Optimus 45 Retrofit–Tilley Cast Iron Burner Grate

Hippy New Year!

Knowing that I have a not wholly rational obsession with camping stoves, MJ gave me this little ring of cast iron for Christmas. It came from South Korea, so I assume it was made there, or possibly nearby. If we ever get a day where the high temp is below 60 F, I will crank it up with the following top:

Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate.

The ultimate hand warmer, or possibly an infant Dalek. Only Dr. Who nerds will get that reference.

Moocher’s Compost Bin

Mooched!

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.

Free Fertilizer

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.

I’ve Been Framed! No, the Brick Oven Has Been Framed.

Framed!

My wife MJ barely knew me at all, when I spent every summer in high school framing houses. That experience made me want to go to graduate school, and stay as far away from construction as possible.

Now I spend my time cooking and building things–and writing. After a dozen years or so, I am framing in my brick oven. It was stupidly simple.

Here’s the rear view.

Needs a Cleanup

Easy work, that. I do need to de-clutter all that stuff, but it will be easier once the siding is put on.

Sideways! Kreuzweise!

Goodbye, Concrete

Admittedly, the old framer here used as many deck screws as nails in this project. It will take a kiloton nuke to bring it down.

Hot Stuff!

Can’t Get Enough

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.

Pizza!

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.

Last Night I Dreamed About Tomato Sauce

I Really Did.

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.

Ingredients

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.

Optimus 11 Explorer/Trangia Mashup. Gott in Himmel!

Bring on the Bacon

This rig has been years in the making, as I lacked the extra long control knob for the 11. I have had the Trangia/Optimus adaptor for the Trangia windscreen cook set combo forever, but didn’t bother with it because I couldn’t regulate the stove easily. Then I saw this 4mm control knob on Fleabay, made for an Optimus 8r, 99, 111, or 199. Guess what, it also fits an 11.

It came from South Korea very quickly, and it turned out to be mostly solid brass. It’s a quality piece of equipment, and I now have a whole list of things to order from that same vendor–shockingly, they all have to do with Swedish camp stoves.

I did have to alter the bottom windscreen to allow for the 11 to settle properly into this contraption. All you need is a drill, and the courage of your convictions. And a bit of stupidity.

Ugly

I will file and polish up that hole. The wind was blowing pretty hard when I lit this thing, and the stove took no notice, buried in all that Swedish design. This could be the ultimate combo for the backcountry chef, or even for the backyard ranger.

Fortunately, I had someone to supervise this project.

Emma the Aussie, and Cyclamen

One day I will try and teach her how to cook.

Optimus 45 Retrofit II-Wind Screen and Flame Spreader

Fire made in Alabama

Being a gear head is like being an immortal deity, in that there is always something else that needs to be done. Stitch up this, repair that with duct tape, or punish the wicked. The last is my favorite–just ask some of my former students.

It Won’t be that Shiny for Long

That’s the stove being primed with alcohol, though not the drinkable kind.

I have added the windscreen to my Optimus 45, and it didn’t quite fit the brass flame spreader. I suspect these reproductions were made by different manufacturers in either India or China/Taiwan. Looking at photos of the original Swedish ones on the interwebs, I concluded that they were meant to friction fit into one unit. A bit of filing with a round file accomplished that purpose.

Ready to Assemble, Prime, and Light

The number of add ons for this stove are staggering, down to and including rubber feet for the brass legs, which I will pass on. To keep your house from smelling of kerosene, the fuel tank has a reserve cap, which screws onto the end of the pump while the stove is in use–very clever. Put on the roarer burner, fill the round reservoir, aka spirit cup with alcohol, and slide the wind screen/flame spreader combo on top. It now fits perfectly. Then light the alcohol, and wait for the kerosene to gasify. After that, it’s time to cook.

A magnum opus is in the works by moi about how to work the various kerosene stoves properly. If it’s like some of my woodworking projects, it should be finished by the next decade, around 2030.

Boeuf Maison

Winter in the Southern Appalachians

Though the Appalachians extend all the way up to the northern sections of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. and actually into the French territory of St. Pierre, off the Canadian coast, we are already seeing signs of spring down here on the distant southern end. High temperatures are in the sixties and seventies, and the wild blueberries are blooming along our riverfront. It’s time for some outdoor cooking.

Perhaps in honor of the French end of our mountains, I gave this dish the somewhat ridiculous name of Boeuf Maison, which is best translated as “Home Cooked Beef.” It is better when cooked outdoors. It is also ludicrously simple, which is why I gave it a fancy French name, to make it sound difficult.

Ingredients

Lard

Beef Roast (I always get local grass fed, when available), marinated in Salt and red Wine

Onion, chopped

28 ounces of whole canned Tomatoes (If I don’t have home canned, I use Cento Tomatoes from Italia)

Seasoning–Salt, Thyme, Oregano

That’s it. Here’s a perfect example of when the quality of ingredients and the cooking method make all the difference. It helps to have a really heavy Lodge camp dutch oven as well. The first step is probably the most important. PETA members, stop reading at this point. If you want to find some people who make PETA look rational, check out the website of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). They liberate things like pet bunnies.

