Monday, May 22, 2017

Snowshoe Hare, Newcastle, Maine

All photos by Carrie White

I was leading a group firing at the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts last weekend, when we encountered this guy! This is a snowshoe hare. They are found throughout Maine but not commonly seen. They don't want you to see them.
It did what hares do: froze in place when it saw my student, and then sprinted away. Here are a few more shot she took:


I've seen them before in other years, at Watershed. Meaning no slur on the rabbit, it always strikes me how un-cute they are. Like, this is NOT the Easter bunny, or a bunny of any kind! Its proportions seem off, compared to rabbits we are used to seeing. Its head is small and legs long. A few other fun facts about snowshoe hares:

  • They aren't really rabbits at all! They belong to the same order of mammals -  Lagomorpha - but they are different species, like foxes and wolves are both canids, but different species. 
  • These are the kind you've heard about which turn white in the winter. 
  • They eat meat! They don't hunt of kill but will eat dead animals if they encounter them. That gives me the creeps, a little - it just seems so wrong. 
  • Eastern Cottontails - Maine's other lagomorph - are endangered but apparently snowshoe hares are still hanging in. 👍

We see all kinds of cool things at Watershed! I'll detail the firing adventure over at my other, pottery-specific blog, once the pots are out of the kiln.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Chocolate Bowls Update

If you, like me, find it encouraging to read about other people foibles, to know that other people are fuck-ups just like you are but they muddle through (so you can, too!) you should read the first entry on my chocolate balloon bowls. That one is all about the fuck ups. This is the got-it-figured-out part!
Lookie:

So, the quick-&-dirty is:
  • Use good balloons! Like, go to the Party Store and pay $5 for a bag of SHINY (but not mylar! use latex) balloons. Get the 5" ones. 
  • Use good chocolate, and melt only half of it. Then add the unmelted part & stir until it's all melted. This will cool the melt so it won't pop the balloons. 
  • Put a little blob of chocolate on wax paper to be the "stand" for the balloons to sit on. Forget the pizzelle cookies, they didn't work out. 
  • Rinse the balloons (obvs), dry them, and then spray the very bottoms only with cooking spray. I did one without this, and it worked but it was alot dicier. 
  • Plan to dip a second time, after the chocolate has cooled  completely, for thickness. Do not try to get them as thick as you need with one dip! (BANGSPLAT. Guaranteed.)




  • Here's the balloon removal process, the part that gets skipped in all the videos:

    • Put a piece of tape where you are going to piecer the balloon with a pin, to prevent popping. 
    Balloon shrinks as air escapes. You may have to gently pry balloon away from chocolate.
    Lightly squeeze and tug on the balloon to release it from the bottom of the bowl.

    That's it! That's all. Well: they need to be filled, in this case with frozen yogurt & fresh raspberries, and whipped cream. I learned something new and I got to eat lots of chocolate mistakes, so I'm happy.

    Update to the update: Here's what they looked like full. I assembled slices of raspberry frozen yogurt, whipped cream, nuts, and fresh berries. Putting the shapes, textures, and colors together is the best part, right after eating it. :)

    Saturday, May 13, 2017

    The Chocolate Balloon Bowl Adventure

    First let me tell you: there are about a zillion videos on youtube on how to make chocolate balloon bowls. If you want to try it, you should definitely watch those! And then you should come back here, and I will tell you all the difficulties that you are going to encounter, that those videos sorta gloss over.

    I decided to make these after a heavenly experience with chocolate balloon bowls at the Portland Pottery Cafe. I suspected it would be harder than it looks, but at first I thought I was pleasantly mistaken:
    I knew it couldn't be that easy

    Waffle cookies for the base: check.
    Ghiradelli chocolate, because it's more chocolate and less...not-chocolate, I guess? Check. Melt, dip, place on cookies...all so easy, all so neat! Who knew?

    Except...um, how do you get the damn balloon out of the bowl? I mean, deflate it, obviously, I did that; but the balloons just tore and the part inside the bowls stayed inside the bowl. No amount of persuasion would get them out of the chocolate bowl, and the bowls are fragile, so they fell apart with my efforts. Fell apart with the balloon shreds still stuck to them! Also where it did come loose it left a gross balloon residue, even though I washed them.
    I asked the chef at the PP Cafe, and she said, I dunno, I just popped mine & the came right out.






