Monday, 11 November 2013

Baking clay pots in the log burner

Now..I know this subject is not going to get many people excited but I am hopping around on one foot with anticipation..I am about to have a go at firing some very crude pieces of formed clay in my fab old log burner..well why not! So long as the clay was as dry as possible and therefore less likely to explode....

My 93 year old father Ned, is bed ridden and lives in what used to be the garage. No it's not like being shut under the stairs.. It has been converted to provide him with a bedroom and a self contained little unit for him and my brother Chris who is his full time carer.

He has a very restrictive way of life as he had a massive stroke some eight years ago and through macular degeneration he can't see and his hearing is very there is not a lot he can do. But he used to an architect and loved to paint with oils and water colours and gained a lot of pleasure from just making things creatively. One of the loveliest things he made was a whole wall of beautiful blue rustic tiles for his own kitchen and all of the pots for pansies that he grew for my sister's wedding. So he used to be a do-er.

We bought a big lump of potters clay and set about having a go at fashioning a few crude pots not easy when you've only got one hand that works...however between us we came up with a couple of quirky looking pots...and they have been sitting on top of his bookcase gathering dust..good side is they are thoroughly dry.
Wonky pots maybe but really rather lovely

They were pretty much bone dry but as I don't have my own kiln I thought they should have a little extra drying before braving the log burning I put them into an old biscuit tin which I put an inch or so of table salt in..Ned's idea he thought that as we don't have any glazes they might pick up a bit of the salt into a glaze if we could get the necessary heat. 

So into the biscuit tin and then popped into the Rayburn and turned up to full heat. They went in on a cool setting to avoid thermal shock and sat there getting toasty for a couple of hours or so.

I remembered I had also made a clay hand on a coat hanger armature a year or so ago...when I was last making puppets. I just wondered if it might fire and it was already cracking it could hurt to include it in the experiment.

This the is the massive log burner..the only working form of heating in the house. When this is banked up you need to get naked it's so hot..and on top is one of my son's pieces of sculpture based atomic explosion..on a domestic and entirely peaceful level it makes a really effective bronze radiator..

Oven warmed biscuit tin containing the little pots is placed in the bed of the fire along with the hand and the kindling is set alight..I thought it might be important to let them heat up from the beginning of the fire being lit.

Half way through and things look sign of salt melting to form a glaze.

Spooky looking hand in the flames

Piled in some more logs and sat back to enjoy the this point I could have put some wood chips or thin pieces inside the tin to blacken and smoke the pots but decided to leave that until I could see how the whole thing had gone without.

They came out pretty black as it was but the salt didn't get hot enough to melt and form a glaze.

I have started making beads too which is so easy and great fun..hope to make a few strings before Christmas.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Lunch with Vix and J-M featuring Butternut Squash baked with Chestnuts and other delicious stuff

Dear friends, Damian and Renu recently gave me a gift of foody fare brought from Ceglia Messapica where they have a little property. I have never cooked them before but the little bulbs left me in no doubt about how they should be prepared and what they would go well with.They are callelampaschiuoli delicious little bombs of slightly bitter delight. They are actually the bulbs of wild hyacinths (muscari) picked and bottled in Puglia in the South of Italy and look very like our familiar little spring onions but they have none of that latent sweetness that manifests when fried and caramelised. Their tinge of bitter complements the earthy softness of the thin slices of artichoke fried in garlic enriched extra virgin olive oil until just starting to turn brown. Some cooks say they should be left for a while with salt flakes to pull out their moisture but I have never found this to be necessary..I just slide them into hot oil and watch them, keeping a sharp eye to make sure they don't burn more than a little along the edges of the skin..and turning a few times to ensure golden brown all over. 

Asparagus sprinkled with flakes of sea salt and Extra Virgin Olive oil after snapping the stems so they'd fit in the dish..baked in a hot oven but not too near the top shelf, until the tips start to ever so slightly crisp and the stems are softly sagging
These fresh green beans were tossed in my big old pan in piping hot olive oil with crushed garlic and a pinch of sea salt until they just slightly start to change colour..but it's only necessary to let a few take up the streaks of brown the rest should be just past al dente and still properly green. I squeezed fresh lemon juice onto them just before serving.
Seafood pasta
Chop two lovely red onions and sweat in olive oil until soft and golden...stir in your favourite mushrooms...add a good big pinch of dried herbs or if you have them chop and dice oregano and thyme..later add basil. I also sprinkled a handsome amount of Bouillon on to the mix. Add a tin of tomatoes and some fat prawns. I sometimes make this with mussels and sliced squid. I would also put in capers . Cook all of the mix in a big frying pan and set aside until the spaghetti is cooked..then find your favourite serving bowl ..strain the pasta and stir in the can then place a few basil leaves on top to serve...

