away on the other side of the wall. And it's nice inside too. And at 8:00 on a Tuesday night, the place was jumping. The food being served around me looked good. The guy to my left had a steak and there was a pork chop special with speck and pancetta. This looked like a decent restaurant.

I considered going with their prosciutto/arugula pizza to compare but went with house made sausage instead. I was served this in a freakin' Wegmans.

And it was good too. Not great but good. I've paid more for worse. The sausage was flavorful and salty in a good way. A few spots went past char to burnt. So now there are two restaurants in Rochester that I want to go to with 10 people so I can try everything. I considered popping into the grocery side for a bottle of seltzer to help with the quest, but at this rate I was going to get to Branca around 9:30 and they closed at 10. Back into the car and off I went.

Branca is in kind of a fancy looking building. I think there was a salon there too. I could see a bunch of people still sitting at the outside tables as I walked in hoping I wasn't too late for a pie. Turns out I wasn't so I sat down at the bar. The bartender recommended The Branca - mozzarella, basil, house made spicy pork sausage, pecorino romano and San Marzano tomato sauce. Once the order was sent in I started talking to the bartender and bar manager, both really nice guys. We talked booze and pizza. They both like the idea of a pizza quest to kill a night alone in a strange city. Here's The Branca:

I feel a little bad comparing this one to the other two. It definitely had some good qualities. The topping were good. The sausage had good flavor with a little bit of zip. The texture of the sausage seemed like it was braised Bolognese style which was unexpected. But the crust was crunchy and felt a little oily. I don't mean to imply there's something wrong with a crunchy crust, it's just not the same style of pizza. For what it was, it was OK, not great. Branca had a fancier, special occasion dinner feel to it. I was told the chef that opened Branca left for Amore and took his pizza with him. Then Branca's pizza evolved to its current form based on customer preferences.

After Branca, I went back to the hotel to pass out. I had a bar recommendation and they were even running a PBR and PB&J special with trivia - how could that not be interesting? But I was on my own and this bar was not within walking distance of the hotel - technically I guess it is but I was not up for a 12 mile round trip walk although I probably could have used it. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Oven Project Continues

At the end of July, I had the oven stand pretty much laid out. Time to work in august was a little hard to find but eventually every other core was filled with concrete

the form for the slab that will support the oven was built

I put in some rebar

and concrete was poured

Yeah...i probably over paid a little for the concrete, but I know my back appreciates it. The right amount of concrete in 50 pound bags from Lowes on sale right now would have cost a little over $100. But, to get that back to the house in my van would have required at least 6 trips and a lot of handling of 2500 pounds of dry mix concrete - put the bags on a cart, wheel the cart to the van, load the van, unload the van to a dry spot, move each bag to the oven, lift and empty each bag into the mixer (which is a little of a balancing act), empty the mixer to buckets, lift buckets into the form.

Instead, for $250, I got more concrete than I needed delivered off a little mixer from Clifton Park Concrete. Plus the owner/operator of the company is incredibly nice and on time...actually a few minutes early.

I bought a cart at tractor supply. My idea was to put six, 5 gallon buckets half filled with concrete and wagon them over to the oven. It worked out great, the pour went pretty smoothly and we only lifted concrete once. If I get I chance tomorrow, I want to take down the rest of the form work. Hopefully the bottom face of the slab looks good. If not, I'll crawl in there and pretty it up. And big thanks to Ryan who showed up after work to help with the pour.

Then this weekend I poured the base insulation. It is a 5 to 1 mixture of perlite and Portland cement. You add enough water to make it look a little like oatmeal. After 12 hours of curing, I was starting to wonder if it would ever harden up. It was still pretty flaky. After 24 hours, the perlcrete was starting to feel solid.

I've got a few more things to run down. I was planning to get everything from Grimm in Green Island but the don't have a supplier for fire clay anymore. I think I found another place to get some. But while I was at Grimm I did pick up Round 1 of bricks and a bag of high temperature mortar. I still have another question or two to ask the forum guys about the build but it's almost time to stop drawing sketches and start cutting bricks.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Lake Placid Trip

If you should happen to have a used bobsled (that would probably go for about 50 grand), 3 very crazy friends and a spare 35 bucks, you could hurl yourself down the bobsled track in Lake Placid. I found out on the tour that each run down the incredibly well maintained mile long ice course costs a team $35.

Or if you are more of a spectator kind of person, for $35 you can get the Olympic Passport which gets you into an Olympic museum, to the top of the big ski jump, a bobsled course tour (and in the summer you can walk down the mile long track) and two ways to visit Whiteface Mountain.

As a last minute summer trip we headed up to Lake Placid for two nights. We started in the village and the Olympic museum and ice rinks. There a lot of cool Olympic history in a relatively small museum. The US outfits from all the winter game, one of every torch, THE 1980 hockey game basically played on loop with a lot of memorabilia...that kind of stuff. There was even a super old school Albany bobsled.

They also had a scavenger hunt for the kids. It was a nice museum to look around. Then we poked in on the ice arenas. There was some figure skating thing that had just wrapped up. There was also a big pile of snow out front. Not sure where they got the snow but the kids got a kick out of it.

