The Pizza Has Landed!

Finally. It’s really only been 15 months since I started this project, it just seems like forever. Anyway, not *done* done – still need a door and a roof and to install the Mexican tiles, but: we made pizza tonight in our very own brick oven!

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The Caboose with the first pizza from the oven!

When we last left our intrepid yet reckless home improvement maniac, we had just put the first coat of stucco on over the ceramic insulation batting and chicken wire. The next day, the Caboose and I got up early and threw that second coat on before heading off to Sunday Mass:

Then, this morning, we put on the finish coat:

Since we were done well before noon, figured a new pizza oven needed an epic pizza peel, so I gathered scraps and drug out the table saw and clamps:

Around 6:00, we started the fire:

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The dough was on its second rising:

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Let the coals burn on the area where we’d be putting the pizzas for about 20 minutes, then shoved them to the back, swept the ash to the back as well (more or less) then started in with the pizzas:

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That’s mine – made the crust far too thin, got wadded up getting it off the peel. Tasted good, though.

We ended up making 4 medium-small pizzas, which proved plenty for five people. Things I learned:

  1. Should have let the coals burn longer on the spot we’d be cooking. As it was, by the 4th pizza cook time had more than doubled. Maybe need to heat with coals for 30 – 45 minutes? Maybe allow 1.5 to two hours of total heat time?
  2. No super-thin crusts unless you’re going small.
  3. Got to make a door. Helps keep the smoke out of your eyes.

Way fun.

 

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More Home Improvement Updates: Bricks, Trees and the Heat of Hell

Will review Riverworld, the novella, when I get a minute. I picked it up from Half Priced Books the other day as it is listed on John C. Wright’s list of essential SciFi reading, but I suspect he probably meant to include some or all of the 5 novels set in Riverworld, not just this one story. In the meantime:

Took Thursday and Friday off after we returned from our epic eclipse trip, mostly to work on the Brick Oven of Doom! In the last episode, I’d gotten the more or less decorative clay brick arch done, complete with a hand-cut stone keystone, and was feeling pretty good.

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Next step: install ceramic insulation, chicken wire and 2-3 coats of stucco. On a roll…..

Weeeell, seems I miscalculated, mismeasured, or maybe used inside instead of outside dimensions, or something – because I came up a couple feet short! AHHHH!

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What you see is a nice 2″ thick layer of high temp ceramic fiber insulation coming up short. What to do, what to do? Had some perlite left over from an earlier stage, sooooo – mixed it with a little Portland cement (5 to 1 perlite to cement ratio) built a little form, and cast a 2″ thick, 6″ high wall of insulation around the base. Don’t think perlite has anything like the R-rating as the ceramic fiber insulation, but I’m not ordering more since it takes a week and money to get it.

Effectively lost a day. Then, yesterday, tried to continue – and temps hit 105F. Even I, a madman, am not working in the sun under those conditions. Today, more of the same. So my dream of finishing this frustrating project this weekend died. I only need 2-3 days more!

On the other hand, my little orchard I planted end of winter/early spring is doing great:

And a couple of our 4 avocados:

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Avocados

13 trees in total. 2 of the 4 avocados are doing great; the other 2, planted in winter, are showing signs of recovering after looking so sad I almost yanked them up.

Following close planting – 18″ between related trees in a single bed, maybe 7′ between beds – because I don’t want big trees, I want small trees, and close planting (and relentless pruning!) gets you there.

Sigh. Maybe next weekend will be cooler?

Back Home/Brick Oven Update

On Tuesday, we toured the Nevada Northern Railroad yards in Ely (pronounced Eel-ee) and took a little train trip up past McGill. It was pretty:

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On Tuesdays, it’s the #204, an old diesel locomotive from the 1950s, pulling the train:

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We did get to tour the engine house, and see the old steam #40:

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While it’s cool to see people keeping up old trains – the Ely yards are so isolated that, when the copper mining petered out, it just got abandoned instead of scrapped, thus accidentally preserving a piece of history – it saddened me to see all the beautiful tools sitting idle. 75 years ago, dozens of men spent their days running those huge lathes, a couple forges and smithies, a huge steam-powered wrecking crane (for lifting the inevitable wrecks when you’re running copper ore day in day out) and otherwise doing the sort of blue collar work of which a man could be proud.

Now? It’s a passion for a few hobbyists and obsessives, who keep a couple very cool steam engines running and few miles of track maintained. It’s nice, but it seems like a mausoleum to a better age.

