Sunday, January 27, 2013

Everything but pottery

It's an Australian Open morning, viewing the men's final while going through my recipe boxes, making out my grocery lists and doing some on line ordering. This morning I found an amazing, on line source for herbs, while looking for a hard to find Southern Indian curry powder. They also carry pumpernickel and other flours. Pumpernickel is one I use for one of our favorite breakfast breads and the best part is that there's no charge for shipping for U.S. orders. The site was a real find. Here's a link:

After dealing with a lot of old pretty decrepit in some case, cookware,the last couple of weeks I've been ordering some new kitchen thermalon, non stick saute pans, new baking pans to replace a few that after 50 plus years have earned a final rest, and finally, this morning, a food mill. My other one is more of a juicer and fine sauce mill and after making pizza sauce yesterday and seeing that it was making juice more than sauce, I realized that it was time to get the right tool with various sized screens.

I've been on a pizza kick lately - ordering special flour, and doing a lot of research for various types of pizza and cooking tips. There are a lot of good, you tube videos, and there's a pizza making forum which has also been a very good source of information. There's also an on line pizza calculator where you can specify your ingredients of choice and it will kick up a recipe in grams, and bakers percentages which is the best way to go for consistency when making any bread products. Now I just have to get all my notes together today and create some recipes to try.  My sofa right now is a mess of recipe boxes, index cards, unread mail and my studio note and sketch books which are always nearby.

Jim picked up a couple of ceramic, how to videos ( Layered Surfaces by Erin Frunsky, and The techniques of Steven Hill),from the library for me yesterday. Our local pottery group, Clay folk,  have donated a lot of of these dvd's and books to the county's library system; and I've definitely been availing myself of these.

Norton is still giving me back up problems, so I need to address that today. The blue screen of death visited again this morning and I have no idea why that's been happening lately; but at least I got my stand alone hard drive formatted and working again and have manually backed up all my documents.

As soon as this match is over I'll be getting out to do some grocery shopping. I always try to make a nice Sunday dinner; but Jim says I deserve a break, so it's going to be Chinese take out tonight; and I'll put off the Chicken Normandy I planned for tonight, till tomorrow. Emeril Lagasse's version is fabulous and you can find it on line if interested.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Smorgasbord kinda week

Our ice skating rink AKA our lap pool,  is finally melting due to a couple of days of above freezing temps and it is creating some of these amazing patterns as well as interesting sound effects as the ice is cracking.

We've had various workers here the past three days doing everything from getting our heavy boxes up on the hanging storage racks in the garage - a job neither of us can handle The handyman saw that we had a leak under the water heater and that necessitated another call to the plumber who was already scheduled come to install a water filtering/alkalizing system.

We emptied all the contents from under the sink and had to find new places for most things since the new water system has 3 large tanks which necessitated a whole re-organization of that space.

So after installing the water filter system, the plumber headed out to buy the auxiliary tank and got it installed. That- leak had wet my "never should get wet" advancer kiln shelves which I had nearby, so I had to temporarily get them off the the now saturated cardboard they were resting on, on the floor, and on to my slab roller until I can figure out where I can put them to dry. Fortunately they were sitting on their sides; but it's going to take a while for them to dry out thoroughly. 

Then we had the frozen pool to deal with. I won't repeat that whole journey. Fortunately, as you can see the ice is thinning, cracking and melting after a couple of days of no freezing weather. I've been dealing, all week, wtih computer back up problems which I think I may have fixed, and cleanup which is going to take a few more days. At this moment, I'm doing a back up to that drive and hopefully it will complete and not kick up one more error message.

I had to get in the studio a bit yesterday to deal with those kiln shelves and clean out some buckets and clean out the dregs from terra sig container which had finally dried out enough to dump.

Today is bread making day. Jim requested my heavy, nutty fruity bread, which is now baking. Dinner soup is almost done and after dinner I'll alternate between computer cleanup and reading the  John Mathieson book on slips which has a section on earthenware which is my current focus.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Never leave the playground

This is an amazing video of potter and inventor, Stephen Jepson and exercises he has develops and does regularly, which have increased memory, balance, etc. It's pretty remarkable!

