The FRANKENQUE: How to Make a Wood-Fire Pizza Oven for Under $30

A nearly-finished "salad pizza" (my own creation): pesto, caramelized onions, chèvre, topped with a salad of arugula, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, pine nuts, and shaved parmesan

A nearly-finished “salad pizza” (my own creation): pesto, caramelized onions, chèvre, topped with a salad of arugula, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, pine nuts, and shaved parmesan

Anyone who knows anything about the near-cultic devotion to the famous “Napolitano” style of pizza-making knows that to make such pizza, you need to spend thousands of dollars to install your own wood-burning oven.

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Ever since seeing a write-up on a guy known as the “Pizza Hacker” — who sets up his own little “pop-up” on the streets of San Francisco using a modified 22″ Weber Grill — I began to believe that the people who drop big money into a professionally-made custom oven — something that will (at best) only be used once or twice a month — were actually posers just looking to get in on the next trend.

But I was still pondering the possibility of going the homemade route and spending a little bit of money to make my own free-standing permanent oven in the backyard, believing that I’d never get to the necessary temperatures with anything else.

Most home and even commercial ovens will not produce an authentic pizza the way Giuseppe in Naples makes it. Traditional pizza is made in a wood-burning oven, at a high temperature. Good typical temperature is at least 700F, up to 1000F.

However, recently I learned that if you don’t care about showing off the latest cooking gadget with Coolness Factor, you can make your own wood-burning pizza oven for less than $30, using something you already have (and without permanently modifying it). For me, the Cheapness Factor way offsets any perceived diminution of Coolness.

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Because of the high heat, the pizza cooks within a couple minutes, and the dough is crispy, crunchy, and also chewy, especially around the crust, and has just a whiff of smokiness from the wood fire.  Without that blast of high heat, pizza cooked in a conventional oven will be more flat and lacking in the textural quality that exemplifies the style.

To make your own oven, you need a charcoal grill. In theory, I’ve heard that a gas grill can be used also.

As you can see from the pictures, my grill shows a lot of use. That’s ok. From the hardware store, you need some bricks and ceramic floor tiles. Ceramic tiles that are “unglazed” are best.

For my big old barbecue grill, I needed six 12-inch floor tiles ($9) and four or five 6-inch floor tiles ($5), and eighteen standard bricks ($12.50). You can play around with the configuration, but the goal is to make a reasonably well-sealed enclosure with adequate cooking surface.

IMG_1472You build your fire underneath (a grill like mine [with doors on the front that provide access to the coals/wood underneath without upsetting the structure above] is best, but as noted, a Weber can also be used) and will need to tend it as you go.

Once you’ve heated coals using a chimney starter and spread them out, you place the grill, and arrange your tiles on the grill surface, which you “surround” with an adequate number of bricks to make a “wall” with a small opening a front for accessing the oven.

Then you close the lid, add more coals and wood and watch the needle on the thermometer climb to a good cooking temperature. The bricks and tile provide a lot of thermal mass, which means they will hold heat for a long time, but it can take up to two hours to reach your desired temperature (N.B.).

We learned through trial and error that leaving an open space without a 6-inch tile in a back corner of the oven helps maintain good heat in the “hood”. We also learned that depending on the intensity of the fire below, you might want to use two tiles stacked together for your primary cooking surface, or alternately, two or more layers of parchment paper for sliding the pizzas. You will need to learn how your oven works best and make provisions for your experimentation.

FullSizeRender 8After two cooking sessions with this thing, I can tell you that you will attain the necessary temperature if you use a combination of coals (to start the fire) and good hardwood (for use during cooking). With adequate wood on hand, reaching temps of 800-900F were well within range and capable of being maintained for adequate time to cook four or more pizzas. On one evening, we cooked 16 pizzas, and on another night, I cooked 8 pizzas.

Also, it seems fairly obvious, but please note that you are dealing with rather high temperatures, and the bricks and tiles (as well as the grill itself) will be exceedingly hot, and therefore dangerous, especially with children nearby. DO NOT permit children to operate the oven or be near it without adult supervision. DO NOT cook in an enclosed or unsafe area. Have a supply of long sturdy tongs, a pizza slide, and oven mitts on hand.

Due to this caution about the extreme heat, it is also important that in arranging the bricks and constructing the oven, you assemble it so that it is sturdy and does not permit movement. You will not want to be rearranging bricks or tiles when the oven is 700-800F.

