Monday, August 30, 2010

Huh. Cool.

It takes so very little to fascinate me.


I am completely captivated by toilet paper rolls.

And post it notes. I love post it notes.

Paper tape is totally art.

I like crayons too.

I think this guy is nuts and he'll probably be dying soon, but he does some of those things that I've considered trying to talk my brother into trying:

And finally (since morning comes way too soon and I need to toddle off to dreamland) another take on Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance:"

G'night, folks,

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Hate People, Reason 42948570 - updated!

Have you seen this? If you know this woman who this woman is, turn her in. The cat was rescued, 15 hours later, by her owners - more information available here.

UPDATE: They found her. Her name is Mary Bale and now the poor thing is under police protection to keep all the crazy cat people from killing her. Her mother says that she "loves cats."

(Have you ever noticed how many people who like cats are completely barking mad over them? One woman told me, with complete seriousness, that her little angel would NEVER kill a bird because they had a conversation, and she explained... to her cat... that birds were good, so her cat only killed spiders. Okey dokey.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Latest Progress with Pottery

It's been a while since I showed what I've been up to in the studio. What with work, traveling for work, vacation, playing elsewhere and whatnot, I haven't gotten to spend as much time as I'd like playing in the studio. But I do have some more finished stuff. (I have about a metric ton of bisque waiting to be glazed too. Here SOON I need to spend some time getting that finished, especially if I end up moving at the end of this month.)

I finally managed to finish a couple things that I've been sitting on for MONTHS. The poppies, the little owl plate and the goldfish are all actually from last fall and I just wasn't in the mood to finish them. The poppies in particular just needed me to fire them and then clear glaze them. I just forgot about them until I cleaned off my shelf and discovered them lurking in the back. That's one bad thing about having the top shelf - I can't see up there and I lose things.

I've been working on mugs and handles lately. When I first started throwing, my first couple of handles went really well and I listened to everyone whine about handles and thought, "What is their problem? These things are easy." Yeah. Shows what I know. Handles suck. So I've been practicing. A lot. I still have a long ways to go.

This one is getting better. Of course, I put a handle on there and it ended up being HUGE so I carved half of it away with a knife. It's still big, but better than it was. I don't really like the painting, so I may reglaze it. We'll see.

The handle kind of sucks on this one, but I'm thrilled with the way the glaze came out. It was totally worth all four days!

Another lesson learned: when dealing with more than one clay color, stay AWAY from ruffled rims. I am very fond of ruffled rims, and not just because they do a very nice job disguising uneven edges. They're pretty and I like them. But, in order for these marbled clay pots to look their best, you have to either 1) use a rib while it's still on the wheel and scrap off the top layer or 2) sand the living snot out of it - for HOURS - to remove the layer of slip and show off the marbling. If you ruffle the rim, you sand. By hand. For hours. And hours. Blech. But, it did turn out pretty cute.

One of the potters in this area does some REALLY cool stuff. She's actually the one who taught the Raku workshop that I recently attended. One of her trademarks is to put a pretty little flourish on her pots and I really like the way it looks. So, I had a couple of little bowls go wonky on me the other day and I tried her flourish. They turned out kinda cool, I think.

I'm still playing with texture. This isn't quite where I wanted to go, but I'm getting closer.

Based on something that another lady in the studio did, I started experimenting with painting with underglazes on top of glaze. The flowers turned out pretty much exactly as I hoped they would. I'll be experimenting further with this method, especially over other colors of glaze. The magnolia bowl won best in show at this year's annual pottery show at the studio, netting me a nice gift certificate to the store.

We got some new glazes to play with, so of course color experiments must follow. Some were brand new colors and I'd never seen them on my preferred clay (Highwater clay's little loafers). This is Pam's Blue glaze. Not bad, but not really what I had in mind either. Further experimentation is needed.

I love, love, love the creamy matte. It's a dip glaze for us and it's just really great. My favorite combination with it so far is with gunmetal green and tournaline, like this. But I'm also interested in how it combines with other colors as well. These were okay. I like the Pams Green (third one) the best, I think. The bowl that I tried the orchid and eggplant on was really thin, so the eggplant kind of gobbed up a bit. It's not bad, but I'm not thrilled with it. My fault - I applied the glaze too thickly.

And lest you think that all pottery works out well, I fussed with this ginger jar and lid for AGES - trimming and sanding and cooing over it. And then, I screwed up and glazed it with the wrong damn color and now it's ugly. Also, the lid doesn't fit worth a crap - it warped in the kiln. *sigh* Lids are worse than handles. Confounded things.

