Saturday, October 24, 2015

Equiping the Kitchen and Bar

A friend who recently opened a restaurant here in Porto recommended Refrinovar to provide and install equipment. It was another lucky find. Although the kitchen is not yet complete, we can already see that they are doing top quality work. Commercial kitchen equipment is expensive stuff, and also critically important. It has to be built to last, stand up to constant hard use, and run reliably every day. We did some homework and planning, but the fact is we are novices. This is the first bar we are designing. Ricardo at Refrinovar helped a lot, he had great advice, and worked with us to solve problems of limited space.

The structure of the bar is in place also. This structure will be covered with some wood panels, and the top will be brass.  Having these elements in place goes a long way to making the space feel like a bar, but there's still a lot of work to do. Yesterday, I was in the space and the bar shelves were going up.  I didn't get any pictures, but they look great.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Final Constructon and Planning Decoration

There are still some loose ends to tie up on the construction project, but it is mostly complete.  In the past month, some really nice elements have come into place:

We spent a small fortune on the cast iron metalwork, and it was worth every cent. I was a little worried about these elements... It was hard to imagine what they would look like installed. We spent a lot of money, and I was scared that I would be disappointed, but it came out better then I could have hoped! Long time readers of this blog may remember when when we found the foundry that could cast these pieces (see here and here). They really did fantastic work, and it's also nice to have a local story to tell!

The flooring in the bar area is paved in traditional hydraulic tiles, locally produced using the traditional method. The checkered tiles are identical to the tiles that had been used in the kitchen of the original house. We had wanted to keep the old tiles, but it was not possible to pull them up without breaking them, and the floor had to be remade. Fortunately, there is a manufacturer that still produces them called Azulima.  They do fantastic work, but don't call them if you are on a tight schedule.

In the lower area (and on the mezinine level) the floor is made from reclaimed french oak:

We also got the kitchen equipment delivered. Most of this stuff will be virtually invisible to the clients, but having it designed right will insure that the we can serve at a high level of quality and efficiency. I hope we got it right, it's our first time designing a bar/kitchen.

Outside, the garden is done (at least the construction phase). To those who were wondering about the peppers, that's them in pots (we put them in the ground today).

So what's left to be done? Quite a lot! We just finalized the design of the bar which will be wood with a copper top. Most of the furniture has been sorted out, but we are still sourcing a few things. Painting and decoration will also take some time. We are working to get the utilities connected so we can test the oven and finalize the menu. Then we have to stock, hire staff and work out operating procedures.

It's going to take a few months (at least) and we will be very busy, but at least now our dependence on the fantastically slow contractor is coming to a close.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

More Progress

There has been some progress in the last month, and it's getting exciting for us because it's quite obvious that we are close to the end. The form of the building is complete, and now it is the final elements coming into place. It is easy now to stand inside the bar and feel what it will be like when it is finished.

In front, the picture is nearly complete.  The doors and windows have been painted, and the tiles are complete.  There are some telephone wires, but we are working with Portugal Telecom to remove them.

Inside, it is nice to see the oven in it's final position:

The ceiling in the main space has been applied, and it is an element that we were really eager to see. Early on we thought it would be nice to have an old style tin ceiling. It's not traditional in Portugal, but it is common early 20th century saloons in the United States, and we thought it might fit in with the age of the building. It was a little expensive, and very hard to source in Europe (ultimately, we brought it from the US) but it was worth the trouble. It looks great, and I think it will have a big impact:

The bathrooms for the bar are built into the garden, and will have a patio space on top. We are using 'pavement lights' to allow some natural light into the space which is mostly underground:

Monday, June 8, 2015

Some more progress, but still not there

Things are slowly moving.  Not fast enough for us, and we are doing what we can to get it going at a proper pace. It's been a little while since I last updated the blog with building progress, and a fare amount has happened since then.

The crane moved:

I was so happy when it came, but since it means we are getting to the final works, I was also happy to see it go. They were also nice to help us demolish a bit of wall the fun way:

The outer skin is coming on the house too.  Tiles in front, and slate scales in back:

The white doors in the picture above are only painted with a primer coat, the final color will be a deep oxblood red.

Back at home, the chilies are making great progress. We should have the firsJalapeƱos next week, with the other varieties soon to follow.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A big day at the foundary

For those of you following this blog from the beginning, you may remember a post about the foundary.  We contracted them to do the stairs, railings, and a metal catwalk which will together will make one of the central features of TerraPlana.

Yesterday, we went out to the foundry to watch while they poured some of our pieces.

That's our walkway heated to 1500°! We got to watch the whole process from start to finish.

First, they start with a mold:

On the mold, they pack some special sticky sand supper tight so that the sand remembers the molds shape, producing a negative of the same mold:

Then they spray it with something and light it on fire. Probably this is done to burn off impurities.  Then again, maybe it's just to look cool and play with fire, either way, it worked:

After that, they cover it with a block of sand that contains some holes to pour in the metal. All the time that this is going on, they are cooking scrap metal in a huge furnace:

They told us that the metal melts at around 1200° but to make sure it is liquid enough, they continue heating it to about 1500°. When it's hot enough, they tip the furnace into a cistern, and then pour it into the mold:

Once it cools, they shake off the sand and lift out the final piece:

And that's how a pile of scrap metal becomes a walkway in a bar. Of course, it was incredibly cool to watch this process first hand. We can't wait to see the ironwork installed in the bar, but I will never forget seeing it in liquid form!  Thanks to everyone at CIF!

