Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ladybug Pie

Growing up, one of the holiday treats was "Grasshopper Pie", a cream pie flavored and colored with creame de menthe, with a chocolate crust. I had the recipe memorized for years. Its been in the family for years, and all of my siblings know it.

It turns out that I am alergic to FD&C Yellow #5, which is in the creme de menthe. I would make the pies every year, and just ignore the allergy.

Another treat while growing up was to visit the candy shop in Squibob Square, in Old Town, San Diego, where they had peppermint ice cream all year around. I'd get a scoop of peppermint ice cream with my mom. Julie and Stephanie like peppermint ice cream as well, and we make it every summer with our little ice cream freezer.

Last year, we finally ran out of creme de menthe. It takes a long time to go through a bottle when you only use three tablespoons per pie (and one tablespoon of creme de cocoa).

Rather than buy 'white' creme de menthe, we invented a new pie, made with peppermints. We call it a ladybug pie:

fourteen chocolate cookies with white cream centers (Oreos are too sweet, use Hydrox or a local brand)
two tablespoons butter
twenty-four marshmallows
eighteen star mint candies (the red and white ones)
two tablespoons peppermint shnapps (optional)
one cup heavy cream
one half cup half and half

Clear out a level spot in the freezer, large enough to fit a pie tin.
Melt the butter. Crush the cookies with a rolling pin (I do it in a gallon sized ziplock bag). Place the cookie crumbs into a eight to nine inch pie tin. Carefully mix in the melted butter, then press the crumbs into the pie tin to form the floor and walls of the pie shell with the back of a clean spoon, taking care not to get a cookie 'drift' at the transition between the floor of the pie tin and the walls of the pie tin. Place pie crust into the freezer.

Place the half and half into a double boiler. Heat under a low heat. Add the star mints, carefully stirring until the candies have melted. If you are using peppermint schnapps, add it now. Add the marshmallows, stirring until they have melted. Remove from heat, separate the double boiler, and allow to cool.

In a large bowl , whip the heavy cream. When the contents of the double boiler have cooled, fold it together with the whipped cream. Fill the pie shell, then return the pie to the freezer. Freeze for an hour or so.

We tend to keep the pies frozen. For a softer pie, you can chill it in the refridgerator.

Monday, November 21, 2005

One Rocket Blown to Smithereens

It was my favorite rocket, the last one I made, with the tight fins and the extra pair of stubby wings. The body of the rocket is a closed form, and I forgot to pierce it with my needletool to the inside cavity, to allow steam and gasses to escape.

It probably blew when we were candling. It was near the edge of a kiln shelf, so bits and fragments fell to the lower levels of the kiln. A salsa bowl caught one of the engine bells. One of the dragon vases has a few small chips out of the spine of the dragon, but nothing else was hurt.

We unloaded this morning, after Steph went off to school. I'm home sick today.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Sitter Fell

Julie went out to the kiln at 2:00, and the sitter had fallen.

We now let the kiln cool down, and then we can unload it, perhaps late tonight.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Now Too Dry

I went into the studio to trim the Cassius pieces. They were too dry. The rocket was bone dry, but the Cassius pieces were still cold to the touch. I wet everything down, then kept a damp sponge handy as I trimmed the pieces. The rocket body I wet down and wrapped in plastic. I'll check it again before I go to sleep.

We turned the middle bank of elements on Figaro to low after the first hour. We will leave the kiln on overnight; then I will start turning it up in the morning.

Candling the Kiln

We had a great day today. Julie, Steph, and I went down to The Ceramic Shop in Philadelphia to check out their raku kiln. We met two potters who were firing the kiln, Tom Droppelman and Peter Cunicelli. Julie and I had a great time chatting with them, and Julie got to see the raku process from end-to-end for the first time. Tom had mixed a purple steaked raku glaze that turned copper under reduction. We all talked glazes and clay techniques. Megan, the woman who was running the shop, also gave Steph a piece of clay to play with, which kept her busy while we chatted.

Needless to say, Julie and I were inspired. We went out for a late lunch and a little shopping, and when we got home, we cleaned up the garage, and loaded Figaro, our middle-sized kiln. The lowest shelf has garden tiles and my trout, the second level has my mugs, Julie's salsa bowls, and her batter bowls, and the third level is loaded with dragons and rockets. There is a little clay frog, made by a potter in Seagrove, North Carolina, for Stephanie, which is on the top shelf in the kiln, watching the kiln-sitter for us. We have turned the bottom-most of the three banks of kiln elements to low, and are going to allow the kiln to candle for a couple of hours. This is to force any water that is still mechanically bound with the clay out. The lid of the kiln is propped open with a kiln brick, the peeps are uncovered, and we will slowly turn turn the kiln up tonight and tomorrow.

It only took seven months since the wiring was finished, but we are finally doing our first bisque fire.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Still Too Wet

The Cassius pieces and the rocket are still too wet. We are planning to see Harry Potter tomorrow, so I will have to work on them Saturday. I'll pull them out of the damp box first thing in the morning.

When Julie was buying our new clay, she chatted with the people about the kinds of stuff that we do. They told her that they rent out the use of their raku kiln. I thought that I was going to have to wait until spring before I could pull everything together to build a kiln. Now it looks like we just need to bisque all of the greenware, and we'll be able to raku fire everything by the end of the year.

