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Building the Wood Fired Pizza Oven – cutting and forming the stainless

We left off in the last oven related post having arrived at the dimensions for the pizza oven and cutting a template from 3/4″ plywood to use to assist in laying out the sheets and later on in forming them to the appropriate curve.

So really the key peace is the curved segment you form – the arc with the inner radius of 13 1/2″ and the outer arc 16 1/2″.

Pattern marked out and ready to cut the stainless sheet for the inner back of the oven

Pattern marked out and ready to cut the stainless sheet for the inner back of the oven

The first step is to trace out the parts for the inner back of the oven.  I had one piece upon which I could trace the form and allow for a 1″ tab all around the outside of the form.   After positioning the pattern I traced out the outer curve and followed it up by using a ruler to mark our a new curve 1″ further out from the first one based on the pattern.

A selection of Jigsaw blades for cutting the stainless steel sheets

A selection of Jigsaw blades for cutting the stainless steel sheets

So now to cut the steel to shape along the outermost curve you’ve drawn out.  For the curved segments I used a good quality metal cutting blades on the jigsaw.  I grabbed two sets of blades to trial from two quality brands (Bosch and Vermont American) – one coarser and one set that was finer.  I suspected the finer blades would be by far the better choice on the thin sheet metal.  As it turns out, the coarser blades were more effective, and the Bosch beat out the Vermont American by a consider margin in longevity.  That said “longevity” is a relative thing… even the coarse Bosch blades were given to stripped teeth and eventual breakage.  For the project as a whole I needed nearly ten blades!

The angle grinder - the "right" tool for straight cuts

The angle grinder – the “right” tool for straight cuts

Much more effective was the use of the angle grinder with a 1/16″ thin kerf metal cutting disk mounted.  It raced through the stainless steel sheet with what seemed to be no difference in progress or wear than with regular carbon steel.  Of course,  the angle grinder is really only suited to straight cuts, so as easy a solution as the grinder proved for the straight cuts the jigsaw remains necessary for curved cuts.

Marking out locations to make the cuts to form the tabs.

Marking out locations to make the cuts to form the tabs.

The 1″ section that lies outside of the patterned curve is intended to be used to form tabs so that we can bend inward so that we can create parallel surfaces to join the assemblies by spot-welding.   Another benefit of the tabs is that they will add three dimensional rigidity to the forms.

Mark out the locations for the cuts to form the tabs – approximately 1″ apart.  The slots between the tabs can be cut easily with the angle grinder – making the cut just so deep that you contact the inner line that was traced from the pattern.

Stainless steel sheet clamped to the form in preparation for bending the tabs

Stainless steel sheet clamped to the form in preparation for bending the tabs

Once the tabs are cut clamp the steel sheet to the form making sure that it lines up with the original inner curve you traced out.

Your next step is to bend the tabs inward overtop of the plywood form.  Use a ball peen hammer to tap them over.  Once the tabs are all bent over – and you may need to shift your clamps around before the process is completed – use the hammer to make sure the tabs follow the contour of the plywood form – rather than simply being bent over at 90 degrees from the original sheet.

You’ll now want to take a file and remove any rough edges that may be left.  That finishes up the inner back segment of the build.

Our next steps will include the building of the outer back piece and the front curved segment.

Inner back segment completed and placed against the fire bricks for comparision

Inner back segment completed and placed against the fire bricks for comparison

 

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Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies – Mini Baker Approved

Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies

Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies

These whole wheat sugar cookies can be whipped up in a few minutes, no fuss no muss – and they are great cookies.  The combination of the nutmeg with the nuttiness of the whole wheat flour makes for a great combination.  In fact, because of this no-nut nuttiness flavor they add great variety to the school lunchbox – and I’m assuming that if you have kids their schools is likely a nut free zone too.

Junior Baker engaged in cookie fabrication!

Junior Baker engaged in cookie fabrication!

Quick easy recipes like this are an awesome way to introduce the younger members of the family to the joys of cooking.  Get them hooked on this and other skills and you’ll probably give them a better foundation for a happy life than those “nut free” schools.

Combined with letting the kids go from whole grain to whole grain flours on the home built grain mill – that they can take apart and adjust – to cookies that go into their lunches and get offered up to friends and family with pride is such a cool way to demystify food.

