2017, so long and thanks for all the fish

As this year slowly fades into the next, without a bang or a whimper, each day arrives and passes in a heat haze of small summer jobs around the house and gardens. I service all the fire fighting pumps. We have 4 or them. Cleaning the air filters and changing the oil, ready for any fire emergency that might crop up in this heat. These pumps are used for other jobs throughout the year, for garden irrigation, roof sprinklers on the house and workshop roofs for cooling on the hottest days and water transfer from tank to tank, this occasional work keeps them in good working order, so that I know that I can rely on them in any emergency.

We had a couple of weekend workshops of garden maintenance, with a couple of our pottery students and friends helping us get the garden back up to speed after our long absence OS in the late spring . They earned themselves a free raku firing workshop  ticket in the winter for their trouble. A very special thanks to all those friends who helped us out during the past 12 months, your friendship and support is greatly appreciated.

The garden is now producing a lot of food for us and will continue to do so into the future, with the germination and growth of all the seeds that we planted. We have successive plantings of corn, beans and zucchinis, etc. to keep us going.

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We have enjoyed a number of lovely meals recently from the garden. Our protein is mostly sea food based, as we have a very good fish man that drives up from the coast a couple of days a week. We often bake a whole fish and boil the bones to make a stock that we can use later to make something else. Recently I pan-fried a whole trout in olive oil and garlic, stuffed with lemon thyme from the garden and dressed with lemon juice and crushed almonds. I finished it under alfoil to slowly steam it through, de-glazed with a little splash of chardonnay and a dash of fresh cream before serving it with some steamed kippfler potatoes. I didn’t get any complaints and I made a good stock of the bones.

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Not only do I get a very good glutinous richly flavoured stock from the bones, but then the Spice Girls (chooks) get a nice surprise for breakfast the next day.

Many meals at this time of year start to look like variations on ratatouille, with mixtures of tomatoes, egg plant, zucchinis and capsicums. I try to mix it up a little using the fish stock to make a blond garden risotto, with Pumpkin, zucchini, caps, garlic and onion. I add a little pinch of saffron and Janine brings in a sprig of fresh oregano to help it along a little. I finish it with a chunk of butter to make it extra creamy and smooth.

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Later, we bake a snapper in the same way, except , this time I use some of the days tomato passata to simmer it with the days vegetable pick.

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I take the time to clean, scrub, oil and then re-wax the kitchen table.

 Someone once told me that I should oil my handmade furniture once a day for a week, then once a week for a month, once a month for a year and then annually after that. So now is the time for such small details to add up and need addressing. I refuse to go into the factory or the workshop for this precious week between Xmas and new year to do  kiln work. Instead I work at all the other jobs that need doing annually, like this one. A change is as good as a holiday! It’s been a busy year with trips to China, Adelaide, Canberra, Cambodia, Korea, then Japan and Korea and Japan again. Plus the launch of my new book ‘5 Stones’ at my big show of my 15 years of research into single stone porcelain at Watters Gallery. I still haven’t written up all of the recent Japanese trip yet. Maybe in the new year.

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I do go into the workshop many times through this week, but it is to get tools that I need for maintenance and to do repairs on household items.

I will go back to work on the 2nd after our Swiss Intern arrives for a 6 week stay with us. We will be busy making single stone porcelain and building kilns after she has settled in.

Last year we had Lauge from Denmark, this year it will be Catherine from Switzerland. Something to look forward to. However, before that, we will have our annual New Years day recovery party to welcome the new year in and I will be cooking up a selection  of our garden produce for that.

Spring has Finally Arrived

Spring hasn’t sprung. It’s sort of crept in very slowly. It hasn’t rained properly since March, so all the dams are very low and as the weather slowly warms up, we are having to water the vegetable garden and potted plants every day.

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We have been harvesting the new crop of garlic for the past month as it starts to dry off and wilt. I planted over 100 cloves this year and we have harvest a very good strong crop. However, one of the varieties that I planted has turned out to be a bracing type, initially it grew as one stem, but as it matured, it separated into a dozen separate plants. One stem for each clove. I have no idea what the variety is called, as I bought 2 knobs of this garlic from the health food shop, as Australian grown organic garlic, and that is all I know about it. It has quite a mild flavour.

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Each batch of garlic has to be laid out to dry for while before it can be plaited and hung up for storage in the kitchen ceiling truss.

 

The Last Batch of Marmalade

We are almost at the end of winter now and the last of the citrus still on the trees are  the Seville oranges. We have been making marmalade steadily through the winter months – and eating it too. We have been only just keeping ahead of our consumption.

For the past few months, I have been working flat out everyday, hardly ever taking any time off to work in the garden and around the house. Only the bare necessities could be done. The garden was looking a bit neglected and there were some essential maintenance jobs that needed seeing to.

Now my big show is up and I have given my artists talk last Saturday, then run a wood fire weekend workshop on Sunday, Today is a day off. We allow ourselves to sleep in a bit, have a late breakfast, then it is into the garden to harvest the last of the  Seville oranges. I get a couple of baskets full, as well as a few lemons. We spend our ‘day off ‘ making marmalade.

