Wednesday, September 30, 2009

autumn colour week: orange

Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
a rose hip, broken and hanging off my Graham Thomas rose.

I'm feeling almost all better. Working on waxing the bottoms of a load of pottery today. And doing a little kiln-shelf maintenance.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

autumn colour week: green

Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
on my windowsill. The pottery isn't mine, but is a piece that I bought last year in Sewanee. It's by Amelia Stamps. I keep a little beeswax prayer votive in it. The bluejays are pecking away at my green tomatoes, so I have to let them ripen inside these days. There are about 20 on the sills right now. And my lone green pepper. Not a banner year for my garden.

Little boy went back to school this morning, and I am going back to bed to kick this cold. Nighty-night.

cooking for kids: 2

cooking for kids: 2
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Tex-mex stuffed yellow squash with fast and easy sides was on the menu last night. I needed to use our CSA produce and had some grass-fed ground beef in the freezer that I needed to use. I don't like beef much, I don't like ground beef at all, but the boys do and since they aren't crazy about yellow squash, I thought it would be a good compromise. In 2007 Everyday Food had a "in season" article about yellow squash that I bookmarked for the day that we had some that needed to be used. There were everal recipes, but this seemed the most kid-friendly.

Tex-Mex Stuffed Squash and sides (adapted from EDF, 2007)
2 yellow squash
1/4-1/2 lb ground beef
red bell pepper
2 T tomato paste
1 tsp chili powder
frozen corn
2T olive oil
1 small onion or several green onions and garlic
cojita cheese (mexican sprinkling cheese, like parmesan)

Preheat oven to 400. Split lengthwise and hollow out 2 large yellow squash. Be sure to cut off a small slice on the bottom so it will stand up on its own. Leave at least 1/4" shell. Season with salt and pepper. Chop reserved insides of the squash and cook in a skillet with chopped bell pepper, chopped onion (I used green onion and a clove of garlic), tomato paste, and chili powder. Cook the vegetables until barely soft. Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink (maybe 10 minutes, total.) Once cooked, add 1 cup (more or less) frozen corn kernels. I didn't have any, but I did have a random can of cream-style corn (don't know why, because that is my least favorite style of corn) that I rinsed off and added. Mix in 1/4 c cojita cheese (the EDF recipe said parmesan, but I thought mexican would be better). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fill shells and bake, covered, about 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle more cheese over the top, and bake another 10 minutes.

Sides: cheater mexican rice
cook 1/2 c brown rice with 1 c water, salt, and 1 T salsa. Done.
My boys don't like brown rice so much, but the salsa disguises the color and flavor. Also, that's all I make, so they don't have much of a choice.
Fast guac- 1 chopped avocado, 1 chopped plum tomato, juice of half a lime. Serve with blue corn chips.

There were about 2 cups of the squash beef mixture leftover. I stashed it in the freezer to use for enchiladas or beef taco soup later this fall. Despite little boy's misgivings upon looking at the dish, he ate it all up, even the squash shell (once I cut it up and mixed it all up with the rice). Gary ate it all happily. I thought it was pretty good and not too meaty (I was a vegetarian from 1994-2001 when I gave up 100% vegetarian food- with exceptions for good bbq, because I'm a Memphian, after all- for happier suppers for Gary. The things you do for love!). There was one squash half and some rice left over, so I'm going to reprise this dish as a soup for my lunch today.

I'm not sure if I'll make this again, but I was pleased with how it turned out. More kids cooking next week. . . .

Monday, September 28, 2009

autumn colour week

yellow: veggies
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
I'm participating in autumn colour week this week. Besides tomorrow's cooking for kids post (made from these ingredients), I'll just be posting photos this week. I have a miserable cold and little boy is recovering from a nasty GI bug that hit him while he was on a group camping trip with Gary and some friends. I finished a 120+ hour, year-long course for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd on Saturday, noticed that I had a hard time paying attention, and took a nap when I got home. Much like my boy, I only sleep during the day if I'm ill. His daddy reported that they got to the camp, little boy ran around, then went to take a nap. Then all GI nastiness broke loose. He and I were both running fevers Saturday, Sunday, and today. So nothing's getting done but some snuggling, reading, movie-watching, and massive spraying-down of everything we touch with lavender-tea tree disinfectant spray (2 c water, 10 drops each essential oil).