Roasting Hot

The sear is the most important thing for me. I have a hot fire of hardwood and hardwood charcoal, and put the dutch oven directly above it. Add some home rendered lard, and sear away. Be brave with the brown of the sear.

Now We’re Cooking

Sear both sides of the roast nicely, and add the rough chopped onions. Rough chopped is fine, as this sauce will be strained after the dish is finished. When the onions begin to soften, add the marinade, and the tomatoes, and then the seasoning. Time for it to cook low and slow, for two or three hours.

Anticipation

Move the pot to a cooler spot in the fire, if cooking outdoors, or the lowest heat on a stove top. When the meat is completely tender, strain the sauce and nosh away. Mashed potatoes are the perfect sauce soaker.

On a serious note, and I am rarely serious, this fire pit survived the super tornado outbreak of 2011, though it was mashed completely down into the ground by a giant pine tree that fell and smashed into it. A larger pine tree was blown onto our house, and I cut it off using a German crosscut log saw. I lost a half of one roof shingle; 238 people in Alabama died, most in Tuscaloosa, the home of one of my Alma Maters.

Lodge Commemorative and Wildlife Pieces

More Cast Iron

A trip to the Lodge Factory Store in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, is a dangerous thing, if you have more cast iron cookware than every other kind combined. My wife Melanie Jane and I went there in December with the purpose of buying Christmas presents for her family, and we came back with seven pieces of cookware, and only four of those were presents.

Pictured is a commemorative skillet for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s the most biodiverse park in the country, and the most biodiverse temperate area on the planet. It’s also surrounded by some of the worst tourist traps in the world.

We bought as presents some of the Wildlife Series skillets, which had Mallards on the back of them, some real cast iron ducks at that. The link will take you to a complete set of the most useful pieces.

I once ran into the top Lodge marketers, at of all places, Salt Lake City in Utah, at an outdoor trade show. In amongst all the ultra light weight camping equipment was a display of cast iron which probably came in at about a ton. I had to check out the Dutch ovens and skillets, which made up most of the display.

I identified myself as being a fellow Southerner, and asked them what the hell they were doing with all this cast iron at a high tech outdoor show. They laughed, and waited until every Western looking person was gone, and one of them said very quietly, “Half the people out here still think they’re cowboys, and have to have our skillets and Dutch ovens. It’s one of our biggest markets.” The new Lodge cast iron care brochure is in nine languages, by the way.

What did I buy in December? My fourth Dutch oven, and I have only had to chase cows on foot.

Optimus 45 Retrofit–Cobra Burner, Heater Dome, and Flame Spreader

The great things about decades old designs are that they work consistently, last forever, and acquire all manner of add ons. This seventies vintage Optimus 45 kerosene stove has any number of improvements and additions. I will go from the most complex to the simplest.

Cobra Burner

The Cobra Burner, aka the Silent Burner, was originally made for the Optimus 48 stove. It didn’t take long before campers found out it also fit the 45. Though no longer made in Sweden, these burners are widely available, as they are made in at least two south Asian countries, where these wonderful stoves are often the main cooking utensils used. Allegedly, they are widely used in Himalayan base camps–by the guides. I bought my parts from Julian Shaw in the UK, via fleaBay. He knows his stuff.

This was my first choice for a Christmas present. It turned out the complete assembly was comprised of eight parts, with no instructions for assembly. I suspect this burner was made in India, which is the primary source of reproduction stoves of this variety (the other is Malaysia). There are also very high quality versions of this stove made in Japan, at an also very high quality price.

After some research, I assembled the burner in the proper sequence. The jet was clogged, and needed a thorough cleaning to even operate. Then it still roared, though less than the original burner. On the sixth trial run, the magic happened–it began burning “silently,” which is actually a very quiet hissing sound.

After a few minutes of observation, I came up with what the American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce called an “abduction,” which was his term for the process that is used to create a hypothesis: The sound and heat level was determined by the amount of pressure in the stove tank. I tested it again, and was proven to be correct, as all it took was more pumping with the pump on the right side of the stove, to produce the classic blue flame.

Roasting Hot

Heater Dome

This simple device fits any stove with a ring, regardless of manufacturer, and produces prodigious amounts of heat. There are pictures on the internet of these glowing red. After reading Into the Wild, I am never going to use this inside a tent, which was its original purpose. It will make a great hand warmer in the outdoor kitchen during the winter.

Hot and Getting Hotter

Flame Spreader

I also upgraded the old Roarer Burner with a flame spreader. It really helps to intensify the heat from the original burner.

Red, not Blue, Flame
Brass Flame Spreader

This flame spreader just sits on the top ledge of the burner. The next addition is a companion brass windscreen.

My wife Melanie Jane thinks this thing looks like a baby Dalek, after the alien villains in the BBC show Doctor Who. However, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a gear head is a gear head, is a gear head, is a gear head.