Sunday, September 22, 2013

Diana Fayt on line course

If you are interested in a 6 week on-line course with Diana Fayt check the link below. Her course is not for beginners but sounds like a great course and deal if you are interested in printing on ceramics, photo transfers, etc. etc.

It seems that there is a future in these types of courses not only for the presenters but the participants, who for financial or other reasons, can't travel far afield for workshops.

As for me - healing is going very well with just a few more weeks of this light duties phase; but this has allowed me to do a huge amount of computer chores. I got the new external hard drive installed on the old Dell laptop and did a backup. I'm also backing up to JustCloud. Got the old Toshiba re-formatted and got this HP laptop backed up. So now I can breathe a bit easier with these dang machines.

I did a huge cleanup of photos and  music on this HP laptop and next I'll do the same on the old Dell, which has not kicked up the blue screen of death the past few days.  Once that job is done I should be ready for some studio time even if it's just to decorate some pots and continue to change some of my storage choices for better efficiency.

In my current, small studio space, I've gone up and under as much as possible, so now I need to free up more space by re-locating some things like buckets of test tiles and extra tools, etc to the house, where I recently found some totally unused space in the guest bathroom and a flat back cupboard. Every little bit helps the cause.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Waxing philosophical with Alan Watts this morning

Alan Watts, one of the great philosophical minds of the 20th century, has been one of my heroes for decades. He always makes me go a bit deeper in my own musings of life.

This morning  I listened to part of a tape I had never heard, and what struck me about what he said, was that the lifestyle of the west, and the problems of the choices made, are certainly not wholly applicable to many potters and other independent artists, writers, etc. 

Here's a partial quote from the video link at the end of this post:

"We want to get everything done as fast as possible. We want to convert the rhythms and the skills of work into cash. Which indeed you can buy something with, but you can’t eat it.
And then rush home, to get away from work and begin the real business of life, to enjoy ourselves. You know, for the vast majority of American families, what seems to be the real point of life, what you rush home to get to. Is to watch an electronic reproduction of life, you can’t touch, it doesn’t smell, and it has no taste. You might think that people getting home to the real point of life in a robust material culture would go home to a colossal banquet or an orgy of love-making or a riot of music and dancing, but nothing of the kind.
It turns out to be this purely passive, contemplation of a twittering screen. You see mile after mile of darkened houses with that little electronic screen flickering in the room. Everybody isolated, watching this thing, and thus in no real communion with each other at all. And this isolation of people into a private world of their own is really the creation of a mindless crowd.
And so, we don’t get with each other except for public expressions of getting rid of our hostility, like football or prizefighting."

Reading this brought back into memory, an incident from over 30 years ago. Our regular gardeners with their leaf blowers and other noisy landscaping tools had a friend sub for then one time. I saw his truck, but no noise was forthcoming, so I peeked up the long driveway toward my studio and there he was sweeping our driveway with a huge palm frond. This very spiritual fellow, brought his meditation to his work. He's didn't seem to separate his life into little, exclusionary boxes.

From my own experiences and what I've seen with fellow artists is that we have chosen a lifestyle that permits us to work in our own rhythms much more than the person who has to follow someone elses clock. We take a studio break, go visit a fellow potter, maybe take a break to work in the garden, or feed the chickens. We often don't keep regular hours; but instead, fit the work into our own rhythms. Maybe that's why so many potters and other self employed creative people often live long and productive lives even in their eighties and nineties, waking each morning with a creative purpose, knowing that they can and will work at their own pace, following no clock other than their own internal rhythms.

Here the video if you want to hear the whole essay.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Transfer printing on clay

Found the above link while I was searching engobe colors information. Besides Pilcher's engobe recipe, there's a nice page of instruction on transfer printing on clay.

Although I had no plans to do anything in the studio yesterday I actually managed to get in there for a tiny bit to clean out a couple of clay buckets and do some other light cleanup and put some things away. I tried bending over a bucket of glaze to scrape the sides, add water and hand mix a bit but I could feel why the doctor said "no work for 8 weeks", so I wisely decided to just put the lid back on leave the sieving and glazing alone for a while.

I'm getting bored now and I figure this is when I could get myself in trouble, so I'm wisely going to just continue healing as instructed and save my creative efforts for the kitchen for at least another week or two.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sven Bayer new wood kiln and pizza followup

Check out Sven Bayer's new wood kiln at the above link. There's also some of his throwing videos on his page . I love shape of the jug that he threw on one of his videos.