On the up side, this means that I don't have to scrape down those kiln shelves quite yet.

I hope your weather is as beautiful as ours is. We did a little convalescing outside to enjoy the sunshine and mild temps. After two straight weeks (really, it was 16 days) of rain every day, we needed some vitamin D.

Friday, September 25, 2009

the whys of pottery (at least one of them)

This week two pieces of pottery were returned by a customer who wasn't happy with my work. One of the reasons she returned the pieces was her expectation that the bowl be fully glazed from the top to the very bottom of the piece, which is exactly what you find on factory-made pottery. I leave a 1/4" margin around the bottoms of all of my pieces to ensure that the glaze doesn't drip down and stick to the kiln shelf. I happily refunded her, but I thought that since she expected something different than what I made, perhaps some other pottery customers might also be surprised by the margin and bottom of unglazed clay and wonder why I leave the bottoms of my pots bare.

Pottery glazes have a very high silica content. When they're super-heated (2165 F, 1185 C), the silica melts and becomes glass. Because I dip my pottery, the glaze is somewhat thinner than brush-on glaze, and as it melts, it runs down the sides of the piece. This melting and running is also why some of my colors, particularly the robin's egg blue, can look streaky and uneven, rather than completely smooth and even.*
Prior to glazing, I paint a thin coat of wax on the bottom of my pottery so that glaze won't stick to it. I also carry that line of wax slightly up the side of my pot. Usually I go about 1/4", but if the piece has a distinct foot-ring, like on a berry bowl or a cafe au lait bowl, I leave the entire area unglazed. I do this so that even if the glaze drips down, it is likely to stop and not melt onto the kiln shelf.

Yesterday, still a quite floaty and contemplative from seeing the Dalai Lama's lecture, I took care of a few things around the house and went to unload the kiln. This load was quite full of re-glazes and I did not do a good job of re-waxing the bottoms and footrings of the re-fired work. At least 15 pieces dripped and adhered to the kiln shelf.**
This, predictably, made me feel not so floaty. These 15 pieces- four berry bowls, a several mugs, and several smaller bowls- represented a quarter of the kiln load that I can't sell. Four hours of prep work and glazing, three hours of throwing, trimming, and sanding. Because I didn't re-wax and watch those margins. I think that the berry bowls' dripping had something to do with the humidity (today is the 15th straight day of rain in Memphis). They were not entirely ruined because I can sand the bottoms give them to friends who won't care. But this otherwise lovely mug? It is headed for the trash. You can see spots in the top picture where the shelf/ kiln wash stuck to the bottom of the mug- and those shiny spots? That's glaze (I'd put a thin coat of clear glaze over the speckles on this mug- the speckles need to be covered with glaze to be food safe, so I do two glaze firings on each of these pieces). On the second picture, you can see where a chunk of the mug stayed on the shelf. This was a particularly painful lesson in not rushing and really inspecting my work before loading it in the kiln. I've been doing this for 9 years now. These look like mistakes of a first-year student to me. With this post, I'm releasing and moving onward.

*I have issues with this look- I'd prefer smooth and non-streaky, but this glaze doesn't behave that way, no matter what fixatives I add to it or how I apply it. Since it seems to be a popular color with local and online customers, I keep using it, but to be honest, the streakiness bugs me. I'm a reforming perfectionist.

