Build a cob oven & be the envy of everyone you know.

So with helpful hands from various friends, a buddy of mine and I built a cob oven. Sometime it’s called an earth oven. Think of it like a small clay cave up on a platform. You build as big of a fire in it as you can, push the embers to the back, throw something in the front and wait for it to cook. Before conventional ovens were around this is what people did whilst sitting around in the loin clothes.

Stefan, old UF pal, was the capt. of this ship. He had read (and stolen) the book from the library of how to do this and had an idea of how things were supposed to pan out. I was his trusty first mate, unless you prefer a cooking metaphor to a sailing one, whereas I was his unfailing sous chef.

101_0986Cob is easy to make. We got some clay from a friend redoing a house. It’s pretty hard to work with at first but with it you mix sand and water, thus completing the mix. We did it over a large tarp, but I supposed there are a lot of ways to skin a cat. Pile some clay into a tarp, pour water and sand over it and begin jumping and running and stepping up and down bare-foot on this pile until you have some gloppy, yet pretty malleable mix. The book probably got into specific amounts, but in the end you have to add more sand and water than you think so just start low and move up. You want it to be pretty sticky though. You’ll know when you have it right.

We were pretty DIY about it, so I am positive you could put some money into this and make it’s appearance more presentable. We didn’t care though. Functionality or Death! we sometimes chant from rooftops. A new friend of mine Beatrice has a lot she let us build the oven on and kudos to her for being so awesome.

So, we need to build a brick column about 3′ in diameter and probably a little over 4′ in height. We scored some bricks from Bea’s neighbor, Todd, and in two or three sessions mixed some cob and crudely (but not too crude, mind you) built the column up. Stagger the bricks as the layers go up (rather, the next “ring” of bricks above is rotated slightly to more evenly distribute the weight) and make it as high as you like.

101_0989 101_1000 101_0991 101_0990














101_1004Once we have the column done, the next step is filling it in and topping it off. Bea (unfortunately for her but more fortunate for us) lives about 30 yards from a train track. Why would anyone ever do that you ask. Well in Chicago, trains are everywhere through the city and someone has to live by them. Anywho, the edges of the track are littered with cement debris and the rocks that make up a railroad track. We filled the column with larger rocks and then dumped a few wheelbarrow full of small rocks to fill in the gaps, making layers of cob going up.

This next step was the most interesting part of the whole process to me. At the top of the column (which in turn is the bottom of the oven itself) we read it was wise to put a layer of glass bottles there, which serves as insulation while the fire is going. Because it’s a dome, the heat that shoots up out of the fire it directed back down into the column. The layer of glass bottles traps some of that heat (the air in the bottles rises in temperature). With a good layer of cob between the glass and the floor of the oven the glass will hopefully not shatter and play a solid role in keeping the oven temperature high and constant.

101_1016 101_1017 101_1018 101_1015


Once we rose above the lip of the column, we flatted it out with cob and carefully placed some thicker, more-square bricks that a friend of ours gathered he called “patio pavers”. For whatever reason someone knew (probably Stefan, b/c he read the book) that these types of bricks would be suitable for what would eventually be the floor of the oven itself. From here, we shape the dome, which is a sort of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel for this while project.

101_1022Make a pile of sand, which represents the negative space inside the eventual oven. We’re going to build a mound, then build cob over it, then wait for it to dry, then dig out sand and voilà you have an oven! We got a little lazy and didn’t want to fork out the necessary $20 for good sand and used dirt from the ground around us, to our eventual dismay. The issue arose when the dirt mound sunk down while the top cob dried. Perhaps dirt is more porous than sand and loses more volume as it dries? Really I have no idea why but the mound sunk when it wasn’t supposed to. We were supposed to use sand and we didn’t. It’s not super difficult to draw a few conclusions from this. Use sand.

We then covered the mound with yet another layer of cob, gave it a week to dry out and dug out the insides. That was it really. Not too bad, ya? If a group of monkeys in street clothes w/day jobs can build one you can too.

101_1023 101_1025












101_1094 copy 101_1095








This I should have brought up earlier, but an oven must be more-or-less covered from the elements. If the cob were to be rained on it would get wet (big surprise, I know) and lose its form. This is the step we’re at now and currently a tarp lives over ours. I’m keeping my eye out of sheets of scrap metal to fashion up as a roof of sorts.

