Saturday, July 18, 2015

Remembering Tank: A Very Special Wall Oven with Massive Cooling & Storage Racks

In memory of Gordon "Tank" Calder of the
Warlords Motorcycle Club, who helped
raise the money for Valhalla's new wall oven
before his very tragic accidental

death on June 10th.
Valhalla's tiny 1970s-era wall oven finally stopped working last March and everyone therefore had to live without any baking for a period of many months (no cakes or cookies, no muffins or casseroles, with a lot of sad faces). It was a terrible oven anyway, and entirely too small for serving larger groups of veterans. 

Yet replacing that outdated appliance wasn't a simple matter at all. A new oven big enough to serve our needs would require ripping out a large hole through an unwired wall, building a recessed cabinet, installing the necessary electrical connections, and then reorganizing the entire kitchen around a more practical storage system. The sad fact was Valhalla Project's 2015 budget did not include money for purchasing and installing a suitable large-capacity replacement oven. 

But we did have a $250 Home Depot gift card that the Lake Forest Men’s Golf Association of Daphne, Alabama donated last December. Then the Warlords Motorcycle Club raised $1,000. Marjie and Jim R. in Round Rock, Texas sent another $1,000. Much smaller donations trickled in (every nickel, dime, and single dollar always counts) and added up to finally make the entire project possible, and here is the resulting wall oven with cooling and storage racks:

Behind the scenes

Tearing a big hole in the wall was fun! Housing for
the new oven was then built within the bunkhouse
closet on the other side.
There was only one place in the kitchen where the new 30" oven could fit: a section of wall
that had the bunkhouse closet on the other side.

The oven cabinet extended into the closet, although several Valhallans agreed that they'd rather have cookies than storage space anyway.

Loren (on the right) became the first Valhallan to 
use the new oven by baking Swiss Cheese Buns for 
dinner. At first we didn't tell him that he was in fact 
mastering a classic French recipe... since "Cheese 
Buns" sounds a lot less intimidating than
"Julia Child's Gougères."
Army SFC (retired) Loren helped with
installing Valhalla's brand new 30" GE Profile Self-Cleaning with Steam Plus Convection Oven, and became the first person to use it. He learned to bake Swiss Cheese Buns (aka Julia Child's classic French Gougères) from scratch. His English Yorkshire pudding was also very tasty.

Recall that every Valhalla participant is required to learn new cooking skills while they are here, and although some are already accomplished cooks or grillmasters, most are intimidated by... baking!

The mere idea of singlehandedly developing a
light and flaky pie crust, or a delicate French pastry, usually strikes terror into the hearts of some of the toughest combat veterans. They're tough alright, which may explain why they're so apprehensive over failing over turning out a tough pie dough (or, worse, a fallen souffle). 

Yet time and time again we've seen nervous beginners tentatively cutting cold butter into flour for the first time, only to finish the journey by presenting wonderful pies and other delicacies with a triumphant "I made that by myself and it tastes really, really good! Quite pretty on a plate, too!" 

Of course baking is just one vehicle that Valhalla regularly uses to help build confidence as veterans transition back into the civilian world, but it's nonetheless a powerful tool that demonstrates the importance of having a reliable, spacious, and ultimately expensive wall oven. Donors take note: the new oven project was worth every penny of your hard earned dollars and generosity, and we thank you for helping to make it happen.

Notes about the combination cooling and storage racks

Notice the very narrow shelves near the top where we store
Valhalla's baking sheets as well as the narrow lid storage
shelves. Wire shelving units of this size only include five
shelves per set, so we bought an extra unit for the sole
purpose of scavenging the extra shelves.
The cooling and storage shelving components of Valhalla oven project required a total of three 48" wide x 72" tall commercial-grade shelving units since extra shelves were needed, whereas each unit comes with only five 18" deep shelves. We therefore used all 15 wire shelves for just two units instead of the usual three.

The first set of wire shelves is used primarily for storage. Placing essentials out in the open instead of hiding them inside cabinets makes it easy for a new Valhallan to see what's available. 

We're particularly happy with the shelf reserved for lids that go with the pots and pans hanging above. Pots and pans can easily be hung up but not their lids, which almost always end up getting lost in a jumbled cabinet. This common problem was solved by spacing two wire shelves just 4" apart, making a very narrow space reserved for lids. 

The plywood shelf liner in the pots and pans section is used as an extra counter space. At some point in the future an electrical outlet will be installed so that the sous vide water oven and/or crock pots can be plugged in for slow cooking projects right on the mini-counter shelf. 

Finally, the plywood liner is very lightweight and therefore easily removed, thus converting that entire shelf into a cooling rack suitable for oversized roasts and meals baked in the Dutch oven.

The most important and practical benefit of setting up a commercial-grade wire shelving unit around a wall oven is the ability to swiftly transfer hot baked goods from the oven directly onto the cooling racks below -- without having to take a single step. 

The cooling rack above the rolling pin shelf can accommodate two gigantic 16" by 22" baking sheets holding dozens of cookies baked at once or an entire row of casserole dishes. Loaded bundt pans, towering pies, and multiple muffin tins all fit neatly and out of the way as they cool. 

After cooling the completed goodies or meals are moved to the serving shelf above (i.e., immediately below the oven door), where people dish out whatever they want -- buffet-style.  

And there is still a great deal of space available for storing baking equipment, oversized pots, and other essentials. The kitchen is used by many different Valhalla participants who don't always know where things belong, so each shelf has a series of labels showing where to find whatever item is needed (and where to put each item back after cleaning). 

Remembering Tank

Gordon Calder visited the Valhalla Project several times with the Warlords Motorcycle Club, which raised a large chunk of the funds for this new oven project.  We didn't know him well, although he was clearly a strong supporter of our programs for veterans. A really friendly man who we looked forward to getting to know better over time. But then time suddenly ran out. Tank was killed in an accident on June 10th.

From left to right: Yoda, Jack Hammer, Jumper, Tank, and
Prospect Slick presenting Valhalla Project President
Gordon Cucullu with a $1,000 check on behalf of the
Warlord MC Nation.
His tragic death serves to remind us yet again that every donor to the Valhalla Project is just as special as the veterans who participate in our programs. Valhallans are thankful for every nickle and dime that makes this nonprofit venture possible, and we were very lucky to meet Tank in person since the majority of our donors are strangers to us. Generous people who wish to help typically hit the "donate" button on this website or send items from the critical needs list without any further contact with us. Tank reminds us that the individuals carrying out these anonymous acts of kindness and support for our veterans are demonstrating the kind of benevolence that keeps our entire society -- all of America -- afloat.

Tank will be remembered with every casserole, batch of cookies, homemade apple pie, and other baked goods that pops out of the oven.

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The Valhalla Project needs your help and support
We need YOUR help to keep Valhalla functioning efficiently - while at the same time expanding vitally important programs to assist post-9/11 combat veterans and war zone civilian workers to transition back into the civilian world. 

The Valhalla Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity recognized by the IRS.
Nobody, including cadre or board members, draws a paycheck here, nor will they ever: we simply give everything we have to make Valhalla possible. 100% of your donation via Paypal will go directly to program expenses, period. 

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Valhalla Project combat veterans giving a lesson on how to make Feta cheese from scratch using raw milk and a sous vide water oven! Read about it in the article here, or watch their very unique video:

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