**this also tells me that it is time to do some kiln and shelf maintenance. This coming week I'll don a mask and use a grinder to smooth off the shelves. Then I'll mix up some kiln wash (a powdered blend of silica, kaolin-clay-, and aluminum hydrate), brush it on and fire three times. My shelves are old and flaky, and they need some love. A proper coating of kiln wash ensures that your drippy pieces don't take a large hunk of shelf with them when you remove the piece.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dalai Lama

On Wednesday I was really fortunate to be able to go to the Dalai Lama's lecture at the Cannon Center in Memphis. I'd tried to get tickets but couldn't. Or I could, but I wasn't willing to pay $100 for nose-bleed seats. I have tremendous respect for the DL's wisdom and teachings on peace and compassion, but I have a hard time parting with that kind of cash for a lecture. I've always been attracted to various aspects of Buddhism. I'm a decent (enough) Episcopalian, a middling Christian, but a terrible Buddhist. I don't let go of things easily. I forget to be as compassionate as I should be. I'm selfish. But compassion is a goal, and seeing the Dalai Lama in person is, at least for most of us, a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The dreary weather we've been having for the past two weeks had gotten me down, and I'd resigned myself to not seeing the Dalai Lama. I was in the studio, trimming pieces that were really too wet to trim, feeling a tiny bit cheap and a lot sorry for myself. But Gary dear had been talking with our friend Milly Moorhead West, a photographer and former gallery owner for whom we both worked in Oxford, MS. She mentioned that she had two tickets to the lecture, and Gary mentioned that I hadn't been able to get tickets. When she called early Wednesday morning to invite me along, I was overjoyed.

We had an option of orchestra seats, nice and front and center, really expensive primo seats, or press seats along the mezzanine. These were close, but not as "good." Since Milly is a first-rate photographer (and I made more than a few squeals just at the thought of bringing my camera), she (with my full backing!) opted for the mezzanine seats. I am so so glad we did- we got media passes and were 2 of perhaps a dozen people in the building with cameras. Being able to take pictures of the experience was so wonderful.

The Dalai Lama is such an expressive, gestural speaker. He is kind, humorous, modest. He settled in, took off his shoes, made a few jokes, and had the entire audience enthralled. He spoke for an hour, then took questions from the audience for another half-hour. He talked about compassion. He talked about how all of us were created by God. He talked about forgiveness and peace. While he spoke I thought about people and situations in my life that make compassion difficult. While he said that feeling bitterness towards someone else hurts us more than them, I realized that I was only hurting myself by feeling angry and bitter- not them. And that I don't want hurt or bitterness for anyone in my life, including me. One statement made me stop and find a pen. A sharpie and a bank receipt, to be exact. An audience member asked about dealing with job loss, foreclosures, illnesses, wars. "Worry does not help to solve the problem." I am a worrier. Worry is something to hook my mind on- as if I have control of the event/issue/person I worry about. I like control. I am often not in control. Worry "helps" me to feel like I'm in control, except that it doesn't. It makes me lash out, develop ulcers, feel bitter. I taped up my sharpie quote in the kitchen. It is something that I need to remember.

I hope, if you're ever able, that you can go see this wise man speak. I'm so glad that I did.

**If you use this photo, and you may, please credit it back to me. Thank you.**

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

cooking for kids

A few weeks ago I stumbled on a blog post about cooking for kids. I've been very fortunate that my child has a fairly adventurous palate- because Gary and I certainly do. When I was pregnant with him, I kept eating all of the usual strange and spicy foods I was accustomed to, kept it up when I was nursing, then started introducing them to him when he was ready for solids. A very spicy thai curry risotto was one of his first foods. This particular dish was so spicy that it made my scalp tingle, but he kept asking for more!
Now that my increasingly not-little-boy is in school and surrounded by kids who subsist on a diet of cheese puffs, deli meats, and "froot" products, he's become a little more picky, a little less likely to eat what we want to eat, more aware of what the kids at school want. I think I've told you about his allergy to certain ingredients that find their way into conventional dairy product. I'm pretty strict about organic-only dairy at home or at school, but if we're out and everyone is having pizza, we pull the cheese off of the pizza.

