At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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BBQ Pizza

The Elbert County Fire Chiefs Association decided to reduce the Elbert County burn restriction to “Stage 2.”  The Elbert County Board of Commissioners made Ordinance 06-01 to approve this because conditions have improved with recent moisture levels. The restriction will run through September 30, 2011, when it will likely be renewed.

This does not mean that the threat of wildfire is gone, and caution is still required.  But, just in time for summer, Stage 2 returns the ability to use charcoal grills and campfires by approval through your fire department. So make sure to get a permit FIRST or the fines could be hefty.  Tell them you heard it from the Herald: if you invite them to your barbeque, you increase your chance of a permit!

Propane grills are legal to use without a permit, but for those loving the taste of wood, coal or other solid fuels, here’s some thing else in the news to think about.  BBQ Pizza.

Backyard chefs in Australia are likely to lay claim to inventing this, or at least are the very first to publish their results on the internet and other locations of avant guarde culinary science debate.  American chefs have been quick to pick it up, though, and now you can even buy frozen pizzas designed especially to fit on your barbeque.  Check out Home Run Inn Pizza – they just developed this June 1, last week.

Beyond the size issue, there is nothing in particular very special about a barbeque pizza.  It has all the same ingredients, but the manner of cooking it comes down to several fundamental choices. I’m not about to suggest which one is best for you, this is America, after all, and you are entitled to make bad choices. 

Just as with oven pizzas, it is important to cook the dough ahead of the toppings.  The key with barbeque pizza is to keep the lid CLOSED to emulate an oven.  Flip the dough four times to give the crust beautiful cross-hatched grill marks.  Some chefs do not like the char and will leave the pizza on a barbeque safe metal cooking pan or tray or paddle.  It would also be appropriate to consider using barbeque safe pottery or baking stones: these make the pizza extra crispy and crusty.  Paddles, trays, stones and pottery help cook the pizza more evenly

Removing the crust, apply your cheese and other toppings.  While, again, it would be improper of me to suggest toppings, if you are considering putting barbeque chicken or barbeque sauce on your barbeque pizza it is important to stop: you need to seek psychiatric help IMMEDIATELY.

It is important to cook the pizza on very high heat and quickly – this is the magic of barbeque pizza – so make sure you cut all your toppings VERY fine.  They’re not going to be in there long. 

BBQ Pizza

Serves 4 (makes 4 individual 7 inch pizzas or one large 13 inch pizza)


Pizza dough – homemade or premade crust

Pizza sauce:

        4 cups tomatoes, diced OR 1 can (12oz) tomato paste

        1 teaspoon basil

        1 1/2 teaspoon oregano

        ¼ to 1 teaspoon black pepper

        1/2 teaspoon tarragon

        1/2 teaspoon dill

        1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

        1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

        Chili powder or fresh chili peppers, chopped (optional)

        Lemon or lime juice (optional)


        6 oz fresh Mozzarella cheese, grated or sliced (or  mix with other cheeses,  like cheddar or Swiss)

        2 to 3 cups mixed vegetables and fruits


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Make the dough:  if homemade, follow directions until dough is rising.  If premade, skip this step.

While the dough rises, prepare the vegetables and sauce:  Clean and slice vegetables to 1/2 inch or less thickness.  Steam crunchy vegetables such as carrots and broccoli for 5 to 15 minutes, or until they begin to soften. 

Mix tomato paste with herbs and olive oil.  To keep the sauce from being too spicy for you, taste as you go.  Those who enjoy a lively pizza would do well to mix in some powdered chili pepper or pureed chili peppers to the sauce.  For an interesting twist, try adding in a twist of lime or lemon juice to the sauce!  If you have fresh herbs, try using them in the sauce instead of dried herbs, or just throw them on with the toppings! 

If making your own pizza crust: when the dough is ready, punch it down and divide it into four sections for individual pizzas, or leave it whole for a large pizza.  Prepare the pizza pan by oiling it with olive oil and dusting it with cornmeal.  Stretch the dough evenly across the pizza pan(s).  If desired, brush the dough with golden olive oil.  Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until the dough is mostly cooked but before it starts to brown.  Remove from oven.