Jim is going to an all guy barbecue at our sons place tonight and I'm going to make myself a nice bowl of pasta with a Putanesca sauce.Fortunately, I had a one person serving in the freezer, so my dinner is going to be super easy.

As a followup to my pizza post a couple of days ago - I made a new pizza sauce the other day using all fresh, mostly plum tomatoes, olive, oil,  and added the usual dried and fresh herbs and garlic; but this time I added two, flat anchovy filets along with a good pinch of red pepper flakes. Another addition was cutting a medium onion in half and laying it on the cooking sauce for the whole 30-45 minute cooking time. The onion was removed and discarded when the sauce was finished, but gave a bit more flavor to the sauce. Jim gave the sauce thumbs up (the man loves anchovies!). The amazing thing, though, is you don't taste anchovies, they just give it that extra punch of flavor.

Studio work is still a few weeks away, but the garden produce and computer work is certainly keeping me busy enough until fatigue hits and then I just sit back and watch some mindless TV. Right now I'm watching a wonderful PBS program called "Heal Yourself: Mind Over Medicine With Lissa Rankin, MD". I cannot recommend this program highly enough, even if you are young and healthy right now, the information may help you in the future, or help people you know and love now. It was truly mind blowing even though I was aware of some of the information she was sharing on the mind body connection.

My stand alone hard drive finally finished formatting (it took over 6 days to format a 3TB drive). Now I have to see if I can do a backup while the old Dell laptop is in safe mode, which seems to be the only place where it doesn't go into the blue screen of death.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pizza night and results of my N.Y. Style pizza research

Yesterday was a resting kind of day after our company left. I got a ton of computer work done - mainly deleting files on my back up laptop. My 3 TB stand alone hard drive has been formatting for over 4-5 days and still not finished, so I may have to call the manufacturer to find out if this is normal, or if there is something else I need to do to format it quicker.  The progress bar seems to be stuck around 2/3rd of the way toward finishing; and I can't believe it should be taking this long.

Tonight is pizza night. I got my dough made before breakfast using a new recipe I found on you tube. I'm still searching for the perfect dough. I made enough dough for 3 pies. It would be best to let it do a slow, cold rise in the fridge for about 24-72 hours to develop flavor (72 hours being the best). The dough seems firmer than what I'm used to so it will be interesting to see how it works. If it's not great, I have a back up recipe to try.

After breakfast I did a bit more research on the bakers percentages for a typical N.Y style pizza, which is a thin pizza, with crispy bottom, yet foldable. Then I went to an on line pizza calculator, entered the percentage numbers recommended for New York style pizza dough, and the type of flour, salt and yeast I plan to use, the size of pizzas I wanted to make and the number of pizzas I wanted. It automatically gives you the exact amount of each ingredient in grams or ounces. Weighing is the best way to be precise about measurement when making pizzas and breads.

If there are any pizza makers reading this and want to play around with the pizza calculator, here's the link:

The New York pizza percentages I used in the calculator were: Flour 100%, 63% (hydration)water, 0.1 % thickness,  1% Olive oil, 0.25% instant dry yeast, and 1.75% sea salt.

NOTE: Although some people put sugar in pizza dough, that can cause the crust to burn cooking at the ideal high temperatures. So I would omit that if you plan to cook your pizzas in a very hot, long preheated oven.

There are plenty of professional, detailed mixing and forming instructions on the Internet and on you tube. I bake my pizzas on a 15" silicon carbide shelf in a 550F preheated for one hour. That's about as hot as most home ovens will go. A thin pizza takes around 7-8  minutes around the 500-550 temperature range; but don't go by the clock. Let the pizza tell you when it's done. You may turn the pizza a bit around the half way mark if you see if cooking unevenly.

Here are some hints for good New York pizza making that my pretty extensive research has shown are:

Preheat your oven and pizza stone one hour at 550 Degrees or hotter. A point and shoot thermometer shows my new oven goes up to 575F.

Before you start forming your dough, have your pizza peel prepped with a light coating of semolina flour or corn meal and have your cheese and all your other toppings ready. You want to get those toppings onto the formed pie as quickly as possible, so you won't have a problem getting your pie off the peel and into the oven.

Don't use too much sauce or the pie will be soggy. One small ladle full of sauce is more than enough for a 14-15" pie.
Shred or grate the cheese, which is what N.Y. pizza makers do. If you buy the good, moist mozzarella, squeeze it dry to get a lot of the moisture out. Commercial pizza makers put chunks of mozzarella in their dough mixers on a# 4 setting and let it shred that way. You can also coarsely grate it with a hand grater or in a food processor. Don't use pre shredded cheese which is often treated to keep it from sticking and that hinders the melt.