    I got another bag of chocolate for Take 2. This time I washed the balloons thoroughly with soap and water, rinsed them, and before dipping each one in the chocolate, sprayed them with cooking spray. I tried to make a thicker layer of chocolate on each one...that was a mistake. I also, when I ran low on chocolate, added some white chocolate baking chips so I could keep trying; also a mistake!
    Both the thicker bowls and the added white chocolate caused the balloons to pop and  splatter chocolate  all over the kitchen, which was not entirely unexpected - I was sort of surprised when that didn't happen the first time through. It was sort of hilarious and experiential, the first few times. After about the fourth one it was less amusing.

    I did get four useable bowls, which is fine because I only have one mother.
    The four good bowls

    All the videos just gloss right over getting the balloons out of the bowls, where as in real life it is possibly an absolute fucking deal-breaking disaster! Use the spendy balloons that are meant to be water balloons, wash & dry them, and spray them with cooking spray.

    Use the good chocolate, and only the good chocolate! I think the cheaper chocolate has to get hotter to melt, maybe? Which pops the balloons. You don't want the gooey chocolate-covered balloon to pop in your kitchen, or anywhere else. Melt half the bag of chocolate melting discs, then add the other half to them, to get the temperature you need. If you use the microwave (which, don't) be very attentive! A few seconds, check, mix, a few more seconds...or get this:
    A burned mess on one side, and not even melted on the other!
    Anyway! This might look like a disaster, but it was actually a fun learning experience. I kind of want to try it again - call me crazy - but I can't afford more chocolate! If I remember I'll take photos of the assembled desserts so you can see what all this effort was for.

    An Amazing Thing Happened on the Way to Project Kitchen Island

    To refresh your memory, yesterday I started a new project: transform Maine's Ugliest Dresser into a kitchen island. I had to empty the drawers to get started.

    Imagine my surprise when I discover this:


    That's right, a gift card...a wedding gift card, to be exact. From twelve years ago. For almost enough to cover the project! I checked it out to make sure it was still valid, and yes indeed it is! In fact I already used part of it to buy some tongue & groove bead board for the facing of the island.

    The rest of my materials list looks like this:

    • ¾" plywood, for top
    • Ardex Feather Finish, a skim-coat concrete surface. 
    • Dex-o-tex 2-part epoxy sealer
    • Primer (already have!)
    • Antique White paint (I think my sister & her boyfriend have some left over from a project)
    • Corbels, to support the wider countertop, so stools can fit under. 
    I think that's all! This is going to be easier than I thought...and it paid for itself! Almost.

    Friday, May 12, 2017

    Project Kitchen Island

    Ugly Bureau, front

    Even uglier back
    My house is what you might call vintage. Long in the tooth, if it had any teeth. Seasoned, perhaps, like a fine wine. Like a lot of older homes, it has a big kitchen. While not exactly a farm house - it's in town, in Augusta, and was in a row of homes even when it was built in 1888 - it is built in a farmhouse style: kitchen in an ell, so it doesn't heat up the rest of the house. As I said, it has a big kitchen (with a pantry! Yeah, you wanna be me but you can't be me.) But a lot of that space is wasted - just acreage that I have to cross between table, counter, sink and stove. The answer of course, is an island, but I get all balled up when I think about installing an island island: should it have electric? Should it have a dishwasher? Should it match my (painfully ugly) cabinets, and if not, do I have to redo all the cabinets or it will look stupid? What about the countertops? Everything spun out into a huge, overwhelming, and completely out-of-budget project.

    And then we gt a truck.

    There was a long chain of events leading to the truck, involving me stranded by the highway and a large puddle of motor oil in our driveway, but the short of it is, we got a truck! But when you get a truck, things happen.
    One of the things that happened was my husband decided he wanted to bring home his mother's Wurlitzer organ. She doesn't play anymore, and he does, so it made sense...and now we have a truck, so...

    The only place the organ would fit is in an alcove in our dining room currently occupied by the Ugliest Dresser in Maine. (That, BTW, would put it in the running for the national title. ) The Ugliest Dresser in Maine currently functions as sort of a sideboard on Thanksgiving, and a storage receptacle for junk the rest of the year. I was trying to figure out what the fate of the Ugliest Dresser in Maine might be, when it occurred to me: it's about the right height to be a kitchen workspace.  And about the right width for the space in the kitchen where my future island would go. Hmm and hmm.