Besides computer woes which I'm slowly fixing, yesterday we realized our pool, aka, our new ice skating rink, had 3" of ice on it. So my afternoon was spent using a hammer and cold chisel and trying to relieve some of the pressure. The pool heater will not go on, so there was no other choice. Simultaneously, I was running back and forth to check on our roast chicken dinner.

By the time we called it a day we had turned into popsicles - wet and cold on every inch of our bodies. Thank goodness we at least had a nice dinner and some nice wine and then cuddling in a warm bed while watching some of the Australian Open before exhaustion granted us blessed sleep!

Once it warms up later this morning I'll be back out there with my cold chisel and hammer, breaking up the newly formed, but thinner ice on the areas we cleared yesterday. There's always something!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why the bed didn't get made till this afternoon

Miss Bonnie kitty aka Princess Bonnie, along with her furry brother Bodhi, have taken to curling up in our bedcovers the minute we get out of bed and staying there - for a long time. In Bonnies, case she didn't move until 1:30 this afternoon! We don't have the heart to interrupt these pleasurable moments. After all, how much pleasure does an altered house cat get!

In the meantime, after some morning cooking and other chores, I gathered all my little packets of stains together to get them into the new storage box I got for them yesterday; but that will have to wait, because that box won't take all of them. So, Jim is off to the store to buy a larger size or at least get another of the smaller ones and I'll get that little organization job done as soon as he gets back.

Bread is rising in the bread machine and I'm still dealing with a computer mess. I found some of my disappeared files with a lot of searching and moved them. I also signed up for on line storage; but I may be canceling it because it doesn't allow me to drag and drop folders to save and I have way too many photos, recipes, ceramic and other files to spend weeks hand transferring them all. So unless some computer wiz can tell me how I can make this easier, I think I'll just buy another stand alone hard drive which makes transferring whole directories and their contents a lot easier.

Well, back to computer work. I want to re-install the latest Java with the fix. Norton assures me that with that done, and automatically updating definitions, all should be well. Hope my trust and optimism will not kick me in the you know where and cause more computer aggravation.

The rest of the weekend is up for grabs since our son and family canceled their visit due to flight cancellations because of the freezing fog which is going to continue till Monday. We're taking friends out for a birthday dinner. I'm really going to enjoy a margarita tonight, even if it is the typical, watered down variety we usually find at local Mexican eateries. Maybe I'll just bring a wee bit of cuervo gold tequila in a little bottle. Good thinking June, even if I say so myself!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Freezing fog

It's interesting how the weather reports change when you move from one coast to the next. Oregon winters are wet and foggy and lately with over night temperatures in the low 20's we're getting freezing fog warnings - a whole new experience. In weather like this, it's a blessing to be retired and not have to drive on the ice.

These low temps have taken the toll on the remay covered winter veggies - looking more like plants that have wilted or needing the equivalent of plant viagra to get them into a healthy looking, erect state. At least, that's what the parts hanging out from under remay appear; but I suspect what's under the remay is in a similar, sad state.

It's been a busy week for everything but studio time, other than finally getting around to finding all my little bags and bottles of stains, making a list of what I have so I don't have to go digging through the pile every time I'm looking for one. Some of these I've had for over thirty years or more and the companies no longer exist, so I don't have a clue as to what they'll look like in glazes or stains, so I will have to test them one of these days. Next time I go to town, I'll get a shallow box to hold all those small bags and I got some of the larger quantities into pint cups and got those marked.

Cooking has been taking up a lot of my time the past few days as well as doctors appointments and going through seed catalogs and unpacking and storing a lot of mail order specialty foods, and on and on. The freezer is full of goodies in the hope that I would have some easy and quick dinners now, giving me more studio time for a few days.

I'm dealing with computer problems from hell now and have no idea how to fix the current problem. When trying to copy my documents and photos and put them in the stand alone hard drive yesterday, the program froze, which necessitated shutting down the computer and now I can't access those old files. When I tried to copy and paste them again, in a new folder, it said I don't have enough room on that drive. But when I try to delete some of the corrupt folders, I'm getting messages saying the files or folder is corrupt and the computer won't let me delete them, to free space so I can try again. Frustration is the watch word of the morning!