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We make something of an effort to make nice marmalade. For us, that means using the orange juice as the only liquid. We take the time to cut away almost all of the white pith, using just the thin strip of coloured fruit skin, and that skin is sliced quite thin. Each of us has our own way of dealing with the process. I like it sliced very thin, as thin as possible, with as little white as possible.

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We squeeze out the fruit juice and pour it into a saucepan, all the pips are separated out to another smaller sauce pan and simmered with a minimum of water to extract the pectin. This is pushed through a small kitchen sieve and eventually back into the lager pan of juice and peel. The thinly sliced peel and juice is roughly weighed and about 40% of this weight is added as sugar, but we have experimented with as little as 35% sugar. I like it less sweet and a bit more bitey. I have heard of recipes that say 50% of sugar and even equal parts of sugar. I don’t think that I would like it that sweet.

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Janine has made a hand-thrown, glazed, pottery funnel to make the pouring of jams, jellies and marmalade easier.

As we only seem to eat marmalade on toast for breakfast through the winter, we will have enough now in stock to last us through the last of the cool weather and through into the next winter, when the citrus will come back on again.

 

 

Cold frosty nights, a good time to make stock

I have been sitting with my show at Watters Gallery each Saturday to ‘meetngreet’ and answer questions, if any, from the visitors. I spend some time with a few couples. I tell them stories, recount a joke, offer some insights into the work and its back history. They laugh, we chat, I explain the work, give details of its making, describe the provenance and importance to the overall story, of some specific pieces. I give them a brochure, a colour catalogue and then, after 45 mins., they walk out happily. I look to Frank sitting in the corner. He smiles at me benevolently. “welcome to the life of the gallerist”!

We have had a longish dry spell and the nights are again frosty. Cold evenings are an ideal time to make some stock. I buy a few beef bones and a pigs trotter. We roast them in the wood stove while we cook dinner. Then I boil them down over night on a slow declining fire along with a big boiler of mixed winter vegetables. Some parsnip, carrots, celery, parsley and a hand-full of mixed herbs, bay leaves, chilli, a star anise and a few pepper corns. All the usual suspects. The whole lot is slowly simmered and in the morning each of the big pots is decanted. The marrow extracted from the bones, which are then discarded, the vegetables sieved from the stock and sent to the worm farm.

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Both boilers and added together and re-simmered  the next night with a bottle of red wine. This is reduced down to 600mls of thick, gelatinous stock.

This is wonderfully flavoursome stuff. I keep it in the freezer and bring it out when I need a stock cube. This stock is so high in natural gelatine, protein and fat that it doesn’t really freeze. It just sets into a very firm gel that I can slice straight from the freezer. A chunk can be added whenever needed in just a minute. I’m sure that it would keep for a very long time in this frozen state, but it never gets the chance!

What is really good about this stock, which makes it so different from any commercial product is thatches stock is free of salt. Most commercially available stocks are loaded with salt. It’s probably their main ingredient.

This is entirely home made, flavoursome, free of preservatives, insecticides and is almost healthy by comparison. It is also a much better use of my time than watching the idiot box.

 

Marmalade and Mushroom Sauce

I’m home and it is mid winter. Everything is dull and bleak. The sun is low in the sky and the days are short. The trees are bare and there isn’t a lot of variety in the garden. I can pick a goodly sized parsnip and carrot. A hand full of broccoli and some Brussel sprouts. This will be dinner with the addition of some potatoes from the kitchen store.

We have the basket of goodies at the sink ready to wash when our neighbour John drops in on an errand. He sits down for a chat and we share a beer. He tells us that his favourite butcher has just given him a kilo of eye fillet in exchange for a favour. He asked what we will be eating for dinner. I show him the garden bounty, all freshly picked at the sink.

He looks quite concerned. “Are you really going to eat that! That’s it for dinner?”

Yes indeed. That is what we are going to eat. “Why?”

He mutters something along the lines of “You poor hapless bastards!” “for f*%$#’s sake, don’t you have any real food in the house?”

He tells us that we should come to his place and he’ll feed us up. He adds, “Bring your veggies, I’ll cook the steak.”  We do, and he does. He has a special sauce for the steak. It’s delicious. He asks us what we think is in it. I can see mushrooms. I can taste a soupçon of ginger, there is pepper and salt, all the usual suspects, but there is something else that I just can’t guess. It turns out to be a spoonful of our very own marmalade that we gave them the week before. It’s a really interesting and delicious sauce.

Welcome home

We arrive back home at the end of Autumn. The pistachio tree has turned red in our absence and the liquid ambers are loosing their leaves. We head straight to the chook house to see how the girls have been faring without us. Perfectly well it appears. They have changed their allegiance to Annabelle Slugette, because she has been living here, working in the pottery and feeding them treats for the past few weeks. Hens live for food! I know that it is only cupboard love, but I do feel a little bit abandoned. I’ll need to find them a few snails or other special treats to win their hearts ( and stomachs) back.