All that’s left to do is mix up a few doughs, invite friends over and cook some pizza. Add a little whiskey to that mix and it’s perfect. As a closer, we ended our night playing a game of truth or dare which culminated in Stefan jumping on and off a moving train out back on a dare. Like I said, he’s the captain of this ship.

101_1097 101_1102 101_1100 101_1103








The oven ended up being a little smaller than we had anticipated, and we were only afforded enough space to cook little personal guys. Remember, use sand and not dirt and it won’t shrink on you. Anyway, the night was a huge hit and the cob oven a success. Thanks to new friend Bea for supplying the space and Stefan for trail-blazing.

The roots & rock-candy streets of Chicagoland.

So I have been taking a little break from living w/strangers. It’s a little more stressful than you might think. Imagine moving in with people much older than you and raised in a situation much different than you. Further—oh shit—you left all your friends behind and live in a town of about 40 people so you better just make new friends w/these strangers. If not, you’re welcome to go sit in your car for the rest of the day, but that gets pretty old. I found that out the hard way.

This has been the last 7 months of my life, in one single paragraph. It’s been all awesome, lonely, fresh, dull, heart-wrenching, toe-smashing, back-massaging, dynamite-exploding and soul-pumping all at once. A “character-building experience” as someone’s uncle always used to say.

This whole blog was created to document that if you are new here and want to look around. I would give you a guided tour but it’s completely unnecessary. None of these doors are locked.

101_0904Anywho, I came quick into the city of Chicago to cover Riot Fest for the new blog I have been getting pieces under, The Monarch Daily. A friend of a cousin got me in to cover the event and that I did. I think the pieces turned out great, check out Friday here and then the rest of the weekend here. I’ve been blessed to work underneath a great new editor, the fabulous Miss Gabriella and have gotten a bunch of great pieces in and about Chicagoland since. I know is link city right now, but everything is I’ve written for the Monarch Daily is here.

Though I’ve been here barely a month there’s so much to go over! You know, I’m just going to start with this past weekend move backwards to the weekend I arrived here. I’m really excited about everything that’s happened. EEsh! Ok, chill.

This past weekend I hosted my lovely pappy, Mr. Robert Stanford around town. My equally lovely cousin, Miss Lucy Hall, who is from my mother’s side, put us up in her Bridgeport place. My dad can be hard to read. And by that I mean he is absolutely impossible to read. He’s down for anything which can prove difficult to determine what exactly he wants to do. I imagine unicorns are extremely agreeable and he is about this agreeable. There is a careful procedure of questioning that eventually tricks him into accidentally telling you what he wants to do. This comes from years of tailing around with my mother, who is stubborn as a mule but with the decisiveness of a fox. Lethal combination. “My way or the mother-fucking highway” is actually an original quote from my mother.

We found his old stomping grounds from childhood days first thing off the plane. Rupert (pappy’s nickname of sorts) moved away from Chicago in the sixth grade, sometime in the mid-60s to spend the rest of his upbringing in Richmond, VA. After that to the Garfield Park Conservatory, which I had been to two days before and just knew I had to take my dad there. He’s quite the green thumb so massive glass buildings hosting exotic plants is pretty much way up his alley.

101_0930 101_0925










101_0924 101_0937









I had a planned (and borrowed an extra bike) for a pretty active weekend but my pappy is having some foot issues and had suddenly  been put into a boot. He could take it off, but I could tell he was ok with a little less walking. So we just drove more than planned, which was fine. We also never once paid for parking. In your fat face Chicago!!!

101_0982Day 2 of pappy-time started out w/Chinatown, which, if you’re not hungry or apt to purchase tiny trinkets, may not be the place for you. The highlight was the city library located on the drag. Next was little Italy (this paragraph sounds UBER touristy, I know) where we found a pretty bitchin’ place to get some pastrami sandwiches, walked around, stumbled upon another public library and spent another thirty minutes looking at some books.

