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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tour de Soft Serve

Saturday was a little overcast and threatening to rain, but it didn’t mater to the group of people that went to FIVE soft serve ice cream places to see which spot they like the best. For the most part. I am just going to be the reporter here. In looking over my notes, my comments were generic like “nice texture” or “good.” And I’m also cheap so whenever we get soft serve, I think to myself, “we could have gotten 3 half gallon’s from Stewart’s for the same price and I would have like it better.”

But putting that aside, I will start you off with these two things that I think are worth mentioning. First, I liked the ice cream at each and every one of these places more than all the places we visited in the Saratoga County tour we did last year. And second, I have always been a vanilla soft serve guy. Comparing all the vanilla soft serve last year showed how mediocre soft serve vanilla can be. Often with a weird metallic after taste too. So this year, I went with a chocolate/vanilla twist so I could taste both the chocolate and the vanilla soft serve. I think the twist actually covers up some of the sins of each flavor. The vanilla mellows some of the overly sweet chocolate, and the chocolate overwhelms the weaker vanilla flavor, but it wasn’t that good to begin with and it seemed to eliminate the weird aftertaste. I only noticed the weird aftertaste when eating the vanilla alone.

Here’s how I’m handling our score sheets. The categories (each worth up to 5 points) were: Vanilla, Chocolate, Toppings, Texture, Value, and Overall. And here’s what we ordered:
Jon: Kiddy Chocolate/Vanilla Twist in a dish
Amy: Kiddy Chocolate/Vanilla Twist with caramel in a dish
Allison: Kiddy Vanilla with Rainbow Sprinkles in a cone
Casey: Kiddy Vanilla with Rainbow Sprinkles in a dish

At the first stop, Allison and Casey were accidentally given twists so they have sores for chocolate at Mac’s. I dropped the chocolate from their scores. I didn’t rate any toppings and Amy only wrote in 3 of the 5 overalls when I took a picture of her score sheet (Daniel caught the error and I think she fixed it, but that was after my photo) so I dropped the Overall from her scoring. Also Allison and I each put an enthusiastic "6" in a box - those were reduced back down to the upper limit of 5. That left 100 available total points for any ice cream stand to score. One other note, Casey was filling up so we stopped ordering an ice cream just for her. She still tasted vanilla and rainbow sprinkles at every stop though. Except the last one because the shop ran out of sprinkles.

From here on out the commentary is from the notes of my wife Amy and daughter Allison. Casey kept score but didn’t do much of a write up.

Mac’s Drive In, Watervliet
Allison: Very creamy texture, vanilla got lost. It turned into mostly chocolate. Chocolate was too flavorful. I asked for vanilla but the lady gave me a twist. Sizes were really big.
Amy: Very creamy ice cream, soft texture, melted nicely on tongue, nice heft to ice cream, chocolate over powered vanilla, caramel was soft and smooth, sweet, very good.

Lickity Split, East Greenbush
Allison: Wasn’t as creamy as Mac’s. Kept melting easily. Vanilla needed more flavor. Value was great!
Amy: Amazing value, caramel sauce very thick and stretchy, not easily in each bite, vanilla/chocolate more balanced with each other, good smooth texture, creamy.

Big Dipper, Wynantskill
Allison: It wasn’t very creamy which made it hard to eat off the cone. Sprinkles had a little less flavor than they did at other places. I think I like it better that way. Vanilla ice cream barely had any flavor.
Amy: Just OK, nice and creamy and nice texture but lacked taste, caramel very super-sweet and thick.

Snowman, Troy
Allison: The texture was really creamy. The sprinkles still taste the same. The vanilla was really rich in flavor. I think it was definitely worth what we paid for.
Amy: did not like the caramel sauce, tastes sweet with depth to flavor, vanilla had stronger flavor but with an after taste.

Chrissy’s, Schaghticoke
Allison: The texture was not creamy at all. The vanilla was alright. They ran out of rainbow sprinkles so I didn’t get to try those. I don’t think it was worth what you paid for.
Amy: It was butterscotch and not caramel-so yuk, they were out of sprinkles, ice cream was creamy and tasty, nice heft, but overall value not as good as Lickity Split.

So the way our family scored it, Lickity Split was the best by three points over Mac’s and third place went to the Snowman. Chrissy’s took a hit for running out of sprinkles. Had they had the sprinkles, I’m pretty sure they would have edged out the Big Dipper for 4th place. I'm curious to see how much our family skewed the overall results. We're kind of a voting block or probably not quite a third of the entire tour group.
The tour was a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. If you get the chance, try to make one of the Profussor’s Tours. Trying several versions of the same thing back-back is interesting and you might learn something about your preferences. I got twists on the tour just to try both flavors. In the future, it will probably be what I order...unless I can talk everyone into going to Stewarts and getting 3 half gallons.

Also, if Rochelle offers you some of her fermented papaya, take it. It's delicious.