Once you make your own oven using this method, I think you will be pleased with the result, and find it to be rather versatile and suitable for more than just pizza. Meats would do well roasted in the oven, and yesterday we discovered it works great (at a lower temperature) for baking bread:

IMG_1491Buon appetito!


The Age of Euphemism: Claiming Religious Liberty as Latest Victim

Apparently Indiana broke the Interwebs by passing legislation which some are calling an “anti-gay law”. Opponents of the law have taken to Twitter, social media, and banner carried by blimp to declare that anyone who cares about religious liberty is, in fact, a “bigot” and “hater” who has no right drawing oxygen or consuming resources on our planet.

Apparently bigots are not worthy of toleration, but to the extent that bigotry is synonymous with Catholicism, we’ve known that for a while.

Individuals like the reigning CEO of Apple have lambasted the Indiana law, while various politicians and moguls have indicated that they (and the mammon they control) will “boycott” the state for having the temerity to pass a law that mirrors federal legislation and the laws of at least 17 other states.

Nevermind that Apple continues to do business with countries that will execute outed gay people (Nigeria, Uganda, Qatar, Saudi Arabia). No mention of those nations on Mr. Cook’s Twitter feed. So there’s a strong dose of political theater as an admixture to this whole thing, and it’s creating noxious odors.

Lest you think my position can be reduced to talking points, and before you object to my characterization that the Indiana law “mirrors” the federal and other states’ legislation, let me clarify that the big distinction claimed by opponents of the Indiana law is that the Indiana law provides a defense (not an automatic protection from prosecution) to instances where the government is not a party in the claimed violation of religious liberty.

That means that where, for example, the state is not involved in forcing a Christian florist to make floral arrangements for a gay wedding, the Indiana law would provide the business-owner with a defense against private civil liability for any “discrimination” claims brought by the aggrieved “victim”.

However, this argument entirely ignores the fact that the federal law does the very same thing as the Indiana law (provide a defense against private actions) in a number of federal appellate circuits where the issue has been decided by the federal appellate courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to address the split in the appellate circuits on this issue, but it is simply untrue to say that the Indiana law does something novel that is unlike legislation elsewhere.

The more primary issue is that religious liberty (and conscience protections) are no longer closely held rights considered sacred by a majority of American voters, even though religious liberty is enshrined as one of our fundamental constitutional protections. Religious liberty is simply no longer relevant in today’s society.

Far more important — and relevant — to the average American “voter” (now “consumer”) is whether every claimed “public accommodation” must cater to every conceivable type of deviancy. One must not be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed when one tries to check into the Hilton Garden Inn with a bevy of goats for an evening that even satyrs would envy.

Because being precluded from spending money where I wish is the most gross and egregious violation of commercial liberty, and we all know that in today’s Western culture, commercial liberty trumps every other form of liberty, including free speech and religious liberty.

The only barrier to entry for commercial libertines is whether one has money or not. Having money means you play by the All-Important Rule Above All Other Rules: you cannot tell anyone else what to do with their money. Because that’s de facto bigotry.

Have a same-sex partner and want to manufacture a baby in a test tube implanted in the womb of your partner’s mother? If you can write the check it’s not a problem. Suffering from one of the “socially-conscious” diseases and need life-saving experimental treatment derived from stem cells lines from aborted fetuses? As soon as the credit transaction comes back “approved” we are good to go. Writing a “travel” book about the best places in southeast Asia to obtain the “services” of prostitutes (including underage victims of human trafficking)? Sure, here’s a list of interested publishers.

The poor, who lack money for things like “smart watches”, aren’t really people at all. If they were, they’d have commercial liberty. Since they don’t, they aren’t. So we can ignore them and continue as before.

After all, who I love is no one’s business, whereas who I engage in commerce with is everyone’s business, even if it offends the rational sensibility of social conscience held for the last 5,000 years, forces others to sanction the unsanctionable, or leads to offending the decency of the social order.

Anyone who disagrees will be destroyedi.e., separated from their moneyremoved from their property, position, and possessions, and sentenced to poverty, thus becoming non-human and entirely forgotten, where they can rot with the rest of the bigots while the Great Progression marches onward.

The Devil Is Real

FullSizeRender 4Yes, he is. Having recently received my copy of the Manual for Spiritual Warfare, I’ve been meaning to write a short review on it. But I’m late to the party and Russell Shaw over at OSV has already done the heavy lifting for you.

Attacks from the Enemy can become even more intense as you progress in sanctity. This is why we see a multiplicity of examples from the lives of the Saints where the Devil is enraged whenever anyone becomes close to God, and he works even harder — and more overtly — to bring about spiritual destruction. Consider the Cure of Ars (St. John Vianney) as just one example. Other examples abound.

