Sunday, August 30, 2009

one local supper: 13

one local supper: 13
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
this is a pretty typical supper for us. One pot, simple, little bit of meat, plenty of veggies, some cheese, filling starch. I grew up eating cheese grits- it is one of my favorite comfort foods. I cooked stoneground grits with just a little salt and butter. It is topped with less than 1/4 lb of sauteed local sausage, onions, diced, salted, pan-roasted baby eggplants (outsides crispy, insides creamy, in 1/2" cubes so that the boys didn't even know they were eating eggplant. It is NOT their favorite.), chopped cherokee purple tomatoes (finally getting tomatoes in from my garden) and peppers, basil ribbons, and goat cheese crumbles. Since this had four vegetables (one 1 lb baby eggplant, 2 bell peppers, 2 tomatoes, a whole onion- that's more than four!), we didn't do a salad. We all cleaned our plates.

What I like most about this tasty and easy meal was how very little it cost. When I bought the sausage it was a father's day $1/lb special. I cut it, partially frozen, into quarters to use in bits. Some meals need a quarter, some only need half of the quarter. The grits were $7 for a 5 lb bag, I used one cup out of maybe 10 for this meal. The eggplant was $1/3, as were the peppers. The goat cheese was $6: I used about 2T out of the 8T in 1/2 cup. Tomatoes and basil from my garden, and the onions were $2/lb. That would make that big onion the priciest part of this $5.50 meal! I think we'll be eating it again before summer's out.
I think I feel compelled to break down my meal's cost because I'm reading my way through More with Less, a Mennonite (but not horse and buggy Mennonites) cookbook emphasizing conservation in relation to world hunger. I want to be careful with our resources, use meat sparingly, use inexpensive, plentiful, healthful foods more. This book really gives a lot of food for thought.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

school lunches

I made a pdf with school lunch ideas (with a LOT of help from on-line and real time friends- THANK YOU!!!), specifically using the laptop lunches bento-style box- for my boy. So, this isn't quite how I wanted it to publish, but it is here for all to see, use, enjoy, alter, tinker with, whatever. All I know is that now I can pack a lunch and snack in 5 minutes flat. We choose our main dish on the weekend and fill in the rest with what we have in the pantry and fridge. I do it all the night before and everything is fine when he eats lunch at 10 am (YUCK! I know! But school starts at 7:30 am). I'm still planning to get a thermos for soup and/or hot pasta during the winter, but our daily highs are still reaching the 90s, so we won't think about that until mid-late October or even into November. Enjoy it!
Bento Lunch Options

Thursday, August 27, 2009

egg shell

egg shell cup
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
On my last weekend at the Memphis Farmers Market back in June, a customer asked me if I'd make mugs in this egg shell glaze. I told him I'd think about it and try. This is what I came up with. I really puzzled over the form. I wanted it to be curved, delicate, like an egg, but not so delicate that you'd be afraid to use it.

The handle bothers me a little- but honestly, all handles bother me a little. My favorite cups have no handles; I like to cradle the cup with both of my hands- like I do with my bamboo cups (speaking of which, my friend Melissa asked me if I'd consider making them as planters- to hold succulents or small african violets. Those are forthcoming). I want to work with this form a little more, but I was really gratified to find that several friends echoed my preference for tumbler-style cups and expressed interest in seeing these without handles. I was almost excited to see my preference echoed (unasked, even) by my friends.

I've come up with another application for the egg form. Not just vases, now, but salt shakers. Molly showed me a picture of a stopperless stoneware salt shaker she'd been given. I noodled around and found something like a tutorial for this double-walled vessel and made a few. I only use coarse salt, so I made the funnel quite large, but I'm working on making a smaller one for fine salt.

I'm excited to be getting real work done in the studio. I think that I'm going to do an etsy update once a month. If you are interested in berry bowls, I have orders for about a dozen right now, but I'm going to try to have another dozen ready to sell in a few weeks. I haven't been able to get any up on etsy because other people have contacted me about them. So if you REALLY really need one, and sooner rather than later, just shoot me an email. Or leave a comment (but blogger doesn't give me email addresses unless you specify on your account that your email address is public, so if you comment and don't hear back from me, that's why). Or go to my etsy page and convo me.

