Nothing is Ever Finished

We have just finished another firing with a group of enthusiastic potters. The weather is glorious and warm in the sun, with no wind, so a good night for a frost. The firing went very well, even a little bit quick, so we will wait to see what the results are next week.

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The night before the firing and just after I had written that Nothing lasts, nothing is ever finished and nothing is perfect. The heat shield on the door of the wood fired kitchen stove fell off at the end of dinner. The bolts holding it on had rusted away. I was stuck for just one second with a 2kg piece of red hot steel plate coming free and having to deal with it unexpectedly. Trying to stop it landing on the wooden floor of the kitchen. Fortunately, I installed a piece of thick copper sheet onto the floor in front of the stove, just in case any red hot embers might cascade out of the fire box on some occasion. This has hardly ever happened, but does occasionally. I’m glad that I saved up and did it when I did, thirty years ago, because I probably couldn’t afford to buy such a sheet of copper now. The copper looks great, has lasted well and on this occasion, might just have saved the house from burning down. I man-handle the glowing lump of red hot metal outside and into the ash bucket using the ember shovel.

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IMG_0778In the morning, before everyone arrives for the next workshop. I’m up early and down in the workshop drilling out the corroded screws and re-tapping the threads to suit the stainless steel bolts that I keep in stock for kiln building purposes. It takes me about 45 mins to clean it up, dissemble it and then figure out what I should do to cobble it all back together again. The old bolt holes are well corroded and packed with swollen, rusted bolty remains. I find that it is next to impossible to reconstruct it as it was, without moving up from 3/8 whitworth  to 10 mm. metric bolts, which I don’t have in stock. I decide to drill right through and use a longer, but thinner bolt. this works well and should last another 20 years. Probably longer than the remaining life of the rest of the stove. I get the door back on the stove just as the first of our guests arrive.

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Small progress, problem solved for the time being. It isn’t perfect, it won’t last, it isn’t finished.

Next!

Fond regards from the imperfect Steve the stove bodger

Delivering a Kiln, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A Kiln Delivery, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
I have just finished another kiln for a customer. It’s a beautiful thing. There isn’t anyone capable of making anything like this in Australia any more. All the skills are gone. We are a country of importers of cheap junk these days. Everyone wants something for next to nothing, or even cheaper. This may sound rather jaundiced, but how else do you explain the rampant rise of Bunnings and Ikea, and all the other Chinese import companies. Power tools for $12 each, of course they are not going to last more than 10 minutes.
Note to self – don’t buy cheap plastic junk! I try and buy only things that I really need, and if I really do need it. I try to buy something of quality, that will last a very long time. I don’t throw things out until they are really worn out, and then I try to recycle them into something else if I can. Finally, if it is really organic and wholesome. There is always the compost heap or the metal recyclers if it isn’t?
This kiln is not just beautiful. It’s solid and gorgeous. I’m very proud of it. I spent a lot of time on it. It will last its owner for all of her life and then someone else’s as well.
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I do a lot of organising before I set out to deliver a kiln. If the site is close enough, I go there and check out the site myself, but if it is a long way off. I usually do all the organising by email. Images sent back and forth of driveways nd other access points. Measurements of gates and shed doors height and widths etc. I try to think of everything, but there is always some sort of surprise in store for me. You never know who will turn up to “help”! See ‘The Best Laid Plans’ posted on this blog on the 18th of March this year.
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We get started early. I use my friend Dave who has a big truck with a ‘Palfinger’ crane. He is a real gentleman and takes such a lot of care with everything that he does. I really trust him completely in matters of lifting heavy things. I shrink-wrap and load the kiln onto my truck the day before and then drive it up to the drive way near the road, where Dave’s big truck can get to, to lift it off my little truck and onto his, for the long trip to its new home.
Because we are so efficient, we arrive at the site a bit early and manage to reverse in through the narrow gates, then down to a spot quite close to the garden shed, where the kiln will be housed. The clients are there to greet us, as is the local tradesman who they have engaged to help us. The kiln comes off the truck and across the lawn and into the doorway of the shed without a hitch. Dave can manoeuvre the crane with a tonne hanging from it at a 13 metre distance to within 1 cm! It’s always astonishing tot me how much accuracy he has developed with this machine over the 30 years that he has been doing it. This is how it is all supposed to be. everything considered. However, you can never really know what the local drunk and the crazy neighbour will do when push come to shove. On this occasion, they are nowhere to be seen and everything goes as it should. Dave lowers the kiln across the lawn and down onto the kiln shed slab. He is so professional, carefull and accurate with that crane. The kiln is lowered down directly onto the pallet lifter in the shed, so that I can wheel the kiln into position without a hitch.
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We install the flue kit and seal the roof and we are all done. Everything sweet and precise, all done without a hitch. This is how it is supposed to be. What could possibly have gone wrong?
I’m home early and have time to do a bit of weeding in the garden, then a clean-up in the kiln shed ready for the next wood firing workshop.
Everything as it should be.
I’m gratefull!
So completely different from the last time.
Best wishes
Steve

Nothing is Perfect!