    A little googling, and I discover I am not the only one to have this brainstorm. What this dress needs is some beadboard wainscoting, a different (wider) top surface - I am thinking 3/4" plywood with an Ardex coating? And maybe a couple of stools?

    So, for those of youwho enjoyed the Stair Project, watch this space: the Ugliest Dresser in Maine is about to become the Perfectly Acceptable Kitchen Island That Doesn't Cost a Mint!

    Calling All Mainers!

    Here's a new one: a Boston casting company is looking for residents of Maine, aged 20 - 70 who are active and love outdoor recreation. Sounds like me! Unfortunately I am not available on that day. But Maybe you are? You might find yourself in a commercial!

    Interested parties should email a photo & phone number to SlateRealPeopleCasting@gmail.com 

    See ya in the pictures! 

    Saturday, May 6, 2017

    Maine Pottery Tour


    Looking for something to do this weekend? The first weekend in May is pottery weekend in Maine! Ceramics studios around the state open their doors to the public during this annual event. It’s a chance to watch creativity at work and see the spaces where the magic happens. Meet the potters, peek in the kilns, maybe try the wheel or paint a plate, and shop for fine handmade pottery, from the hands that made it.
    Event hours are:
    Saturday, May 6th 10-5
    Sunday, May 7th, 11-4
    Except where otherwise noted

    2017 is the sixth year of this event, which began when a local potters’ guild, the Central Maine Clay Artists, decided in 2012 to hold their spring open studios event concurrently, to pool their promotional efforts. This year 39 studios, from Alfred to Warren to Phillips, will participate.

    “The Pottery Tour is starting to get some attention,” said organizer Lori Watts, of Fine Mess Pottery in Augusta. “Last year we had visitors from as far away as Minnesota. There was a couple from Massachusetts who visited every single studio.”

    Many studios are offering activities during the tour. The Potters House, a studio in Litchfield, will be holding a decal workshop May 6th at 10 am, and again May 7th at 2 pm. Tyler Gulden, a potter from Walpole who is hosting several guest artists, will be opening his kiln Saturday morning. Watts’ studio, Fine Mess Pottery, will be offering a drawing to give away a handmade bowl, and a chance for visitors to paint their plates with their own designs.

    Check out the slideshow for a sneak peek at some of the potters you'll meet on the tour: 

    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Portland Sky, May 2


    If the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were a cityscape, it might look something like this. With bonus rainbow!

    Friday, April 28, 2017

    Dessert at the Portland Pottery Cafe


    I've been meaning to post this for a while! A few weeks ago I hosted a date night event at Portland Pottery - couples spend an hour or on a wheel-throwing lesson, then have dinner.

    The dinner was great but the DESSERT was amazing. So amazing i am still thinking about it weeks later. A cylinder of mascarpone with walnuts, surrounded by raspberries, chocolate gelato, and a wedge of fruit pastry.

    Chef Manda does not offer this particular work of art every day. There are always a few cheesecakes, bars, macaroons, and cakes to choose from, but if I want something like this, I am going to have to make it myself. And where do we go to learn new skills? Why, youtube, of course!

    I decided I am going to try this for Mother's Day, when I will have a small but forgiving audience of family. Will keep you posted! In the meantime go say hi to Manda & Kevin at the PP cafe. Tell 'em Lori sent ya.

    Sunday, April 23, 2017

    Dear Holland Bulb Company

    Twelve years ago, I received a gift certificate for your catalog as a housewarming/engagement gift. I used that gift certificate to purchase 50 daffodil bulbs.
    These bulbs, when they arrived turned out to be the rarely seen foliage daffodil! For 12 springs I watched for the round-tipped, verdant blades to peek above the soil, developing the slightest blush of maroon at their edges; simple, understated, and lovely. They would spring up , cover the slope with their grey-green abundance...and then die back. It was a ritual. Anyone can appreciate a bloom. It takes a real connoisseur to appreciate a foliage daffodil.


    Daffodils are long-lived plants, and they naturalize and spread. I expected to enjoy my foliage daffodils for many years to come! But I notice this year something has happened; they seem to have been infected with a fungus of some kind! It's bright yellow, and ruffly...do you think it's related to those growths you see on trees? You know, Chicken of the Woods?