But pizza and chicken nuggets don't make me happy, so I was thrilled to find out about the online cooking group at Raising Foodies. Jocelyn is like the rest of us- working, busy, hungry. And, like me, committed to good food for the family table. She's organized an 8 week cooking group where the participants make a new dish each week and share the recipe with their child's reaction to it.

This Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup is my first "new" reicpe. This weekend I was startled to find ten eggplant in my CSA share. Eight skinny white ones, one medium-sized traditional globe eggplant. Add that to two small striped globe eggplant still in my fridge from the week before. I consulted with some foodie friends and made this delicious honey-salted fried eggplant with two of the skinnies when a friend was over on Sunday.* I also found this recipe for tomato and eggplant soup. We like Indian-spiced food, and this had plenty of curry, so I gave it a try. The instructions looked a bit labor intensive, but it was largely untended. I'll make it again, because it was a hit! And BOTH Gary and Nash are eggplant-deniers.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup, adapted from an adaptation from an Everyday Food recipe. Serves 4 with salad and bread

Preheat oven to 425

6 medium-sized slicing tomatoes (or 14 plum tomatoes), salted, halved
10 garlic cloves
3-4 carrots, peeled, cut in 1" chunks
2T olive oil, kosher salt, pepper

1.5 lb eggplant, peeled, cubed
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2T olive oil
2T curry powder

2 Roasting pans

Mix tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and olive oil, s/p on a large roasting pan, with tomatoes skin-side up. Mix the second set of vegetables on the second roasting pan. Roast for 45 min, shaking occasionally, making sure that the tomato tray is on top. Let cool slightly, peel tomatoes.

Puree the tomato mixture and half of the eggplant mixture (in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender. Thin with 3-4 cups of water or veg broth (I used water). Salt to taste and reheat.

To serve: bed couscous in a soup bowl, ladle soup over the couscous and top with the reserved eggplant and chickpea mixture. Sprinkle with cilantro.

The roasted chickpea and eggplant mixture was so good I could have (and did) eat it by itself. I pureed most of the eggplant to ensure that my boys would eat it. They each got 3-4 cubes on top of their soup.

I'll have this again for lunch today. I may make more and see how it freezes. This was a pretty light meal with a hearty flavor- it felt very substantial.

*It was so, so good, but just a little advice- if you're unaccustomed to fried food, don't eat 15 slices (there were 60 or so super thin potato-chip sized slices) unless you want to spend time with sir alka-seltzer later.

Monday, September 21, 2009


wild persimmon
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Seems like everything is crawling at a snail's pace around here. Well, except my child, who is bouncing off the walls. Y'all, we are on DAY NINE of rain, grey, clouds, humid sticky weather. Last week I tried to cope by making soups and breads, pretending it was fall. This weekend I had a class all weekend, as I will again this weekend, so little boy stayed at my mom's in the country. The wild persimmons were ripe. So life- the seasons- the world- really is changing even though things seem to be in a state of stasis. They're pretty and sweet, but so seedy and tiny that they're more trouble to eat then they're worth. Forager though I may be, I left them all to the deer.

Today I am trying to finish up a kiln-load of glazing, but it is mightily difficult to get wet glaze to stick in humid weather. I brought a bunch of things in this morning in hopes that I'd be able to glaze them after they'd been in (and in the oven, drying out) for a while. I have almost a full load of work that's ready to bisque. A few of you have contacted me about orders and I'm working on all of them- honeypots, butter dishes, butter bells, berry bowls, but the rain forest that is memphis right now has slowed my already slow pace down to a crawl. Soon, soon I keep telling myself.

I've discovered a trick to my drill mixer. If I don't sink the mixer to the bottom of the bucket it doesn't splash as much. Good to know. The other factor to the splashing problem is my drill's single speed. Full tilt or off. I'll be switching drills soon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

egg cups

egg cups
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
I was noodling around this morning (um, I still am) and saw the cutest idea for using egg cups is you aren't going to actually eat eggs from them. Go over to Design Sponge and see. I think I'll get some succulents to put in some of these for my next day at the farmers market (oct 24) and my pre-holiday home sale.