We have just had our latest wood firing and all went well, as usual, thank goodness. We do our best, but we can make no guarantees, only mistakes!. We found that only a few pots made from an imported Japanese porcelain clay dunted. Glazed only on the inside too. Maybe that was the problem? Apart from this it was a very good firing!

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After the firing we get out and about and get stuck into some timber cutting and splitting. I’m up and out early with the chain saws, long before any one comes to help. Chain saws are dangerous enough without anyone else being around to watch out for and keep at a safe distance. We split about half of the 40 or so lengths that I have cut and prepared, but then the throttle lever on the splitter motor comes off in my hand. Cheap Chinese made splitter! So work has to come to a halt for the day while I fix it. We spend the rest of the time stacking and moving all that we have split over to the kiln shed. When everyone is gone. I take the splitter motor to bits looking for where the bolt or screw has fallen out. How could the throttle lever just come off in my hands? I can’t see where it has come from. Where it ought to be, but there ought to be an obvious spot with tell-tale wear marks, to indicate where it belongs. A place with a missing bolt! Just like in an Agatha Christie novel. there ought to be some clues, but the more I look, the less I know. I can’t believe it. Surely I’m not this inadequate and simple that I can’t see a missing bolts hole. I have removed half the engine, the air cleaner, and part of the carbie!

All the mechanism is installed under the air filter on one side and the muffler on the other. All the linkages are under the petrol tank. Everything is hard to get to and nothing is clear. There are metal wire linkages and tiny little, fine wire, return springs. I can’t see where any of it really belongs and to make it harder, the days are so short and it is starting to get dark.

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Then, finally, it dawns on me. It hasn’t fallen off because of a missing bolt or nut. It has simply shattered in half from metal fatigue and the rest of it is still all attached. It has cracked in half. I need to remove more of the engine to get all of it off, so that I can weld it back together again. I can’t do it on the machine, next to the carburetor, and all that fuel! I take a couple of photos as I go to remind me later on when I’m re-assembling it. So that I can get it all back together again in the right order.

Years ago, I used to write all of this kind of thing down in my day book – sort of diary thing, but now I just take photos. Because I can! When I was young, my first car was an old, classic, red, MG sports car. When I had to pull the engine down the first time. I wrote everything down, step by step and recorded all the detail that I thought was going to be necessary to re-assemble it. I numbered and bagged all the parts in sequence. I had never had to do anything like this before and my father wasn’t much interested or even around to give any guidance, so I just muddled through with the help of my older brother, who also had absolutely no experience of this kind of motor mechanics, but make encouraging noises and was supportive, especially when it came to lifting the donk out. We were completely incompetent and naive, but we managed to get it all back together again and it worked! it was quite a triumph for us. Especially for me.

When it was all done and back together. I had one nut left over, and to this day I still don’t know where it belonged. but the car still worked! Nothing is perfect!

Today, I get this small engine all stripped down and then set about welding the shattered pieces back together again. I think about making a new one, but the thing is so complex and folded in so many different places with so many holes and little tags and bits sticking out, that I decide to just repair it. Nothing is perfect! I don’t know how long it will last. Nothing lasts! It is only very thin pressed metal material. I can’t give it too many amps. I don’t want to burn a hole through it, and I can only weld one side too, because it has to have a flush face on the other side, so that it will swivel properly on it’s seating.  I weld it as best that I can, after testing the amperage on a test piece, so as to get the best result. I get good penetration! What more could a man want! But there is a little burn-through in one spot on the weld, so I have to grind it back a little to get it flush and smooth.