Breakfast is done and now I have to make a loaf of bread in the bread machine since I used the last of it this morning. After that Jim wants me to order a water system for alkalining and purifying tap water. Then I need to see if I can find some information on the Internet about erasing corrupt files and folders. It's always something. But, I suspect I'm going to have to either format this stand alone hard drive or buy a new one. If no good information is available on the web, I'll first try to get some of the files on to floppy discs in case the whole computer dies. It looks like this problem has put a huge damper on my plan for a studio day. I guess the universe is answering my prayers to learn more patience by giving me all these wonderful opportunities for growth.  Be careful what you pray for!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My latest favorite tool - a little tooth flossing brush which works like a dream, cleaning slip out of these slips trailers. I was gifted the brushes and other goodies from the dental hygienist this week after having my teeth cleaned; and little did she know I was more thrilled about this little brush than my sparkling clean teeth and getting a passing, no cavity grade from my dentist.

The past 3 days have actually freed up a bit of studio time every afternoon. Today I actually got in there for a couple of hours before lunch. New slip colors are batched and on tiles, some new test tile slabs were made, and about a half of dozen of earlier weighted glaze tests have been mixed and all but one is on tiles.

I stopped to get us some lunch and do some early dinner prep. It's fried chicken and mashed potatoes  tonight. The drumsticks are in the fridge brining, the herb flour mixture is ready and the potatoes are peeled, and now I'll get back in the studio and get that last glaze test mixed and sieved and see what else I can do for the next hour.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New York pizza recipe for Michelle and other pizza bakers

Michelle, here's a New York Pizza recipe I just found last night  that was rated excellent by members of a pizza making, on line forum I just joined. Professional pizza and bread makers usually weigh out their ingredients and deal with baker's percentages.On high humidity days you may need to use less flour, on hot, dry, days you might need more, so I gave the amounts which match the percentage recipe he gave. Personally, I think I'd try 60% hydration on my first attempt, which shouldn't make the dough too wet in our damp, Oregon winters. So 60% would be 300 grams of high gluten flour.

Here's a recipe I re-calculated  for enough dough for about 3 10" pizzas or 2 14-15" pizza.

500 grams of high gluten flour( (General Mills All-Trumps High-Gluten Flour and King Arthur Sir Lancelot are both high gluten. Both can be ordered on line. A lot of professional makers of Neapolitan and other pizzas, use Caputo00 pizza flour (the one in the blue bag), also available on line. If you have a good local pizza restaurant, they may use one of these flours and might sell you some. If you make a lot of pizzas, you can buy the large bag and freeze the flour in small amounts, or split a bag with a friend. Shipping is a killer, so it would be great to fine a local source - either a restaurant or restaurant food supply source.)
290 to 325 gr of filtered or good tap water (290 is 58% hydration, 325 gr. is 65% hydration.  
7.5 grams of sea salt or kosher salt
5 grams of extra virgin olive oi
2.5 gr. compressed yeast, or 3.75 gr dry active yeast, or 0.83 - 1.25 gr. of instant dry yeast. 

Read the instruction carefully about prepping the various yeasts. 

There are also some excellent how to you tube videos. Just search Tony Gemignani's videos, as well as Neapolitan pizza which is similar to N.Y. and you get a lot of tips. I think the big thing is to use the proper ingredients, follow the mixing techniques and make your dough at least a day ahead to let it develop good texture and flavor.


By Tom Lehmann (a.k.a. "The Dough Doctor")
Director, Bakery Assistance
The American Institute of Baking

(Single Pizza)
(Single Pizza)
(Bulk Quantity)

?? cups ?? ounces 25.0 pounds 100% High gluten flour

?? cups ?? ounces 14.5 - 16.25 pounds 58 - 65% Water

?? teaspoons ?? ounces 6.0 ounces 1.5% Salt

?? teaspoons ?? ounces 4.0 ounces 1.0% Olive oil

?? teaspoons ?? ounces 2.0 - 3.0 ounces 0.5 - 0.75% Compressed yeast
Note: Water temperature should be adjusted to give a finished dough at 80 to 85 °F.

This formula produces a somewhat thin crust with a tough, chewy texture.