We stayed at the Golden Arrow right in town on Mirror Lake. Nice enough place, but the parking situation there is kind of crazy. And now I know too much about pool water...I didn't go in their pool. You can tell if a quarter is heads or tails at the bottom of the deep end in my pool, you can't see your foot in two feet of water in this pool. Eww. But really other than that it was a pretty nice place. Right on the lake with a little swimming area, kayaks and stand up paddle boards you can use, little docks to jump from and the location is right in town too.

In the morning we set out for the Olympic Sports Complex which is a short drive south of the town. I wish I caught the tour guide's name. Really nice guy. He was 25 in 1980 when the Olympics were last in Lake Placid (they were also there in 1932). In 2000 when then new combined course (bobsled, luge and skeleton) was built, he started working there. He maintains the piping system that keeps the ice on the course frozen. They'll start getting the course ready in September and it will be up and running in October. In the summer, he gives tours, "because I'm the only one with a bus license." Really nice guy that knows a lot about Lake Placid, the entire Olympic Sports complex and HVAC. The tour ends at the top and you are given the option of riding back down or walking the course. We walked the course. Didn't really get any "How much further?" questions until the last couple hundred feet.

For some extra money (I think $75 - less a 20% passport discount), you can go down in a wheeled bobsled. But that ride is on the old 1932 course. In the winter, you can go in a real bobsled but only on weekends because athletes are training during the week. These were fun to watch, but if I'm paying that much for the bobsled ride, it's going to be on ice.

From there we stopped at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site. John Brown and basically his entire family were abolitionists so there was some history combined with daily life in the 1800s. The farm is directly behind the ski jumps....which are super cool and way bigger than they look on TV.

Hell yeah we went to the ski jumps. It's part of the passport. For ski jumping, I mainly have two memories. First, you have the Agony of Defeat guy from the old ABC's Wide World of Sports. That kind of imagery was fairly rare in the 70s and stuck with you. It's probably average for the type of injury causing fail that goes viral today.  And then you have Eddie the Eagle. The way I remember the story was that no one in England was doing the ski jump. So Eddie did. He finished last in both the 70 and 90 meter jumping competitions in the 88 Olympics. And he had these big coke bottle glasses and just never gave up. Everybody loved him. It's the kind of 80s phenomenon that will be featured in an episode of The Goldbergs when Barry takes up ski jumping. And at the top of the Lake Placid ski jumps, there is Eddie modeling the ski jumpers outfit.

After looking down from the top of the jump in it's lowest position, I have a new found respect for Eddie the Eagle. I've taken lessons and still can't stand up on skis. This guy flew down a jump like this and even landed. We were too late in the season for the summer training jumpers. I think they start making snow in October and the jumpers will be back.

There were also a bunch of guys doing aerial ski jumps into pools. For a few of them, it was good they were landing on water. There were definitely a few flops.

After we checked out we still spent a lot of the day in the area. We went to High Falls Gorge which isn't part of the passport and probably a little over priced for what it is ($14/adult, $10/12 and under), but it was still nice walk with some very cool views. We enjoyed it.

From there we headed up The Veterans Memorial Highway to the top of Whiteface (part of the passport). The drive is steep and the views are beautiful. When you park at the top you can take an elevator or walk up. With 20/20 hindsight, I recommend taking the elevator up and walking down. Having walked down, I am glad I did not try to walk up.

The last thing on the passport was a gondola ride up Little Whiteface, just one mountain over. After going up to the top of Whiteface (which is significantly higher and cooler), the gondola ride was fun but slightly anticlimactic. Do the gondola then the Veteran's Memorial Highway. 

Nice trip. I'd do most of it again. I think we might head up for just a day to see some real bobsled action once the ice has been made. I think it would be fun to fake speed skate on the oval too.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The end of an era - No more steers

I am no longer a pretend part time cattle rancher.

This past spring was the last go around with the butcher - who jokingly complained he wouldn't be able to take a vacation without our business.

But now it is finalized - all of the fence is down and most of it is for sale.

I still believe the experience - even with its unintended impacts on my wife, my sister-in-law and my mother-in law - was a positive one. I wrote about the experience a few times, probably most extensively here at All Over Albany.

Like Rome, this fence was not built in a day. It look a long time. Way too long if you asked my father-in-law. Other than the pipe that was used as fence post, all of the locust fence post was cut and stripped. There was an auger that went on the back of the tractor but there was plenty of post hole digger work (I have actually become pretty good with a post hole digger). And the back filling...my fore arms hurt just thinking about tamping dirt back in the holes around the posts. Father's day was for all day weed whacking, a tradition like no other. But the fence held. We never had a breakout.

The fence was sheep and cattle fence stapled or wire tied to fence posts. Corners were mostly large pipe braced up with more fence posts. About 2 feet above the ground there was a line of electric fence and at the top, there was a single row of barbed wire. The field was about 5 acres. The red line is for the most part what came down this weekend.