Then we drove to Carson City down 50, “the Loneliest Highway in America” according to the signs.  This stretch alternates between winding through mountains and crossing breathtaking plains.  On this particular afternoon, thunderstorms were rolling through – or we were rolling through thunderstorms – so that the already beautiful scenery benefited from beautiful clouds, rainbows, and that lovely lighting that seems to accompany desert storms. Lonely but lovely, at least on this day. My Honest State Motto for Nevada (not a favorite state) is now Nevada: Not as Ugly as You Remember.

Wednesday morning, drove up to lake Tahoe to catch mass at St. Theresa’s in South Lake Tahoe. The drive up to the lake from the east side takes 20 minutes; from the west side almost an hour. That’s partly because starting from Carson City is starting at much higher altitude, and partly because the Sierra are much more abrupt on the east side, which is the leading edge of a massive granite uplift. A beautiful drive.

I’ve mentioned St. Theresa’s before. I managed to not get too obsessed over the horrible woodwork this time.

The two remaining kids wanted to jump into the lake before we headed down:

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Verdict; Not as cold as feared. I will note that 10 minutes of wet was plenty, however.

Then back home, about a three hour drive.

Took today and tomorrow off to work on the Brick Oven of Doom. Back to working with regular clay brick and nice cheap regular mortar – turns out to be a lot more fun than those expensive refractory bricks and even more expensive refractory mortar. Here, take a look:

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That’s the finished front arch. The door fits underneath it up against the slightly smaller inner arch, thus sealing off the heat and smoke better. Wanted to see if I could cut a stone keystone using a diamond blade on my 4.5″ angle grinder:

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Cool, huh?

So this project has gone back to being fun. Tomorrow, I throw on 4″ of ceramic insulation, tie it down with chicken wire, and throw on the first coat of stucco. Then, between coats (I am anticipating two undercoats and a brown finish coat) I’ll install the Mexican tile.

Fun, right?

Saturday Update: Suburban Nirvana?

Coffee is a wonderful thing: had a couple cups at about 6:00, got some work in before 8:30 Mass, was starting to drag a bit, then had a quad-shot latte around 10:00, came home and worked until about 2:00, hit the wall and napped until 5 (good thing, too, as it was about 100F at that point) and then laid bricks until dinner. Yay, caffeine!

So, stressful week, still have a number of less than pleasant things to do, so, guy that I am, spent the day working around the house. Some trivial stuff like raked and watered the back lawn, watered the orchard I’ve put in in the front yard (front yards are useless – so mine’s got 13 fruit trees in it now, arranged in adorable planters of one kind or another) and a bit of tidying up.

(Now in Year 2 of what will most likely be a 4 year front yard project: got the trees and most of bricks along the walk in; need a wall, walk and fence along the street, a brick planter along the south side, and an expanded front porch. And a ton of clean-up. Among other things.)

But mostly worked on the brick oven. When we last left this insane project, I was trying to add about 12″ of shelf along the front, so that one would have a little space to use to get pizzas and bread in and out of the oven. Concocted an insanely complicated plan to bolt on an oak and Douglas fir butcher block shelf. Eventually realized it had too many ways to go wrong to leave much of a chance to go right. Soooo – poured a little slab using the threaded rod I’d already epoxied into the oven slab as rebar, added some cross pieces and – well, it looks OK:

Got some 6″ and 2″ square Mexican tiles to add a colorful surface, which is why it’s down 1/2″ from the oven floor.

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Some 6″ square Mexican tile for the shelf. 

After finally deciding the shelf issue, was ready to start building the oven! Got almost two courses in:

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Tomorrow, with any luck, I can get the walls up and start building the framework for the barrel vault. The ceramic insulation pads I ordered got here – it’s not enough! Need to order some more. The 11″  square Guadalupana tile arrived for the arch on the side. Need to get done Current state:

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Imagine a little Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine under the arch, with plants in front. 

It’s going to be really cute when I get it done.

And we had dinner out back in perfect California weather: low humidity, nice temperature, light breeze, no bugs.

And then got the killer sunset:

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Looking west across the street. Yay, God! Much brighter and more colorful in real life. 

All in all, a very nice day. For a change.  If I can gt a couple hours of writing in before bed, it will be darn near perfect!

Weekend Update/Pointless Post

Unless you like pretty pictures of food and second thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s no excuse for this post, and no reason for you to read it. Just being upfront.

A. Did get a bunch of reading in last week, will do a couple more book reviews soon. I could get used to this. In addition to the client visit/long plane flights/boring evenings in hotels providing opportunity to read, I felt well, which reinforced how not well I have been feeling since about November. Nothing in particular, just draggy, sleepy, unfocused. Might be blood pressure meds – but those have been the same for years. Will be seeing the doctor soon, but, as usual, I always feel better after making an appointment. (If only this worked for dentists – chipped teeth and decaying fillings just heal themselves once you’ve got a date to get them fixed. No?)