 

 

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Medium Height Hoop House Experience so far

This past weekend, May 24th weekend, marks the safe planting date – the risk of frost, is in theory at least, has passed.
Now, we’ve had some really warm weather already, in the mid and upper 20c’s, but sure enough just last week there was a frost warning.

Hoop house one - the red are the already thinned several times R148 Amaranth for greens and grain.  Trays of sweet sorghum and paddy rice at the far end.

Hoop house one – the red are the already thinned several times R148 Amaranth for greens and grain. Trays of sweet sorghum and paddy rice at the far end.

So, as most folks here are just putting in their gardens where am I?
Well, the two medium hoophouses are going great, the tomatoes and tomatillos need to be staked and are growing wonderfully, the peppers and eggplants are happily pushing forth. The hardier stock, while not needing the higher temperatures has shown its appreciation by rewarding us with a salad again last night. Lettuce, radishes, and amaranth leaves. Lovely!

In my other beds that are uncovered the results are significantly less spectacular. There the tomatoes, peppers and herbs have established themselves nicely and started to grow, but the growth pales in comparison to those in the hoophouses, and we are still a couple of weeks away from adding rappini and sugar snap peas to the salads – if they manage to travel that far – and at least at the start of the season the best I can expect is that they will be detached from the plant before being gobbled down with relish.  I will truly know that our fresh fetish is at least partially satiated or overwhelmed when more item start to appear in the salad bowls but that won’t be for a while.

So for the time and energy invested I am definitely a fan of the medium hoop houses thus far.

Hoop House Two - Tomatoes and peppers and eggplant and greens and more - oh my!

Hoop House Two – Tomatoes and peppers and eggplant and greens and more – oh my!

Now, I have learned a few things about the construction of the hoop houses. The biggest lesson is that the opening and closing has been pretty tough on the frames. The corners really need to be reinforced with 4×4 blocks on the inside and steel brackets on the outside. I also thought I could get away with not screwing in the female side of the conduit. Sure they can’t move up, but they will move down! The last significant item for me to figure out is if I should switch from plastic to metal conduit straps as several of the plastic ones have broken- now that may be because the conduit slipped down and was pushed out as I opened the frame- which should be addressed by fixing the conduit in place on both ends – so I’ll take a wait and see attitude for now.

Right now I am planning on rolling up the plastic towards the middle to end of June depending upon the weather and the growth of the plants under cover.  Then it will probably be unrolled in mid-September to support the fall crops and eek out a few more months from the warm weather commodities.

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Whole Wheat Crepes

Whole Wheat Crepes with Cherries

Whole Wheat Crepes with Cherries

I think there is a general perception that crepes are difficult to prepare.  Nothing could be further from the truth – they are far simpler to prepare than the pancakes we’ve already written about.

The reason for the misconception may be that they represents a bit of an indulgence when wrapped with a sweet filing – sliding closer to desert than dinner or breakfast.   But, by using whole grain flour (provided it has been ground very finely) is a great way to improve the nutrition and taste of this awesome breakfast meal. shhh don’t let on that this wonderful breakfast is both easy and healthy.

In this case the crepes were paired with freshly prepared cherry sauce, but you can wrap them around pretty much any sweet filling.

Whole wheat crepes - tilting the pan to distribute the batter

Whole wheat crepes – tilting the pan to distribute the batter

If anything, the secret to getting good crepes is in the wrist, being able to tilt the frying pan or skillet to thinly distribute the batter.  Hand in hand with that is the need for a good non-stick surface.  It’s no secret that I am partial to my cast iron cookware – and my frying pan is a hand me down from my grandmother – cast in long defunct foundry that was located less than an hour away from my home.  It has such a nice surface that the crepe will slide across the pan when the lower surface has cooked.  The cast iron is also nice in that it holds the heat and cooks the crepe while off the burner with me tilting the pan.  That said,  the pan is heavy and the handle usually hot enough that I wrap the tea-towel that graces the handle of my oven around the handle of the pan to reduce the heat transfer.  If your wrist isn’t up for the challenge a lighter non stick pan that you can manipulate may serve you better in this role.

 

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Are your fantasies a pleasant diversion or is reality a rude ineruption of your fantasy?