I manage to get it all back together before dark and back into the shed. It’s a bit of a rush, but there are no medals for giving up! I give it a trial run and it works OK. Time will tell if it continues to work for the long term. I go up to the house in the dark and the key snaps off in the lock. This is just what I need! One of the joys of living in a 122 year old house is doing the maintenance. I leave it till morning to take the lock off and fix it in daylight. I can’t see well enough in the dark and fixing locks, with all the fine moving parts is something that needs to be done in a clear frame of mind and good daylight. Fortunately it isn’t too difficult and it turns out to be something that I have had to do before, so it is relatively simple and straight forward and it is all back into working order pretty quickly and before lunch time. Nothing is perfect and nothing is ever finished.

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Because crap things always seem to come in threes, at least that is how it appears today. The water tank springs a leak. It has been leaking with a slow drip for a year or more now, but today, it springs a proper leak and The Lovely comes in to tell me that as she walked past the tank stand just now, and it felt like it was raining. This happened a couple of days ago too and she thought that she might have been imagining it. But today she is sure. We go and have a look. The timber tank stand deck is all wet underneath, just as it has been for a few years now, where the slow drip is, but now there is a little fountain pissing from the far side. It’s only very tiny, but it is surely a leak in the side of the tank now. I get the ladder and check it out at close quarters. The water has corroded through the zink coated corrugated steel sheeting. My highly imaginative and creative thinker thought that she was imagining it a few weeks ago when she felt a little fine water spray on her as she walked past the wood shed near by the tank stand. At that time, she imagined that it might be a cicada pissing from high up in a tree, or some other explanation. But now we know that it is real and not imagined. It’s a very tiny, fine spray of water from the pin prick sized hole, but once these things start. It’s always terminal.

I order a new tank, it’s all so specific these days. The height, the diameter, the colour, the inlet, the outlet side etc. It all goes on and on. This is not a current or popular size and configuration however. We will have to go on the waiting list. He rings me back the next day, They have one of those in stock it seems and so I can drive in and pick it up. Amazing! It has to be pretty much the same, because I don’t want to have to change over all the plumbing into a new configuration. When working up a 6 metre ladder. right at the top, it’s scarry enough.

I ring my friend Dave with the crane truck. he can come very late today on his way home. I drain all the water out of the tank and strip it of all its fittings and connectors. I swap all of these onto the new tank. Now we have no water in the house to cook, wash or flush with until it is all put back to rights. I hope that Dave doesn’t forget. He rings to say that he will be a little late, but he is here before dark. Which is good, if you are working on a narrow ladder rung, right at the top of a 6 metre ladder, up from the ground, you don’t want to be doing it in the dark.

It all goes smoothly and all the fittings that I swap over are all in the correct place and in the right direction, or orientation for further use.

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The old tank comes down and the new one goes into its place without a hitch. I only have to reconnect the inlet and outlet pipes.

Once it is back in place, Dave leaves for another job, I have to start the pump to refill it with water again, so that we can get on with our normal life.

The Wet One thinks that this tank is only a few years old. I think that it is probably a bit more than that, but not too old. Not more than ten years!  Nothing lasts. However, when I check out the paperwork, it turns out that it is actually 20 years since we put it up on the tank stand. The earlier tank had lasted 21 years and would have lasted longer, but the tank stand rusted out first and fell, crashing to the ground with the water tank still on it. Needless to say, neither survived, nor did the wood shed that it landed on.

I’m just a bit concerned that this new water tank is made of plastic and not galvanised steel like all the others have been. I wasn’t ever happy with the first tank that was made of galvanised steel and sealed with lead solder! But it did last for over 20 years and our first storage tank lasted for over 30 years, but the zink finally corrodes and they start to leak, so we replaced them with new ones. These newer tanks were made from zincalume coated steel, so couldn’t be soldered, that’s good, but they had to be sealed with silicon rubber glue. Not too happy about that either. Nothing is perfect! The last metal tank that we bought was lined with a plastic membrane heat sealed on to the inside of the zincalume sheets. It was called aquaplate, but didn’t last any longer and it was silicone sealed as well. Nothing is perfect!

Plastic is in everything. It’s OK while it lasts, but what will happen to this plastic tank when it finally gets eaten away by the sunlight or what ever is its fate? Can it be recycled? Al least the steel ones can be. I still have and use my parents old galvanised steel water tank. They bought it second-hand in the fifties, so it’s been in constant use in this family for over 60 years and is clearly a lot older, it shows no signs of corrosion yet. It was made out of thick steel plate and hot dipped in molten zinc. That was a product made to last. I have been told that it was a ships tank, but I don’t know. In future I may have to weld up my own tank and get it hot dipped galvanised, just like I do with my kilns. I like things that are made to last as long as possible.