B. Saw Guardians of the Galaxy II a second time because it’s Father’s Day, it’s 105F outside, and my younger daughter had not yet seen it. Gotta say: as goofy as the action is, as unnecessary 90% of the (slight, I’ll admit) potty talk is, this movie works so well on an emotional level it’s shocking. Yondu steals most scenes he’s in, manages to convince you you’ve misunderstood him all along, and gets you crying (well, I, at least, had something in my eye) near the end – and then they ratchet it up from there – and it works. One of the reasons I wanted to see it again was exactly that: had I just fallen for cynical manipulation the first time? I kind of think not – I think they really understood that the only stakes worth raising were emotional stakes, and they went at it with everything they had, and it worked.

C. Speaking of pretty pictures of food: this year, my basil crop has been and continues to be outstanding. If you’ve got basil, make pesto; if you have fresh homemade pesto, make pasta; if you have homemade pesto pasta, you must bake fresh bread. I do understand that wasting people’s time with pictures of food is lame. I’m making an exception this once (well, except for my daughters’ cakes – but those are art) because my family kept going on about how beautiful this particular loaf of bread was:

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So, yea, it’s a picturesque loaf, I’ll grant. It’s the simplest loaf of yeast bread I know how to make – this one just came out particularly beautiful after the manner of its kind.  Tasty, too.

D. On the flight back from Atlanta, got to see lots of snow. There was plenty in the Rockies near the New Mexico-Colorado border, on  into Utah (especially considering I was on the right side of the plane heading west, meaning I was mostly looking at south-facing and thus less snowy slopes) .

The real snow action was the Sierra:

 

We seemed to be flying right over Yosemite, so my view was of Mono Lake (too low for snow, just north and east if Mt. Whitney and just north of the Long Valley Caldera), Hetch Hetchy, which is the valley on the western slopes just north of Yosemite and which contains San Francisco’s main reservoir, and the high granite domes which make up the bulk of the high southern Sierra.

Lots of snow, even in mid-June. Several ski areas have announced that they will be open through August! The pictures are too small to see this, I suppose, but even from the air you could see areas above 8,000 or 9,000 feet just buried in snow. Along the western side, I could see white-water waterfalls coming off those high granite domes down into the valleys, and all the rivers were likewise white until well into the foothills. Spectacular.

E. My son asked long ago for me to make him a shield. After googling around, I decided to try fiberglass. Just because I’ve never done it before. So I made a hardboard form, if you will, gave it three coats of varnish to seal it, had my son apply 4 coats of wax to it. I’d attached some 3X2 boards along the sides, screwed in a couple big hooks, had my son lean on it in the middle, them wired between the hooks to get the curve:

 

Then we applied the world’s sloppiest gel coat – hey, it was our first time! As soon as we can get 2 uninterrupted hours, we will put on 4 layers – 2 mat, 2 cloth – and epoxy in a handle and adjustable strap. Then let cure over night.

And pray we can get it off the form!

Graduation: Cakes

My beloved younger daughter made cakes for the Diablo Valley School graduation and 20th anniversary party. First the graduation cake:

Raspberry cream filling and frosting on a vanilla cake. Even more delicious than it looks!

And my lovely daughter.

The theme for the 20th anniversary party was disco tea party. My daughter responded:


On one side and she put silhouettes of disco dancers:


She also handed detailed the flowers:


All I can say is that I hope somebody at school ask for a death Star cake some year, because I’d really like to see that!

We had fun. People were duly impressed.

Calla Lilies

On the north side of our house is a little concreted in area where we keep our trashcans (or, more accurately, this being California and all, our recycling bin, our yard waste bin and our landfill bin). There are a couple small areas up against the house, no more than a couple square feet each, where the soil is exposed. Why those little areas were not paved I have no idea.

We’ve lived here for over 20 years. In an exhibition of hope triumphing over reason, one of previous owners planted calla lilies in those areas. Somehow, they are still there. To recap: no sun, no care, poor clay soil. The only way they ever get watered is by rain or maybe when I wash off the patio in the back and the water accidentally makes into the beds. Note that I don’t wash off the the patio often, pretty much never when we’re having a ‘drought’, so called. So, for the past 5 years, those flowers have gotten by on only a tiny amount of water at highly irregular intervals. Yet, they will not die.

As you may have heard, it has rained a freaking lot (technical term, that) this year out here in California. It’s raining now. We’ve received well over a foot more rain than is typical, almost 200% of average.

The calla lilies liked it:

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Mrs Yardsale of the Mind cut a bunch for Easter and put them on the table, where I snapped these pictures. Over the spring so far, there have been maybe a couple dozen beautiful flowers, totally unearned and unexpected.

Sometimes, life is like that.

Happy Easter! All week!