Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dinner ...

You can tell that life is slowly returning to normal because at last we had some friends round to dinner yesterday evening.  And this was it.  I also managed to start doing something I've been trying to get round to for a long time - photographing food and photographing my pots with food in or on.  These are two different projects.  The photographs of food are to accompany recipes in one form or another and those of my pots with food are a project I have in mind to do with marketing the pottery.  However, there's nothing to stop the same meal being used for both purposes.
In case there's any doubt, the platter above is not one of mine.  It's a gloriously coloured Tunisian dish which I bought at a French market a few years ago.  It sits on the shelf in the study/dining room where it goes splendidly with the decor and occasionally it gets put to use.  This time for the geographically close Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Couscous.  

As with most recipes, I'm gradually adapting this one for our tastes and needs.  It should have a red chilli in it but M detests anything above the mildest warmth in spices so I leave it out.  I don't quite detest fresh coriander, as I used to, but I still dislike it, so I replace it with parsley.  And so on.  Anyway, it's a lovely dish.

To go with it I served French beans sauted in butter and garlic.  I don't usually buy imported veg if I can help it but these were just the right thing to go with the dish, and I figure that whatever the other costs, Kenya is full of farmers who've come to rely on being able to sell their beans to Europe.  So, once in a while.  I also made aubergines with tomato.  I really love this simple dish and have no idea why I don't make it more often.  There was not nearly enough of the leftovers for my liking.  But here is the dish before we tucked in:

But what is this?!  A lizard!  Yes, here's a finished lizard.  Now, some of you might be thinking, "ooh, that's nice, so that's what the lizard vase will look like."  Well, who knows.  Lizards, as I mentioned in the last post, are tricky blighters.  At one point a few years ago it was a common cry over the phone to H, "Another dead lizard came out of the kiln today."  I was probably losing at least half of them in the firing.  Another aspect of this particular lizard is that he was painted with dark green lustre and light green lustre.  What?  He's purple?  Oh yes, so he is.  Well, them's the breaks.  Green lustres often turn out purple.  Nearly always in this pottery.  The only time they don't turn a beautiful rich purple is when I use them to paint irises.  You may remember this post.  If you look at it again and compare the colour of those irises with this lizard, you'll see what I mean.  So - what to paint the lizard with?  But this is not a post about pots, it's a post about dinner.

So finally to pudding.  You might wish to call it dessert.  But however refined the dish, I prefer pudding.  

I hadn't made this chocolate tart before.  The chocolate part was certainly exactly as described.  But what's with the pastry?  As I was making it, I thought, "This is shortbread with egg in it."  I sort of expected something light and crumbly like shortbread, therefore.  What I got was hard.  You could eat it ok, it wasn't so hard as to be too unpleasant in the mouth.  But it was one of those things that at any minute was going to embarrass somebody by shooting across the other side of the room.  Miraculously, we all avoided this faux pas.  Next time, though, I'll be making different pastry.

An another thing - how do you get proper chocolate curls with a vegetable peeler?  I just get these shavings.  Tasty, but not particularly decorative.

.......and lunch

We don't usually have fancy lunch hereabouts, but we had visitors doing a tour of family in Gloucestershire and I suddenly had a whim to pretend it was summer.  I make this fairly often in France and it was a nice promise of things to come.  The evenings are lighter all the time, I went to the supermarket without a coat today and the hellebores are coming into flower.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Work in progress

Yesterday I posted on Twitter and Facebook that I was excited about a pot and that it hasn't happened much lately. I'm aware that makes it sound as if I don't enjoy my work, which is not the case at all, so I need to explain a little. 

I love making pots. I've discovered over the years that I need the contact with the earthiness of the clay for my wellbeing and apart from when I'm firing the kiln, my pottery is always a place of calm. Most of the time I am making tableware, lost in the rhythm of making mugs or plates a dozen at a time.  There are jobs I don't like much, like making up glazes, and putting handles on colanders and casseroles but even these are just work without any great pleasure rather than unpleasant tasks.  But excitement is not usually a feature of the landscape in the pottery.

I guess it takes something completely new to get me itching to get on with it, impatient to see the next stage.  At the beginning of the week I included some more beastly pots in my schedule.  I also sold my last big butterfly vase at the end of last week.  It seems the big vases are much more popular than small ones.  So I added making a couple of vases to the list.  Suddenly the two ideas went together.   A lizard crawling up a vase.  And that's the pot I'm excited about.

Most of the time in my work I have a clear idea of what the finished item will look like.  With pottery, though, the best I can say is that I have a clear idea of what I want it to look like and with Beastly Pots and now Beastly Vases, the chances of that turning out to be what happens are reduced.  Make the beast in question a lizard  and it's anybody's guess what will happen.

