The Wood-Fired Blog

Wood-Fired Croatia (or more accurately, Istria)

We just returned from a very nice trip to Croatia. I have wanted to explore the Dalmatian coast for years, and the timing was right this summer. Our older daughter spent the summer working on campus in Boston (a very cool research project on pre-fab building using 3D modeling software and CNC laser equipment) and she had two weeks off before the start of school. And we put it to good use. Fly to London (see family), fly to Venice, boat to Istria (in Croatia), drive to Dubrovnik (bottom of Croatia), drive to Zagreb (the capital), fly to London (see more family) and fly home. It sounds hectic, but it was really very nice.

Istria pizza oven

I thought I would have share a couple of the cooking and food highlights — particularly the ovens. I have written before that the pizza in Venice isn’t very special. I don’t know if it’s an urban legend or actually true, but the story I’ve heard is that Venice had real problems with fires in medieval times, which is why they moved all of the glass manufacturing furnaces out to the island of Murano and banned wood-fired pizza ovens. Even if it isn’t true, it’s a good story. Either way, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wood-fired pizza oven in Venice, or had a particularly good pizza (but I had some really good fish).

Then we took the ferry to Istria.

Istria pizza oven

Istria was different; it’s been called Croatia’s Tuscany for good reason. The region was part of Italy until the second world war, and it still looks and feels Italian. The road signs are all written in both Serbo-Croatian and Italian, most restaurants serve antipasti, primi, secondi e dolce, and Italian is spoken widely. Olive trees, vineyards, olive oil, pasta, truffles, hilltop towns, and pizza ovens. We came, we saw, we ate.

I asked a number of restaurant owners where they got their oven, and most said that they bought an Italian-made kit locally, and installed it themselves. I even recognized a few of the ovens by brand. The pizza oven tools also came from Italy.

Istria pizza oven

Istria pizza oven

Istria pizza

 

IstriaIstria is highlighted in red.

We knew it was coming, but you could feel the difference after we drove across the peninsula and turned south, down the coast. The Italian road signs, the pizza ovens and pasta served at every restaurant was gone. Along with our ability to easily communicate. The family can speak Italian, French and Spanish, and none of it did us any good. haha.

The good news was that we had entered the land of the wood-fired grill. Which was equally great. But more on that next.

 

Shipping Container House on NPR

If you are into building things (I am), you might get a kick out of the shipping container house in New York features on NRP’s Science Friday. The house is on a very narrow lot in Brooklyn and is made up from five recycled shipping containers. My favorite part is that because it was easy to cut into the container, they could use recycled windows of just about any size. Think about how much time and effort (and cost) we put into ordering windows to fit existing openings.

Shipping Container House

You can watch the Science Friday Video here.

Community Supported Agriculture/Farms (CSA/CSF)

Michael Pollan’s new book and the attention it is getting got me thinking (again) about where our basic food stuffs come from — so I went back and watched the documentaries Fresh and Ingredients again (I decided to pass on Food, Inc.). All of which got me thinking about farmers’ markets, CSA/CSFs and sustainable food that is good for us, our kids and the plant.

To quote Wikipedia:

Community-supported agriculture (Sometimes known as community-shared agriculture or CSA) is an alternative, locally-based economic model of agriculture and food distribution. A CSA also refers to a particular network or association of individuals who have pledged to support one or more local farms, with growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production. CSA members or subscribers pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest; once harvesting begins, they receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit, in a vegetable box scheme. Many CSAs also sometimes include herbs, cut flowers, honey, eggs, dairy products and meat. In theory a CSA can provide any product to its members, although the majority of CSA tend to provide produce and other comestibles. Some CSAs provide for contributions of labor in lieu of a portion of subscription costs.

We live in a place where we have ready access to CSA’s, so it was time to take action. This weekend I signed for for a weekly pick-up of fresh seafood, a weekly pick-up of local organic vegetables and eggs, and a quarterly pick up of frozen, grass-fed beef. I’m sure this sounds like another story of a privileged locavore, but I do think this matters. I’ll let you know how it goes, what we end up getting and eating, and the fun new recipes we are going to have to come up with to actually eat all of this stuff.

Here are the links to our local CSAs:

Local Catch Monterey

Local Catch Monterey Bay

WE Cooperative Monterey

 

WE Cooperative Monterey Bay

Morris Grassfed Beef

Morris Grassfed

 

Boston 2014

Monday was a beautiful day in Boston. Perfect weather for running, it was clear and chilly, with almost no wind; runner friends had converged on Boston from all over the planet; the crowds cheering on the runners were fantastic; the race organizers and volunteers are the best, and my daughter and her friends are having a great college experience across the river in Cambridge — and we all have a lot of fun when we get together. These are the things that really matter, and they are the things that make all of our community events, whether it’s the local 5K or a big city marathon, so special. And Boston is the best.

acrosstheriver

MIT at Night

I was through the finish area safely ahead of the events, but one friend in our running group was close enough to hear the noise and feel the air move, and another was guiding a disabled runner and they were still on the course, and they had to work their way through the chaos to find their families.

