Tonight we are celebrating the Jewish New Year with home made challah and honey from our local farmer’s market. Here’s wishing peace, love and happiness to everyone of all religions, faiths or lack thereof .

Nick and Miri

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Hurricane Earl is about 189 miles away from us, hopefully continuing its West Northwest path up and away.  Nick and I are safe and sound in the house, all loose objects are contained, we have plenty of supplies including extra gas for the generator and a chilled bottle of Don Q Coco!

Apparently, the east coast of Puerto Rico is getting battered.  I read that our governor is cited as saying that the cutoff point for the hurricane strength winds is  Arecibo on the north coast (which is about 47 miles north east of us) and Ponce in the south.  Glad to hear it!  Here on the western coast of the island,  the wind gusts come and go in waves, as does the rain.  Honestly, so far this storm doesn’t seem much different from a heavy rainy season storm.  The jitters are there though, as I KNOW its resulting from bands of an approaching Cat 3 Hurricane…

Our power went out about an 1 1/2 hours ago when the rains started, just as I was in the midst of photographing pots and tests  from my latest glaze firing.   I’m very pleased with how my chess set turned out and can’t wait to challenge Nick to a game.  This photo of the set will have to do for now.  I’m sure you’ll forgive me!

Chess Set (Licorice Black and Raw Sienna). Chess board handmade by Lee Chesson

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  Indeed.  In glazing for my next firing, I came across two challenges.  First, I had my chess set to glaze.

Here they are, all 46 pieces nicely lined up on my mock-up kiln shelf.  We decided to glaze them with my most reliable AND favorite glazes (Licorice Black vs. Raw Sienna).  But how was I going to neatly dip them in the glaze?  My goal was to acheive even coverage (so no half/half dipping and no finger marks).  A challenge, no?

“Random stuff kicking around the studio” to the rescue!  I appropriated these tweezers for use in my studio ions ago and thought I’d use them as makeshift glazing ‘tongs’

However, rather than using them to grasp the pieces, I stuck the tweezers INSIDE each piece.  The  resulting tension meant the tweezer held on to the pieces nice and tightly, which allowed me to dip the piece upside down into the glaze.

All in all, the system worked quite well, with only two ‘jumpers’ (both operator error really…) which I washed off and will reglaze today.

The second glaze challenge had to do with a new ‘toy’ I recently acquired.  Nick was inquiring whether some of the small  items I make  (such as pendants or key-chains) could be glazed on both sides.  Well, yes, but that require a ‘bead stand’ (the items are strung on heat-resistant metal rods and suspended on the stand so they don’t touch the kiln shelves).  We decided this might be a nice addition to our growing arsenal of tools.  So how DOES one glaze items that get glaze on all surfaces? I have no idea how folks glaze beads and the like as I’ve never worked around anyone who does (and would be curious to hear!).

Well my solution was to cut up some strong wire…

and create ‘dip and hang’  wire glazing devices.  Worked like a charm!  🙂  If this firing goes as well as all my new glazing adventures, I’ll be one happy camper!

This weekend we celebrated our 3 year anniversary here in PR.  It is a bit strange thinking back to that very long day (our travel time from the UK, with layovers, was 28 hours…), how I felt back then (fairly overwhelmed…and then I stepped on a fire-ant nest….) and how much we have accomplished over the past 3 years.

We commemorated the day with some beach time, where I happily partook in some beach-combing.  Typical potter, I was after textures rather than just the “pretty factor”.

I DID also pick up a pottery shard (note the partial foot ring), which has been worn smooth by the sea.  I wonder where this pot started off and how long IT has been traveling????

While Nick enjoyed some downtime (i.e., football viewing) before we went out for dinner, I tried out my new textural finds.   I have some  keepers here, don’t you think?

The weekend was nicely punctuated by a neighbor’s invite to join a party on his Finca (farm) across the road from us.  Though he speaks no English, we’ve been “chatting” off and on over the past 3 years, waving ‘hello’ and sharing with him our progress on the construction front.  At the party (his sister’s birthday) we got a chance to practice our Spanish, lose (badly) at dominoes, eat some great home-cooked food and partake in a drink or two (including sugar-cane moonshine).   All in all, a great weekend that brought home the reasons we chose to move to this friendly and beautiful island.