I finished trimming my not-rosenthal pottery. I'm pretty happy with the clean lines. We'll see how it looks in color. That new green, maybe?

It has been raining every day since last Friday here. I'm a tiny bit sick of it, except that it has sprouted all of my fall veggie seeds I planted. That makes me happy. But lordy, I'd love to see a little sunshine. Especially since I need to do some glazing. Super-saturated humid air means that wet glaze doesn't like to stick or dry so well. In due time.

I'm working on slab work today- giving my arms a break from throwing for a bit longer. More icons, plates, platters. I like to listen to podcasts while I'm working. I'm a big fan of the How Stuff Works series of podcasts, and, of course, This American Life. Any new podcast suggestions out there?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
I had a much, much better day working yesterday. Throwing went well. It's too wet to glaze, but I threw lots (a bit too much, perhaps, as my tendinitis seems to be flaring up again) and I'm happy with the forms I threw. But the flood of emails and comments from y'all really, really made me feel better. Thank you.

Much of what I made yesterday is influenced by this sugar bowl that belonged to my late mother in law. She and my father in law lived in Germany in the mid-late 50s. She bought a set of these Rosenthal factory seconds (she called them the "gypsy dishes," because she bought them from street peddlers). They aren't marked, but the matching salt and pepper shakers are marked Rosenthal, so I believe that's what these are.

Despite my more traditional, slightly toned-down but still a little frilly tastes, I've always loved mid-century design. I think designers like Eva Zeisel are the bee's knees. Mother kept the coffee pot, tea pot, and spouted pitcher (a chocolate pot?) on the top of her fridge. I always admired the pieces, and last week my sister and law gave me all of the pieces to the set that were left. We're using the dishes every evening and yesterday I carted a few pieces up to the studio.

First I made a pitcher slightly reminiscent of these pieces, but I think I got the sugar bowl spot-on. I still need to trim the lids, but really looking at these really helped me think through some issues I'd been having with my work- particularly the lids. I don't know WHY I hadn't been making a gallery for the lids to rest in, but I haven't, not for years. So I had problems with lids sliding around, and in cases where the shrinkage rates were different (probably because some of the clay -for the lid, say- was more wet than the clay for the body), lids would wind up being too small and fall through. Not good if the lid goes on a honeypot. Most of the time I caught this problem, but it is SO embarrassing to have a customer tell you that happened.* Simple little shelf for the lid to rest on does seem to fix all of that.

I think I'm over the pottery malaise I was feeling last week. I sure hope so. It looks like it will be too wet to try to glaze anything this week, but I have plenty of handbuilding to do this week while I treat my tendinitis. I hope your week is off to a good start. Mine is.

*I don't have issues with this kind of criticism, and this isn't the kind of complaint I whined about yesterday.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
preserving the last of this summer's peaches and running have been what I've been up to. My pottery-making has stunk, and rather than report constant struggles and failures, I've stayed out of this space and in my kitchen. But I've been frustrated by glaze failures- entire kiln loads need to be reglazed and fired, because no matter how much I mix the glazes, what I add to them, or how smoothly I apply them, they come out streaky. I try really hard not to be a perfectionist, but I want my work to be consistent. Work from this week hasn't made the grade. The few pieces that I did think were good enough to send out got complaints. Swell.

My throwing has been Craptastic. My arms are beginning to hurt again, but I think that's from what I'm knitting more than pottery work. But if my arms are hurting, I can't throw for more than 45 minutes a day. Not much time to get things done there. I managed 20 egg cups and some butter bells this week. Not the best way to build up inventory. I think the solution is to put away the knitting.

I got a new mixing tool for my drill that promised to mix everything more quickly and smoothly. I had hopes that this would help solve my glazing problems. It did mix quickly. All over the carport. I lost 1/4 of a gallon of new expensive glaze to the carport floor. I wanted to cry about it all and quit pottery-making entirely by Friday.