How to Prepare:
Standard Dough Making Procedure: Put water into the mixing bowl, add the salt and sugar, then add the flour and the yeast. Mix at low speed for about 2 minutes, then mix at medium speed until all of the flour has been picked up into the dough. Now add the oil and mix in for 2 minutes at low speed, then mix the dough at medium speed until it develops a smooth, satiny appearance (generally about 8 to 10 minutes using a planetary mixer).
The dough temperature should be between 80 and 85F. Immediately divide the dough into desired weight pieces and round into balls. Wipe the dough balls with salad oil, and place into plastic dough boxes. Make sure that the dough balls are spaced about 2 inches apart. Cross stack the uncovered dough boxes in the cooler for 2 hours as this will allow the dough balls to cool down thoroughly, and uniformly. The dough boxes can then be nested, with the top box being covered. This will prevent excessive drying of the dough balls.
The dough balls will be ready to use after about 12 hours of refrigeration. They can be used after up to 72 hours of refrigeration with good results. To use the dough balls, remove a quantity from the cooler and allow them to warm at room temperature for approximately 2-3 hours. The dough can then be shaped into skins, or shaped into pans for proofing. Unused dough can remain at room temperature (covered to prevent drying) for up to 6 hours after removal from the cooler.
Note: If using ACTIVE DRY YEAST (ADY) only half the amo0unt as compressed yeast. Then suspend the ADY in a small quantity of warm water (105 – 110F) and allow it to stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Add this to the water in the mixing bowl, but do not add the salt and sugar to the water, instead, add the salt and sugar to the flour, then begin mixing as directed.
If using INSTANT DRY YEAST (IDY) us only 1/3 the amount as compressed yeast. Add the IDY to the flour along with the salt and sugar, and begin mixing as directed.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Bread rising, studio heated, time to get to work

Time to get out of pj's and get into the studio which should be warm enough by now. A nice, big, salmon filet is defrosting for tonight's dinner, bread is in the bread machine, and a lot of email is done.

Yesterday was a cooking and and more pizza research day. Dinner was pizza with two different, new doughs. The search still continues; but  half of the caputo00 dough has another day in the fridge, doing it's cold raise, so hopefully the crust will be better with that extra day.

Meantime, there's a batch of trailing, white slip to weigh out so I can try the cup plus teaspoons of oxides for some colored slip tests.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Cooking and Christmas wrap up day

The family flew back to L.A. yesterday so holiday wining and dining is over for a while and it's time to put away all things Christmas today and tomorrow. Other than the tree, which comes down tomorrow, all other Christmas lights and decor are packed away till next year.

While Jim took care of that chore, I busied myself in the kitchen. After breakfast I made mushroom bisque for tonight and salad dressing, did some other chores, cooked lunch, then went through a bunch of Pizza dough recipes I researched yesterday, and made a batch of New York Pizza dough for tomorrow night. This is part of my current pizza dough experiments.

My research involved joining an on line pizza forum - (great information there), and watching a lot of you tube pizza dough and pizza making videos till I was bleary eyed.  I have a very good dough recipe from my friend Ron, but I want to see if I can make the kind of pizza I grew up eating in New York - thin, but foldable and chewy. The research gave me a lot of information on Neapolitan and New York pizzas, mixers (Europeans don't use Hobart mixers, but use fork mixers which don't over heat the dough), flour and yeast types, and on and on.  I don't think you need a mixer well over a thousand dollars to make good pizza, but there is definitely a lot of other time proven ingredients and combinations and other things like weighing of ingredients in proper proportion to get correct hydration, as well as other considerations for making decent pizzas, or what we called them in New York - pies.

There is a huge selection of techniques to try - warm rise, cold, slow rise, as well as many choices of flour, salt, yeast, and even water! I'm getting the feeling that I'll be making a lot of pizzas this winter! Studio work starts back up on Wednesday since tomorrow is dentist and new saute pans shopping day; but for now, its time to get dinner on the table.                                     

Friday, January 04, 2013

I loaded the little test kiln yesterday and turned it on at 5:30 this morning. The original plan was to fire yesterday, but our son and daughter in law invited us over for another great dinner with some more wonderful l wines from their cellar. The holidays are over but we're still partying! The family leaves Sunday, so I'm planning on a bit more studio time and a little less wine than I've had the past few weeks.

Since the studio was still too cool after breakfast, even after 4 hours with the heat on, I put off slip making and instead, went through 3 days worth of newspapers, and all but one of the library books which I'm still copying recipes from so Jim can return them for me tomorrow.