Tuesday I fired my (tightly loaded) bisque kiln.  Thankfully, despite a strong thunder-storm, the power stayed on (as Nick said, I must have done SOMETHING good…”).  Yesterday, as I was planning to head down to the studio for an afternoon session, the power went out (and was out until a bit before 8 pm).  This lead to a bit of a schedule change…

Things you CANNOT do in a pottery studio without power:

  • Trim pots
  • Throw some more pots

Things you CAN do in a pottery studio without power:

  • Recycle and wedge clay
  • Clean (oh joy!)
  • Organize bisque-ware for 2 glaze firings

Chess pieces and test plates all mocked up for glaze firing

I’ve taken ALL my green-ware down to the kiln room and am getting excited about firing next week (fingers crossed for no power-outage longer than 30 minutes…).   I’ve got lots of test tiles going into this firing, as I’ve mixed up a bunch of new test glazes for my next glaze firing.

Though the traditional vertical test-tiles are great for basic information they can be somewhat limiting, especially as I’m often going after horizontal glaze effects.   Also, I do A LOT of testing, which translates into way too many containers of tiles that are pretty much good for nothing.  So, I’m now using a wider range of surfaces, to better test how my glazes behave (over textures, on flat surfaces when overlapped, with slips/oxides).

I try to keep the forms small enough to allow dipping in typical  test-glaze quantities (200 grams for me) but large enough to be “functional”.   Perhaps most importantly,  the forms should be quick and easy to produce.   Though my favorite form for testing is a small square plate (textured or not, depending on what I’m testing),  I’m also making petroglyph magnets and key-chains  which are easy to keep nice and small.    I’ve also made some molds out of local shells which are nicely textured and are excellent test items (and make pretty magnets too!).  Even if the items end up on the “seconds” or even “freebie” shelf, they have a better chance of  serving a functional purpose other than landfill…

What you’re favorite shape/form for testing new glazes?

Test “Tiles:  Plates (with or without stamps), shell and petroglyph ‘magnets’.  Some have colored slip recessed in the patterns.  And yes, gotta have the traditional test tiles too (but just one per glaze)…

My latest “secret weapon’ in our quest for ‘proper’ Indian curries (ok, proper UK Curry house Indian curries) is a book aptly named “The Curry Secret” by Kris Dhillon. Nick was sold on the “secret” the minute he heard that the book recipes help re-create what you get in a UK Indian restaurant, rather than attempting to make authentic Indian food as they eat it in India. 😉

The basic premise behind the book is that most curry houses use one base sauce. This sauce is prepared in massive quantities, and is then added to specific vegetables, meat and other spices to create specific dishes. The recipe to this “secret” sauce is the backbone of Dhillon’s book. Click here for a lower fat version of the base sauce…use vegetable oil and add another 4 TBS of it for the original version.

In case you were wondering, this is what 2 LBs of sliced onions (on a dinner plate, sliced using a mandolin), 2 oz of ginger and 2 oz of garlic (the main ingredients of the ‘Secret’ base sauce) look like:

Though making the base sauce is a bit time consuming, you can freeze leftovers, which I did in pre-measured portions. So far, I’ve made 4 dishes using my first base (and have 2 more cups worth of sauce in the freezer):

Chicken Tikka Masala: It was very tasty, and deemed the “closest I’ve come to a REAL CTM” by Nick. It was even better the next day, when I doctored it with a bit of sugar and some ground fresh coconut.


Bombay Aloo : Excellent…

‘Aloo Gobi”: I went a bit heavy on the cauliflower I think but it was still mighty tasty. I added a tomato to this recipe.

Chicken Jalfrezi : Flavorful, tasty and the most photogenic of the bunch! 🙂

And our verdict? If you are into UK style curries, this IS the book for you (and no, we’re not getting paid to say this) as the recipes make some nice, solid curries. It has definitely enhanced our home-cooked curry repertoire, though we’ve still not given up on trying to convince a nice Indian family to move to Rincón and start up a proper curry house…