Wood Cutting with Chickens, Some Jobs are Slower with Helpers

We have spent the week chopping and stacking wood for the weekend wood firing workshops. No matter where we are on the 7 acres of bush where we cut the dead wood for kiln and house fuel, the chickens will hear the sound of the chain saw and turn up within minutes. Yesterday I was in the most remote part of our land, after bashing a track through the under growth to get to a fallen dead tree. I hadn’t made more than 3 cuts when the first chicken turned up, then a minute later, 2 more. They just love to get in amongst the dead wood and bark to scratch out the termites and insects.

They show no concern for the noise of the chain saw, the flying wood chips or the falling logs. They are obsessed with being first in to get the bugs. With 3 chickens helping me, it really slows me down. I have to be especially careful when I’m dragging logs out with the tractor and heavy chains. They have no fear of me or the tractor and will get right in front of the wheels if there are insects there. I have to keep a very close eye on them all of the time, to know exactly where they are.

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Spring is well and truely here now, with the cherry blossom, but we still had a frost on Saturday night. The temporary cloches will have to remain on the tomatoes and other ‘soft’ seedlings for a few more weeks yet.

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The Hungry Gap Risotto

We are just in the beginning of spring, but there are still icy winds blowing gale-force off the snow, interspersed with the occasional calm, sunny, warm days. The winter garden is almost depleted, with just 6 carrots and 3 leeks left from the autumn crops, but we still have plenty of broccoli and spinach, which have become a main greens, while we wait for the newly planted seedings  in their new/old cloches, to start to produce.

Keeping to my philosophy of making-do and living frugally, I use what we have in the garden to make a risotto. Its a bit of a hotchpotch affair this time, but ends up really delicious and it couldn’t be more wholesome and fresh. I raid the garden for whatever there is today. We have spring onions, parsley sage and thyme, as well a sprig of oregano. I pare off a side-shoot of some old celery. These little side-shoots are the most tender part of the plant at the moment, as the main bush is heading for the sky, ready to bolt to seed in the coming warm weather.

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There are a couple of new asparagus shoots. The asparagus isn’t doing all that well this spring, as it hasn’t rained properly here for two months and the ground is desiccated by the winter gales, drying everything out. We are having to water everyday now, just as if it were high summer.

I return with my basket of goodies and start to finely chop the celery and older spring onions. While I soak some of our dried mushrooms in hot water, they smell delicious and start to make me salivate while I’m preparing the other vegetables. I go to the trouble of very finely slicing all the veggies, as they are no longer in their prime, going to seed, and getting a bit tough and troublesome, just like me.

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Everybody knows how to make a risotto, so I won’t describe the steps in detail, only the variations. I sautéed the onions and celery for quite a while, maybe 15 mins, to soften them through and get them well cooked, adding the fresh herbs halfway through. Next I stir the rice into the oil and get it well coated, but then continue to heat it while stiring until a few of the grains start to ‘pop’. I was told how to do this by an Italian chef. Clearly there are many different ways to make a risotto.

I don’t have any white wine open, but I do have a little red wine left in a bottle from the previous night, so in it goes with the softened mushroom chunks. I don’t have a pot of boiling stock either, but I do have a little jellied chicken stock in the fridge. It all goes in, but needs some extra water to create the needed depth of liquor to lubricate the rice and extract the starches. This needs to be continually stirred with a little more water added as necessary, for another 15 mins.

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It all comes together into a very delicious risotto that reflects the season, and in particular, this windy, dry, time of year.




NBN – Fail!