However, I’m also aware that nothing is ever finished, nothing lasts and nothing is perfect.

You live and learn!

Best wishes

Steve

Fruits of the Solstice

We have been keeping up the citrus experiments. Each evening we try something new. The Lovely has been trying out some more ideas with citrus jelly. She uses oranges, limes, lemon, lemonade and tangelos. Whatever is ripe and plentiful on the day.
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Citrus Jelly
recipe;
375 mls. of Juice
125g of sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons of gelatine.
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method;
Squeeze 375 mls. of Juice from the above fruit. Use whatever mix of citrus fruit that you have.
Take 125g of sugar and dissolve it in 100 g of hot water. Stir to dissolve.
Zest some of the skins into the sugar/water mix.
Dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons of gelatine powder in 8 tablespoons of cold water. Sit the small bowl of gelatine and cold water in a bigger bowl of hot water to encourage the gelatine to dissolve.
Once the gelatine is dissolved, mix it into the sugar water and both into the fruit juice.
Stir well as it cools down. Once cooled, place in fridge to set into jelly. It may need to be stirred a few more times during the time in the fridge to stop the gelatine settling out.
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It’s very easy to make and to eat. It goes very well with either ice cream for desert or yoghurt for breakfast.
Candy for grown-ups
I was recently given a bag of old fashioned citrons by a lovely friend. She tells me that her husband makes marmalade from them. I try them for marmalade, but I think that the flavour is rather too strong. So I decided to try my hand at making candied, citron peel from them. I use candied peel for adding in with other dried fruits when baking some cakes. particularly for panforte or sometimes in muesli.
Candying fruit is an easy thing to do in the background while you do other things in the kitchen at night.
This is a pretty standard recipe and technique. You can use any thick skinned citrus.
Candied Citron Peel
Method
Cut the citron fruit lengthways into quarters and again in half into eighths, cut out the centre of the fruit to leave the white pith and peel.
Place in a saucepan and cover with water, then bring to the boil for a few minutes, maybe 10 or so. Discard the water and refresh. this removes a lot of the bitterness. Bring back to the boil and simmer for half an hour or so, or until softened.
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Drain off the water and weigh it. Add 1kg of sugar for every litre of water or part thereof proportionally. Return to the stove and bring back to the boil and let it simmer for another half hour or so. Leave to cool in the liquid over night.
In the morning drain and leave on a drying rack to dry, or place in stove on rack and dry for an hour or so on very low, with the fan on, if you have one?
The strips should be dry enough now to ‘keep’ in a jar in the fridge without going off.
You can roll them in caster sugar if you want to. I don’t.
Don’t dry them too much or they will become rock hard.
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Winter is not just the time time for citrus. The avocados are in full crop just now too.
They don’t really ripen on the tree. It’s best if you pick them a week or so before you need them. So The Lovely picks a few each week, so that there is an ongoing supply available.
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It’s an easy and quick lunch to slice over toast with a squeeze of lemon and some freshly ground pepper. Our good friend Toni Warburton comes for the weekend firing workshop and leaves us some smoked trout to put on top.
Yum! Thank you Toni.
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Best wishes
from The Candy Man and his Sweetie

What a Privilege it is to be a Tax Payer!