In other words, no one is immune to these attacks, which means that we must be vigilant, and receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist with frequency. A good regular (daily) examination of conscience is also helpful. And, as St. Padre Pio would say, a rosary in the right hands is a very powerful weapon. A rosary is an irritation to the Devil even if it stays in your pocket the entire day.

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You know, “SPA SERVICES”: facial scrubs, massage, and chemical abortions

According to this Washington Post article, one Maryland abortion clinic is trying to push the heinous even further, by creating a “spa-like” environment to facilitate in removing the “stigma” from the murder of one’s own offspring.

There’s nothing like cushy bathrobes, wood flooring, and modern finishes to lull the senses into a serene calm just before doing the unthinkable.

Behind Curtain “A”, as one patron slips into a relaxing mud bath, the “guest” behind Curtain “B” takes a potently-toxic combination of FDA-regulated pharmaceuticals to expel the nacent life within her.

In modern moral relativist terms, the women behind the two curtains are basically doing the same thing. After all, the spa is all about pampering yourself and nothing more. The only “consequence” is found on next month’s credit card statement.

And the lady behind Curtain “B” can be sent home with plenty of time to spare before there’s any risk of spilling blood or tiny baby parts onto those expensive wood floors at the “spa”, because that would really stigmatize the vibe they’re trying to create.

St. Joseph: Patron Saint for Dads

14559691119_b68d69dbf8_oSt. Joseph’s adopted fatherhood of Our Lord is near mystery in itself, miraculous. He is a universal model of fatherhood. And he’s the guy for us dads.

Consider, in St. Joseph, the theological virtues. He has FAITH. He trusts in God, hears His voice. He listens. He has HOPE because St. Joseph is not troubled by troubling news. He gives thought and consideration to what he learns, but he does not despair in them. He follows. All the while, St. Joseph LOVES. He loves his family. He desires their highest and best good.

Consider also, that St. Joseph is perfectly CHASTE, at all times, in all ways, beyond all normal expectation. He is TEMPERATE. He does not give way to rash judgment. He is the very image of CHARITY, in that what he does is for the good of his wife and son. He lives the Golden Rule.

14723320066_eed36e551a_oSt. Joseph’s DILIGENCE is found in his respect for the laws of Caesar, and his determination to do the will of God. And his work. He works to provide for his family. He shows us dads that all honest work has dignity.

PATIENCE. I laugh. Imagine Jesus for a son and Mary for a wife! OF COURSE HE WAS PATIENT!

Was St. Joseph KIND? He was righteous (Matt 1:19), but he was “unwilling” to expose Mary to shame. Yes, Scripture shows us that he was KIND even when he might have felt wounded.

And finally, St. Joseph’s HUMILITY. Just as any true human father should be, St. Joseph allows himself to be completely eclipsed by the Goodness that surrounds him. He is in the midst of God Incarnate and His Mother, so there can be little doubt that St. Joseph was the kind, loving, devoted, and dedicated father that God intended him to be, without any of the earthly rewards claimed by the rest of us dads.

He was simply the perfect human father and greatest dad.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day.


Denmark: First to Legalize; after less than 50 years: Catastrophic Disaster

This article in the Guardian (before following the link you should be aware that it contains a picture at the top of the article that is NSFW) almost defies belief.

Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography (in 1967). A recent study indicates that in Scandinavia, 99% of boys and 86% of girls have viewed pornographic films by the time they’re 16 years old. Mandatory sex education has been the law in Denmark since 1970, and in some schools already includes a pornography component.

Prof. Christian Graugaard of Aalborg University in Denmark suggested on public television that pornography should be shown in the classroom in Danish schools. This, he claims, is preferable to sex education classes that are “boring and technical.” Of young Danish teens, Prof. Graugaard says that “They should become conscientious and critical consumers.”

We are in trouble.

Limonicello Update

I’ve been rather busy with work stuff lately, which has cut into the blogging (sorry), but last weekend I did manage to find time to brew a batch of Religious Liberty Ale, and keg my newest DIPA after dry-hopping with an obscene amount of hops (more than a pound total of Cascade, Simcoe, Columbus, Amarillo and Centennial).

FullSizeRender 3Also, on Sunday, I took the next step in the Limoncello project. Since last month, I’ve had nine liters of potato vodka from Trader Joe’s “marinating” in the peels of over 70 lemons, extracting the citrus oils and esters from the lemons, along with a nice pale yellow color. Every so often I’d take the glass carboy out, shake it up a little bit, and put it back.