Lately I've been playing with collaring - taking a tall, straight cylinder and making the top smaller. It's tough, but I'm getting there. One major thing with collaring is that your rim usually ends up wonky. If you don't have enough to just cut off, you start getting creative. So, I'm doing a lot of pitchers right now... which also helps with that whole handle thing. The first one reminds me of a chicken for some reason, although no one else seems to see it. I love the second one, and will be desolate if it dies in the kiln.

I'm also finally working my way into larger balls of clay. I'm very comfortable centering and throwing up to about three pounds of clay. Over that, and it all goes to hell. Lately though, I've managed a couple of things that were nearly five pounds. Yay! Big bowls! Yay! One problem with that is that the glazing starts getting EXPENSIVE, so there's probably not a lot of huge things in my future - I can't afford it. I've got a bunch of stuff in the bisque fire now, that should be ready for my next visit. Once of them is my first attempt at a chip and dip bowl, so more pictures will be along shortly!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Last of the Peaches, FINALLY

The final peach canning adventure o'the year: peach honey

When I was peeling and cutting up all of those peaches, I saved the skins. I also saved the bits that I cut out from the center that had pit bits on them. These have been sitting in the fridge waiting for me to reclaim my kitchen from the last peach project.

Today, I put that whole bowl full of peach stuff in my largest stock pot on the stove, covered it in water and let it gently boil until I had peach juice. Then I used cheese cloth to stain out all of the big chunks.



Peach Juice!

I'm actually not sure how much sugar I added to the juice. While at the peach shed, I also bought a jar of peach syrup. OMG it was sweet. Holy crap. I couldn't taste the peach at all, it hit the taste buds and the only things running through my mind were - SWEET! NEED WATER! GAH! Pretty much just like that. So I used a cup of it in the spiced peaches, and the rest of it (probably about a cup) in the honey.

The theory is that this will thicken as it cooks down, and maybe if I'd have just added sugar it would have. This did not. I went from the stock pot being 3/4 full to less than a 1/4 full and it was still really runny. So I added a package of pectin. Still runny. *sigh* Fine. Be runny. I packed it in the jars and put them in the water bath (wiping down the rims before adding the lids, of course) and it's still not thick. The package insert in the pectin said that sometimes it takes up to two weeks for jam to thicken, so I guess it's not impossible that it'll thicken in the jar...?

At any rate, this concludes this year's adventures in peach preserving. We'll see if I ever do this to myself again. This will partly depend on whether anything I've put up is actually edible... Right now, looking in my cupboard at the jam, the spiced peaches, and the honey, I'm feeling very capable and proud of myself!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Again With The Peaches

Today's canning adventure: spiced peaches

When I was growing up, Del Monte sold glass jars of spiced peaches. They were hard to find and only available around Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mom LOVED them. We, her beloved children, were lucky to get one to split between the two of us. Last summer, when friends brought South Carolina peaches back, I started thinking about making my own.

This summer, I have three big baskets of peaches to consume.

I went surfing through the internets, and found a few recipes that were helpful but none that seemed exactly right. So, I ended up making my own road.

My recipe:
~50 peaches
~3/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups apple cider vinegar
~3 cups sugar
12 cups water
1 cup peach syrup
1/4 cup mulling spices

The very first step is preparing your jars. Wash in hot soapy water, rinse and then put jars in water bath and boil them for 20 minutes or so. Wash and rinse lids, put in a small pot, boil for 5 minutes. (I set up a TV tray next to the stove, and covered it with towels. Then I left the jars in the water bath until I was almost ready for them, then pulled them out (empty water back into bath to avoid having to refill bath) and set them right on the tray.)

The first steps - boiling and peeling - are the same as before. I wanted 6 quarts of peaches, so I peeled about 50 peaches. From what I've read, whole peaches are the Southern tradition, but I'm a displaced Yankee so I pitted and sliced mine. Put the lemon juice in a LARGE bowl. As you slice the peaches, drop them into the bowl. Stir occasionally to ensure all peaches are covered in the lemon juice. (If you prefer, you can probably also use that fresh fruit stuff to keep them from discoloring. I just happened to already have lemon juice.)

Add vinegar, sugar, water and syrup to your LARGEST stock pot. Wrap mulling spices in cheesecloth and add to pot. Bring to a boil. Boil approx 5 minutes covered, uncover, boil another 5 or so minutes, add peaches and then simmer until peaches are soft (~20 minutes). Note - I had to remove liquid when I added the peaches to avoid overflow so be careful.