So what am I on about here?  The definition of fantasy is the act of imagining impossible or improbable things.  You might be expecting that since I very much enjoy getting my hands dirty thus the feel for the feel for the tangible and all that is reasonably within grasp that I’d take a rather dim view of fantasy.

In fact that isn’t the case.  I think imagining the impossible or improbably is part of what makes us creative, what has us stretch the boundaries.  Today a smart phone is reality – but fifty years ago it was fantasy, even when Startrek came out the “communicators” were fanciful. Today it’s reality – and cheap reality. Now the developments that resulted in the technological marvel that is the cellphone where incremental – and were distributed over a wealth of folks.  But each of them had component fantasies, those bits of technology and knowledge that they figured out and paved the way forward.

Fantasy or reality - can you recognize the difference?

Fantasy or reality – can you recognize the difference?

Things don’t even need to be that far out to be “fantasy”.  The wood fired pizza oven that I am in the process of building can reasonably fit into that category.  That it’s well known how to build drops the achievability bar pretty far,  but still in an environment where most folks buy rather than build there is a level of fantasy there – especially since I am new to working with stainless steel, which has a reputation for being a demanding material to work with.

I’m also not going to knock kicking back and enjoying a fantasy for relaxation and downtime.  As a kid I read under the covers with a flashlight because I’d get so into a book, and I do quite enjoy kicking back on the couch to watch a good show or movie.

But, you know,  as that kid who’d read most of the night because I couldn’t put the book down I also knew that I had to face up to the reality that the next morning I’d be dragging my ass but better put a smile on and make the most of the day.  I knew that while I might be buried in the pages of a fantasy that reality was still there and needed to be treated with respect.

Maybe that’s part of why I am so ok with fantasy – I can enjoy it or use it to spur me on – but I always keep a bit of me planted in reality so when the fantasy fades and only reality remains it isn’t a shock.

I wonder how many folks today don’t have that other foot planted in the reality field, for whom life is lived between fantasy and deeper fantasy.   Those are the folks whom when reality confronts them – as it is almost sure to do at some point – are likely going to be grumpy at the intrusion of reality.

For my part,  I’m off to do a bit more work to make the fantasy of the wood fired pizza oven a reality.

 

 

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Simple Whole Wheat Pizza

Everybody loves a great pizza.  Making them at home can save you a ton of money.  I fill my freezer with mozzarella  when stores advertise it at a lost leader price – here it’s usually $4 for a half pound bar.  There’s always lots of pepperoni – home cured from the offcuts I accumulate from doing butcher work.  There’s even plenty of tomato sauce if fresh tomatoes aren’t available and our homemade sauce has run out.

Homemade whole wheat pizza slice

Homemade whole wheat pizza slice

While you can use a much simpler recipe for pizza dough especially if you are using high gluten durum flour, when I use full extraction whole wheat I often tend to default to my tried and true baler twine whole wheat bread dough – which allows me to make a full batch and split it for buns, cinnamon rolls or something similar for the next day if I only want a single pizza.

This dough gives a nice chewy crust.  Load it up with toppings and you’ll get the pizza you want at a fraction of the price of delivery or even store bought frozen product.

 

 

 

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Building the Wood Fired Pizza Oven – Laying out the material

With a stack of flattened stainless steel sheets my next task was to figure out dimensions for the pizza oven.

I started with dimensions for the commercial units I liked which was 27″ x 27″ for the interior dimension.  Recall that as an insulated stainless steel unit there is both an inner and outer. shell.

Laying out the template for the wood fired pizza oven.

Laying out the template for the wood fired pizza oven.

The standard fire bricks I am using are 9″ x 4 1/2″.  So three bricks placed long way wide gives 27″  and six bricks deep makes 27″.

To get a handle on what I could accomplish using the materials at hand I labeled each piece of stainless steel and measured them up and then set about with a pencil and pad of paper figuring out designs.

The oven shape is simple enough- half circles.  The formula for the circumference of a circle is 2 x 3.14 x radius, so the half circle shape amounted to half that or 3.14 x radius.

So, long story short,  the material I had to work with dictated that the inner shell have a diameter of 27″ wide by 22 1/2″ deep.

The outer shell would have a radius 3″ greater to provide a gap for insulation between the inner and outer shell.