We are smack in the middle of our winter, wood firing program, we have done 9 weekends in a row and still have quite a few to go. I am spending a lot of time cutting, splitting and stacking wood for each firing. It takes about a tonne of wood to fire the kiln for the 20 or so hours for the kind of quick firing that we do here for these workshops.
I get out early and spend a few hours cutting the logs to length to suit the firebox length that I need for this kiln. I spend the next 4 or 5 hours splitting the logs that I have cut. I was busy in the morning with other jobs, so I am a bit late getting started into this job. Still, it has to be done, so I get stuck in. It’s a bit foggy and misty/rainy, but once I get into it and warm up. I don’t notice the rain at all.
Splitting wood is a bit mind numbingly repetitive and ever so dull, but what can you do?. After a few hours, I’m a bit over it. But there isn’t enough split yet, so on I go. It’s getting late and a bit dark now, but I push on when I shouldn’t, but I think that I need to do more. Its stupid, but on I go into the dark. The pile of logs is getting smaller on the fire-wood pile of split pieces is getting wider and taller.
Suddenly it happens. I’m way too tired and should have stopped an hour ago. I catch my finger under a piece of wood in the splitter.
Immediately, I stop the downward motion of the blade, but its too late. The pain explodes like a cracker in my mind. There is a flash-light like burst, but not towards me, it’s from the inside my head outward. My vision isn’t affected like it would be with a camera flash. There is no burnt-out hole in my vision. Instead, there is a ringing, although strangely silent sound, with a flashing stab of pain.
Somehow, a piece of wood, that I had in a tight grip in my hand, has somehow slipped, or been wrenched, from my grip. It flips around and over, twisting my wrist and then comes down hard on my other hand that was supposed to be holding the log secure!
How could this happen? I can’t even imagine that this is possible. The pain is blinding and a little nauseous. I can’t even understand what has happened, I’m stunned, but I know that it is serious. I am sufficiently aware to know that I should shut down the motor of the splitter before heading to the house to wash my hand and have a good look at my finger in the bright-light of the kitchen.  Luckily, on this occasion, here is no broken skin, no blood, but my finger is still numb to this day. Some sort of damage that I hope will eventually repair itself and grow out.
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I remember an earlier event of a few years ago, when I really did do myself some serious damage with the splitter. That time I caught my finger under the edge of the blade and it was dragged in and under by the protective glove. I try to pull back on my hand, but the machine is stronger and the glove is caught in the blade. The pain is so intense that I can’t describe it. I’m blank. There is no real memory of it at all. It’s all gone into the file marked ‘don’t go there’. I can remember that it all happened so slowly. I could see it all happening in slow-mo. It all took seconds to happen in replay, but over so quickly.
I’ve crushed my finger. There is no doubt. I gasp it in a vice-like grip with my other hand. I am suddenly in shock, but I can still remember that I had the presence of mind to stop the machine, kill the motor, and take the keys out of the tractor, before heading for the house. I usually wrap everything up in a tarp to keep it all dry in case of heavy dew or rain, but this is different and I just walk away. I know that it is too serious to be bothered with the trivialities.
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I can’t get my glove off. It’s wet through and stuck to me. I can’t bear the thought of shaking it off or pulling it off. A piece of my finger might comer with it!. Is it wet with blood or sweat? I don’t remember it being wet beforehand. I’m gripping my hand so tightly, that I’m cauterising it. I don’t mean too. I can’t help myself. It’s instinctive. I head for the house. I walk in and Janine knows straight away. She grasps her mouth. “What have you done now”!
I often come up to the house with some sort of blood stained head or hand that isn’t any sort of real problem. When you are focussed, and want to get the job done, you just push on and get it finished and don’t let any little nick or scratch deter you.
I say “What blood?” and we go from there. It’s always so superficial. Boring even!
But this is different. I know, that she knows, that I know, that I’m hurt. I haven’t cried since I was a child, but this makes my eyes water a little. I’m far too quiet too. She knows. She goes to get the car keys. We’re off to the hospital.
“Are you OK?”
“Yes, but it’s a bad one this time. I thInk that I might need stitches”
I ease the glove off over the sink. It isn’t blood that is sticking it on, but sweat. It’s crushed out of shape a bit and the numbness is starting to wear off now and it’s hurting like hell.
She drives and I sit and shiver. I’m feeling quite cold now, while only a few minutes ago, I was hot and sweaty and very busy. I want a drink of water, I’m parched, but The Lovely say no!
“You’re in shock and it’s not good to drink anything, just in case you need surgery and anaesthetic. So I sit and shiver it out for the 25 minutes it takes to get us to Bowral Hospital Emergency.
The triage nurse see us coming through the outer doors and comes out from behind her desk to meet us. She ushers us straight through a side door and into some sort of cubicle. So much for all those poor people queued up in the rows of seats in the waiting room! She says to sit here and someone will come. They do. I must look bad, to get this Ryan-Air style priority seating. The nurse comes and asks me some questions that I don’t remember. Janine isn’t here now, she’s back outside. I’m cold and alone. Eventually the Doctor comes. He looks at it and asks how I did it. He flinches! He tells me that I’m stupid! I already know that.
You’ve spent 10 years becoming a doctor. Tell me something that I don’t know!
He responds. “I’ve seem fingers come off in accidents like this. You are very lucky!”
I am lucky. I know it, and I am very stupid with it. I know that too! I should have stopped an hour earlier. But didn’t. I am so fortunate.
However, I’m also aware that if I had lived my life, stopping when I should, and not working extra time, doing over-time and more! Doing too much. working into the dark. Not stopping for beak times and working to rule, then I wouldn’t own my own home by now. You have to put your arse into gear and work hard if you want to get ahead in this Brave New World of part-time, unregulated, contract work and self employment.
The doctor starts to clean the wound and gives me a series of injections around the site. A local anaesthetic. But it doesn’t work very well and I can still feel the needle go in and out, and be pulled through, with each stitch. It hurts! I ask if this is normal and he answers that there are some places that are very hard to anaesthetise fully and this is one of them. He gives me a few more shots and it is a bit better, but still quite sensitive to the needle and thread. More of a sort of prickly sting, than a real pain. I’m not about to complain. I’ve seen the third world, I consider myself so lucky that this has happened here.
Eventually, it is all cobbled back together. X-rays reveal that no bones are broken, but a lot of damage has been done to the knuckle. He warns me that it will take a while to heal and that I should go and see my regular doctor on Monday.  I get a script for antibiotics and pain-killers. It doesn’t look quite normal any more, but at least I still have it. It ends up taking over a year to loose sensitivity and another year to get back to normal function. To this day, if I bump it during the winter when it is cold. It stings and aches for ages.
I’m a very lucky man and I know it. But this is the price of independence in the Brave New Deregulated World.
At least the hospital is clean, the service is fast, excellent and sterile. I’m not in the third world now!. It’s also completely free. I’m amazed. I should pay something. If I went to a doctor, if one was available on a Saturday night. I’d have to pay him or her.  I am so very grateful that such an amazing service is available. I want to pay someone for this incredible service. But No, I can’t, it’s totally free to citizens. This mind blowingly complex and efficient service is apparently covered by my meagre taxes.
What a privilege it is to be a Tax payer!
I am so grateful!
fond regards from ‘Lefty’ Harrison