    I will say this: though perhaps a bit gaudy compared with the sleek, sophisticated bare foliage we've enjoyed for the last dozen years, these fungal eruptions - if that's what they are - are not without appeal. I was wondering: if these pose no threat to the health of the plant, is there is some way I might encourage more of them? Not to devalue our foliage daffodil experience, but I find the bright cheery splash of color quite charming!
    Any idea what it might be?

    Very truly yours,

    Lori Keenan Watts

    Wednesday, April 19, 2017

    Moose on the Bridge: Just Another Day in Maine


    From the Bangor Daily News:
    BELFAST, Maine — An unusual jaywalker briefly tied up traffic on a busy Belfast bridge Wednesday morning.
    Belfast police Sgt. John Gibbs said a moose crossed the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, which carries Route 1 over the Passagassawakeag River, shortly before 8 a.m. The lanky-legged animal jaunted over the bridge from Belfast’s East Side before continuing his trek south down Route 1.
    People heading into work captured the moose on camera as it swerved from one lane to another, slowly making its way across the span. 

    Thursday, March 30, 2017

    Maine Beer News


    I was delighted but unsurprised this morning to read that Portland recently ranked the #1 city in the WORLD for craft beer. YOU GO, Portland! I love Portland, and I love a well-made beer, favoring IPAs & lagers - less interested in pumpkin-spice and blueberry varieties, but hey, whatever floats your teeth.
    Portland is an up-and-coming tech hub, and those lads & lasses have expensive tastes and the money to satisfy them. Craft beer tastes, and craft beer budgets = 😋😜!!

    I was surprised, and even more delighted, to read that Augusta is getting a craft brewery of our very own. Cushnoc Brewing is set to open a location on Water St. this fall. I've been waiting & waiting for the booming economic health in Southern Maine - and especially Portland - to reach Augusta, in the same way that the economic health of Boston crept north to Portland in search of more affordable living options. I may have a long wait yet, but at least soon I can enjoy a craft beer half a mile from my house to pass the time!

    Not to mention a wood-fired pizza.

    Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    March 26 in Central Maine

    Photo by Monica Castellanos
    Last year at this time I was biking the rail trail. 😑

    Sunday, March 19, 2017

    A Twist on Tradition: Seed Ball Easter Eggs


    Given the holiday's roots - the name itself is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of fertility; and its Christian connection to new life and rebirth - that's what the egg symbolism is all about - I thought it made sense to create Easter Eggs that contribute to new life.

    These are made of clay, coffee grounds, and wildflower seeds. Toss them into meadows in April, when the showers will dissolve them and release the seeds. The coffee grounds provide some nutrients to get them started. Well-aged compost is probably better, but I didn't have any of that lying around.
    As a bonus, the wildflowers will help support bee populations, which need all the help they can get right now.

    For fun I painted mine with some food coloring.

    Here are the steps:
    Make a little pile of coffee grounds, and one of wildflower seeds, and a few balls of clay.

    Flatten out a ball of clay and press it, first into the coffee grounds...


    ...and then into the seeds.

    Roll it into an egg shape. 
    Can't wait for spring!

    Sunday, March 5, 2017

    First Crocuses, 2017


    For 11 years now I have been marking the end of winter - the emotional if not the literal end - by watching for the day my crocuses poke their tender heads above ground. Ladies & gentlemen, that day was yesterday! In an amazing coincidence, yesterday was also the coldest day of the winter so far. at around 5°F. This wouldn't have been my choice, if I were them, but I trust that they know what they are doing.

    I made sure to replace the blanket of dead leaves I pushed aside to get a peek.

    The earliest I've seen crocuses come up in those 11 years was 2012, on February 29th. The latest was March 23. This year is a little on the early side, probably because we got a deep blanket of snow before the real cold came, and because last week was unusually warm.

    Spring is coming now! There's no stopping this train.

    Friday, February 24, 2017

    Maine Musicians: Sonny Probe

    This is maybe my favorite Sonny Probe song of all time: 

    Colliding Galaxies 


    And that's saying something. I'm so fond of Sonny Probe I married him.

