Embrace the Handle

Many people, including yours truly, are daunted by the thought of pulling a handle for a mug. So rather than face the task with fear, I decided to pay special attention to my mug handles to see whether I could come up with handles that are fun to make. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1.IMG_20180209_113045But I will not be making mugs this week because Clayathon starts today!  And I’ve been looking forward to it for some time.  To read about past Clayathons, press here.

In Honor of the Eagles’ Super Bowl Victory: A Dessert to Knock Your Booties Off

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I live in Philadelphia and I suppose I would be remiss if I did not take passing note of the Philadelphia Eagle’s recent Super Bowl Victory.  Before the game started, however, victory was far from certain.  Knowing that the only other kind of “bowl” that could bring such joy to my husband was a bowl filled with something chocolate, I decided to make a chocolate creation worthy of the Super Bowl and so delicious that if the Eagles lost, we would still have the dessert as consolation.

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I searched the Internet for a flourless chocolate cake recipe and found one on the Finecooking.Com    The recipe is easy to make and held up to my minor alterations.  One thing I did was to use my husband’s favorite Icelandic Chocolate from Whole Foods.  He is trying to cut all milk products out of his4.IcelandicChocolate diet (for some reason, this does not include butter.  Don’t ask me to explain how butter is not a milk product.  But Icelandic Chocolate contains not one speck of milk product so it’s OK.)    The second alteration was to use a springform pan which makes unmolding the cake much easier.  I changed the icing too, adding cocoa and powdered sugar  And I serve the cake frozen. You would not believe how much better this makes the chocolate experience. That and an Eagles’ Super Bowl  victory. Here is the recipe:

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Super Bowl Flourless Chocolate Cake

  • 12 oz. Icelandic Chocolate (about 1 3/4 bars)
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 5 large eggs at room temperature (cruelty-free, please!)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 tbs cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s)

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.  Cut a circle of baking parchment to fit into the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan.  Spray the parchment and the sides of the pan with cooking spray and dust with cocoa.  I like to sprinkle some granulated sugar into the pan too.  Combine the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat until the mixture becomes thick and fluffy.  This is a simple step but I tried to find a site on the Internet to illustrate it for people who have not done it.   I saw so many different instructions that I gave up.   Here’s what I did: I threw everything in the bowl, including the cocoa, and beat the mixture for about 5 minutes with a Hamilton Beach 6-speed hand mixer using the mixing paddles and not the whisk.  I used the number two speed.    The batter fluffed up beautifully.  (Remember, my cruelty-free eggs were at room temperature. )  I scraped the batter into the prepared pan and baked the cake on the middle rack for about 40 minutes.  The knife I inserted in the middle had a smidgen of batter on it, but I did not want to over bake the cake, so I took it out.   I let the cake cool for about 20 minutes, ran a knife around the edges of the pan, and put the cake, still on the spring-form bottom, on a plate, and into the freezer.

Then I made the icing

I melted 1/4 cup of butter in the microwave, put the remaining 2 oz. of the Icelandic chocolate into the melted butter, and stirred the mixture until the chocolate was melted. Then I added 3 tbs of cocoa powder, about a cup of powdered sugar, and a tsp. of vanilla.  I beat the mixture with the mixer, adding just enough water to make it pourable.  I took the cake out of the freezer,  poured the icing over the cake and let it drip over the sides and returned the cake to the freezer,  When the icing set up, I covered the cake with plastic wrap.

Some recommendations

This cake is best served frozen.  You can eat it as soon as it cools, but it is so much better  when it’s frozen.   If you have trouble cutting it, try dipping the knife in hot water before slicing.   The cake is so chocolatey that a small piece will quell your inner chocolate monster.  In fact, this cake is too good, it will knock your booties off.  Go Eagles!

Pottery, Cats, and Clayathon

I’ll start with the bad news.  Boris broke the Picasso Vase!  He was flinging himself to the top of his cat tree to claim a treat and everything between him and the treat was, shall we say, fodder for collateral damage.  He got the treat and the vase hit the floor.   I repaired the vase today with some 23k gold leaf and epoxy (Kintsugi) and might still put it in the Fleisher Art Memorial’s 2018 Student Show.  We shall see.