Marmalade for Busy People

The solstice draws near, the days are cool and short. The mornings cold and misty. Mrs Grey Thrush is out and about celebrating this cold, cloudy, misty, drizzling morning. She flys down and serenades The Lovely with her beautiful haunting melodic song. she swoops down and continues from the verandah guttering, then up into the pine tree with her mate. They continue together for some time all around the garden with what might be some sort of call and response? It’s a shear delight on a dull morning.

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During this cool, damp time It’s great to celebrate this colder weather and make the most of it while it lasts. We have had a few frosts, but only mild. Hopefully just enough to spur the older varieties of stone-fruit into fertile flower buds. I noticed the other day as I walked through the orchard, that one of the early peaches has its first blossom out! How amazing. So early.

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Mid winter is the time for warm lingering breakfasts of coffee and toast with marmalade. I have been trying to keep up with the citrus fruit this year by making a batch of marmalade each day. Of course I’m not successful at this. It just can’t be done, but I hold it in my mind as an objective to aim for. There is so much to be done. Something has to give. Sometimes it’s cello practice, other times its preserving the garden excess. But the winter firing workshops must be prepared for and made to work smoothly.

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This mornings breakfast involved preserved blood plums from the summer with yoghurt. These are so good. Full of flavour, sweetness and the fruity acidic tang of a good blood plum. The colour is exceptional, dark and rich, with a complex texture that is both fibrous and smooth. We have been enjoying them on and off through the year and are now down to our last three jars. It’s a wonderful thing to have a pantry full of preserved food that you have grown and bottled yourself. A great sense of reward and satisfaction just to look in there and see all the colours ,and then to imagine all the concentrated flavours, that you know and are so familiar with. What is really good, is to know that non of it came from a supermarket or chemical factory and non of it is stored in plastic. All recycled glass. our oldest bottles date back to the mid seventies, and they were bought 2nd hand even then.

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This week I have been developing the recipe for my marmalade a little bit further. I use more or less the same recipe every year. the only difference being the fruit that i use. Two years ago i was given some honey mercott Mandarins. these turned out to be so sweet that the marmalade was not nice. Too sickly sweet. I like my marmalade to be a bit tangy and slightly bitter, and definitely not too sweet. it has to taste of citrus and the tangy bitterness of the peel. I aim for a nice creamy smooth texture, not too runny, but definitely not stiff and rubbery.

So to this end I did a few experiments. I have always weighed the fruit. 1 kg of whole fruit to 300g of sugar and I use only the juice of the fruit as the cooking liquid. However, the juiciness of the individual fruits varies so much. Especially in regard to when the fruit was picked. I have noticed that the fruit is easier to juice if it has been picked for a week or so beforehand. fresh picked citrus is a lot harder to juice.