Word in the runner community is that Boston 2014 is going to be huge. Which makes perfect sense; the running community, Boston and our society are strong and we are looking to the future with confidence. Everyone who is fast enough to qualify wants to be there to support Boston and our community. Runners are even going to come out of retirement to re-qualify, just to give their support.  I will be proud to be there.

Of course I am not from Boston. But here are two articles that I appreciated from Boston-native writers.

Strength in the Face of Evil

Messing with the Wrong City

 

 

Bread Storage

We bake and eat a lot of (good, healthy) bread. But there are only three of us when our older daughter is away at college, so we don’t make it through the 2lb loaves that I typically bake in a day or two — so bread storage really matters. Do it wrong, and you end up throwing away of lot of stale bread that could be avoided.

Here is a nice whole wheat, oat, honey loaf and a banana bread. We aren’t going to eat all if this tomorrow. haha.

photo

As a complete aside, I can see why there are so many traditional recipes that call for stale bread. Back when everyone baked and there wasn’t a supermarket, everyone had lots of stale bread, and they had to figure out something to do with it.

Luckily, the solution is really easy. Amazon carries a nice acrylic bread storage container that works really well. It expands to match the size of your bread, it’s clear so that you can see what you have, it doesn’t take a lot of counter space, and best of all — it really works. We have two and they are in constant use. They cost $13 each, and we have easily save more than $26 by not throwing out stale bread.

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Sorry. But I have one more aside. There is a great TED talk on food waste in the developed world. We throw away about half of the food that we produce, and the presenter has some good ideas on what we can be doing about it.

So, bake, eat and enjoy!

A Novel of Ancient Rome

You know that I have always found ancient Rome interesting (to this day I get a kick just thinking about the wood ovens in Pompeii), and so does my wife — who recently published a historical novel on Galla Placidia, empress of Rome in the mid 400′s. She started researching the book when we were living in Florence, and has now put the finishing touches on the novel, and has published it through Amazon.com. It is available in both print and Kindle editions, and the early reviews have been very positive. We are all so proud; completing any novel is a big task, and taking on a historical novel as her first book was huge.

nobilissimafrontcover2

 

Our oldest daughter did the cover art, so it was a family effort. There is a wood-fired oven mentioned on page 75 (I think), so I think it reasonable to post it here. haha.

You can find it on Amazon.com. Nobelissima: A Novel of Imperial Rome. It is also available through the Amazon lending library.

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Here is the Book Description. Enjoy!

Nobilissima is the story of Placidia, a Roman princess who marries the King of the Visigoths and later becomes Empress of the Roman Empire.  It is a story of love, ambition and war, set against a backdrop of barbarian invasions and the Empire’s turbulent transition from paganism to Christianity.  In 410 AD, the Visigoths sack Rome and seize hostages. That dark, violent night marks the beginning of a perilous journey through Italy, Gaul and Spain for Placidia and her companions. She survives immense hardships and an attempt on her life to find happiness in her marriage to the new Visigoth king and the birth of their son. But a series of terrible tragedies forces her to return to her brother’s court, where further trials await her. A strong and courageous woman, Placidia is also a skillful politician capable of building alliances with popes, kings, senators and generals. She gathers power and influence, but all seems lost when a scandal erupts and her life is again threatened. She flees to Constantinople, only to learn that her brother has died and a usurper has seized the crown. At the head of an army, she returns to Ravenna to fight for the throne. 

NY Company Sends 1,000 Pizzas to NYC

We’re not alone. From the Wall Street Journal:

PTTISFIELD, N.H. — A New Hampshire pizza maker is lending new meaning to pizza-to-go — sending an oven truck and up to 1,000 pizzas to storm ravaged Rockaway Beach in Queens, N.Y.

Brad Sterl, CEO of Pittsfield-based Rustic Crust, says a truck carrying a wood-fired pizza oven and American Flatbread frozen pizzas will arrive at the Belle Harbor School in Rockaway on Saturday.

I don’t know whose oven this it, but good for Rustic Crust for doing this.

More on Sandy Relief Help

Peter Seminara has been working hard all week organizing another relief effort tomorrow, November 17th on Staten Island @ Miller Field Saturday @10AM.
Once more — here is how you can send them donations:
You can send money to the crew by PayPal to “Peter Seminara” <petersem@earthlink.net> on his cell phone at 201-264-7822. That’s what we did.
Here’s a photo from Staten Island last week.

More Pizza for Hurricane Sandy Relief

Angelo Pappalardo from Rubirosa will be operating their mobile FB oven in NYC this Saturday and giving out free pizza. We aren’t sure which borough yet, but we will update this when we know more. Angelo own two pizzerias, one of which won best pizza in NYC a few years ago.

More to come.