In the meantime, I have been working on soliciting auction and goody bag donations for Clayathon 2018. There are going to be some wonderful items this year and one-third of the auction proceeds go to  The Center for Pediatric Therapies and Ron Lehockey’s heart pin project.

I donated some pottery last year and it was pretty popular so I decided to contribute two lidded vessels to this years’ auction.

 

The vessel on top is screen printed with underglazes and the lower one is painted with underglazes.    The vessels are hand built using the tarpaper technique.

Here’s a  picture of the vessels before they were painted and a picture of the finished vessel I showed you in the tarpaper technique post.    I call it the Sassy Box and plan to make some mug handles with the same design as the handle on the Sassy Box lid.

Octavius Catto’s Quest For Parity

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Philadelphia unveiled its first public monument to an African-American in September 2017.  “A Quest For Parity” is located on the south apron of Philadelphia City Hall.

Who was Octavius Catto?  He was an athlete: He established the first successful African-American baseball club in Philadelphia.  He was an activist and a key figure in the protests that led to the desegregation of streetcars in Philadelphia.   He was an educator, teaching at the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth.  He was a soldier: when the Confederates invaded Pennsylvania in 1863, he raised a company of Black soldiers, one of the first volunteer regiments of volunteers in the Commonwealth.   He served as a  Major and raised a total of eleven regiments during the war.  

 

I ‘ve always thought of Octavius Catto as a Philadelphian even though he was born in South Carolina.  He settled in Philadelphia and met his fiance Sarah Le Count here.   The building that housed the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth still stands on Bainbridge  Street a few blocks from my home, as does the spot on South Street where Catto was gunned down in an election day riot in October 1871.  He was 32 years old. Too soon for his work to be done.

The statue of Catto is beautifully rendered by sculptor Branly Cadet who designed and executed the monument.  The picture at the top of this post shows the gleaming metal ball that sits in front of the statute and reflects Catto, Philadelphia, and the passers-by. 

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The twelve-foot bronze statue is imposing and lifelike; Catto seems about to tip off the pedestal.   Is he running?  Is he making an impassioned speech?  Cadet aptly portrays   Catto as a man of action, an activist, passionate and relentless.

 

If you find yourself in Philadelphia, go see the monument.    To read more about the monument and the artist, press here.  To see a documentary film about Octavius Catto, press here.

 

 

A Cure for My Wintertime Blues

I lost my hat.  I lost my favorite hat.  I suppose I should be seriously bummed but, with all the problems in the world, it’s not worth the effort it would take. Besides,  the loss of my beloved chapeau has given me the opportunity to go hat shopping. Traditionally,  I acquire my hats in one of three ways: online shopping, someone gives me a hat, or I find the hat.  Literally, find the hat.  I found my favorite hat on trash collection day a few years ago.  It was tucked into a Neiman Marcus box that was sitting on top of a pile of garbage.  I could not resist looking into the Neiman Marcus box and there was my hat.  It needed no adornment.  I could wear it right out of the box.  And wear it I did during the cold weather.  I have one more hat (given to me by a woman I hardly know) that I wear during the coldest weather.  I have an in-between hat.  I bought this hat in a store, but after I brought it home I put it away and could not find it for two years.  And then I set it on fire by accident.  Don’t ask.  It is a small hole in the brim.  I sewed it shut and no one notices it until I point it out.  Which I do.  And I have some summer hats.

So I have been auditioning new hats.  I like to decorate my hats with flowers made from cloth or felt.  Which brings me to the cure for my wintertime blues that is the title of this post.  Homemade bread and soup are good for the wintertime blues,  but they reinforce the fact that it’s winter.  Flowers, on the other hand,  even felt ones, point to the Spring and Summer that are sure to come.12.BigGroup2_1

So I have been making felt flowers.  Once I start doing something like this, I can’t stop.  (Before I got on this kick, I was making stacking rings like there was no tomorrow and only stopped because I filed holes in my thumbs and I had to let them heal. ) (And now I have thumb protectors.)

