The Wood-Fired Blog

Helping Hurricane Sandy Victims Through Pizza

This story really makes me feel good. I received an email and a photo today from Joseph Pergolizzi, the owner of The Fire Within, our partner in the mobile catering oven market. We’ve worked with Joseph for years, and he was in California just a few weeks ago at FB Expo, where he did a great job of overseeing the cooking and hands-on demo’s.

Joseph was originally from the east coast, and he rallied some friends and four catering pizza oven customers, and they have been making pizza and helping feed people struck by Hurricane Sandy for the past week — all because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. Hey, they use wood, so they don’t even need power or gas.

You can send money to the crew by PayPal to “Peter Seminara” <> on his cell phone at 201-264-7822. That’s what we did.

Here is the text from Joseph’s email:

This past Saturday in Staten Island.

300 pizzas on Saturday. Not only did we bake at a FEMA / donation site we had cars shuttling your pizza’s into the areas where people didn’t want to leave their homes because of looters.

Fire Within customers from 4 states
New Jersey
New York

Be Happy, Eat Fruits and Vegetables

This is something to be shared. From The Baseline Scenario, one of my favorite economics blogs, three economists have done scientific research that definitively correlates happiness with eating five to seven servings of fruit and vegetables a day. They even control things that might mask the impact of just eating fruits and vegetables, such as education, health, religion, income, etc., and the veggie eating group is still happier. I think there is something fundamental in the human psyche that feels good about the act of eating right.

The paper, titled Is Psychological Well-Being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables?, is published by NBER, the National Bureau of Economic Research. Here is the abstract:

Humans run on a fuel called food. Yet economists and other social scientists rarely study what people eat. We provide simple evidence consistent with the existence of a link between the consumption of fruit and vegetables and high well-being. In cross-sectional data, happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables. The pattern is remarkably robust to adjustment for a large number of other demographic, social and economic variables. Well-being peaks at approximately 7 portions per day. We document this relationship in three data sets, covering approximately 80,000 randomly selected British individuals, and for seven measures of well-being (life satisfaction, WEMWBS mental well-being, GHQ mental disorders, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness, and feeling low). Reverse causality and problems of confounding remain possible. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of our analysis, how government policy-makers might wish to react to it, and what kinds of further research — especially randomized trials — would be valuable.

Institutional subscribers to the NBER working paper series, and residents of developing countries may download this paper without additional charge at

Five Pounds of Sugar in a Three Pound Bag (or Loaf Pan)

I’ve been having a mismatch between my desire to use Baker’s Percentages in grams and American loaf pans. Baking in grams is one of the best things to ever happen to me. OK, that might be an exaggeration, but it’s still a big deal. Weighing everything on a digital scale eliminates measuring cups and measuring spoons, it’s faster, it’s more accurate and there isn’t anything to clean up afterwards. What could be better.

And doing all of it in grams is so simple. It’s the 10 scale with zero fractions and very little complicated math. As a funny aside, the decimal system does seem to upset some people. One of our YouTube videos discusses making pizza dough balls by weight using grams, and one of the commenters wrote — “you are American. Quit using grams and use something we all understand. Cups or pounds and ounces”. I think he was serious.

But on to my mismatch. I bake bread in 500 gram increments, usually either 500 grams or 1kg per batch. Again, it just sort of makes sense, and the math is really easy. 20 grams of salt per 1kg of flour, and 10 grams of salt per 500 grams of flour. Even I can remember that.

But a typical 500 gram loaf of bread with some oatmeal or flax bran, seeds, nuts or raisins tends to weight about 1.2-1.3 pounds. Which means that is too big for a 1 pound loaf pan and too small for a 1.5 pound loaf pan. haha. I know in the big scheme of things that this really isn’t important. But here is a 500 gram loaf in a 1 pound loaf pan. Tastes great; looks too tall — and some times the top comes off in the toaster.


A New Trick for an Old Dog

A quick note on running and getting older — something that happens to even the best of us. haha. For the past year or so, I have been struggling a little bit with general soreness in my feet and ankles, and my training paces have been slowing down somewhat. It started before my personal best marathon race time last December, so I haven’t been panicking, but I was a little concerned. Train slow; race fast only gets you so far.

There is a general rule of thumb for distance running, which is that most runners get faster for about  6-8 years before peaking, regardless of how old they are when they start. The upward force of increased training and endurance is counterbalanced by the downward forces for of gravity and aging. Which makes sense.

Except that I have been running for only 4 1/2 years, so it’s too early for me to plateau.

So I took my problem to my online runners’ club, a forum very similar to the Forno Bravo Forum — but for distance runners. I got a lot of advice, from friends and strangers, ranging from run more, to run less, and from training for a fast 5K (a short race) to training for ultras (long races). The advice was great and a lot of fun.

But the best piece of advice came from an Australian runner, who recommended that I contact Keith Bateman, a well-known Aussie runner and running coach, who focuses on bio-mechanics, not training schedules. Keith is the 55+ world record holder in five distances between the mile and 10K. We got introduced and I explained my issues, and he agreed to help. He asked me to send him video of my running and then we would talk about it over a Skype lesson. Only in the Internet age could you get personal lesson for a world record holder by video conference.

It turns out that I have a couple of flaws in my running technique that can be pretty easily fixed that might make a big difference. Basically, my leading foot lands in front of my head, effectively knocking me back each stride and putting a lot of strain on my feet and ankles. Keith created graphics showing me what I’m doing wrong and gave me a series of exercises designed to fix it. Incredible. The lesson itself felt like a golf or tennis lesson, with technique, visualization and a lot of real-world “do it like this” instruction. Keith is, of course, incredible to watch doing demonstrations. Unreal turnover.