Have a great Thursday!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

on custom orders

shaving bowl
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
I believe I said that I wasn't going to do custom orders anymore. Well, I don't mean that. I mean that I won't do twenty at one time, or do custom orders to the exclusion of building up regular inventory. And I am still making berry bowls. I just can't let myself get to the point where I am only making berry bowls.

This is a custom order that I was pretty happy with. A fellow in town contacted me about making a shaving bowl for him. He has some very specific guidelines, and he wanted it to be locally made. I threw what I thought he wanted, got his approval, and glazed it last week. Yesterday I reglazed the little white spots where the glaze didn't stick. He hasn't seen the final result yet, but I hope he's pleased. This is a perfect example of what I want to accomplish with my pottery. Something you use every day, something that adds a little joy, beauty, satisfaction to your day. Something you aren't going to just DIE about because it breaks.

I don't use this glaze, Opulence's Antique Iron, frequently. I water it down to make the sepia-toned herb markers and saints icons, but it has literally been years (2-3) since I've used it to glaze a functional piece of pottery. I take that back, I did use it on the Mississippi River clay I dug this time last summer because everything else turned chalky white due to the mineral content in the clay. When I did use it more regularly, men liked it. So when this fellow requested something masculine, I mixed up this bucket again. I do like how it breaks greyish wherever the glaze pools. There's also the slightest hint of iridescence to the glaze, but I only noticed that yesterday when I was spot-glazing in the sun.

More new work to come.

Oh, would you like to see a spectacular failure? I didn't know whether to laugh or gasp when I pulled this out. I had to use a chisel to get the top out, which I did solely because I wanted to see how much butter it would hold. Lidded vessels are so finicky. Next time I will fire the top and bottom separately. They fit together when I made them and when I'd bisque fired them. I'm not sure if one was thrown from reclaimed clay and the other from new clay, but they certainly seemed to shrink at different rates. Oh well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

what I learned this summer

The summer is over. School's begun. Summer was great and easy and fast and hard and awful and frustrating and sad and joyful and I learned so so much. Some things I learned:
1. I just cannot make pottery during the summer when my child is at home. Can. Not. Do. It. Next summer, I'll need some sort of work-around. And I'll need to have a lot of inventory built up in preparation for summer (see why I quit my job).
2. If I focus on trying to work when I just can't, not only do I frustrate myself, but I frustrate EVERYONE.
3. I can't pre-sell/do custom orders anymore. I'm talking to you, Berry Bowls*. Making a customer wait 6-8 weeks for their pottery that they've already paid for is just not something I can live with. I'm thrilled for people who can do that, but I'm so task-oriented that the weight (real or imagined) of other peoples' expectations is almost enough to drown me. And this process doesn't take into account crazy things that happen like tendinitis in both arms, losing power for a week, unseasonably hot temperatures which mean I can't run the kiln.
4. I don't like making excuses, so I will not promise what I can't easily deliver. Is this the same as #3?
5. I am NOT going to please everyone. Some people are unreasonable in their complaints. Some people are justified in their complaints. I need to figure out which is which and deal with them appropriately. A measly $15 or $25 or even $100 isn't worth throwing myself into despair because someone didn't like their vase.
6. My friends really help me to see things more clearly. See the last sentence in #5.
7. My work doesn't have to be perfect, just my best. I am very hard on myself and my standards for my work are nearly unattainable. But at the same time, I'm not Target or a factory in China.
8. I need to take breaks more often. This last break from pottery to enjoy the end of summer with my boy was filled with productivity in other areas. I kicked home canning's tail feathers and have a nicely stocked pantry as a result. I read some books. I knit some sweaters. I was (mostly) a nicer person to deal with (see #2).
9. I'm online a little too much sometimes. Life is for living in real time and real place. The internet is a great tool and can provide a great community and information (and sales, support, inspiration, you name it). But do I really need more than about an hour of screen time a day? If too much screen time is bad for my child, shouldn't it be bad for me, too?
10. Y'ALL. I finished my first year as a really registered business. I paid my business taxes to the city and county. I keep up (and have been for 7 years) with my sales taxes. It didn't kill me or make me crazy, and I don't have to pay an accountant to do it for me. This was a big thing. I'm more than a little proud of myself to have it all finished and paid weeks before it was due.