We got the new, high-speed NBN (National Broadband Network) internet connection today!
I’m so glad to be rid of the old, ultra-slow, fraudband that was supposed to be 8Mb/sec, but was delivered at 0.5 to 1.0 Mb. Fraudband indeed. We paid for broadband, but were given dial-up speeds.
However, now we have the brand spanking new NBN.
We paid for a 25 Mb/sec service contract. But when we turned it on, we found out that it is infact delivered at 5Mb/sec.
That is only 20% of the promised delivery speed! Only slightly better than the 12.5% actually delivered by the fraudband ADSL copper wire service that we are being forced to abandon.
The only good thing that I can say just now is that it is marginally faster, as well as being marginally cheaper than the service that it replaced. However we no longer have a phone line. They say that the VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) will come on-line soon. Maybe tomorrow?
In the mean-time, if anyone wants to contact us. Just use the mobile or send an email. That still works!
It’s a modern world! Get with it! But don’t be like them.
When I say it’s a modern world, what I mean is that the world is full of false statements, over-promising and under-delivering. Hype, cant and empty promises. Miss-labeling, fake advertising and over-charging.
The only lesson that I can learn from all this is don’t be like them!
Be honest, do your best and if you f#@K up, fix your mistakes with a smile.

My New Book – 5 Stones

IMG_7383205 pages, 125,000 words, full colour, soft cover. Written, collated, printed and bound on the kitchen table. A very limited edition hand made book.

I have spent the last few weeks and months editing and formatting my new book. This will be my 6th book and 7th if I include my contribution to Handbook for Australian Potters.

This new Book is titled 5 Stones, and details my recent research into single stone porcelain. The book will be launched by Grace Cochrane at the opening of my show at Watters Gallery on Wednesday 16th of August from 6 to 8 pm. I have a selection of single stone porcelain from all 11 sites on show in the exhibition.

15 years ago, I discovered a white porcelain stone near where I live. It made me think about where else porcelain has been discovered and when. Over the past 15 years, I have travelled to each of the places in the world where porcelain was originally discovered/invented independently from first principles and found that they all had something in common, and that thing was a stone called ‘sericite’. It turns out that originally, porcelain wasn’t made from the white clay at all. Kaolin wasn’t involved. All the original porcelains were made from a special type of stone called mica.
My travels led me to China, Korea, Japan, Cornwall, France and Germany. I even developed communications with academics in California, Alaska and London. Then finally back to Mittagong in Australia. Near to where I started.  I have made my porcelain pieces out of these weird and interesting materials in remote villages, artist studios, back rooms, workshops, even factories. Where-ever I could track down and find amenable people using this ancient technique who were open to collaboration. 
At each site that I visited I made works out of the local porcelain stone, but I also used the opportunity to collect samples of their stone and posted these rocks back to Australia where I could process them myself and make local, contemporary versions of these ancient porcelains. I collected native porcelain stone material from 11 sites around the world and have made what I think are beautiful pots from them, both on-site, where that was still possible and back at home in my own workshop. 
This exhibition shows results of my firings and 15 years of research into these single-stone native porcelains. To coincide with this show I have written a travel journal documenting my travels. My book, titled ‘5 Stones’ will be launched at the opening by Grace Cochrane. The book stands alone in its own right as a travellers tale, as it has its own characters and arc of narrative, but also helps to illuminate the story behind the actual works on display in the show.
I have works in the show that were fired on-site in clean conditions to give very white and translucent pieces and I also have the same materials fired at home in my wood fired kiln with very different results.
4 of the 11 examples are made from porcelain that is no longer available, as 2 of the sites are lost forever and another two have complications.
I consider my self very lucky to have been able to get my hands on all of these ancient and very special porcelain materials. This will be the first and only time that all these porcelain ‘clays’ have ever been shown together in the one place.
Unglazed and flashed wood fired Arita porcelain
Wood fired and celadon glazed Japanese porcelain, fired in my kiln in Balamoral.
Korean porcelain made onsite in Korea
Woodfired Japanese porcelain
My woodfired local Joadja porcelain, showing some carbon inclusion on rim and base.
Korean porcelain stone body, woodfired in my studio.
Amakusa porcelain from Japan, made in Arita.
My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with a lot of ember and ash contact. The intense carbon inclusion reduces the translucency.
My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with ember and ash contact.