I have no idea where I'm going to put all these new recipes but I'm eager to explore the chemistry and new recipes for artisan breads this winter.  One of the library books I was perusing this morning was Peter Reinharts's "Artisan Breads for EveryDay". I have his "The Bread Baker's Apprentice", but this newer one incorporates some of his new short cut methods. After looking through it I realized it filled in some of the cracks for me, so I ordered it as well as a couple of bread baking must haves, or at least I think I must have them - a non stick baguette pan with lots of holes for equal browning, a couche - a French linen, flax cloth that is heavy enough to manipulate without other support, to whatever width you want to rise your dough, and a brioche pan.

Making potato salad to go with some smoked trout that I brought back from Dean and DeLuca in Napa, as well as a green salad with the last of the lettuce from our raised bed, pretty well topped off the day.  I was more than surprised that the heavy remay covering the beds, kept that lettuce from freezing in these below freezing (mid 20's) nights. I think I harvested all the tender lettuce that was left; but there's still arugula for another day and some other winter veggies like broccoli hiding in there.

As for now, it's time to turn up the kiln one last time and finish the last of the currents batch of library books - Eric Ripert's "A Return to Cooking", which actually has some recipes with readily available local ingredients that I don't have to mortgage the house for and, that don't look like they require an entire day in the kitchen!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Napa memories

Here's my Napa souvenir purchase - a very large serving bowl of sorts, made from a section of an old wine barrel. I love the rich burgundy color that the years of red wine storage has left as a permanent visual memory of its presence.

There is still a huge pile of library books for me to go through in the next couple of weeks, but I'm bleary eyed from two days of writing down recipes, so today, as I enjoy another long morning in my pj's, I'll try to finish the new Anthony Bourdain book "Medium Raw'. It's a very entertaining, no holds barred, read, which I'm finding hard to put down. But, as I often find, it's very hard to let go of a good read, so I start slowing down toward the end of the book, in an attempt to prolong the pleasure.

My studio is heating, so I will make it a point to get in there this afternoon. It's been a while and I stopped cold, midway of a few on going projects, so I need to determine which one I want to pick up first. It will probably be getting those latest under glazes on test tiles, and making a few more test tiles.

The family is still here; but will be flying back to L.A. on the weekend, so it won't be before next week when I can get back to a more regular home and studio routine. I'm still playing catch up after the holidays and our Napa trip and enjoying these self indulgent couple of days dealing with piles of library books and the magazines and all the garden catalogs that have been arriving in droves!

Hope everyone had a great New Years Eve and New Yearsday, and are ready to tackle the New Year with great expectations and the energy and enthusiasm to bring them to fulfillment.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year

I think I'll join the "all day in pj's" crowd this New Years day. We've been celebrating hard since Christmas eve with great meals and family time, then a great few days in Napa eating, drinking and buying great wines, and a New Years party at our son an daughter in laws river house with lobster and foie gras, smoked salmon, pate, special wines and chocolate covered strawberries. Friends gifted them a chocolate fountain - a fun kitchen tool, and yummy dessert, particularly a favorite with the children.

We headed home early enough to beat the weather. It had hailed and then snowed a bit earlier and we wanted to avoid icy roads, and drivers who may have partied too hard! Good thing we did because things iced over pretty well during the night. Our pool and spa have a thin coating of ice crystallized, resembling those 90% silica based glazes.

Right before we left for Napa, the library emailed me that about dozen books and videos I ordered through inter library system, were ready for pickup. Yesterday I started going through the pottery books which didn't take long; and then I started on the cookbooks and writing down some of the more enticing looking recipes. That will be today's main activity. It's going to take me more than today to finish that chore; but I wanted to get a good head start on in so I could return some of these books tomorrow.

Jim turned up the studio heat in case I get too bleary eyed with all this recipe notation, and need a change of pace; but that would mean I'd have to get out of my pj's, so I think the chances of me getting any studio time today are pretty slim, unless I run out of index cards for all these new recipes!

Jim is looking forward to football today and the next few days, and my interest is only peaked during half time or when Jim enthusiastically encourages me to watch the replay of some spectacular play. So I will sit here with my cookbooks, but ready to feign interest in his football joy. :-)

Wishing you all a most fabulous, healthy, happy, creative, prosperous New Year, filled with great times, stable and fulfilling  relationships, amazing meals and wines, thriving gardens and all other fabulous things and experiences!