I have changed my technique for the past four days on 12, 12, 12 and 17 mile training runs, and the difference is clear. Perhaps stunning. I can run faster, with less effort and less pounding than before. It’s like running in someone else’s body, where I need to concentrate on running differently, and running correctly, or I fall back into bad habits. Just like golf. Right? But so far, so good. Everybody needs good hobbies, and good hobbies give all of us the ability to learn new things and to expand our minds and our horizons. This has definitely expanded how I think about my running hobby.

One last thing. Keith is a remarkable runner. He is the 55+ world record holder in the mile, 1500, 3K, 5K and 10K, and he is the oldest person to ever break 32 minutes for the 10K. He also runs a 1:11 half. That, to say the least, is incredibly fast. He is both a remarkable runner and a remarkable coach.

This is what a world record holder looks like running the 10K at 55. Maybe I can get there some day.

Chocolate Color Baguettes

Back to baguettes and color. These have an almost chocolate color,and they lack that nice golden glow that I like in a baguette. It must be something to do with oven temperature and caramelization. These used the same Central Milling AP flour that I used in a batch of baguettes a few weeks ago, and I did a pre-ferment overnight in the refrigerator.

So many variables.

These we OK, but I want more. Better color, better oven spring, better scoring. haha.

The Accidental Brick

Not the construction kind. The bread kind.

I have been on a pretty roll for the past month or so with by bread baking. We haven’t had to buy and bread from the store, and everybody is really happy. It’s interesting how quickly you lose your taste for store bread (even the good stuff) after you have been enjoying home baked bread for an extended period of time. I am rotating whole wheat/whole grain nut and see loaves, whole wheat cinnamon raisin, baguettes, focaccia and various banana/fruit/nut quick breads.

And it has all been working really nice — until a couple of days ago. I think I was getting too confident and doing a little less weighing of ingredients and I accidentally made my first really dense brick in a really long time. Looking back, the dough was not hydrated enough (I should have really felt it in my hands), and any chance it might have had in developing while proofing was cut short because it was late in the day and the time had come to put it in the oven (one way or the other).

So here it is. These are two loaves made from the same pre-ferment; I split it in half to start the two loaves. Guess which one is the brick. haha.

Pizza Oven as Bun Warmer

Over the years we have (rightfully) been poking fun at one of our competitors in the commercial pizza oven market who are located in the great Northwest. They sell a good number of ovens, but on closer examination you see that most of their ovens go to chain restaurants and hotels who don’t really know how to use a real pizza oven. They use them to re-heat pre-made pizzas and “oven roast” chicken. My favorite was an Embassy Suites hotel in Northern California who use their oven to keep bakery goods warm for breakfast. Pizza oven as bun warmer.

You also see their ovens in zoos, theme parks and airports. I’m sure it’s a great business, but as an organization, Forno Bravo wants to work with people who are committed to their craft and really care about their food. We want to work with the best restaurant in town, not the one owned by a conglomerate.

Which brings me to Saturday. Walking around Cambridge, we were in need of coffee, and the really good local coffee bar isn’t open on weekends, so we found a Cosi, a coffee/bakery chain in the Northeast that uses these ovens. Hey, I needed a cup of coffee.

And all at once I was reminded why I don’t like this oven. It was sitting there all done up and looking nice, but basically acting like a bun warmer. It is a gas oven set to 475F with an itty-bitty little flame in the back, that is baking focaccia, heating up sandwiches and making some really awful pizza. haha. I thought I would share a couple of photos. At least the enclosure looks nice. All dressed up, but….


The Race That Wasn’t

Of course they cancelled the New York Marathon, so I missed the opportunity to be a part of that great city for a couple of hours — though I am looking forward to trying again next year. With all that has happened in NY and New Jersey, I think the decision to cancel the race was a good one; sometimes bad things happen that are beyond our control, and the timing is just so bad there isn’t anything we can do about it. It would have been better for Mayor Bloomberg to cancel the race earlier than he did, allowing runners who did not want to fly into New York without the race to stay home. But from what I gather he is a full-speed ahead person, and there are times where we all have to make decisions based on imperfect information. We just have to do our best.

Of the 47,000 runners who were registered for the race, I am probably one of the more lucky ones. I flew to Boston to see our oldest daughter at college, and was planning to take the train down on Saturday morning. In fact, I was jogging on a treadmill watching the news on Friday when the announcement was made. Ironic. So, I stayed in Boston on Saturday, enjoyed the time with our daughter, and flew home Saturday evening. Plus, my goal race for the year is the California International Marathon (CIM) December 2, and I was treating the NYC marathon as a training run.

Running friends who had already made the trip (including a running club member from New Zealand), met up and ran through New York today. According to a friend from California:

Well that was amazing. What do thousands of runners do when there’s no race? They show up in Central park and go for a run, of course! The entire 6-mile loop looked something like this, a big rolling international party. The Italians were the loudest, the French ran against the flow. There were even people with cowbells and signs. My favorite: “You trained for longer than Kim Kardashian was married!”

We all wish the people of NY and New Jersey the best as they try to put the pieces back together.

One last note. Our daughter is studying engineering at MIT, and that fine school was recently named the best university in the world by a well-respected English publication. Go Beavers! Here is the cover of the Boston Magazine is the story titled “MIT Rising. How Harvard Became the Second Best School in Cambridge”.

Meanwhile, we have lots of exciting news coming up on pizza ovens, baking, oven accessories and outdoor fireplaces. In time for the Christmas season! Stay tuned.