Don't use too many toppings. Remember, N.Y pizza dough is thin, less than 1/8" thick before being cooked and too much weight can be a problem getting it off the peel and on to the stone. I prefer it plain, or with just a couple of vegetable toppings like thin sliced mushrooms and thin slices of yellow bell peppers.

Don't roll out the dough or overwork it, otherwise it will be tough. Watch some of the many videos of how the pros, prep the dough and form the pizza pies through the push and stretch method, and find one that works for you.

Check the cooking half way and turn the pizza if one side is cooking faster. Do it quickly, using the pizza peel in one hand and a pot holder in the other to help hand turn it. I don't bother with the pot holder, but if you're not used to handling hot things, you may want to use one.
Let the cooked pie rest a minute or so before cutting. First cut it in half, then half again and then smaller slices if needed.

Here's the recipe I got from the pizza calculator for a N.Y. style pizza, using the recommended bakers percentages.. This is for one 15" pizza which is as big as I can make that fits my silicon carbide stone and oven. You can just double or triple each ingredient for two to three pizzas. The pizza calculator lets you choose ounces or grams, but I find the grams to be more precise. You can busy very inexpensive gram scales these day for twenty or thirty dollars that give you the option of weight in either grams or ounces. These are invaluable for all bread making as well.

301.8 grams King Arthur Bread flour
190.13 water
   0.75 grams Instant dry yeast
    5.28 grams of sea salt
    3.02 grams olive oil

Dough mixing tricks for N.Y. Style pizza: Start with cold water and cold flour and even a cold container.. Over heating the mixing dough is considered to be not a good thing. Don't forget, you are using instant yeast which doesn't need warm water and you're doing a cold rise. Ideally the flour after mixing should be in the low 70 degree range and no more than about 81-82 degrees. The cold rise, helps develop that wonderful flavors that are characteristic of the best N.Y and Neapolitan type pizza doughs.

If mixing in your kitchen aid or similar, add the water first. Separately, mix the dry ingredients and then, add only about 1/2 of the dry ingredients to the water, and mix on low for about 3-4 minutes. This get the yeast started without over heating the mix. Then add the rest of the flour mixture and knead on lowest setting for another 4 minutes or more. Use an instant thermometer to check the dough temperature. If it's getting close to being too warm, I remove it and let it sit on the counter a couple of minutes and then hand knead it another minute or so, cover it with a towel and let it rest another ten or 15 minutes. Then I weigh out the dough and form the tight balls (you can see demos of this technique on you tube)., then place them in very lightly greased 1 qt plastic storage containers and let them cold rise in the fridge 24-72 hours. After the first day or more of cold rise, you can freeze them. This works better than freezing them before that first good rise.

NOTE: If you are only making enough dough for one pie, mixing in a food processor using the metal blade may even work better and faster than in a stand up mixer.

The day of making, take your dough out of the fridge 1-2 hours before you'll be forming the pizza. If dough is frozen, take it out of the freezer that morning and let it defrost. Once it's defrosted put it back in the fridge until an hour or so before making the pie.

Other tricks to try: Some people bake their pizzas on the bottom of the oven, but with uneven temperatures, some people find that putting a second pizza stone on a shelf about 5-7 inches above the shelf where the pizza is cooking makes for more even cooking. Another person recommended baking the pizza toward the top of the oven to get it to cook more evenly. You can try different methods to find what works best in your oven.

The commercial pizza ovens are low, and using the two stone method make a regular at home oven a bit more like those ovens.

For sauce, a nice simple sauce using canned San Marzano tomatoes with some spices like oregano and basil (not too much), maybe a bit of garlic and olive oil is all that's needed. A trick is to cut a medium onion in half and lay it flat side down while your sauce cooks and remove it when the sauce is done. Just take the tomatoes out of the can and  put them in a food processor along with some or all of the liquid, and process till it's no quite pureed. There should be tiny little pieces about 1/16" to 1/8".
Heat a saute pan, line the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil (1-2T). Add a minced, large clove garlic and saute on low just till you can smell the garlic aroma, then add the processed tomatoes, the cut onion and enough herbs to suit you palate. Cook till sauce is flavorful and cooked down to the proper thickness - like a marinara sauce. Season with salt after it's cooked down. I also add a pinch of dried red pepper flakes to mine a couple of minutes before I think it will be done.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

How to use a multi meter video

This is a great video, showing various styles of multi meters and instructions on how to test your kilns power outlet, and the kilns elements, amps, ohms, etc. I need to get one of these!