Getting ready to cut out the templates with the jigsaw

Getting ready to cut out the templates with the jigsaw

To make layout work a bit easier I grabbed a piece of 3/4″ thick plywood to make a master pattern with.  To draw the half circle I picked a piece of aluminum flat from my scrap pile and drilled a bunch of 1/8″ holes in it.  The first near the end would serve as the pivot point – when placed over a finishing nail tapped into the plywood – and other holes were drilled 13.5″ and 16.5″ further out from this point – the inner and outer curves respectively.

I used a jigsaw to cut the plywood curve out.  This then served as the template for laying out the back inner wall, the back outer wall, and the front curved piece.  One thing to take not of is that I marked out the initial curve described by the template but then added another inch to use to make tabs to bend over to provide additional structural support as well as give a place to spot weld the backs and fronts to the flat outer pieces…

Stay tuned for the next steps as we work towards a  really cool pizza oven made from stainless steel scrap.

 

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Blueberry Barley Muffins

Whole Grain Blueberry Barley Muffins

Whole Grain Blueberry Barley Muffins

I grew up picking blueberries around our cottage in Northern Ontario… and not just picking a sour cream container worth to get enough to sprinkle on cereal in the morning but rather enough to fill freezers with blue bounty to last until the next season.

I still pick large amounts of blueberries,  I’ve become pretty practiced and can usually out pick the other members of my family  and now I have my kids along with me – learning to be comfortable in the bush, as well as gaining an understanding of the lasting reward that hard work can bring through a year of blueberries in baking.

These blueberry muffins call for whole barley flour – my preferred whole grain flour for sweet quick breads,  I find the taste sweeter than whole wheat flour.   Given I also like to diversify the grains in my diet this is also a good means of achieving that.  But, if you don’t have access to whole barley flour substitute whole wheat.

Enjoy these, and if you can get out picking take some time to sit in the bush, let your hands do the work while your mind gets to ponder over the issues of the day.


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Whole Grain Mocha Cookies – Junior Baker approved

Mocha cookies made with barley flour - together with milk!

Mocha cookies made with barley flour – together with milk!

There are requests, there are pleas and then there are demands.  These cookies demand a tall glass of ice cold milk.  In fact the dairy farmers should be handing out these very cookies to folk approaching grocery store cashes who don’t have milk in their basket!  They are frankly awesome.

Now, some chocolate cookies have loads of oooey gooey good chocolate in them.  These by contrast don’t overwhelm you with that taste – but they are addictive!

If you want to have folks rethink baking with whole grain flours – these might just be the way to win them over.

Click on the post title for the full recipe.


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Apple spice loaf – with whole grain flour

Apple see a lot of use in my home.  Our fall harvests from the neighborhood trees in a good year can be substantial.  The best of these are kept for fresh eating, seconds are peeled, sliced and dried or  frozen for pies, apple braids and the like, those that are a bit softer get transformed into apple sauce that we can, and finally the really bruised ones get turned into apple cider on the homestead press.

Apple Spice Loaf with Barley Flour

Apple Spice Loaf with Barley Flour

So we end up using a lot of apple sauce through the season, and this apple spice loaf is one of my favorite recipes. It’s a quick loaf – so it honestly doesn’t take more than five minutes to mix the ingredients, put it into a silicon loaf pan (which means I don’t even need to take the time to butter and flour the pan) making it a cinch to pull together.  In spite of being so easy – it is a lovely loaf the blend of apple and spices is lovely.  While the loaf is a great accompaniment for a nice cup of tea or coffee it most often serves as a bread substitute in our lunches, adding variety to our brown bags.  Made with whole grain flour – and I usually use whole barley flour for quick breads – it fills you up and keeps you satiated.

I think this is a pretty good example of better living today – you get a great rich filling and wholesome loaf, add diversity to your meals that sees you content to skip the cafeteria line for lunches and uses some of the bounty around us.  It is also a great example of how easily all this can be pulled together.  It honestly takes more time to wash the bowl than it does to prepare the batter and slide it into the oven.

Of course, you don’t need to use your own apple sauce or even flour you’ve produced at home to get a very nice product.  So take five minutes to make this apple spice loaf and add some great baking to your lunches.