Veggie pasta
mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes with basil and spaghetti . Ridiculously easy to make. Cook pasta..stir in a bowl of little mozzarella balls that have been sitting in with oil and sliced sun dried tomatoes and a light sprinkle of herbs..Next time I would let the heat melt the mozzarella just a little bit fact I'd make sure the cheese and tomato are heated through..this time I only used the heat from the freshly strained pasta.
This was really delicious and I will make again for Christmas. Cut butternut squash into skinned chunks and mingle with whole chestnuts..I used frozen. I then poured oil and salt flakes with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper. So good!! The sweetness from both ingredients merge and complement each other. It also offsets the mild bitterness of the lampaschiuoli.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Blind dog walking

Poor little Couscous had one of her eyes removed due to glaucoma earlier this year and the other one just stopped working soon after so she is as blind as can be. However..she is both as tough as an old boot and off she trots. She seems to navigate using the tips of her ears and some Yoda like powers that still allow her to see off the other dogs from her food or her patch of warm bed with kungfu flying snap precision.

Having skirted the horse droppings she sets off to locate the edge of the track where all of the really interesting smells lurk.

And sadly this weekend she was very poorly and we thought she wasn't going to make it but on Monday morning in spite of having a bad heart condition the vet operated and removed her uterus which was badly infected and now she is asleep beside me as I type.

Tata decided that as the Queen was away she'd squeeze herself into the bed of privilege and steal a few zzzzs

Note long nails..she might be small, elderly and with teeth a few..but it is still a feat of extreme danger and skill to try to trim them..she can't see but she certainly knows if the clippers approach...and knows exactly where your fingers are.

This is Couscous when she was young and far more beautiful

Introducing pup Scrabble to the resident gnome. I don't know what she said but it obviously shook him up a bit.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Relaxing with Singing Bowls

Had a wonderful relaxing evening last night with my lovely friend she is a member of the swishest spa in Midhurst, she quite often invites me along to enjoy the facilities...I'm usually too busy and rushed off my feet to take her up on the kind offers but last night I could not refuse.... 

Me and Marge before I went completely grey...

Spread Eagle Hotel & Spa Midhurst
The lovely old Hotel and Spa The Spread Eagle, Midhurst
(Photo from the website)         ;label=spread-eagle-and-spa-o3ExxsNgJojlr3KZeDZ_*AS10600803900:pl:ta:p1:p2:ac:ap1t1:neg;ws=&gclid=CPvF86iQxLoCFRDItAodMCEAXw

We swam in heated waters, sighed with delight as the weight of  the day evaporated in the sauna bottoms sitting on cool slats of fragrant white spruce. Then when we couldn't take the heat we slipped into the wet steam of the adjacent steam room where the timber was replaced with smooth marble...all rounded of with a most bubblicious soak in a very lively jacuzzi. Big fluffy turquoise towels cuddled us dry after using the luxury products in the shower and then off to a meditation and concert with singing Tibetan bowls. 

The man asking them to sing was long time student of the art and buddhist scholar Andrew Lyddon. With grace and gentleness he stroked and rang the bowls, never letting the notes die on the air before starting another singing. The big gong that stood behind him as he worked produced the most extraordinary sounds I think I have ever heard with huge depths and complex yet subtle layers of sound that rumbled and danced filling Cowdray Hall with  harmonic intricacies that held and focused ones attention..incredible.

We were told that each singing bowl has its own unique sound that connects to an individual chakra and resonates with that chakra bringing healing and balance. They are used throughout the world to produce music, meditation, healing and well-being. Andrew explained before he started that the silence between the pause in his working the bowls was as important and as rich as the tones they produced..little did he know that the concert was to be held on the same evening as the local church would have its bell ringing session. It was quietly
amusing to hear his incredibly sophisticated and refined music mingling with the deeply familiar domestic tones of the clanging peals that echoed forth from the church bell tower. A rather lovely contrast of sounds but all part of the same patina of life in Midhurst that Halloween evening.

I have left these images small as they are so dreadfully out of focus..not sure what happened there!!

The bowls are played by striking the rim of the bowl with a padded mallet. They can also be played by the friction of rubbing a wood, plastic, or leather wrapped mallet around the rim of the bowl to emphasize the harmonic overtones and a continuous 'singing' sound. Rather similar to the principle of raising a single note from a wine glass but infinitely richer. Lying on the red mat is the smaller of the two gongs used by Andrew. 

We were told how any proceeds from the meeting would go towards completing the new Tibetan Temple being created in Barnet 

The Tibetan Yung Drung Bon Study Centre, UK

I just found this link on youtube so you might like to have a look at Andrew Lydden running a work shop

Friday, 25 October 2013

A muddy walk as autumn brews a storm for the weekend

last cheeky little October raspberry in a pot..
 As I stomped through the mud in my wellies..I couldn't help  but think what wonderful colour swatches lay around my feet.

And then I started noticing how many foot prints and other various prints there were embedded in the grey glistening mud.

Dogs leap into the puddles after their battered old tennis balls..

Bicycles leave their snaking patterns.

Birds have been waddling through the sticky mud. I would LOVE to see some pictures of ducks or geese fat feet in the mud. They are so iconic and strangely humorous...

All wonderful colours whether bright or dull.

The muddy track then gives way to this little lane.

The great ash tree is loosing her leaves..thank goodness as I still have clear memories of the big storm that caused such devastation as the trees were all covered in leaves that caught the wind like sails.
If you search the top branches of the stump of a tree on the right you'll see an owl house given to me one birthday and lashed aloft by my brother.