Yesterday I picked a bunch of veggies and fruit at our sons place on the river. At some point today I need to make a pot of vegetable soup using the tomatoes and beans I harvested there along with some of the veggies in my fridge. Their orchard is full of fruit and I picked a lot of different apple varieties and a couple of pear varieties. So tomorrow I'll probably be making stewed apples, since I think it's the easiest thing I can do right now. I'd love to make a pie, but rolling dough is probably not a good idea for another week or so.

My stand alone hard drive just stopped working yesterday. That happened after 3 blue screens of death in a row on the Dell laptop, which so far, seems solved, at least for the moment. That stand alone hard drive has been formatting since last night and I'm hoping it is successful then I need to do a back up. Otherwise we'll be off to Best Buy to buy a new one. It's always something!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Last video in The Art of the Potter series

This is the last video in this series from Great Britian. Enjoy!

I'm getting out of the house this morning. We're going out to breakfast and then drive down to our sons place on the river and see if there are any fruits and vegetables to harvest. Light harvesting (no bending or stretching, or lifting more then ten pounds) is the extent of my gardening chores at the moment; but I am very happy that I am able to spend some time cooking if I do all my food prep sitting down.

What I have been spending a lot more time on is computer cleanup. I've saved so many recipes, many of which I may never get to try in this lifetime, and spent the entire day yesterday filing them on this laptop and I still have a few more to go; and then I have to file them on my other laptop. There has to be an easier way to do this; but I'm grateful to have something productive to do even if it is such a boring, repetitive task.

My old Dell laptop kicked up the blue screen of death about 3 times yesterday, so I don't know what's going on there. I haven't installed any new software, hardware, etc. and I have no idea what they mean about changing bios. AARGH! This afternoon I need to copy some of my important document folder on there to the stand alone hard drive as quickly as possible, since I don't think a full backup can make it to completion without another blue screen of death. If I can 't figure this thing out later, I may be spending time on the phone with Microsoft this afternoon. This may be the final death knoll of that old Dell laptop, which has been slowly dying for months.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Great video for building your own small wood kiln

Here's a sweet little video with plans for a very small wood kiln. Looks like they're firing earthenware, but it could easily be constructed using  heavier duty firebricks and high fire castable or insulating firebricks. It would be a great little first time wood kiln or a second kiln for testing and re-fires. You can easily use an on line translator to translate some of the terms. If I wasn't living in the land of codes and covenants these days, I'd build one of these for myself.

Today I'm doing my first trip out to the grocery store to pick up just a couple of things and lunch out. I'm encouraged after being able to make a full roast chicken Sunday dinner yesterday. The secret was to do as much prep as possible sitting down, and spreading the prep out during the day. I think if I could handle that I can handle a little bit of grocery shopping and lunch out.  Jim can retrieve some of the items and I'll stick to selecting the meat, fruits and veggies since I'm a just a wee bit picky about those things. :-)

After the busyness yesterday I was fast asleep by 9:30 last night and slept until first light. Jim has declared that "no more heavy meal prep for me for a few more weeks." We'll see.: -)

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Another wonderful segment of the Art of the Potter series videos

Here's another segment from the British video series on the Ceramic art of Great Britain. This one covers the work of Lucie Rie and Hans Coper and then the later break through work of the 60's and 70's, breaking with the Leach tradition - away from traditional wheel thrown work with quiet glazes, and the exploration of slab work,and  brighter colors and forms that probably made Leach cringe at the very least.

This is a wonderful series of videos - informative from a historical perspective with  lots of ceramic eye candy as well. I can't wait to play the next one!

I'm moving about more now and doing some cooking with Jim helping by getting some things ready for me. Yesterday I made nachos and margaritas and tonight I'm tackling a roast chicken dinner. I also hobbled outdoors to pick the serrano chiles and tomatoes for the nachos and green beans for tonight's dinner - so grateful that the healing is progressing at a good enough pace to permit me to do these things, particularly since boredom was really starting to get to me.

Hopefully in a few days I'll be able to get in the studio and sit down at my jewelry bench and start organizing that area. It's been years since I've done any silver work and it's going to be like starting from scratch. Guess I have to dig out some of my basic jewelry making books and do some reading, particularly about soldering, which at the moment totally eludes me. For instance, do I start to low melt solder and work up, or start with higher melt and work down. Each piece of jewelry will usually have about 3 grades of solder and for the life of me I can't remember the process. It really  has been a long time since I've done this- decades in fact!