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I have come to the following recipe, developed from the original one above, but reduced to separate weights of each of the components. recipes That I have read that say take 4 oranges and add ‘X’ sugar and ‘Y’ water aren’t reliable, because the size and the age of the fruit varies so much. I decided that achieve the best result, it would be necessary to weight the separate ingredients; the cleaned peel, the squeezed juice and the sugar individually.

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Yesterdays batch of mixed citrus fruits from the grove turned out quite well following this line of thought. I used;

1 ruby grapefruit

1 myer lemon

1 Tahitian lime

1 seville orange

1 Washington navel orange

1 tangelo and

1 Italian bitter chinnoto

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I have come to the following recipe and method.

Recipe.

Cleaned citrus Peel = 100% = 550g

Juice 83%  of the weight of the peel = 455g

Sugar 79% of the weight of the peel = 435g

Method.

1. Squeeze the juice out of the fruit and set aside

2. Strip the peel of all the spent fibrous core, to reveal the peel with a clean layer of white pith.

3. Thinly slice the peel into strips and weight it. What ever the weight of this peel, say 550g. call this amount 100%

4. Calculate 83% of 550g = 456g.  Weigh the juice and make sure that it is 456g, or close to it. If the fruit is a bit dry and there isn’t enough juice, then juice another piece of fruit to make up the difference. If you have too much, drink the excess.

5. Calculate 79% of 550g. = 434g. Weight out 434g of sugar.

Place all ingredients in the bread-maker machine pan and set for ‘Jam’ setting. come back in and hour and decant into sterilised jars while still hot from the oven and seal with sterilised lids. They will make a loud ‘POP’ noise as they cool down and vacuum seal.

I am inclined to add a dash of whiskey into the hot marmalade as it comes out of the machine. Stir it through evenly, just before pouring into the jars.

Technically, sealed in this way, the marmalade should last for a few years, but never seems to last us till next season 🙂

You should end up with a creamy, smooth marmalade that isn’t too runny or stiff, and you don’t have to soak overnight or spend an hour at the stove stirring, or boil the pips in a calico bag. Marmalade for busy people!