The next step was to add the sugar syrup; slightly less than a 1:1 ratio of water and sugar, boiled on the stove for five minutes, and cooled before adding to the lemon-ized vodka.

The objective is to arrive at a sugar and alcohol concentration that provides about 20%ABV, and more importantly, does not form ice crystals. The limonicello should pour without any solid or semi-solid ice formation even when taken directly from the freezer. Any freezing indicates that there is too much sugar and water, and not enough alcohol.

The contents of the carboy should continue to sit out at room temperature for another month or so before bottling. In other words, there should be a bit more flavor and color extraction from the lemon peel. The bottles that you see on the side were filled on Sunday because I didn’t have quite enough space to fit everything in the carboy. And they also have a bit too much syrup, so I’ve been “removing” a little bit from each bottle and “replacing” it with straight vodka to get the ratio right.

IMG_1402The bottles I filled Sunday won’t be quite as good as the “final” product that has had another month in contact with the peels, but I am very pleased already. The flavor, aroma and texture is definitely in line with commercial examples. In fact (not to be too self-congratulatory), I think it’s rather better than most commercial examples.

For one thing, the color is totally natural; in contrast a lot of makers add yellow dye to produce the neon yellow color. Also, there is a very full and authentic LEMON flavor and aroma in my homemade version; sometimes limonicello veers toward the flavor/aroma of furniture polish or candy.

Although we’re a few weeks from bottling, barring any surprises I think we can call the pilot limoncello project a success. It’s delicious. We took some to a family gathering on Sunday evening and everyone who tried it seemed impressed with it.

Once I get the right sugar/water/alcohol ratio (I don’t anticipate any problems here; and I have a little more plain vodka on hand for this purpose) we will have made about 22 liters total. I plan to keep about half on hand under refrigeration for ourselves and our guests, and I’ll be giving the rest away to friends and family.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, each 750ml bottle costs about $4, versus around $18 for a cheap commercial example. Yay!

Weekend Report & Prayer Requests

It was a great weekend. We enjoyed nice warm weather for the season, sunny skies, and had some (brief) opportunities to rest and pray!

The freezer door, teeming with bacon

The freezer door, teeming with bacon

On Friday evening, we had a “family date night”, frozen cheese pizza, etc. and a movie, which was fun. Earlier in the day went to the butcher to pick up our pig. It’s always a special day when the freezer is once again fully stocked with a pig’s worth of pork, even if, being that it was a Friday in Lent, we had to wait until Saturday morning “family breakfast” to sample the bacon and sausage.

On Saturday I brewed 10 gallons of The Oliphaunt. I’m refining the recipe just a bit. I wanted to increase flavor and body just a few degrees, so I upped the Roasted Malt and Flaked Oats by 4 ounces. Also, this batch will ferment with good ole’ “Chico Strain” rather than the “British Ale” from Wyeast, because that’s what I had on hand. Now that I’ve got my beer gas and stout faucet, I’ll be trying to keep a stout or porter on hand most of the time.

On Saturday evening, I cooked a “Hogmen’s Pie” (i.e., Shepherd’s Pie, but instead of lamb [=Shepherd’s] I used ground pork from the pig). There is still some of the first batch of The Oliphaunt from Christmas, which paired well with the pie. Fr. A ate three heaping helpings and we managed to drop off some for Mrs Q’s mother who was sick with a cold (pray for her!).

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 6.18.08 PMThen we had our “men’s group” monthly gathering, with the requisite whisky, pipes and cigars. This month we discussed the first half of Benson’s Lord of the World, which, as you should know by now, Pope Francis has mentioned on two separate occasions during interviews. There was a bit about Carroll’s 1917; Fr. A and I recently finished it and are both excited to discuss it. We’re hoping the rest of the group will read it for an upcoming meeting.

Sunday was Mass, followed by RCIA, followed by a couple of EMHC visits. Then, in the afternoon, we took a drive so I could submit two beer entries in the National Homebrew Competition. Last year I did not do very well. One of my entries earned a Bronze, but it was a dark time in brewing for me; if you recall, I was having trouble with some kegs.

Since it is still Lent, and during Lent we are called to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, perhaps you could help me in the prayer department? It’s for a personal intention. Something has started for me, and it will take years — years — for it to reach any kind of endpoint. It is not the kind of the thing that I have any kind of real control over; my prayer is to get out of the way and let His will be done. At some point in the future I may be able to share a bit more about it.

God bless you!