Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Brick Ovens: Curves, Cobbles and Water

Columns with glass capitals that periodically emitted mist.
Glass waterfall and 'floating' walkway of Irish limestone.
In 2003, I spent an entire winter preparing for a flower show exhibit in Portland, Maine.

The theme was 'the space between buildings', which I interpreted as 'what can you do in an alley 15' x 40'?

The result was an insane amount of work and care to build a water garden and inhabit it with greenery in Maine, in the first week of February for five days only.

The day of the load-in, the temps outside were below zero.  Leafed out trees and perennials needed to be transported sixty miles without freezing.

Okay, you get the picture.

Artists and artisans sometimes have the chance to push the outside of the creative envelope.  Generally, we don't worry about the extremity of the effort (like planning a 'manned' mission to Mars).  These projects, however speculative, however complex or reaching, give us a distant landmark for future, perhaps more grounded projects.

 In 2006, I designed and built the landscape and stonework for the half acre in front of Bridgton Academy's new Humanities Building.  Central was a circular stone terrace constructed of reclaimed cobblestones from Commercial Street in Portland, Maine.   As the site was on a steep hill and I wanted to imbue the project with a sense of history, I built a breach in the wall from which a dry stream bed wound downhill.  Note that approximately 50,000  square feet of pavement drained into this stream bed from a culvert when it rained.

Conceptually, I determined that I was building a 'Tower Remnant'; the structure that might have stood there before the academy was ever built.

"Tower Remnant", when mentioned drew blank stares so I opted for 'Outdoor Classroom', a more prosaic term.  This goes to demonstrate that beginning with a strong theme will strengthen the final outcome even when the metaphor is not mentioned.

The project below, in New Hampshire, used curved reclaimed curbing to frame a patio and garden beds.  It is tempting (and necessary) to lay brick in straight patterns.  However, the variety of patterns exceeds the space here to describe them.  By making the intersection of the brick pattern at the bottom of the granite steps, I gave the terrace an off-center focus.  The curved terracing up the slope echoed the curves.

Then four years later I came back and built a granite and cobblestone water feature to frame the lower end  of the property.  

When building a brick oven for a customer, whether it is a residence or an institution, I strive to be aware of the potential metaphors at work. They are often specific to the person or place. 

Material choices DO make a difference; that is why I build the ovens from real fire brick, not cast refractory and why the exteriors change subtly or dramatically from project to project.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Brick Oven Dedication

Twelve years and forty brick ovens ago, I brought forth on an old trailer a new portable oven, conceived from used fire brick and dedicated to the proposition that all bread is not created equal.
Now I have engaged a boom truck, testing whether that oven, or any oven so conceived and so desiccated, can long endure.

I've met hundreds of people, built them ovens, far afield.  So I have come to designate a place for that first oven, as its final resting place that that hearth might live to bake more food.
Is it altogether fitting and proper to do this?

But, in a larger sense, I could not dedicate more travel-- can not allow--this oven to be sold.  I am resolved that this first oven shall not have fired in vain-- and that brick ovens, of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

A few days ago, a boom truck arrived, picked up the 1600 pound oven and swung it onto a base I'd built last summer.

The sturdy original is home.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Long Dome option

In some locations there is not sufficient space for a fully round dome.  In these cases it is possible to elongate or stretch the dome shape without losing its structural benefits.

Six years ago, an oven I built in St. Charles, MO.
Due to the other cooking elements desired in the same space, we designed a long dome 4' wide and 5' deep.
I built the 'core' and the on-site masons finished the exterior, which included a charcuterie (left).
There are some ways a long dome
can provide more versatile cooking options.

The dome for the Georgia project has its mouth on the long side providing two half-domes at either end.  If the cook wants, he or she can cook fast and hot at one end and at more moderate temperatures at the other.   The pre-cut bricks show where full bricks are used to stretch the width of the dome.  Cut bricks on the side are simple doubles of the set ones that will be used for the opposite half-dome.  This oven is 32" deep and 48" wide.

Starting the St. Charles oven.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

250K visits to Brick Oven blog

What does this mean?

For one, it means that blogs are visible.
For another, there's no way of knowing how many of those visits are bots.
For the last, I know people have appreciated the information.

Going forward, I will create a post when something new either in the way brick ovens are used or a new insight I have in the construction of these ovens.  Or, in a scrape, I find a tenuously related subject to write about.

I still advocate for dome shaped ovens made from real brick.  Truly, if I found a better material or way of building an oven, I would take it.

Extensive information on building and using wood-fired brick ovens can be found on this blog.

Or you can contact me.

somebody say 'CHOCOLATE?'

I was recently in Rockland,  Maine, famously known for both lobster and the gateway to Penobscot Bay.

On a quiet side street, a sign hangs inviting anyone to enter the Bixby (chocolate) Bar Co.

It's a factory AND tasting room with an audio-visual guide to the making of chocolate (as we know it).

The space, once a fish processing plant, then ice factory, is now clean and light, with spacious seating for anyone wanting to sit down and try their bean-to-bar organic chocolate products.

Of course I did.

All but the first photo are taken from the AV show.
Apparently chocolate doesn't come from the candy counter at the store!

It starts out as a really amazing fruit and goes through fermentation, drying, and milling before the sugary thing we eat is formed.

Bixby even sources their sugar from organic growers in Brazil and they have developed professional relationships with small farms in the equatorial belt of the world, where all chocolate is grown.

The Bixby chocolate tastes kilometers better than any other I've tried.