When peaches are about ready, pull jars from the water bath, line them up on your work surface and add 1/4 teaspoon of mulling spices and 1 teaspoon sugar to each jar. Fill jars with peaches, using jar funnel and slotted spoon, then top off with syrup, leaving about an inch of headroom. Wipe off lips and threads of jars, add lids and rims and the process in hot water bath for about 30 minutes.

Yield: 6 quarts.

Getting there...

Monday, August 02, 2010

Hidden Posts

I'm horrible about edits. I start a post and then wander away and leave it to languish, then start another post but don't want to publish it until I get the one before under control and really it's just a viscious cycle.

So now that I have some time on my hands, I'm going back and completing some of those posts.

Since I'm sure John Q. Public is just out there waiting for my next gasp of wisdom, here's what I've managed to finish lately:

August 2, 2010: Peaches, Peaches, Peaches (Canning and dehydrating, oh my!)
July 18, 2010: A Delicious Weekend (A wonderful weekend with friends!)
July 13, 2010: Recovered? (A rant about my "vacation.")
July 3, 2010: Vacation! (And I'm off!)
June 28, 2010: Raku! (I finally got to do the raku firing that was postponed from February.)
June 21, 2010: I Did Not Die. (My latest adventure in Mexico.)
June 6, 2010: Glitters + Glazing + Blueberries = YUMMY Weekend (Fairly self explanatory, I'd think.)
May 31, 2010: Fossil Festival (The annual Fossil Festival in Aurora, NC.)

Peaches, Peaches, Peaches

You remember this part of "Forest Gump?"

Right now, that's me, except with peaches. OMG.

I've made pie. Cobbler. Milkshakes. Smoothies. Daquiris - oh my!

I've boiled. And blended. And purayed. Chopped and infused various adult beverages. And I'm not quite half way through the darn things. I'm happy to note that the *ahem* digestive side effects from eating too many blueberries do not apply to peaches. (Good, 'cause THAT was... disconcerting.)

Not one to suffer alone, here's a closer view of making my own peach leather AND my first ever attempt at canning.

First step: sorting the peaches by my feeble ability to tell ripeness.

Some were perfect just to snack on, or for immediate use in milkshakes and smoothies.

The steps begin the same way for most of the processing. Step one of these recipes is always "peel and slice peaches" like it's really THAT easy. Three hours later, I've got peach goo in my eyelashes and my kitchen may never recover. You'd think there'd be some way to phrase that to warn a person what was coming! Sadly, they are correct in that the easiest way to peel a peach is to boil it for a while, shock it in cold water and then scrape the VERY slimy skin off the peach. These peaches were not as ripe as they could have been. The good part was that I had a couple of weeks to dawdle around and get them processed. The bad part was that they weren't as sweet as last year's peaches, and the skins did not just slide off most of them. It was a battle. So far, I think I'm winning but the war is yet over.

So, boiling:

Blanching (or shocking):


At this point, we have options, depending on what we're doing. I tackled peach leather first so that is where we go next.

Cut up in blender: (I love my blender. That thing could chew up a car if I asked it to, and - best part - it's got low, high, off instead of 40 buttons whose function completely escape me. LOVE my blender.)

My bananas were REALLY dead, so the first batch was only peaches and honey in the blender.

Make very sure that you have oiled the trays to the dehydrator 'cause this stuff is STICKY. I used a light coating of Pam and then smeared it around for a while with my finger to make sure every spot was covered.

About 10 peaches mostly filled my blender. For the second go-round, I also added one ripe banana per blender-full. (Best is about one day past when you want to eat it, for me anyway. And it makes a huge difference - with banana tastes much better to me than without.) I have six trays for my dehydrator, but one of them doesn't have the fruit leather plastic tray. For the first batch, I used a piece of parchment paper (also oiled) and it worked fine. It took approximately 3.5 - 4 full ladles of puray to fill each tray, and each blender full filled 3 trays. When I got overenthusiastic on one tray, I used a turkey baster to suck it up and move it.

I set the temperature at 135 degrees and let it go. This dehydrator is several years old so that may have something to do with it. Also, I'm in the South in the summer so the humidity is hovering around 85% but these took all of 18 hours to dry all the way. (When it feels dry to your touch and there are no shiny spots, it's done.) Once the peach leather was done, I ripped it into pieces (each approximately 3" x 4"), piled them up about an inch high on waxed paper, wrapped them, put them in a ziplock freezer bag and put them into the freezer. They'll keep pretty much indefinitely in there.


I also filled ice cube trays with puray and froze them. They're living in my freezer in a bucket waiting for a daquiri party. There are about as many peach daquiri recipes as there are people who drink them out there. If you would like help getting started, here's a good one:

(Note: I use 2 cups of peach puray cubes instead of the 1 cup of peaches and 1 cup of ice, and I'm out of brandy so I skip that part. Don't buy superfine sugar, just put the sugar in the blender first and pulse it a few times. Presto! Superfine sugar!)