Cousin Lucy, who is HEAPS of fun to be around, was in tow most nights. I can’t remember a single name of a restaurant we ate at to save my life, but all was delicious: Deep-dish pizzas, way-too-much fine Chinese food, great fajita plates and cookie-dough ice cream. She has great roomies too, Isaac and Michaeljit (Michael-geet) who were all quite nice to let us descend on their place for a weekend.

101_0970 101_0967 101_0971

Final Day, Saturday. All day was at Lincoln Park: They have their own conservatory their too, a pretty rockin’ farmers market on Saturdays and the nicest free zoo I’ve ever seen. Rupert only takes close-up pictures of plants for later identification. He’s a mad scientist trapped in the body of a retired chef  turned gardener/teacher-by-night. After that was a drive out to Riverside, a Chicago-suburb where my old high school friend Dan Maguire co-runs the the Quincy Street Distillery. I had seen him the previous week the Chicago Craft Spirits Expo, but since we’re moving backwards, you don’t know that yet.

So dad's gone, love him, great time, come again. We shall miss thee!!!

I know this picture quiality kind of sucks, but it’s the only one we got together, so you’re stuck w/it.

101_0976The time in Chicagoland before that was mostly busied up by work done for the Monarch Daily. Since we’re working backwards (isn’t this fun??) last Thursday was my covering of Maps: Borders, Bodies, Memoriesa photo exhibition for Filter Fest, a yearly photography expo—for lack of better word—here in the city. I like to take zillions of pictures to document what’s around, but as a fine art form I don’t really get into it. I had dad/cousin in tow so we were there enough to get what I needed for the piece. A very cool exhibition, but I don’t know how actually inspired I was by it. The previous day Monarch Daily got me into the main event of the Chicago Craft Spirits Week, which was an expo proper. Vendors set up all over the place pushing samples of their product. I don’t really drink any liquor, but the people watching was supreme. This is also where I caught up w/old-thyme high school superstar, Dan Maguire, who has already been brought up. He rawks, as they say.

101_0952 101_0959









Also in the past schedule of events that already happened was a visit to the Indiana Dunes State Park. The state of Indiana is right around the bend of the lake and apparently Michigan isn’t far from the city either. Lake Shore drive in Chicago is a lot like Bayshore in Tampa, FL, my hometown, because a road/exercise trail extends down a body of water. This is fresh water and Tampa Bay is garbage water, but the parallel is clear. What’s coolest, is towards the southern end of both trails one can look North and see a miniature view of the city. What’s even cooler is the Chicago skyline from Indiana Dunes looking like it belongs inside of a snow globe.101_0912


101_0919 101_0917

101_0911101_0916 101_0915























Before we wrap up at the start of my stay I want to outline my SPECTACULAR living situation. I was only planning on staying for a week or two, but the vibe is so nice I just contributed a little rent for the month of October. I’m crashing with Stephan Brown, another old comrade, but from UF. He’s an athlete, supreme drummer and a soon-to-be “fuck-your-shit-up” lawyer. He’s an incredible influence to have around. The story is kind of long, and this post is getting even longer, so we’ll say a fortuitous situation got him into our place. It’s a huge row house in East Garfield Park, which I think has tons of character. In the house—and there’s ample room for us all—is myself, Stephan, Brennan, Julie, Banke and Isaac. Three people will be on the lease and three of us will take up extra space (ie, in no actual bedrooms) and add some padding to the rent due. Everyone is so awesome, and I simply pick up more work an the ole TSLCI to account for rent. I’ll be here for at least a month, maybe the rest of the year…?


101_0901 101_0895








SO! If you’re still reading, maybe you should rethink your free time. I kid, but kudos to you for powering through this behemoth of a post (Hi mom!). The ticket that got me quick into Chicago we’ve already mentioned, but was a FB post from cousin Caitlin looking for a writer to cover Riot Fest, which had a nice lineup. Free festival? Published piece? Chance to make a connection?!? Of course everything was pushed out of the way to get there. The images above are from the wrestling stage at Riot Fest, which was about as much fun as the rest of the festival put together. The links to the stories are way above this blog post, if you missed that, but I had such good time. I’ve already gotten four pieces and I haven’t even been here a month. I forgot how much fun this is to cover events (and, of course, to get in free). I think I hear people sometimes get paid for such things.

More to come!











Writing Portfolio