5 days in a perfect world

I fly in from China with my cargo of porcelain bowls safely stowed in my hand luggage. A dozen good reasons to feel happy.

I have one day to do 3 loads of washing and pack up the car with camping gear. We have season tickets to the National Folk Festival in Canberra. It is held over the 5 days of Easter each year. They bill it as 5 days in a perfect world. And this is true, but not for the reasons that they think! I’ll return to this later.

We enjoy the music, the food, the people, catching up with friends. It’s all good. We get to catch 3 different concerts with Heath Cullen, always good, but this year, 3 times better.IMG_1785

I also catch up with Mal Webb a really ‘out there’ performer working at the edge of what is possible with mouth percussion, 12 instruments and a loop machine!

A really great week.

We return home and work the washing machine to the max. I have a kiln to collect from the galvanisers. I welded it before leaving for China. It’s been ‘hot dipped’ now, and ready to collect. I have a week to fettle, clean, etch, prime, and top coat it before Janine and I fly out to Cambodia, at the end of the week, where we are volunteering for a couple of weeks.

To say that there is a lot a poverty here is such an understatement. Almost everyone is dirt poor. There is so much ingenuity here to ‘make do’. I’m so impressed with these people’s resilience in the face of grinding poverty.

If I ever hear another Australian winge  about how hard their life is……

We live in a perfect world. We are so lucky. We just don’t know how lucky we are.

A little time away working in a third world country really grounds you.

Writers Week

Janine and I managed to get all our work done and we spent last week at Writers Week. As always it was a thoroughly engaging time. So many great stories and discussions. 84 sessions to choose from, so many topics and so many books, so many writers. We find ourselves entertained, inspired, engaged, and challenged.

A thoroughly rewarding week out of the workshop and into the realm of ideas.

This year there was a lot of discussion about the death of the book, it cropped up again and again in different forms and forums, but that was the steady undercurrent this year. I’m not too worried. I believe that the book will survive in all its various forms for a long time to come. I’m sure that it will see me out.

I’m not digital native, so I still like to handle the thing in itself, to feel the weight, the smell and the texture of paper and ink. but then again, I’m very old-fashioned. I stubbornly insist on writing letters on nice paper with ink and a fountain pen. Sure its old-fashioned and out-dated, but so is making pots out of clay! Plastic replaced ceramics last century for all intents and purposes, but pots still persist as an art form and a better quality product. So that is how I see the book. Invoices have all graduated to electronic form, as have cheques and banking. Email has replaced most letters and fair enough. Electronic books are OK, but not for me. Not just yet anyway.

The book as an art form will persist for a very long time. I even attended a session on ‘The Book’. I even bought the book on ‘The Book’! and it’s a beautiful thing, as I also have his earlier book on some lesser known typographic characters.

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You can just imagine the Sumerians saying,  “I don’t get these Egyptians, I can’t see papyrus catching on. I just love the smell of clay, and the texture and weight of a good clay tablet!

Tomatoes and Stale Bread

We recently had a lot of people here for our house concert. After we cleared up the next day, we found that we had a lot of food left over. We found that we had a half loaf of Italian bread. We decided that we would have a lunch of tomato on toast.

I pan fried the bread in a little olive oil with garlic and chilli. Then a slice of ham, sliced fresh, ripe garden warm tomatoes and cucumber, a few fresh torn basil leaves, plus a little fake salt and real pepper . WOW! delicious.

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With what was left over, I cubed it and toasted it in the oven, so as to make a tomato and crouton salad. The roasted croutons were mixed with oil and balsamic vinegar dressing and then finely sliced red onions from the garden, with chilli, capsicum, and lastly big chunks of tomatoes. all tossed together with the seasoning s of your choice.

The croutons become softened on the outside with the tangy oil and vinegar, while remaining crunchy on the inside. This with the fresh fruity aromas of the herbs and tomatoes. It makes a great salad. So summery!

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