For either kind of crust: spread sauce on the crust, then cover with cheese and vegetables.  Grill on the barbeque at high heat, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden.



Oxen alternative to beef

The use of cattle for beef and dairy is not unusual in Colorado, but the training of oxen for draft and pleasure is.  Oxen are typically employed on the Eastern seaboard, while mules have been popular a long time in the South.  Here in the west and on the Pacific seaboard, horses and oxen are used.  This regionalization of animals is not for any climatic adaptations, but because of the expenses of transporting animals and the native experience of the human inhabitants who trained them.

People keep using the animals they are used to as a rule, but breaking in an oxen market in Colorado is not difficult.  Besides being superior in nearly every way to draft horses, which are not as strong, gentle, intelligent or courageous as their cattle counterparts, oxen are hardy in more weather and sure footed in the typically dastardly Colorado mud.

Inexperience with oxen abounds.  Oxen are not a special breed of cow.  Any breed can be used, but only because of their cheapness, Holsteins are typical in the United States.  Bulls are more popular than steers, and steers are more popular than cows.  Bulls are so popular because people like to breed good oxen, and it is rather difficult to breed a steer (though with the miracles of modern veterinary medicine, it might be possible soon!).

Training a cow into an ox begins early, and it is best if they begin training before they are off milk.  Train them as you would a horse, and don’t be surprised when you don’t have to “despook” them.  Cows just don’t spook.  Also don’t be surprised if they learn how to do all their work before they are 6 months old: cows are much smarter than horses. 

Horses have the advantage of being faster than oxen, able to travel faster and further, plow more per hour and otherwise outperform the ox under ideal conditions, but the ox is better for more conditions and can pull heavier weight.

An ox is not driven from behind like a horse, but is led from in front.  Reigns are not used, but a wand (not a hard stick, but a gentle tapping device) is used to communicate left, right, faster and slower.  Oxen are very tactile creatures!  If you are going to use voice commands, they must be very clear and different from each other.

Sale prices of oxen in Colorado are typically twice that as on the East Coast.  A survey of oxen prices found that $5000 for a 3 year old team was not outrageous.  Asking $1000 for greenbroke 6 month old calves is not out of line.  Considering beef prices these days, it makes better sense to not castrate and train them up for the yoke!

Rise to your level of incompatance? er, competence? ability.

In another sign of a new age of business management theory, the Italians have independently rediscovered a principle of American and Japanese management theory, namely that managers should not be higher ranking positions than laborers.  Management is a separate trade than any other labor, and requires skill sets in statistics and human sciences.

Doctors Alessandro Pluchinoa, Andrea Rapisardaa, and Cesare Garofaloc in their The Peter principle revisited: A computational study (Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Volume 389, Issue 3, 1 February 2010, Pages 467-472) describe new evidence to support this theory of management:


“In the late sixties the Canadian psychologist Laurence J. Peter advanced an apparently paradoxical principle, named since then after him, which can be summarized as follows: ‘Every new member in a hierarchical organization climbs the hierarchy until he/she reaches his/her level of maximum incompetence’. Despite its apparent unreasonableness, such a principle would realistically act in any organization where the mechanism of promotion rewards the best members and where the competence at their new level in the hierarchical structure does not depend on the competence they had at the previous level, usually because the tasks of the levels are very different to each other. Here we show, by means of agent based simulations, that if the latter two features actually hold in a given model of an organization with a hierarchical structure, then not only is the Peter principle unavoidable, but also it yields in turn a significant reduction of the global efficiency of the organization. Within a game theory-like approach, we explore different promotion strategies and we find, counterintuitively, that in order to avoid such an effect the best ways for improving the efficiency of a given organization are either to promote each time an agent at random or to promote randomly the best and the worst members in terms of competence.”


The American / Japanese system requires that managers be hired separate from laborers, and that instead of promoting a person out of a job in which they excel, to increase their pay.  Or better, the pay of their team: no one is truly great without the help of their friends.  Punishment by decreasing pay is to be avoided, and managers are held responsible for maintaining productive efficiency and productive quality, not total output.  Total output is a function of labor and machinery and to increase total output requires more labor and more machines.