And now, for some videos:

Friday, May 1, 2015

More Time Lapse

I really wish we had a completed bar instead of a ever longer video, but here it is anyway:

This week, the crane was dismounted and removed. That is good news because there's a lot of work to be done in the garden and the crane had been obstructing progress there. Some of the work in the garden is demolition and while they were dismounting the crane, they gave us a little help with one of the walls:

The work on the house can now mostly be categorized as 'finishing'.  The main items left are painting, tiling and installing fixtures. It won't be done this month, but it's nice to feel that we are starting down the final stretch.

Meanwhile back at the farm, the peppers are coming along nicely.  It's been a little cold out the last few days, but they are ready to go outside as soon as the normal April weather returns.  I got 6 varieties going. Sadly, that does not include the Habaneros or Penis Peppers.  I'm still trying to germinate a few seeds, but it's probably time to give up hope.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Slow Progress at the House

Things are moving on the work site, but the progress is still frustratingly slow. There have been some delays in getting materials, and we are still waiting to get the crane out of the back garden. The last week has been focused on carpentry, installing the doors and windows. They also finished the sky light, which looks great:

From the beginning of the project, we knew we wanted to invest in traditional wood doors and shutters. We knew it would be an expensive investment, but we were even more concerned about finding the right carpenter who could build the doors. The doors were constructed by the same carpenter who built the roof, and his team has done a fantastic job!  I am no expert, but you don't need to be when you look at quality like this.  Every join is perfect, the carved cuts for hinges and locks look like they grew as part of the tree.  Every board used was from the heart of the tree, and there are no visible knots bigger then a pencil head.  It looks like the wood came from a special forest with no branches!

We have done a lot of complaining about the delays on the project, but thankfully, the work that has been done is top rate. The carpentry in the doors is a great example of that.

Off the work site, we have been busy getting things in line for TerraPlana the business. We are negotiating with suppliers, planning the layout of the bar, and selecting decoration and furniture for the space. There are a lot of hard decisions to make, and they come with a constant weight of responsibility. Some choices today will have a big impact on the operation of the business for years to come.

One thing we can tick off the list is the branding. We worked with a great local designer, and she designed a font for us inspired by some art deco typefaces. A good font looks simple, but there is an enormous amount of effort in each of the 7 letters below:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

You may remember my posts about Homeboy (here and here) the rubber plant. The little Homeboy clones are doing great, and we are expanding our horticultural skills. A friend has given us a lemon tree seedling. It's just a tiny thing now, but spring growth has started, and I'm hoping by mid summer it should be ready to plant in the TerraPlana garden.

Citrus trees do really well in the Portuguese climate. I've seen orange trees with fruit year round.  Once our little lemon tree gets going, we might even struggle to match our cocktail consumption with our lemon production (don't worry, we can always get more trees if required).

We have also started a second project for the garden. If all goes to plan, TerraPlana will have fresh chilies! I love hot food, and one of the few things that I have felt is missing in Portugal is hot spicy food. Portuguese cuisine is fantastic, but traditional dishes do not tend to have a lot of spice, and do not use a lot of hot chili peppers.  The only pepper that is regularly available is piri piri, and it is usually offered in vary mild varieties.

I've had a plan to rectify this at TerraPlana for some time. Chili plants are large and ornamental, and I thought it would be nice to grow them in the garden (especially if an unsuspecting guest is enticed to eat one of the fruits). Also, if we can get the chilies to grow, we can dry them and make hot chili oil for the pizzas! And maybe chili flavored vodka (don't judge it 'til you try it).

First I thought about bringing some chili seeds from a trip to the western US, but then I remembered that customs officials tend to frown pretty heavily on that kind of thing. Fortunately, a quick internet search turned up a EU company that markets chili seeds of all varieties.

Growing peppers from seed is a little tricky, but as I'm sure you can gather from my Homeboy adventure, it's the perfect nerdy project for me. The tricky part is that the seeds will only germinate if the conditions are just right. They like a moist sterile medium, and a temperature between 24 and 30 degrees Celsius.  Just finding sterile soil was a bit of a challenge. I tried several hardware stores before I was sent to a nursery on the edge of town, they had it, but only in 70 liter bags, so now I'm flush in the stuff (beyond my wildest dreams).  I also had to improvise a seed incubator from a plastic box with a heat pad designed for reptile aquariums (certain snakes and lizards need something warm to slither up to at night).

On my first attempt, I sowed the seeds directly into moist soil in cups, but after a week and a half I only had one lonely Jalapeno germinating.

Germinating one Jalapeno was better then nothing, but only slightly.  Especially when considering that I sowed 3 or 4 seeds in each one of those cups above.

For  my second attempt, I decided to use a different technique to achieve germination. I suspect that the problem the first time around was a lack of warmth because my little lizard warmer just doesn't get very hot. I read online that seeds germinate well when folded wet paper towel, and since I could put them very close to the heater, they would be more likely to get warm enough.

That seems to have done the trick. This morning, I had about 8 seeds germinating, and now I have 5 varieties of chilis that have moved to step two. Once germinated, the seeds have to be moved to soil, and provided with lots of light. For this, I've constructed a light box from a cardboard box lined in tinfoil with a small florescent light. It has worked great for the one Jalapeno, so I'm very hopeful that the rest of my seeds will take.

I sowed 10 different varieties of chili so I'm still hoping that the remaining 5 of them will germinate. One of the late starters is a pepper that I've never heard of before, but seemed like something we should grow at TerraPlana.  It's called Penis Pepper for somewhat obvious reasons from the picture below.

Sadly, I haven't been able to get one of these plants started, but I'm not giving up yet.