Thursday, November 24, 2011

Building Your Brick Oven: Option 3

Some of us have seen the humorous (not) placard in auto repair shops that reads: labor rate: $40/hr, if you watch: $50/hr, if you help: $60/hr.
Putting a different spin on that approach, I offer Option 3.
Option 1 of course is that I build your brick oven and many people like this (the same way that I like to keep my hands grease-less, and my knuckles un-skinned by handing my vehicle over to qualified mechanics who like to do that stuff).

Option 2 is where you gather information (from this blog and others), get the materials together and do the project yourself (a character building experience suited to many). You may also choose to build your first oven from cob, making the whole experience cheaper and faster, though less durable (see previous blog).

Option 3 allows you to build the oven of your dreams with an expert mason's help (me for instance). I've done this on occasion and in many ways I recommend it. Not only does it save you money (unlike the car mechanics) but you get to have a hand in the making, something that you will relish over the many years that you use your oven.

I'll pin-point a few reasons that this is a good option.
1. You won't need the special tools for cutting brick.
2. You  won't need the truck that carries the heavy materials.
3. When you come to a particularly gnarly point in the process, there's your friendly mason to guide you.
4. Sometimes, it's darned hard work and two is better than one.
5. It's the way we humans are intended to work and learn.

There are different kinds of investment. Time, money, and friendship. Option 3 saves you on the first two and adds to the third.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Eternal Arc

Arches National Park
Penn Station NYC
Roman Aqueduct
The arc of the heavens reflected in buildings, art, and geography exerts a special effect on humans. Not insignificant in the design of spaces and objects around us, the arc shows up everywhere: L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris, The St. Louis Arch: gateway to the West, geologic Arches National Park, Il Duomo in Florence as well as countless cathedrals, and as 'Arco iris' or rainbow in Spanish.

That there is both beauty and strength in the shape makes it perfect for incorporation into building and nearly universal in brick ovens.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Fire Within

Fire fascinates me. That anything burning can create both heat and random patterns of beauty must have led our distant ancestors to near-worship of fire. I burn wood to heat my home. I once wood-fired pottery to white-hot temperatures in a down-draft kiln, gazing through the ports as the glaze shimmered.
Now, I continue my fascination as I fire up the wood-fired brick ovens I build.
It can be fairly said that we humans have not psychically changed much in a million years. We seek the warmth of other creatures, are drawn to the sound of water, cringe at nearby lightening, stand in awe beneath a star-dusted sky, and gaze reflectively into the flames of a wood fire.
No doubt, this is why wood-fired brick ovens hold a magic beyond the fantastic food that we can cook in them.
Although the tradition of brick ovens goes back some thousands of years, it is the draw of the flame that provides the primitive backdrop to our brick oven experience.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Recent developments on the American War on Obesity seemed to target PIZZA as the culprit. That's a lot of mozzarella, if you ask me.

As with U.S. students' drop in world literacy standing, obesity is linked to junk input and non-engaging activities. Although most of this non-living takes place outside the school, targeting America's favorite food is like asking the kids to throw away their cell phones.
Studies have shown that sugar rich soft-drinks contribute more to obesity and diabetes than pizza.  Still, if you consider that a student eating pre-made, fat-enhanced, sodium-heavy, cafeteria pizza at school and the same types of food at home (washed down with soda) with little or no activity in a 24-hour day might be prone to weight gain, you can see that the problem of diet exists.

Here's what I've noticed about PIZZA when and wherever I've demonstrated making it in my brick ovens:
1. People love thin crust.
2.They love some crunchy whole grain in the crust.
3.Making, then watching their own pizza bake makes them happy.
4.The stuff that goes on the pizza is personal, fresh, and also makes them happy.
5. Pizza inspires people to get involved with making food.

So, if we know that people love pizza and we are concerned with the level of health in our children, why can't we get them more involved with their food.  Making pizza can lead one down the road to growing the vegetables, making the dough, getting friends together, and making good food choices.

School programs that connect students to their food sources stand a better chance of changing the dietary future of our young people. 
Obesity is a result of industrial foods. Enough said.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Low Cost Wood-Fired Oven

For some, the cost of a true brick oven (even just the materials) is 'over-the-top'. I'm a strong proponent of not giving up. In that spirit, I pass along to anyone the reality that for less than $100 you can build a wood-fired oven that will get you baking.  This kind of oven can also be built in a day or so.
With this small investment of time and effort you may discover a passion for wood-fired cooking that will lead you to build a brick oven or simply get friends together for a party.
using a broken ski pole to fan flames

My friend, Jesse Cottingham took the initiative with his oven. I gave him some spare red brick and firebrick and following his experience at the 2011 Maine Kneading Conference with Stu Silverstein, (see his book: Bread, Earth. and Fire) made himself a small oven.
Click on his link to see how he built it.