Under the new system, if a team or individual is discovered to be performing outside of statistically sound expectations, the management studies the matter and discovers why.  If they are performing for the worse, the causes of that performance is determined and corrected through assistance to the employee: firing employees is a last resort in the new management because, statistically, you are not going to be finding a better qualified or motivated employee, and when the fear of being fired is removed, performance increases.  If they are performing better than expected, they are rewarded and, if especially good at their job, employed to teach others how to do their jobs better.

A new use for veggies

Can't stand any more greens?  You can make paper out of the vegetables in your garden. Here’s how, from

1.        Thinly slice the vegetables. The slices can be 0.5 cm to 0.2 inch thick. You can choose from a variety of vegetables like carrot, cucumber, squash, ginger root, potato, radish, turnip or beet.

2.        Arrange the slices to form a thin layer between two sheets of tissue paper. Overlap the slices so that there are no open spaces.

3.        Place the sheets of vegetable and tissue in a microwave. They should lie flat on the base of the microwave.

4.       Put some microwave safe heavy object like a glass baking dish on the sheets. This will prevent the vegetable parchment paper from curling. 

5.        Heat on high for 1 minute. This will leave the tissue paper wet. Thicker slices of vegetable will need more heat.

6.        Remove the sheets from the microwave, and let the vegetable layer breathe for a minute. Replace the wet tissue paper with fresh paper.

7.        Repeat steps 3 to 6 until the tissue paper is almost dry.

8.        Replace the tissue paper once more. Place the sheets between layers of old newspaper. Let the whole thing stand for a few days on a flat surface with some weight on it.

9.        Replace both the tissue paper and newspaper once daily until the vegetable parchment paper is completely dry.

New uses for grain bins!

Most people look at grain bins as excellent places to store grain.  Not architect Richard Gillies.  In his The Adaptation of a Thunder Bay Grain Elevator (2011, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia) he undertook to understand how best to convert a grain bin into a home.  “Informed by research into the history, function, and construction of grain elevators, this investigation develops an approach to adaptation that would inhabit the interior spaces while preserving the sense of wonder and intrigue inherent in these structures. Using a program defined only as the most basic requirements for habitation, spatial possibilities are investigated to augment the aesthetic, monumental, and mysterious qualities of the structure, without domesticating it.”

After beginning with an understanding of the history and purpose of grain bins, Gilles understands their essential aspects, reaching nearly poetic qualities in his thesis: “The history of grain elevators can be traced back to Buffalo, New York in 1842, when entrepreneur Joseph Dart and engineer Robert Dunbar constructed the first grain elevator. This was a wooden structure which housed the elevator and a series of bins.  The heart of the new invention – a looped or ‘never ending’ conveyor belt, made out of canvas, upon which large buckets made out of iron had been attached at regular intervals; the whole thing enclosed within a long, straight rectangular box made out of wood and iron… (Brown 2009, 109) It was not until 1883 that the Canadian Pacific Railway constructed the first grain elevator in Thunder Bay (Vervoort 1982, 30), known as the King’s Elevator. This marked the first time that grain from the prairies could take an all-Canadian route to the eastern ports. Prior to 1883 grain was moved south through American routes (Vervoort 1990, 404). The Lakehead grain trade rapidly expanded in the following decades.”

He discovered other adaptations of grain bins, including the transformation of them into a giant musical organ, as a projection screen for outdoor art and movies, and also the transformation of them into residential lofts.  The transformation of the former Quaker Oats bin in Akron, Ohio, into Quaker Square inspired him.  There, the essential nature of the bin was kept, while allowing for new use.  The challenge of transforming storage areas and mechanical areas into habitable areas is no small task!

He begins by opening up the interior with light through slits in the metal siding, and carving out the interior of the storage bins to create a cathedral atmosphere, literally enshrining the essence of the original bin.  “Through a process of first subtraction (demolition) and then addition (construction), I have modified the existing concrete structure to include new interior spaces that enhance the sense of scale and add qualities of light…by emphasizing the qualities of space, introducing minimal program, then exploring and representing adaptations that augment the monumental and mysterious. Hopefully this thesis has revealed new spatial experiences that inspire further program options for abandoned grain elevators beyond the usual condominiums and hotels.”

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