December 16–Pizza al Fresco

Mangia

Yes, winter in the age of climate disruption. Technically this was late late last fall, but with temps in the mid 70’s, it might as well have been late late spring. In this situation, the only thing to do is light up the brick oven, and eat some pizza outside.

Our pizza sauce has evolved over the years, and I will simply list the secret ingredients, soon to be secret no more. Here it goes:

Balsamic Vinegar

Garlic Paste

Italian Tomato Paste in a Tube (like the Garlic Paste)

Homemade Pesto, frozen in an ice cube tray

Home canned local Tomatoes

It is possible to screw up the sauce even with these ingredients, but it can only be accomplished with some difficulty. Go easy on the vinegar and the paste, and all’s well that eats well.

I will resist the temptation to make another bad joke about Al Fresco. I could hurt his feelings.

Smokehouse, Part Three–It Takes a Village, or a Family, to Frame a Smokehouse

Moochers R Us

This project began with the gift of a bunch of cinder blocks, and a couple of wooden pallets–all unsolicited, naturally (I should add that cinder blocks are known as “see-mint” blocks locally). These came from BIL (brother in law) #1, who then added a few pressure treated 2x4s as well, which you can see as the sill boards on the smokehouse.

Not long thereafter BIL #2 got in on the action, giving us the lumber for the front and back walls, as well as the rafters, and some tin roofing. He really really wants this thing to be finished, as he has a whole list of meat smoking projects. We (gasp) actually bought the lumber for the two side walls. I have plans for a fancy door as well.

No Door Yet

I did all the work myself, with the exception of Melanie Jane helping me hoist up the first rafter. But, as my labor is free, as always, I did all the rest of it by my lonesome. That is, if you don’t count my actual supervisor on this project.

Get Back to Work

That’s Siegfried, more commonly known as Ziggy D. Dog. A finer nor a lazier Aussie has ever been birthed. The combination of the two traits makes him perfect for a middle management position.

MJ says that 16 square feet, the size of this structure, is big enough to sit in and smoke a couple of packs. My counter was that I would rather puff on a Bob Marley sized fattie (that’s a joint of Mary Jane, in case you just fell off the turnip truck). Truthfully, neither of us has ever smoked vegetable matter of any kind. I suppose we will have to stick with smoking meat instead.

Patagonia Tool Sak

The Sak is Out of the Closet

If you are a truly sick Gear Head, every day can seem like Christmas. Closets full of gear means that you can treasure hunt at any time you want. Stove parts and bags are every where in our house. We could probably move to a vacation home for a month or two without buying a box to pack in.

Article in evidence, a probably twenty year old Patagonia Tool Sak (they like purposely mis-spelling words as much as I do.) It’s a beastly bag, and currently it is the home of my DeWalt 20v electric circular saw. That and a speed square barely fill up a third of this bag.

The repair is courtesy of our late lamented old Aussie named Karl, who decided to see if he could chew nylon webbing in half. I caught him before he could complete his doggy mission, and fixed the cut with rivets, and yet more nylon webbing. That stuff really is strong enough to tow a truck with.

Besides the webbing on the front, the back straps also serve as backpack straps, making the bag something of a pack bag. It was originally marketed as a climbing bag, a label that most people rightfully ignored. Mine is a woodworking, catch it all bag, but it has had more uses than I can remember.

There is usually one of these on fleabay at any given time, often for less than the original retail price. As they are next to indestructible, they are a completely safe purchase, even used.

Smoke House, Part Two–How Firm a Foundation

I Need Cement

The smokehouse continues to grow. It is now completely framed (just like me), but here it is in infancy. Instead of laying every run of block with cement, I just put rebar into all four corners, hammered them into the ground, and filled the holes with cement. This foundation is not going anywhere.

The Fire Pit

As this is to be a cold smoke/hot smoke machine, I re-used a rusted out old Lodge cast iron grill as a fire pit. Under all those leaves is a nice thick layer of concrete, into which the old grill is buried.

We’ll break this in this spring and summer hot smoking some trout and a turkey or two, and connect the cold smoking stove next fall. I am considering hanging a sign above the door that says, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em.”

Smokehouse, Part 1–The Cold Smoke Machine

The Things You Find in the Scrap Pile

The game is afoot, as Sherlock liked to say to Watson. I am finally finishing off my brick oven, AND building a smokehouse to go along with it. There’s some history to go along with this plan.

