An outdoor kitchen dedicated to the natural world and natural materials needs a specimen plant. My philosophy of the whole enterprise is go big or go home. That’s why I chose Big Leaf Magnolia for the role, the Latin name being Magnolia macrophylla.
With leaves up to 36 inches long, and flowers up to 14 inches wide, this is about as impressive a deciduous tree as there is. It will occasionally get as tall as 70 feet. The range is from DC to Texas, though there is a subspecies found in NE Mexico. The densest population of these trees is in Alabama and Mississippi.
This angle gives a better idea of the magnitude of the leaves. This is still a young tree that has not bloomed yet, and when it will is a known unknown. I can never resist a reference to Rummy Rumsfeld.
No stainless steel grills here, just bricks, camp stoves, and the end of an old propane tank, made into a fire pit. Welcome to old school, part one.
Our primary fuel is wood, mostly dead fall from our 5.5 acres of forest. The brick oven can take a couple of logs at once. It makes one mean pizza, or two. I need to get back into baking big loaves of sourdough bread.
Twenty two years and a few more days later, I am ready to do the trim work on this multi ton beast. Here’s the side view.
That’s homemade paint, that came out very well. The siding was made a few miles from here. I have to buy some wood for the trim. Now for the back, which will be the center, or workplace, for the rustic kitchen.
Four more fuels available here, which I will get into later. The camp stoves burn alcohol, kerosene, and white gas. The blackish paint is flour paint. The wood grill on the right is my riff on a Tuscan style outdoor grill. The whole thing is as rustic as can be. I might even finish it one day.
A Curtain of Green is a great book by Ms. Welty, and the title of an equally great short story. It’s what happens here in this part of the South in the spring–the forest becomes so thick that a person cannot see through it. A great metaphor is forever.
The mooching lifestyle is far more under appreciated in the US than it should be. A person could practically live off of discarded items, and I am certain that many people actually do. There’s no tax on throw aways, either.
I am only a part time moocher, but I have dumpster dived and mooched in numerous locales. I pulled a fancy desk chair out of a dumpster, worth several hundred dollars, and then spend my time at the computer sitting in an old post and rung oak chair, that I mooched for $5 at a flea market. My latest mooch could prove to be my best: a flat bed truck full of cinder blocks, and the wood pallets this compost bin are made of.
The story is this. We have been have been showering the in-laws with free eggs, and one couple had just had a retaining wall replaced, and needed to get rid of the left over and used cinder blocks, more commonly known in these parts as “see-mint blocks” (cement blocks.) As my mooching has become a valuable reputation enhancer, they offered us the blocks, and with free delivery. We countered with an offer of thirty eggs. It was a deal.
The sweetener was that the blocks are to used in the construction of a smokehouse, and we offered free use of that as well, once it is completed. The blocks arrived quickly after that offer. I helped unload them, and they had been sitting on two pine pallets on the truck. My brother in law asked if I wanted them. He didn’t know I been looking to mooch two wooden pallets as well.
Three deck screws later, and I had a new compost bin, attached to the back of the chicken run. It is now being filled with table scraps, leaves, and chicken manure in various states of decomposition. It will be half full in no time.
Next spring we will have mooched fertilizer as well. Which reminds me that it is almost time to grab a shovel, and get to work.
We just had our first freezing weather today, and therefore it is too cold to paint outside. I will write about it instead, and give the recipe first, before I wander off into the weeds of Nerdlandia.
1/2 Cup Boiled Linseed Oil (I wouldn’t use this for interior paint, but many people do)
1/3 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons Pigment
This should result in exactly one pint of paint, which means this can be used up before the paint begins to smell like oily rotten eggs. I had that happen once during hot weather this summer.
Begin by mixing the oil and egg together. This is a whole egg Tempera, though there are also recipes that use only the white, or more commonly, only the yolk. Add the water very gradually, stirring constantly. Dissolve the pigment of choice with a small amount of the mixture, stir briskly, and once dissolved, add to the paint. Pour the whole thing into a mason jar (if you can find one), slap on a lid, and use asap. Now for the trip to Nerdlandia–tickets, please.
Though tempera paints have been around for at least three millennia, it was classical Greece that popularized the wide use of egg tempera. My information comes from the excellent 1942 book Painting Materials, written by an art conservator and a chemist at Harvard, the capitol of Nerdlandia. This book convinced me that I needed to specify egg as the binder, as there are also glue tenperas and gum temperas.
They note that the first known mention of egg tempera came from the Roman writer Pliny, though they did not specify if it was the elder or the younger. He noted the wide use of this paint in classical Greece, as many of the famous Greek sculptures were originally painted with brilliant bright colors (they also wore real jewelry).
The two real heydays of Tempera painting were during the Italian Renaissance and in Twentieth century US paintings. Everyone knows the two greatest tempera paintings, Leonardo’s The Last Supper and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. The best known of the US tempera revival artists would have to be Andrew Wyeth, of Chadds Ford, PA.