My brother-in-law had last week off, so I took Thursday and Friday and the fence got taken down. Most of the electric was already down so each section started with the barbed wire which meant cutting a staple at each post and the very carefully coiling up the barbed wire. We got poked a few times, but no one was cut badly. The El Cheapo 3 pack of Harbor Freight welding gloves eventually fell apart, but they served their purpose of protecting hands and forearms. With the barbed wire down, it was time to really start cutting staples to free up the metal fence. There were a lot of freaking staples. It was easy to tell which sections of fence were built first be cause we went a little crazy with the staple gun. The gun has kind of a hair pin trigger and one could easily put 5 staples where one meant to put a single staple. Once the fence was off the posts, it needed to be rolled up. A full roll is 330 feet. The fence got pulled straight with the tractor and then it got rolled up. To get a tight roll on the fence, we started on our knees, slowly inching forward until there was enough fence to hunch over. I think rolling the fence was the worst part. There was also post removal, bringing the broken post to the dump and a final cleaning of the barn.

It was the kind of weekend that proved I was just a farming tourist. No where close to the real farming deal. Those men and women are hardcore.

And a huge thank you to the two wives who were reluctantly dragged into this. They were a tremendous help this weekend.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Building a Castle

At about 10:00 in the morning on Father’s Day, I was wheeling a dozen concrete blocks out of Home Depot on one of those flat carts they have there. Those carts are a little exciting to steer with the just over 300 pounds of block on them. Well, probably more exciting to stop once you get rolling. Anyhow, as I was leaving, another dad I know was on his way in.

“Building a Father’s Day castle?” he asked.
“Nah. I’m a little bit of a pizza nut and I'm building the base for a wood oven.”
“Alright…have with that.”

So far I am.

Here’s where we are: Last year, the foundation slab was poured.

Relatively recently after a lot of flip flopping on the design, I got going on the project. I opted for slightly modified version of the stand I had settled on this spring. I’m skipping two little bump outs that I think would just be in the way long term. The inside of the stand will be wide open.Turns out a dozen concrete blocks fit very nicely on a 2’x4’ piece of plywood in the back of a minivan.

A handful of trips spaced out at random times I happened to be driving past a Home Depot and I had all of the block I needed. I drilled seven holes in the foundation slab at the middle and ends of the walls. I put some construction adhesive in the hole followed by a piece of rebar. It’s surprising how quickly that stuff sets up and how strong it is. Then I started stacking block. The first four courses were pretty easy. The only cuts I had to make were to split a few blocks in half to get a running bond (meaning there is no spot where a block is just directly stacked on top of another block) in the wall. The wet saw works like a champ. A very loud champ. I’m glad I invested in some hearing protection. The dark gray/wet half blocks in the picture are the ones I cut. Everything was pretty level and flush.

Next up was the firth and final course. This was going to be a little harder and require more cutting. To span the openings, I am using 2”x2”x3/8” pieces of angle. The angles are a nice and shiny white because I put three coats of Rustoleum on them. To get the blocks to fit, I had to shave some off the sides and bottom of the blocks that sit in the pairs of angles. Originally, I had just shaved it off the sides and was quite prod of myself because I did a very nice job….only to realize I needed cuts on the bottom too. I considered using mortar to raise the rest of the blocks up 3/8th of an inch but decided I could do nicer work with the saw than trying to level half the stand with mortar. After a bunch more cutting, I ended up with a bunch of blocks like this.

There was also one corner that required some custom cutting to sit nicely with the angles. If I had to do it again, the front angles would be about 6 inches shorter and I could have saved an hour. Once everything fit nicely, I still had a little more cutting to do. I want to put some reinforcing steel in the blocks over the angles and fill them with concrete at the same time I pour the concrete slab that will support the oven. To do this, two 4 inch deep cuts were made in the block walls. Once the cuts were made, a light tap of the hammer knocked out a chunk of concrete. The blocks over the angles now look like this.

Next up is a consultation from a friend on the best way to run some conduit then I’ll start filling some block cells with concrete. Then it’s time to form and pour the concrete slab. I have a few ideas to test to see if I can make that a little easier on the back. Once I test the idea out I can decide between bags of Quickcrete for the slab or should I have premixed concrete delivered from on a truck. Today, I'm leaning to mixing it myself. That is very subject to change. Probably daily.

In other oven news, I have completely redesigned the oven hearth. I’m going to go for the best of both worlds. I want to be able to cook Neapolitan style but I also really want to be able to chase down the New York-ish wood oven style I ate as a kid. So here’s the plan: Italian Saputo Biscotto floor on one side and American brick on the other. Build a fire on the right for Neapolitan style or build the fire on the left for a more American style pie.

I put some drawings up on the pizza forum and no one came out and said it was a stupid idea so I’m going for it. I already ordered the Italian Biscotto. The last I looked they were in Tennessee and due to arrive in Albany on Thursday…All 160 pounds of them. Yes, I basically mail ordered a large box of rocks.

I’ve been enjoying the build. one of my favorite parts was when I was checking the fit of a few blocks over those angles and my daughter Allison asked if she could help. Geared up with hearing and eye protection, she helped cut and tap out a few of the knock outs. I wonder if she’ll want to stack some bricks.