So. I'm back to work, waiting for my kiln to cool so that I can unload it. I've just trimmed about 20 ladybug pieces for a an order and to rebuild my inventory. I'm looking at heading back to the farmers market in October. I'm planning to have my first home sale after a year and a half (pre-Thanksgiving). I'm testing a new red glaze and a new green glaze. I'm making new forms and thinking about pottery and food and sustainability and creativity. Life is good. I'm so glad fall is just around the corner.

Have a happy weekend. I'm enjoying the cooler temps this weekend. I hope they find you, too.

*This is not to say that I'm not making berry bowls anymore. I just can't let them take over my production time OR my life. I'm grateful that they're popular, I just need to moderate their production a little better than I have for the past two summers.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

one local supper: 11

This week I focused much less on meals than on preserving food. I've been a bit of an ant preparing for winter. Fair warning, I'm writing a lot about processing and preserving local food in this post. We did have an entirely local meal- one I grew up eating frequently. Stewed okra with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, and rice. The okra was in my freezer from last fall's CSA from Whitton Farms. Tomatoes and garlic came from two North Mississippi farmers. The rice was grown in Arkansas(Did you know that all Riceland brand rice is grown in the counties along the Mississippi River in Arkansas?) This is a simple, one-pot (not counting the rice) meal- sauteed onions and garlic, add peppers, add okra, add tomatoes and a bit of water, simmer down, serve over rice. The leftovers are really good. It's also fabulous with shrimp, chicken, or sausage. When we ate it again later in the week I added some sausage.

I spent so much time this week thinking about food- about school lunches, about preserving it. I've got a lot of good, fresh, perishable food that is either free or cheap right now. This fall and winter, this same food will be a) expensive and b) imported. I accidentally bought a bell pepper imported from Holland and had soemthing of a fit when I realized how far that yellow gem had traveled. Did it still have any vitamins? How much did it cost to ship a $1 bell pepper from Holland? All of this was in the back of my head on Monday, a good friend came by with 20+ lbs of pears and about 15 lbs of potatoes from his Mom's garden in Mississippi. I decided to make gnocchi with the potatoes (it freezes for up to a month- so I'll make some, use some, and see if it will keep for 2 months. The rest of the potatoes will go in basement storage for a bit) and pear sauce with the pears.

Now: canning. I'm not sure what's happened to me this summer except that I might be under my friend Jennifer's influence. She is a master canner. I've called her with questions, we've emailed about how-to and what-to. I attempted some canning in 2001 but haven't touched the weck jars or the huge stockpot I used to hot water bath process since. In late June, when I realized that my favorite tiny plums were about to go bad, I made a batch of jam with plums, blueberries, raspberries, and maybe some cherries. I put those up in some jars I had on hand, boiled them in the stockpot, and had 8 pints of jam. I could can food! And eat it later! It's silly, but I felt like embracing my inner pioneer woman.

A few weeks after the plum jam success, I borrowed my mom's huge (holds 7 quarts at a time) canning pot, some quart jars and lids, and bought a bushel (I think) of tomatoes. I put up 7 quarts of tomatoes and another 5 quarts of sauce (canned the tomatoes, froze the sauce). I had some free organic apples my mom's coworker gave her- those became 3 quarts of apple sauce. I ran out of quart jars and bought some pint and 8 oz jelly jars. When the last of my figs threatened to mold away in the fridge, they became 3.5 pints of jam (mixed with rosemary and lemon zest- yum). So when Michael and Lee showed up with all those pears, I knew I'd make pear sauce. And I did- ten pints. More apples are coming, more applesauce.