Julie's going to bring me to the store on Saturday, so I can check everything out.

Looks like I need to find my Seth's Luster recipe.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Too Wet

The Cassius pieces were too wet to trim tonight. Julie had pulled them out of the damp box at noon, and I didn't start looking at them until close to nine in the evening.

I threw a new rocket, set of engine bells, and a trimming chuck. I also rolled a small slab with the slabroller for fins. This one is going to be the rocket that Stephanie drew for me.

The covered raku jar was trimmed tonight as well. Its a pretty plain piece, but so dry that I couldn't attach handles or lugs to the sides of the base.

I placed the Cassius pieces back into the damp box when I finished this evening. We'll pull them out again tomorrow, to control the drying process.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Floatin' Like a Butterfly

Julie went into Philly today, and bought a hundred pounds of Cassius Basaltic.

When I got home from work, we heated up the leftover green chili from Sunday (an instance of 'Roadkill Chili', made with pork this time, pretty much the same recipe as Beachcomber Chili, but the pork is cooked first, the chicken stock is used to deglaze the pan, and then the pork is in the chili for the entire cooking period), I changed clothes, carried the two boxes of clay in from the car, and went into the studio.

Julie wanted a few vases so she could put dragons on them. She had cleaned up the studio last week while I was out of town, so it took me a while to find where my ribs, sponges, needletool, and cutting wire had been stashed.

I broke out a bag of Cassius, set it on the counter next to the sink, and opened it up. Cassius is a dark clay when wet, something like the color of a Tootsie roll, and is a little darker than Standard Clay 112. I stood the clay up on end, and cut off a slab of clay which was about a third of the bag (~eight pounds). I then cut a third of this piece off, and went to the wheel.

I tend to bounce the pieces of clay against the wheel head to blunt all of the corners and reshape the piece into something more or less symetrical before starting to throw. I had been taught not to slap the piece into a ball with my hands, since this can cause bone spurs in the potter over time. The clay is smoother than raku clay, since it has less grog.

The stuff centers and throws beautifully. My bucket of water got muddy quickly, but I could pull more of the clay out of the base of the walls and use it to raise the walls than the Standard clays that I have been using. I don't know if this is due to an issue with how the clay was stored (I suspect some of our Standard clay may have gone through a freeze cycle last winter), or whether it is some attribute of the clay body, or Aardvark clays.

I threw three pieces. Two were tall vases, like I had thrown for Julie out of Raku clay and the Standard 112. In both of them, I was able to use the Korean collaring method to narrow the pieces and make them taller. The third piece is a bottle, shaped like a volumetric flask. The walls of the base were nice and thin before I started to collar the walls into a narrow neck.

The surprising thing about throwing with this clay is how much technique came back to me while working with it. Raising, collaring, and teasing the clay into doing whatever I needed; it slides and glides beneath my fingers (this is REALLY sexy stuff to throw with), and my mind is flooding with memories and images from twelve or thirteen years ago, when I was throwing in Atlanta, which was the last time that I had touched the stuff.

I saved whatever scrap clay, trimmed rims, rib scrapings, and clay removed from the foot of the pieces before I cut them off the wheelhead so that Julie could make slip with it for creating her dragons.


Whenever I have thrown in the basement studio, my eyes and sinuses tend to dry out. This time, I also have a headache, and there is a funny taste in my mouth. I have read that Cassius contains a lot of iron, manganese, and titanium, so I'm wondering if I'm sensing or tasting these elements or their compounds from the clay.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Home Again

I was out of town from Monday evening thru Friday night.

While I was gone, Stephanie drew me this picture. Its like one of my rockets, but has four fins, engines, and there is a flower in a pot peeking out the porthole.

Julie threw an entire twenty-five pound bag of clay in one sitting, then trimmed them the next day. She made a number of salsa bowls and batter bowls (think of a mixing bowl with a pouring lip and handle). She also made some of her garden tiles, from plaster molds she cast over the summer. She had carved clay master tiles in preparation to making the molds.

My only other pottery activity was searching the city that I visited for a cone 4 moist clay, made by Aardvark Clay Company, which is matte black when it is finished, called "Cassius Basaltic". Julie would like to make some black dragon pots, and I would like to make some black rockets. The difference with this clay and our current raku pieces will be that the cassius pots would be vitrified.

We currently have two pieces in the house thrown with this clay, a small vase, and a bottle with a spherical base and a fifteen inch neck. It is shaped like a volumetric flask from a chemistry lab, but with the base of a boiling flask.

It turns out that Aardvark does not have any distributors in the state that I was visiting, but there are ones in Atlanta, Georgia and Alexandria, Virginia. I knew about the Atlanta distributor, Daven's Ceramics, since I used to be a customer there, and the next time we are in the city we can try to swing by to pick up some clay. The Alexandria site, near Washington, DC, is the closest to our home in Voorhees, and I could take a trip down and back in a day if I had to.

UPDATE: Tracking through the distributor site for Alexandria, VA, I found one of their stores is located in Philadelphia. Julie can pick some Cassius up for us this week.