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Best wishes

Steve and Janine, a busy couple of people

To Get Rich Is Glorious

To get rich might be glorious – but, to be content has its merits too.
We are packed and ready to leave this special place with so much history and future potential. The old and the new worlds are co-mingled here. We breakfast in the street on food cooked on the back of a bicycle and then go looking for a driver. He’ll be here some where along this little bit of road. As we walk along, we are reminded again of how we are seen as being quite exotic here in this remote part of China. There can’t be too many foreigners like us around these parts. This is made obvious to us by a giggle of teenage girls who point and talk about us as we pass. Suddenly, a couple of them run along after us and then past us for a few metres. Once out in front, they quickly turn and take our photo on their phones. Then look nonchalantly straight past us, into the distance, back down the street, as if they are just looking back along the street as if there is nothing unusual going on, just as you do every day! Then, as we get level with them, they turn sideways and snap our image again, but this time in profile, from side on. They run back giggling to their friends to look at the images and chatter and laugh. I turn and wave at them and they wave back, then burst into chatter and laughter once again. We have made their morning more interesting!
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We are looking for our amazingly honest driver from the other day. The one who returned Leo’s wallet full of money. We want him to drive us on this last leg of our journey. He was so honest. We find him in a cafe on the corner. A few days ago we paid him Y80 for 4 hours. Today he wants Y200 for 2 hours. I don’t hesitate in agreeing. He was honest enough to return the wallet, which he could easily have ‘forgotten’ to do. After-all, “to get rich is glorious” in China! Or so he has been told. And that windfall wallet, would have been an easy start for him towards glory. But he didn’t and in so doing restored my faith in the goodness of people. So I thank him and think that the Y200 is like a reward for goodness. He’s a nice guy, and I like him. Even though I can’t tell him.
I smile. He knows.
So now I’m finally back home again.
It’s good to see The Lovely again and be back in my own familiar life. My own home, my family, my bed.  I’ve only been away a few weeks, but there is so much that needs to be done. I was busy before I left. Now that I’m back, the work load seems to have multiplied. First, I need to help The Lovely catch up with house work, then, the weeding of the garden and we have several weekend workshops booked over the next few weeks of winter. She has done one while I was away, with the help of our good friend Val, and the next one starts today. So it’s up early to get the portable wood-fired kilns out onto the site. I have built 3 new portable wood fired kilns since we last did these workshops, this time, a year ago. They are a great improvement in speed, ease, size and effort.
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The day goes well and the new larger kilns perform really well, being the most productive and popular kilns on the day, turning over the work, faster than the older kilns.
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Fortunately, I am home just in time to see the last few tomatoes ripen in the window sill. I cook them with a few of the last capsicums and some garlic, broccoli, pumpkin and lentils cooked in marrow bone stock.
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This evening, I set about making a new batch of stock to replenish the skerrick that is left in the fridge. There is something very positive about messing about in the kitchen in the evening, fussing over the wood-fired stove, roasting, simmering, reducing a vegetable and marrow bone stock. There is something so essential and wholesome about it. It warms me! In every possible meaning of the word. In some ways, It defines my existence here, living this, positive, practical, hands-on life. Making something out of (almost) nothing. Creating capital, forestalling waste, making do and in so doing, avoiding buying some inferior mass produced product that is probably bad for you, as all the packaged stocks that I’ve seen are made up with artificial everything and loaded with a lifetimes allowance of salt to boot. What I make is a concentration of leggy vegetables that are on their way to seed, a few marrow bones and some garden herbs, reduced down with a bottle of good, local, red wine, into a firm jelly-like essence of flavour. Using a spoonful of this home-made delight beats using a stock cube of unknown origin and content.
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There is a massive frost in the morning. Everything is pure white and crunchy under-foot. This is bad. It will kill off a lot of sensitive plants that were struggling on in the near absolute cold, but it is also very good! It will help kill off all the over-wintering fruit flies and while it is at it, it will ensure that we will get a better crop of apples and pears. Old stone-fruit species, especially apples, need to have a few frosts over the winter to ‘chill’ and stimulate the flower buds and make them fertile, come the spring.
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It’s winter and the citrus harvest is now reaching maturity on the trees. There are lemons, Myer and Eureka, plus ’lemonade’ lemons. Then there are ruby-red grape fruit and oranges. Plus tangelos and bitter Italian chinottos. Lastly, there are Tahitian and kaffir limes. They all go in together in a radical seasonal mix of flavour and colour.
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I try some new ideas about making marmalade. I make marmalade every year and I always like to try a new variation on the theme. You never know what you might learn. The recipe that I have evolved over the past 4 decades has changed so much that I don’t know what it was when I first started out. I use about 1kg of mixed fruit and use only the juice squeezed from that fruit as any liquid in the mix. I like to peel out all the fibrous pith from the fruit after juicing, so that I mostly use the coloured peel with just a bit of white on the inside. This  is mixed with 300g of sugar and boiled and stirred for an hour. It’s pretty easy and quick, so i can get 4 or 5 batches done during a session. This makes about a dozen small jars. Up until today, I didn’t really know what the recipe was, so this time I separated out all the parts of the fruit and weighed them before cooking. So now I know.
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1 kg of mixed citrus breaks down into;
200g  of peel
460g of juice
275g of white fibrous pith into the compost
65g of pips and other discards
Put the peel, juice and 300g of sugar into the pan and boil while stirring for an hour.
That’s it, pour into hot sterilised jars straight from the oven, 10 mins at 120oC. cap with lids that have been simmered for 10 mins at a low rolling simmer. They will ‘pop’ after 15 mins to let you know that they are now vacuum sealed and good for storage for the coming year.
Confession!
I don’t boil and stir for an hour. I just don’t have the time for it. For the past decade I’ve been using the ‘jam’ setting in the bread maker machine. We have a bread maker machine and have had one for the past 20 odd years. It’s one of the few kitchen gadgets that we own. We have even worn the first one out! But we never make bread in it! We use it for making dough, which we then roll out into bread rolls or a plaited loaf, which we bake in the wood stove, or in this case to make marmalade. It works a treat. The best part is that it leaves you free to get other things done, while it ‘minds’ the jam and it never forgets to stir, or lets it burn or stick. It even rings a bell to let you know that it’s time to bottle.
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Winter is the time for marmalade on toast for breakfast with a warm bowl of milky coffee. So french! We talk and plan the days jobs ahead. Wood splitting for the up coming stoneware wood firing is high on the list.
Working hard to make money, takes so much time, that there isn’t anytime left to enjoy the life that I want to live. So I decided a long time ago that it was best to try to live with an absolute minimum of money and have a lot more time for having fun and being more in control of my everyday life. When you get used to doing most things for yourself and making do, you find that you need less money. I guess that one reason is that I’m so tired by night time that I just don’t feel like going out.
This mentally focussed but physically demanding existence has it’s contentments, but non of them are money.
Best wishes
Steve