All of the blueberries we picked this summer went into the dehydrator (I lucked out 10 years ago and got an excalibur when my stepmother was clearing out her unused kitchen gadgets). Dried blueberries are so expensive, so good, and so easy to do yourself. We still have frozen berries from last summer, but we ran out of dried blueberries in October, so I concentrated on drying them this year. And Peaches! The essence of summer! Outside of what we've eaten, about half of the peaches I've bought, picked (25 lbs worth), or gotten for free because they were culls (scratch'n'dent produce, anyone?) have been dried, half have been frozen. The peels and bits of flesh from both of those were pureed and turned into fruit leather for little boy's lunchbox. Most of my fig crop was dried, but 6 gallons of fresh figs, when quartered and dried, only equal about 4 cups. Sad but true. The dehydrator has worked overtime this summer. We've even used it for grocery store bananas that had gotten a bit more spotty than we like- they dry sweet and chewy.

At this point, I feel a little like I have a mania. We even cleaned out the basement this weekend solely so that I'd have a place to put the canned food. But the pepper from Holland really made me open my eyes- and I've also just read ALL of Hodding Carter's humorous and thought-provoking essays for Gourmet. WHY NOT buy $2 extra of these wonderful 3/$1 pesticide free peppers at the farmers market, chop them, and freeze them for winter (and I'll be doing the same thing once my own peppers and tomatoes start ripening in my own garden). Too many cherry tomatoes? That seems to be all my garden's producing this year. So I'll pop them in a freezer bag for tomato cobbler this winter. I know how to can, why not turn free produce into something that my family loves to eat (and that I won't have to buy later). And yes, I have time on my hands. Yes, I want to save money (and time) later. No, I don't think this is something that everyone can (or will want to) do. But some of us can. So I am. And if you feel like it, I hope you do to.

I promise, I'll start writing about pottery again this week. I've been sneaking a little making time in over the past few weeks, but school starts tomorrow so my pottery break is officially over. Have a happy week!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

last handful of summer

handful of summer
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Hi, I'm still here, still summering. Yesterday was the first day of staggered enrollment kindergarten- classes REALLY start on the 17th. I'm slowly making pottery here and there, checking my glaze supply, ordering some new colors (to test the waters- what about red? Would it be worth it to you to pay $10 more for a berry bowl, mug, or cereal bowl just so it could be red? The glazes are crazy expensive- $100 for a gallon of red! So let me know what you think), and finally, finally gathering my monies to get a giffin grip, because there's nothing more frustrating than trimming a pot and watching with horror as it flies upside down across the room and lands with a thud. Yes, there is. Opening a kiln full of cracked berry bowls is worse, but I digress.

So on Monday, I'll be the full-time potter again, from 8am to 1pm. And I'll be here more, as well. In the meantime, I'm having summer, preserving it (literally, in apple and pear sauces, jams, dried and frozen fruits, and in photos) for the future. Enjoy the rest of your summer, friends.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

one local supper: 10

This is a summer staple that I haven't made yet this year- since June was so very hot and July so very rainy, tomatoes have been a little spotty in the mid-south. It is so, so easy. Polenta (3 c water, 1 c polenta from Delta Grind, a little salt), add cheese if you want. Spread it over the bottom of a pie plate, casserole dish, tart tin. Bake at 350 until it is set up and barely browned. Top with sliced tomatoes, basil leaves, any sort of cheese (I used goat). You can also use sliced zucchini, leeks, onions, summer squash. I added a bit of zucchini. Bake for about an hour. While it is baking, make a pesto mayonnaise sauce with basil, garlic, and mayonnaise (I've been making my own mayonnaise with local eggs since June). Drizzle or plop sauce over the top of the hot tart, let cool briefly, serve. I added a side of elote, or grilled mexican corn, that I made for our bookclub last night. Next time I'll boil the corn, because I forgot about it on the grill pan and it was a little more chewy than fresh and juicy. Elote is simply grilled corn coated in a mixture of lime juice, mayonnaise, sour cream, cojita cheese, and spices. Mine was a mix of mayonnaise and local buttermilk, cayenne, and a bit of cilantro.

We also had some cheater peach sorbet we made earlier in the week with frozen peaches and a little local milk in the food processor. It is fast, super easy, and sugar-free. It freezes hard, but if you add a teensy bit of rum or fruit liqueur, it won't be rock-hard. We didn't, so we just let it sit out for a minute before dishing it out.