Back in the day, every farmer in our area had a smokehouse. MJ’s grandfather’s was a beauty. He built a fire right in the middle of it, but only smoked meat during “hog killing weather,” which began in November when it formerly became very cold.. In short, cold smoking was the only smoking he did, which meant that the temps inside the smokehouse never topped ninety degrees.

I’m going for one that will cold smoke and hot smoke. I will be able to build a fire in the smoke house, and one outside of the smoke house, thanks to the steel wood stove that was buried under my scrap pile. Moving it also helped clean out my workroom.

Be that as it may, the foundation is also completed now, and I am ready to frame this thing. Check back in another week or two, as we are about to have some very good weather for working outdoors.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School, Part Four–A Shrine to Italian Flour, and Pizza Dough

“00”” in Italy Means Extra Fine

Now that the brick oven just needs just needs some trim and a little more paint to be completed, we dedicated the prep end to Italian flour, in particular the style that Naples made famous. That’s a cover of a bag of extra fine Italian flour, that I framed and painted with homemade gold glitter paint, in true shrine fashion. I just happen to come from a county that has a convent, a monastery, and a huge shrine, which has its own television and radio networks.

At any rate, this flour makes the best pizza dough, and is required by the city of Naples if you want to call your pizza authentic.

Pizza Dough

1 1/2 cup Italian “00” Flour

3/4 cup Water

2 teaspoons Yeast

Olive Oil

I always cheat by leaving a little of the water out, and dissolving the yeast in it with a touch of sugar, after I have mixed up the dough (flour, water, and olive oil) with our Kitchenaid. The dough hydrates while the yeast is rising. Let rise, and this will make two large pizzas. For large quantities, I use one cup of flour per pizza.

Just last weekend I cooked five pizzas in less that an hour for a ravenous horde of folks. They would have been more impressed if I had had a portrait of Pope Francis back there, instead of a flour bag. Maybe I should email the Vatican about that.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School–Part Three, Recycled Fire Pit

The words Fire Pit and Outdoor Kitchen have become such a cliche when put together that CNN had one of their homepage top ten lists, just on Fire Pits, last week. Strangely, they left off my heavy steel pit in favor of a bunch that were made from sheet metal. It could be that because you have to be related to the guy who makes these in order to get one–I am.

My best estimate is that this was made from the end of a 150 gallon propane tank, as they are usually 30″ in diameter, as this is. The handles and rim are made of rebar, and the legs and cooking crane are heavy steel bar and pipe. The crane works like a crane found in Colonial kitchens, so this is made to cook.

How tough is this thingie? A dead and quite large oak tree blew over in a storm, and made a direct hit on this pit. The impact was so hard that the tree mashed the pit into the ground to the top of the legs. After I cut the tree off, the only damage was that it bent the crane slightly, which had no impact on the performance of the pit.

Further evidence that it was designed to be a fire pit and a cooking machine:

Great Grate

The rebar grate can be used to stack logs on, or sit a pot on, or taken out so the things can be cleaned or used only as a fire pit. Likewise, the crane has a swivel hinge which means it can be moved completely out of the way. or even taken off altogether.

I did drill four holes in the bottom for drainage and to add a little air circulation. I will drill more eventually, but drilling through this steel just about destroys a drill bit. At least the thing isn’t full of water and mosquito larvae. This state was originally nicknamed “The Yellow State” because of the prevalence of malaria. A case of that will definitely ruin your meal.

Outdoor Kitchen, Part Two–Magnolias and Moonlight

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.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School, Part One–A Brick Oven, and a Curtain of Green

Ms. Eudora Welty came up with the Curtain Line

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.

Egg Tempera Paint

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.

Hobo 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.

Optimus 45–Rehab and Refurb Time

Over Half Way to the Full Monty

Even a Sherman tank requires the occasional repair, and so does the Optimus 45 kerosene stove. Two legs fell off this stove, and I just started with some super glue, and then did the real work with some solder.

Then I over-pressurized it, and blew out some solder in the seam around the tank, and made a great kerosene geyser. I have that about 90% repaired, but still get to solder some more. Could this be an excuse to buy an actual soldering gun?

Last, my best brain infarction. The cast iron Tilley cooking ring came completely unfinished, and as a cast iron expert wanna-be, I immediately thought–bacon fat. Two trips to the oven and the iron is now bright black.

A few more minutes of soldering, and this dude is ready to cook.

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