I turned 70 last week. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to invite all the local creatives from around the village, plus Len and Warren and their partners, who have been so incredibly helpful and supportive over the past two and bit years since the fire.
I was born on the cusp of Pisces and Aries. Not that I hold any interest in, or find any significance in this sort of thing, but it gave me a handle to organise a menu focussed around fish and goat.
I made an amuse of slow braised onion jam, served on narrow flaky pastry fingers, with a single anchovy laid across the top. That was a pretty nice start. I got this recipe from Simon Hopkinson and have had a couple of goes at it. I like his gentle approach to cooking. He has written two books, ‘How to cook roast chicken’ and ‘The good cook’. I liked them both and have tried recipes from both of them at various times.
I had filleted a whole snapper the night before for our dinner, so had the fish frame to make stock with. I also bought a salmon head at the fish markets while I was buying all the seafood for the bouillabaisse. These two fish heads and frame made a great start for the stock.
I started the stock with a bouquet garni of fresh garden herbs and onions fried in olive oil. Added the fish heads along with carrots picked freshly from the garden, some very young celery stalks, capsicums and parsley.
As we have a lot of capsicums at the moment, I roasted the excess over the open flame on the cook top, sweated then out in a bag for an hour and when cooled, I pickled them in a little oil and vinegar. Preserved for later.
The fish head stock was cooked out the night before and when cooled, passed through a sieve to make the clear stock for the bouillabaisse style fish soup. This was to be the first course. A bouillabaisse for the Pisces component of the meal. Just before the party. I added the diced octopus, and boiled it for half an hour to make sure that it was tender, then completed the soup with the fish fillets, prawns and mussels in that order, just before serving.
No one complained and some even returned for a second helping.
The main course was the baked, boned and butterflied leg of chevon to represent Aries. I had put it on earlier in the day for a slow roast and had it ready for the main course.
I made two versions of this course. One baked with home grown and preserved quinces in a light sugar syrup with sweet aromatic spices like star anise, cloves, and cinnamon.
The other baked with wine to stop it drying out with a rub of aromatic savoury herbs, fried onions and garlic.
The big glazing room in the pottery was converted into our dining room for the night and comfortably seated the 12 of us.
We didn’t finish till 1 am. so it must have been a good night.
The rest of the week was spent turning porcelain bowls in the pottery and continuing the work of paving along the back of the pottery.
I dug up a line of pavers that we had already laid behind the kiln chimney. I waited until all the pavers were laid, so that I would have all the levels correct and the fall just right.
I removed one single line of tiles, dug down into the gravel substrate and positioned a cheap plastic drainage gutter in the space and then cemented it in. When we have another rain event of biblical intensity, I want the water to flow away from the kiln and be easily removed instead of soaking in.
Now that I almost have a wood fired kiln built, it’s time for me to re-start the stalled research I was doing just before the Black Summer Fires interrupted my work. I have started to make the early tests for my commitment to the PowerHouse Willoughby Bequest. I have been processing some new porcelain bodies from Australian Halloysite, I ball milled them a couple of months ago to allow a bit of time for them to ‘age’. Two months is next to nothing in the broad scheme of things when it comes to single stone porcelains, but every little bit helps. I have also been working with sericite.
Both started off badly!
The halloysite cracked almost instantly as it stiffened up. It is as plastic as wet goats cheese ricotta. Actually, the cheese is much better!
It has so little plasticity that the act of cutting it through with a wire tears it apart underneath. I’ve been working with my local Mittagong halloysite/mica porcelain for almost 20 years now, and its been a difficult relationship. When I do get the pieces off the wheel successfully, I find that they have a desire to warp in the early stage of the firing. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easily. At least not to me anyway. However, I persist, because when I do get a lovely pot out of the kiln successfully, it is really uplifting and rewarding.
I have also started off badly with the sericite pieces. Any single stone porcelain with such a wide, flat base is going to be problematic, but 100% loss was a bit much as a starter!
I put it down to being out of practice and being distracted, with so much else on my plate. I pugged up this first batch of pots, re-worked the clay and threw it again the next day. The second batch, I cut off with a very fine wire and dried very slowly in the damp cupboard for two weeks. Cutting them off the batt again every 2 or 3 days, to allow them to separate from the base and shrink evenly without too much stress. This has worked. I am amazed how easily this strange stuff sticks itself back together again so easily. I have found that if I use a thicker twisted wire, they stay separated, but almost all of them crack against the line of the cut.
I have tried cutting straight across while the wheel is stationary, and alternatively, cutting off while the wheel is still turning. It has made no difference. They both cracked equally.
I had virtually no trouble with the smaller, narrow footed pieces. and the larger narrow footed bowls.
Now to get them fired successfully…