Needle felting can be tough on your fingers.  (I prefer needle felting to wet felting.)  I have gloves and finger cots and finger shields, but so far have managed to not innoculate myself with the felting needles.    I use felt sheets that I make from fulled 100% wool sweaters and scarves, and I adorn the flowers with roving, wool yarn and bits of craft felt.   I have not seen anyone who makes felt flowers in quite this way so I will post a tutorial sometime in the future.

You could use the flowers as brooches or corsages.  Each one as a pin sewn on the back.  But I prefer to use them to decorate hats,  Here are some pictures of my hats festooned with felted flowers.  Spring is just around the corner.

 

 

The Picasso Vase

I made a Picasso vase.  Or rather, the other people in the studio started calling the vase The Picasso Vase before I ever thought of it.  Probably because of the shape which would have been impossible to achieve without the tar paper technique (which I also used to make the menorah.)
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You can from the picture above see how difficult it would have been to support the vase in its wet state without the tar paper to support it.  It was three wet slabs with beveled edges, scored and pinched together.

 

    Paper covered vase on left (upside down).  Bone dry vase before bisque firing on the right.

If the vase was to be an homage to Picasso, I needed to decorate it with Picasso-style images.  I decided on a cat, a mouse, and a fish.   Here are some preliminary sketches I made for the mouse.  I started with realistic drawings and got more abstract as I went.

 

I had no problem deciding on the cat portion and the fish came to me all at once.

 

Here are the designs for the mouse and fish,  drawn on the bisque-fired vase with an underglaze pencil.

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The cat in progress.  I used underglaze chalks and liquid underglazes for color.

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        Right out of the kiln.

 

 

The finished vase.

 

New Year, New Look

I’ve given the blog a new, cleaner look.  I’m  still tweaking and plan to try CSS used CSS to make some more changes.  I’ve  designed a new logo and watermark and a new pull-down menu in the travel category.  I have added links to the tutorial category.   

And now for the tip of the week.   I needed a box for a small gift on New Year’s day and found that a toilet paper roll is a good substitute in a pinch if you have some pretty ribbon to tie it with.  The gift was a porcelain pendant on a silver chain.  I wrapped it with tissue paper and it fit nicely into the box.
 

 

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I could also see taping wrapping paper around the toilet paper roll.  You’d  tuck the paper in the sides of the roll and tie the whole thing up with a ribbon.

Happy New Year

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Christmas at Laurel Hill

Laurel Hill Mansion in Fairmont Park is all decked out for the holidays.  This year’s theme is “Celebrating 250 Years of Designing Women.”  The Christmas Tree in the main room is decorated with ornaments showing women’s fashion plated from Godey’s Lady’s Book.  If you never heard of Godey’s Lady’s Book, you are in for a surprise.  Godey’s was the premier woman’s fashion magazine in the United States from  1837 to 1898.   But it  was more than a magazine.  Women relied on it for information and articles on everything from cooking to housekeeping to health to etiquette.  It contained sheet music, short stories, book reviews, etchings and essays by the leading intellectuals of the day.    Its female editor, Sarah J.  Hale, wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and convinced President Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.   Hale was also a trend setter who knew what her readers wanted. In 1850, she started a fad when she introduced the American public to the Christmas tree when she published a picture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert  and their family gathered around their holiday tree.  

Here are some pictures of Laurel Hill.

If you want to take a look at Godey’s Lady’s Book,  press here.  You can download articles and other materials here. And enjoy your holiday.

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The Menorah . . . and Boris

I made a menorah for my stepson and his family to welcome them into their new home.  The shape of the menorah was inspired by a vase I was working on (still unfinished) and I used the tar paper technique of hand building ceramic shapes that I described earlier in the year.  

Here are some construction pictures.  The menorah is hollow.

And here is a picture of the final product after bisque firing and glazing.

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Ever wonder what happens if you give a cat a dreidel?  If he’s Boris he’ll play for treats and clean you out.

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Happy Holidays!