With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to chart the progress of such a piece here.  At this stage I don't know whether I'll be showing you a success or a failure and if a failure, at what stage that will happen.

What the first picture shows is the basic shape of the creature attached and moulded to the form of the pot.  I then cut away, add, or just re-shape to put in the details that hopefully make it come to life.  In the case of lizards, doing the toes is undoubtedly the most time-consuming part of the whole thing.  I've tried various ways but the best one is to start with a sort of flattish pad and then cut away the spaces between the toes.

So here it is. The pot I'm excited about. So much can go wrong from now on! Drying, glazing, firing, painting with lustre and re-firing are five opportunities. Of these, the drying process is the least hazardous as I can keep an eye on it and stop it drying out too fast. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hearts and Flowers goes live

It looks like a fairly small space when you go downstairs at The Cotswold Craftsmen Gallery but I've come to the conclusion that that's partly because of the lowish ceiling.  In fact, as you can see, half the room (someone else has the other half) gave me plenty of hanging space.  The space is supposed to be for exhibitions of flat work but I was allowed plinths and shelves against my walls (as well as my card spinner) so the hearts and flowers theme could be exploited in full.

I'm toying with doing some textiles pieces with hearts.  It would give me an opportunity to use some great colours.  But would anyone like one for their home?  I'm surprised to find that I would!  Following on from the earlier post where I explained my reluctance to use hearts at all, I've discovered that context is all.  A richly coloured and stitched heart would fit just right in my study!  Or my living room.  Will have to think about this one.  Comments on the desirability or otherwise of hearts as home decor are welcomed.

In the mean time, I enjoyed putting this exhibition together very much and enjoyed writing a little blurb to go in it almost as much. I put the exhibition up on Sunday but it opened today. 

"Hearts and Flowers - an exhibition of work for Valentines and other Romantics.

In between the hearts and flowers there's a smattering of cats and a smidgeon of chickens as well as something for the starry-eyed.  This exhibition is about what appeals to the romantic in all of us."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Announcing fridge magnet cards!

Well, it is at least the first time I've mentioned them here but to be fair, I did announce them on Twitter and Facebook some time ago and some have been in the shops for the past week.  However, I promised to write more about my Valentine cards and here they are.

I've never made Valentine cards as such before, although I have made silk-painted cards with hearts in.  These tend to go throughout the year, though I did initially make them one February.  These cards here, though, are definitely very seasonal.  After 15th February I'll bring them all home again.

You can probably see that once again I've been at PhotoShop with the heart masks, only this time went a bit further.  I've used my own photographs.  It was surprising to me how quickly photos taken for quite different reasons turned slushy with a bit of red surrounding them.  But then, some people like slushy.  M does, for a start.  The one with the rose would be the sort of thing he would choose for me.

Anyway, as well as being Valentine cards, these were the first Jane Vernon fridge magnet cards.  I've been meaning to make them for a couple of years and had all the stuff ready.  Who knows what moves an idea far enough to the front of my brain that it's the next thing I do?  But here they are.  After Valentine's Day is over or at least after you feel cards should no longer be on the mantelpiece, simply peel off the magnetic image and stick it to your fridge, freezer or filing cabinet.  I'd certainly be happy displyaing "Be my Valentine" on my fridge all year round, though of course I realise I'm unlikely to receive on of these myself.

Fridge magnet cards don't only come in Valentine flavour, they also come in wallhanging and photograph flavours.

Today I've been putting up the exhibition in Nailsworth. It doesn't open until Tuesday, so I'll save the photos until then.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I never thought ...

... I'd find myself using hearts as a motif to decorate pots and I certainly never thought I'd make heart-shaped dishes.

but here are some of the latest batch.  About thirty years ago when I was attending Ridge Pottery summer schools, Douglas used to show us how to make different shaped dishes, and often a heart shape was one of them.  I was already teaching then and soon tired of "love-hearts", as the kids used to call them, decorating exercise books, pencil cases and anything else that could be doodled on.  It really turned  me off the whole idea of hearts as decoration.

I've thawed slowly over the years.  Leaving full-time teaching in schools helped.  The youngsters I worked with subsequently were, for whatever reason, less inclined to splatter their world with hearts.  Eventually I started decorating some of my lustred mugs with hearts.  They seemed to go down well enough.

Last year I introduced a new design on mugs and bowls and made my first heart-shaped dishes.  They sold.  Faster than the mugs and bowls, actually.  I made some more.  They sold out by Christmas.  So this January I made lots more still.  They are destined for "Hearts and Flowers" and some were also part of the deliveries I made to three outlets last week.