Wednesday, 20 January 2016

2015

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Each year around this time I write a post about the year just passed. I like to do a round up of all the creative work I've done during the year because I'm usually surprised at how many projects I managed to squeeze in. For someone who always feels like nothing get finished its a very satisfying to see what I have achieved.

I'm thinking that this year will be the opposite though...

Its been a strange time in many ways, a big and hard year where my creative energies were redirected into different areas.

My Dad died. That has been a huge and devastating loss and coloured my whole year.

Also this year my beautiful daughter sat her HSC which was stressful for her, but also for the family. Its a tough year for kids and a lot of my time went to helping her through it.

In 2014 we began the process of renovating, the builders did the bulk of the construction work in the last three months of that year. Last year was all about finishing the last bits, ceilings, rendering, electrics and painting. Mr F and I did all the painting work ourselves. What a trek! We also organised all the trades, and were blessed with lovely people all round.

On top of that I spent more time in my other role as financial manager of our family business. Phew, I'm exhausted just thinking about 2015!

So something had to give and it seems to have been the creative stuff.

I did do little things along the way, mostly motivated by courses I signed myself up for when I was feeling deprived or workshops I taught myself! I find courses and workshops a great way to kickstart creativity. Each time I forced myself to make a little flame ignited which got me back to a making mindset.

One big creative project I am proud of this year is reclaiming my garden. A lot of hours of work have transformed it from a devastated and compacted building site to a beautiful leafy retreat again, with a productive garden down the side and a new garden potting shed. I love it.

And most excitingly I have my own kiln and started selling small ceramics almost accidentally from my instagram account.

But more of that later. I see doing these mosaics that there is quite a lot of undocumented making. A broken camera, a full computer and those time constraints have conspired to keep me from updating my makings as I go along.

Another post I do religiously each year is a wishlist post, where I talk about what I hope to do in the next year. This year I'm planning some serious crafting. I need it in my life and with some major projects out the way I have some breathing room to start. I can't wait. Come back soon and see what I'm planning!

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My other annual roundups: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.)

Sunday, 13 December 2015

bread and butter pickles

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I love how seasonal produce changes the menu from month to month. This month its all about home grown cucumbers and tomatoes and the other night I made a pasta sauce with one and a salad with the other. It is so satisfying to make an entire dinner with garden pickings and it was really delicious.

Around here we've been having those cucumber salads every other night. I just peel the cucumbers, take some of the seeds out, chop roughly and then cover them with a thai style lime dressing, or a squeeze of lemon, and grind of salt and a splash of olive oil (my go-to salad dressing).

Sometimes though with a glut of fresh produce its hard to keep up and its good to find other ways to use your excess bounty.

Another way to use cucumbers is this simple preserved pickle that I made for the first time last year. I made lots of jars but we went through them quite quickly, eating them on our sandwiches and having it with cheese platters until it was all gone. Luckily this is delicious, and quick and simple to make. I made my first batch the other day and hope to get another in before Xmas.

Here's how I do it.

Bread and Butter Pickles

7 lebanese cucumbers ends removed thinly sliced
2 onions brown or spanish thinly sliced
11/2 tbsp salt

1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp turmeric
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup caster sugar

I use my MagiMix to slice the cucumbers quickly, but you could use any method. I sliced them and two onions, one brown one spanish for colour. I put the whole lot in a bowl and sprinkled them the mixture with a tablespoon and a half of salt. Then I covered it with my handy beeswax kitchen cover and put them in the fridge overnight. Took me abt ten minutes for this stage.

The next day is bottling day so put the cucumber onion mix in the colander to drain, squeezing down on it occasionally to get the liquid out.

Meanwhile put a large pot on the stove and add the apple cider vinegar, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric and sugar. Heat until all the sugar dissolves.

One the mixture is clear add the cucumber mix to the pot and bring it to a simmer.

Meanwhile get your jars ready. I like to put mine through the dishwasher to sterilise them.

Fill the jars with cucumber pickle mix and put the lids on tight. I choose jars with metal lids that have the sealing clickable lids. I then put them in a big pot submerged in hot water and boil for 20 minutes. A lot of the recipes don't call for this but I can't fit all my jars in the fridge and I like to know they will keep. When you take the jars out that clickable seal on top should be down. It should release with a pop when you open your pickles.

Enjoy!

Friday, 27 November 2015

kiln

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Last year I had a rush of blood to the head (a bit like that other time) and I bought a pottery kiln!

If you've been following my clay adventures you will know that I fell hard for this new craft a couple of years ago when I took my first class and I've been trying to learn more ever since. (So funny to look back at those first pots, perhaps I have improved lol!).

The kiln wasn't expensive but what I didn't realise at the time was that I didn't have the right power to run it and it wasn't going to be as simple as plugging it in.

I hit a steep learning curve, wasn't sure how to fix it and then our renovation came along all the clay gear was packed away while they dug a big hole in our back yard.

Fast forward to this year and the moment I've been dreaming of finally came the other day. My kiln was wired in and I can finally fire my own work.

I'm very much a beginner, and there is so much to learn. But its really nice to have control over my own little experiments. I love that.

On the first day I plugged my little kiln in to its shiny new powerpoint, put some not so precious pots on the shelf and base of the kiln to do a bisque fire and turned it on.

I was hoping to fire to 1060c. Things started well, it turned on quite happily and the temperature climbed steadily for a few hourse. But then to my disappointment it stalled at 1000c and wouldn't budge. After a couple of hours I turned it off, disappointed but hopeful it had done enough to bisque fire the work.

Then disaster! Turns out the temperature gauge was faulty. The kiln had actually gone way past 1000c - high enough even to melt clay! The next morning I opened the kiln to devastation. All the earthenware pieces had melted into a glassy kind of substance and stuck like cement to the fragile firebrick floor and shelf of my precious, long awaited kiln.

You can imagine my feelings, but long story short, it was fixed. Turned out it wasn't too bad and with some advice and help from a few generous and knowledgeable people the kiln was fixed. Phew!

I now use pyrometric cones to keep an eye on the temperature which I look at with my new fashionable kiln sunglasses. In future I'm hoping to have a controller attached which will mean I won't have to manually turn up the heat every hour and the new temperature gauge might show the right temperature.

I've managed three successful bisque fires and one glaze load now. I've taken pots through from raw clay to finished piece, all in my own space. That blue bowl with the leaves was handbuilt, bisque fired, glazed and then fired again here. There's something really wonderful about making something from scratch. It makes me so happy.

I've set up my pottery wheel in the new garden shed and put a workbench in there too.

Combined with the handbuilding course I've been doing with Cath Fogarty from ChinaClay I am reinspired, out of my creative rut and looking forward to lots of potting and playing next year.