 

We head to the garden to see what there is for dinner. We find our selves in that special period of the year when there are just a few summer vegetables hanging on, while the winter crops are just starting, so we pick the last zucchini and the first cauliflower. There are only a couple of weeks when you can eat this combination of garden produce. The chillis have ripened a lot more while we have been away, so we pick some and dry them.

 

The next day I’m back at work in the pottery. I have  to slake down all my turnings that have dried out while I’ve been away. Clay slakes down so much faster when it is bone dry. I have lots of small batches to deal with. I have been working on my collected samples of porcelain stones from all around the world and I have to keep all the turnings from each batch of pots made from each special rock completely separate and well-marked, so that I don’t get mixed up or confused about which is which. I have 10 buckets marked with masking tape and felt fen, so as to keep it all under control.

I start with the first 5 batches. I slake, blunge and sieve them all through a 100# mesh screen, then flocculate them and decant the excess water, it takes a while to get its all done. Eventually, they make it out onto the plaster drying tubs that I use for small batches of re-cycling like this..

 

I’m not just dealing only with turnings here. Many of my pots don’t even get to the turning stage. These ultra-fine, ground stone bodies, with virtually no real ‘clay’ content, based solely on mica and quartz, with just a little illitic material. Consequently, they have no dry strength. They sometimes just split as soon as they are placed on the chuck, some don’t even get to the chuck, as they split during drying. Other decide to part company with themselves after the first turning at the ‘roughing out’ stage.

 

Some others tear themselves apart after the second trimming. Only a few make it to the final turning and bisque kiln. The only good thing about pots cracking during drying, is that at least I can re-work the material and have another go at making something that might survive to the kiln. What happens in the glaze kiln is another matter. I’ll find that out for these samples soon enough!

 

Environmental fellowship

We have had a Danish potter staying with us for the past month. He won the Environmental Ceramics Fellowship for for 2016, but for both of us it was just too difficult to complete it last year, so we postponed to this year.

He is a potter from Denmark who is interested in sustainability and new ways of exploring how to make a living in this new digital age. He has his own web presence in Denmark where he markets Potters wheels, kilns and clay bodies, as well as making his own work. He is a digital native. Whereas, I am, on the other hand, a dig-it-all-native. Making everything myself from the ground up – and that is what he is here to learn.

We crushed porcelain stone in the big jaw crusher to make single-stone porcelain body. We made clay tests to investigate unknown clays. We worked in the gardens and orchards. Ate all our own produce. Cooked up some wonderful meals. Lauge is a great cook, so that helped. We went on a geology excursion to look at some of the local stone deposits. Harvested the shiraz grape crop and made dark grape juice from the grapes.

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All in all, the month flew by and it all went too fast, leaving so many things un-explored. A month just isn’t enough time to experience everything that we do here.

Janine and I are planning to do some volunteer aid work overseas soon. So we are working towards this by making clay tests out of the local clay that has been posted over to us to process. Our Guest lends a hand in everything that we do.

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We decide to go exploring and looking at a few rocks for making glazes. Then, to complete the true ‘Australian’ experience, we take him to the local micro-brewery and have a meat pie with tomato sauce, accompanied by a tray of the brewery’s sample beers for lunch. Fantastic! I haven’t eaten a meat pie since I was a kid, so it was an experience for me too!

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You have to look closely at the image of the analcime basanite deposit above to focus on the small figure in the foreground.

We cook and eat what is in season in the garden this autumn equinox. An autumn garden risotto, a fresh garden salad of shaved beetroot, cucumber, raddish, quince. Served with wasabi rocket, lettuce, beetroot tops, chilli and crunchy pan-roasted almonds.

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We also make an alternate version of okonomiaki, using some very firm, third pick, red cabbage, our own home grown eggs, garlic, chilli and shiso. Everything from the garden. Red cabbage is too slow to cook straight off as a cabbage pancake. So I pre-cook the cabbage to soften it down before I blend in the pancake mix and all the other ingredients. It’s not really a traditional Japanese okonomiaki. It’s an improvised Aussie OKA-nomiaka. Served with mayonnaise and Japanese okonomi sauce. Topped with bonito flakes and some Japanese pickled ginger.

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We finish the meal with fresh figs and soft white cheese. We do this desert a lot at this time of year while the figs are coming on. We try it with all manner of different soft cheeses. Boconcini isn’t the best, but you don’t know these things until you try them out. We’ve tried it with blue cheese, fetta and soft white goats cheese which was best.

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Lauge helps me finish off the internal fittings for the 8 little dalek kilns. These are now  almost all delivered, leaving space for me to start welding up my 2nd kiln job of the year. There is just enough room to get both jobs in the factory at the same time, but it takes a little bit of planning and maneuvering to get everything into the tight space.

Now the shed is almost empty, with the big new frame gone off to be galvanised and all the little ones gone to good homes:)

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