    Monday, February 13, 2017

    Snow Days are Soap Days

    Something about winter weather puts me in a mood to make soap. I work in small batches - limited editions, you might say - of 7 to14 bars. Sometimes I repeat a design, but, as with pottery, no two are ever quite alike.

    This batch is called Green Granite and Onyx, but I debated calling ti Sharp-dressed Man, because it has a light, slightly musky but definitely masculine scent.

    Will be available around March 10. Depending on the method, soap needs some time to cure, and for the lye reaction to fully finish. Will post the link here when these are ready!

    Meanwhile, it's still snowing. I need to shovel, but I still feel that urge to saponify! Maybe peppermint, this time.

    Sunday, February 12, 2017

    Ice Shacks on the Pleasant River

    See more about Maine rivers, fishing, and habitat preservation at the Downeast Salmon Federations' Facebook page.

    Tough Gig


    Even fluffy-tailed rats have to eat! We dedicated one feeder to squirrels, not entirely deliberately, but it turned out to be too close to the house for most birds, though a few brave little chickadees use it. The squirrels now mostly prefer this feeder - no cold metal pole to shimmy up! - so the birds have rodent-free access to the other feeders.

    This feeder, filled with sunflower seed, is close to the kitchen window, so provides hours of entertainment for the cats. Win-win!


    *If you look close, you can just see the tip of the Banana Boat, our canoe, sticking out of a snow drift. Dreaming of a summer day - not long now! - when we again put it to use. 


    Saturday, February 11, 2017

    During the Storm, After the Storm

    During our most recent Snowpocalypse, I felt the sudden urge to make soap! Today was the big reveal:

    I was a little worried due to a mishap that occurred in the making - I had gotten it all poured, with all the swirls and flourishes just how I wanted them, and then realized I'd forgotten to add the fragrance. There followed some frantic pouring and mixing (and spilling) and re-pouring, so I wasn't sure what to expect from the finished batch, but all in all I'm quite pleased. 

    The scent is After the Storm, and I'm hard-pressed to describe it...it's very fresh and clean. If I say, it smells like a patch of violets in the air after a thunderstorm, I sound ridiculously corny but that's as close as I can get. 

    Snow again here today (six inches, or what we call a "dusting" here in Maine) and then Snowmaggedon Sunday and Monday. Every time we have a major storm, it lands on a class day! This winter is getting expensive. I try to make up for it by getting into the studio and making pots every snow day but while that does represent income, payment is deferred until I finish and sell those pots. 

    Anyway! This soap, After the Storm, needs time to cure. It will be available March 9th (right around the time the first crocus greens will be up!) and you can be sure I'm gonna share the link to purchase here. 

    Mwah. 💋

    Friday, February 10, 2017

    The Frugalista in Winter: Sunflower Lard Cakes

    Suet cakes are not expensive items, but it's even cheaper to make your own, from lard and sunflower or millet seed.
    I never thought one way or the other about lard, until I started making soap. It makes a lovely soap with a rich lather. It also means I now have lard around the house. I have a block that had gotten a bit old - not rancid, but old fats will make a soap whose scent doesn't last as long. Waste is a dirty word at my house, so I found another use for it: sunflower seed cakes.

    Lard melts at a low temperature - around 85°, which makes it a bad choice to feed the birds in the summer. (It ain't likely to get to 85° today, though; it's snowing like a mad bastard.) I melt the lard in a pan on the stove, and pour it over sunflower seed in a mini loaf pan. I don't know if the plastic wrap is necessary - probably not, I mean, what could be slipperier than lard? But I didn't want to have to screw around with the mess if I was wrong.

    I popped the pan in the fridge, and then waited and...
    I use a bit of wire to secure the cage, because the squirrels know how to get it open!

    Two fit in the suet cage. Surprisingly, the one with the least lard - just enough to come to th ebottom edge of the top layer of seed - held together the best.

    Hoping I see my downy woodpeckers, but even if not, lots of birds enjoy a little fat in their diet, to help keep them warm during the Maine winter.

    Thursday, February 9, 2017

    They Always Come When it Snows



    Cardinals and mourning doves. They come for the sunflower seeds; then I have finches on the thistle feeder, but they are more timid, so I couldn't even get this good a shot.

    I have a suet feeder as well, but the squirrels - clever little bastards that they are - figured out how to open it, so that never lasts long.