The single good pottery-related thing this week: some ceramic icons for the Martyrs of Memphis celebration this weekend (those did turn out well, happily, but Sister Constance is with me whenever these works are concerned- everything goes smoothly, and for that I am very thankful).

So I give you peaches. We picked more than 40 lbs on Labor Day. I canned, pureed, froze, dried peaches all week. And made splendid peach sangria out of the leftover syrup from canning. The plain syrup is all gone, but I have two 8 oz jars packed full of basil and peach syrup for later. Pottery- no progress. Peaches- a dwindling pile of fresh, a growing stack of preserved food. Yeah, that's what I'll focus on.

I'll get back to pottery this week. Much glazing to do, more throwing. Figuring out some different (safer- for my lungs) ways to do my speckled egg glaze (so far these experiments have been failures. I have another idea or two up my sleeve, but essentially, I want to avoid breathing in particulates. I don't need work-related lung cancer) . Better mixing (maybe a slower drill? My drill is eons old and has two speeds: off or in a blur). More tinkering with chemical additions to make glazes less streaky, because that streaking thing is not working for me. Less beating myself up about not producing "perfect" work. I am not a machine. I am not a factory. One customer complaint should not negate a dozen happy customers. No more peaches. More running. A better week ahead.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

new groove

I feel like I've still been a little quiet here since school has started. I've been working really hard on a lot of different things- some success, some, not so much. Ten years ago I ran. For at least an hour, every day. I had two labrador retrievers, one very young, one adult. I was in graduate school, very busy, and running helped keep all of us better-behaved. I married, moved to the country, and twisted my ankle too many times (on trails used by horses) to keep running. Five years ago we moved back to the city, to a neighborhood with a great 4 mile greenline, a college, a huge urban forested park, and I've been sporatic. In July I started really running again. I felt like I hit a plateau where I couldn't get much beyond 3 miles. Today I ran with my neighbor, an English professor and women's running coach. We did seven. And I didn't die. Or walk as much as I thought I would (maybe 1/4 mi, if that). It was a huge push for me to do that much more.

I've also been testing new glazes. I've gotten so many requests for red that I bought a pint to test. It's pretty happy, isn't it? A pint was just under $20. A gallon is well over $100. Red pottery = higher price. So. I also bought a new green. It was an affordable gallon- but it didn't come with any mixing instructions at all. When I first mixed and used it, it went on too too thick (see the splotchy berry bowl? the clay underneath is white. Bare spots aren't white anymore). So I'll thin it, test again, and see how it goes. I've been looking for a good grassy green for quite some time. I'm 90% happy with this. I've also been trying a new method for my eggshell glazed pieces that doesn't involve inadvertently breathing in fine particulates. I tried mixing my stain with water and flicking it on, but the color faded away to barely visible. That's still a work in progress. Perhaps I just need to wear a respirator while I make those pieces.

I made myself some buttons! I think I'll make more for the sewers and knitters in my life.

I'm working really hard on filling orders and building inventory. I just made twenty egg cups. I've made a ton of ladybug pottery (and yet, not enough). I have no mugs to speak of, no platters. A few berry bowls that I'll put out after the orders for them have been filled. I'll be back at the Memphis Farmers Market in late October and am planning to have a pre-Thanksgiving sale at home. I haven't had a home sale since June 2008. It's time to do another.

My weeks are flying by. I'm out the door to run before 7:30, working (making, glazing, and yes, interneting), picking up little boy again at 2. Lunches, suppers, Catechesis work, laundry, cleaning. I'm finding my rhythm. It is bumpy sometimes, but I'm getting there.

Have a great holiday weekend. We're going to go pick peaches again (unless I luck out and get a box of culled peaches at the farmers market). It's almost time for apples.

Oh, and Sunday was the last of the one local summers. It was harder this year because I had more going on, but eating local is part of how we eat now. I may highlight a special meal every now and then, if you don't mind too much.