I, however, am painting a wall, which is actually the foundation of my brick oven. This has proven to be a vast improvement to the grey paint that was there before. One museum claims the egg tempera won’t crack or fade, the latter of which I know to be true, as I used iron oxide as my pigment. Now it just needs to warm up some.
Like every addict, you have to eventually confess about your addiction. That plate tells you that I am addicted to pepper flakes.
This year I am drying my own, with a nice mixture of kinds hot and really hot. Really hot include Cayenne, Tabasco, and Royal Black. Serrano is hot, but not like the first three. The mildest is the old standard Cowhorn pepper. These are all local.
After they are dried, they take a couple of trips through the old Enterprise #602 grinder.
What does MJ do but dive into a scrap pile cabinet of hers, and comes out with a pepper flake shaker–THAT HAS PEPPERS ON IT. Nothing to do this weekend but fire up the brick oven.
To quote my man Will Shakespeare, this is the “The stuff that dreams are made of,” as adapted by Bogey and John Huston in The Maltese Falcon. I woke up at six in the morning with the taste of tomato sauce in my mouth. It was then that I realized that I had been dreaming about it, possibly all night long..
It was a classic example of one part of what Dr. Freud said that dreams are made of, and this is not a particularly good translation, but it is the standard one: “the day’s residues.” For lunch the previous day I had a slice of leftover brick oven pizza, and it was still superb warmed up. It had Vidalia onion slices, Italian mozzarella, and a crust made from Caputo 00 flour from Italy. The star was still Melanie Jane’s tomato sauce. That’s what I dreamed about. Here’s her recipe, which will sauce two pizzas.
1 quart locally grown home canned Tomatoes–I believe these were Romas
1/2 of a diced Onion
Italian Tomato Paste in a tube–Tuscan, in this case, the brand being Tuscanini. (Aside–I had to buy this, as Toscanini is one of our favorite conductors of classical music, and his daughter married my wife’s favorite pianist, Vladimir Horowitz.)
Italian Pesto in a tube
Italian Garlic Paste in a tube–the secret weapon used by many pros
Oregano and Thyme
Salt and Pepper
This is considerably more complicated than what most Italians would make, but we aren’t Italian, at least the last time I checked. MJ then cooked it down to a concentrated strength, which gave me just enough time to get a roaring fire going in the brick oven.
Did it ever get hot. All I had was oak dead fall pieces, and they created an inferno. I didn’t burn the crust–I actually burned the sauce, as you can see from the little black line on my slice in the picture. I’ve never had that happen before.
It was still delicious. As I always tell people, don’t eat the burned part.
There actually is a process involved in building and maintaining a fire in a brick oven. Begin with completely dry soft wood, and then add hardwood if you want to build up a bed of hot coals. Here I start with yellow pine, and then go to a pine/oak mixture. We might as well start at the beginning.
Aristotle said a good plot had a beginning, a middle, and an end, in his Poetics; a good brick oven fire begins in the front, is pushed to middle, and then to the back. This is especially true for all applications involving cooking meat or pizza.
TV chefs will bring out something dramatic to light a fire, like a propane blow torch. I use two cardboard egg cartons and one match. The results are the same–fire.
Time for a break now that the fire has been pushed to the middle of the oven. This tool keeps me in firewood.
That’s a 24 volt electric chainsaw. I liked it so much I bought a 24 volt weed whacker, and a 60 volt lawnmower to go with it. I charge up the batteries with a solar generator, which is in turn charged by a single 100 watt solar panel. I’m inching toward sustainability, and did I mention the thirty percent tax credit on solar panels and batteries?
Push the fire to the back, and sweep and mop for pizza. A pie with sliced Vidalia onions makes all the work worth it. And I get to play with matches, and a chainsaw.
The forecast for Sunday was for a high of only 93 degrees F, so I decided to build a 900 degree F fire, and cook a couple of pizzas. Why the hell not?
Fortunately, I spent most of my time indoors, making the crust and sauce. I will do a step by step explanation of this process in a series of posts, but here’s an outline of what to do. I will also give an alternative cooking method, for those who do not have a bakery-sized brick oven. The following is for a Pizza Margherita, one of the originals, and still the best.
Dough for two Pizza Crusts–1 1/2 cups OO Italian Flour, salt, water, yeast
Pizza Sauce, preferably made with Italian or locally grown Tomatoes
Italian Mozzarella Cheese
The basil goes on after the pizza comes out of the oven. It probably wouldn’t look too sporty, otherwise, after a couple of minutes of this.
Other than eating this, the best part is smelling the basil cook on top of the really really hot pizza, right out of the brick oven. Simple and complex–the heart of a good pizza.
Herr Orff, one of my German Professors at the University of Alabama, came to class one Monday, and said, “I had some of that food that you people eat every weekend. What do you call it? Pit-sa. It was very good.” That actually is the correct pronunciation of the word pizza-if you’re German. Good thing he didn’t eat one of these. He might never have gone back to Deutschland.