1 cup frozen peaches
1/4 cup lime juice
1 1/2 ounces light rum
1 ounce peach schnapps
1/2 ounce apricot brandy
Dash of pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
1 cup crushed ice

Combine the peaches, lime juice, rum, schnapps, brandy, vanilla, and sugar in the blender until smooth. Slowly add the ice with the blender running and process until smooth. Serve in a chilled glass.

Makes 1 serving.


And for my next adventure: canning.

First up: Peach jam with brown sugar and rum. I found the recipe online here, and (being me) altered it slightly.

The boiling, shocking and peeling remain the same. Then I cut up the peaches and put them in a large bowl. I wanted 12 half pint jars, so I used approximately 36 peaches. (Figure 4 medium sized peaches in a pound, and some of mine were a bit scrawny so I went a bit over. I might have snacked a little as I worked too.) I worked in batches, boiling about 7 peaches at a time. I cut them up in a size similar to that for an apple pie. My reasoning was that there were a few peaches that I cut bad spots out of and then peeled without the boiling - I cut them up more finely in the theory that they'd all get done about the same time. I didn't have light brown sugar, so I used dark. And my lemon juice came from a bottle in the fridge.

It was getting late, and I was getting tired, so my measurements got a bit fuzzy at this point. (Also, I subscribe to the Swedish Chef cooking methodology. Bork! Bork! Bork! So all measurements are approximate!) AND, calculations were involved as I ended up with 11 cups of peaches. *sigh* So, 3.67 cups of brown sugar, 11 tablespoons of lemon juice, and somewhere around 0.75 cups of rum (Captain Morgan's spiced rum) went into the bowl with the peaches. I stirred it, covered it and left it on the counter while I went to bed.

The most important part of canning is preparing the jars. No sense in wasting all that effort and potentially poisoning yourself if you can avoid it. I'm still working out how my new dishwasher works, so I washed the jars, lids and rims by hand in hot soapy (yay, Dawn!) water. Then I put the jars into the water canning pot, and the lids into another small pot of water on the stove. I boiled the jars for about 20 minutes, and the lids for about the same. I left both in the hot water until my jam was about ready to pack and then I pulled the jars out and set them on a towel covered TV tray right next to the stove.

(The water bath pot is HUGE and ate two burners of my stove. This is the first time - possibly ever - that I've had all four burners on at once.)

The next day, I put the peaches on the stove and brought them to a boil while my jars and lids cooked away on the other burners.

The recipe says to cook until the peaches become translucent. I have no idea what they're talking about - that never happened. I cooked them until even the biggest chunks were soft and cooked. Then I added 3.67 cups of granulated sugar and boiled it rapidly. BE CAREFUL! This stuff is like napalm and it spits! (Only two of the burns from the flying jam bombs blistered...) I tried two or three times to get that "wrinkle, not run" thing that they talked about and it didn't really happen. I used a digital candy thermometer and went up to 225 degrees for a while, got sick of being spattered with burning pain and called it done. I decided that it looked too chunky to be proper jam, and REALLY wished for an immersion blender. Then I pulled out my potato stomper and squished the peaches 'till it looked more like jam to me. I let it cool on the back burner for a couple of minutes and then stirred in about 0.75 cups of rum and let it boil for two minutes.

Then I used a ladle and the funnel and filled the jars. I had exactly enough for 12 half pint jars. It's better to be lucky than good, I think.

From there, I wiped down all of the jar lips and then used the handy dandy lid grabber magnet that came in the canning set (with the funnel, jar grabber, and air pocket destroyer thing) to snatch the lids out of the hot water and drop them on each jar. Then the rims went on - using towels to keep from burning myself even more. Then all the jars went into the water bath.

The recipe says to process for 15 minutes, but all of the others that I looked at online (and there were MANY) all said 30 - 35 minutes, so that's what I went by. I started the timer when I noticed the water was boiling, so they did process for a bit longer. Then I checked them when the timer went off and the damn water wasn't boiling. I had other things to do, so I got ready to go, turned the stove off on my way out the door and let them sit in the water bath overnight. The next morning, I pulled them out and put them back on the towel covered table and let them cool completely. All 12 jars sealed, so that made me happy.

Walmart sells the pretty quilted half pint jars and the normal ones for the same price and the pretty ones come with a nifty little label. So, if I do this again, I'm going for the pretty ones.

All of this effort is SLOWLY paying off.

Adventures in canning spiced peaches to follow.