Friday, November 18, 2011

Life 101–The Busy Lifestyle

I’ve been neglectful again; this week has been hectic. We’ve been scrambling to get the last of our Christmas season pottery orders out, keeping the kilns hot. We also picked up our beef this week and had our big shopping day in the city. Then we came home to find the kiln had failed, indicating we needed to replace the heating elements. It used to be we could get several hundred firings out of a set of elements, but I guess the manufacturers decided they weren’t making enough profit, so now we get around seventy-five firings. The worst part about changing the elements so often isn’t just the expense of the new elements or the time lost with a failed firing and having to set everything else aside for a day; each time we change the elements the soft insulating bricks break down a bit more when we remove the old, misshapen elements and the bricks are far and above the greatest cost of a new kiln.

But that’s enough bitching. We’re having fun in the studio despite the crunch. We made some Christmas pieces this year, for the first time in many years.


We’re going to have to modify our delicious dietary experiments somewhat. Ben and I were comparing notes and figured out that we’re both having some gastro-intestinal difficulties going on. We have been eating so healthy for so many years that all the butter and cream was too much of a shock to our systems. So we’ll modify Julia’s way of cooking. It won’t be as creamy and buttery delicious as her official recipes; I’ll be using a lot of canola oil instead of butter, and milk instead of cream. I’ll report on how things go.


Also, part of the reason my schedule is so hectic is because I’ve started writing a monthly column for a small paper published in Missoula. I don’t get paid, but it’s a lot of fun and will be a good writing experience. It’s also good to have a deadline every month.


Life moves slowly out here in the wilds of Montana, but it does move if you pay attention. There never seems to be enough time to do all the pottery, writing, reading, exercising and recreating I want to do, so I tend to spread myself pretty thin. What a shame that my body doesn’t follow suit and that my somewhat ADD mind does. It seems the older I get the more interests I pull out from my past and decide now is the time to start doing it. I certainly don’t have more daily time now than I did when I decided to wait until I did have more time, but I have far less time in my future than I had then. I just woke up one day and discovered I wasn’t getting any younger and that, indeed, I was progressively getting older so a sense of mild panic set in.

I suppose it really wouldn’t matter to anyone else if I never published a book or created great pieces of ceramic art or read a pile of wonderful books; but, then, if I cannot do something worthwhile for myself, how can I really do anything worthwhile for anyone else? If I’m too busy for myself, how can I not be too busy to be helpful for someone else?







Ben painting tumblers for Wyoming 4H



Wedging the clay



Throwing one of the 4H tumblers



Putting handles on a bean pot

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cooking 101–Egg-free Chocolate Mousse

Well, my not-so-tight pants are tight now and my fat-boy pants are quite comfortable. So, Ben and I finally started our exercise program. Yesterday I jumped on the elliptical for twenty minutes, sucking air the whole time, and today we did the Biggest Loser Weight Loss Yoga video workout. Whoa, are we out of shape . . . again.

But, the mousse was . . . well, I can’t even tell you how incredible it was, because I’ll sound over-the-top.

I looked on the internet after reading Julia’s recipe and found several that sounded great, but they all used egg yolks and you can’t really cook the yolks or they turn to scrambled eggs. Now, as I’ve said before, I trust our egg supply because they’re home grown, but I cannot expect everyone else to trust their egg supply. On the one cooking website that addressed that issue, they basically said that, well, you do heat up the egg yolks to 160 degrees and egg whites aren’t usually as much of a problem and, anyway, cases of salmonella aren’t all that common . . .

So, I scoured through the various recipes and devised a recipe that didn’t use any eggs. It was a gamble, but I won on this one. And I won big. This recipe is actually easier than some of the ones I researched. It is rich and it is fattening, but it is worth it.

I used chocolate chips, as some recipes used, instead of baker’s chocolate because they’re cheaper and because I know which chips are good quality and which are not and I know nothing about the quality of the various brands of baker’s chocolate. I used a mid-line price, Nestlé's semi-sweet chocolate chips, and they were great. I advise that, unless you’re feeding your mousse to children who honestly can’t tell the difference between Hershey’s and  Dove, that you don’t scrimp on the chocolate. You get what you pay for when it comes to chocolate quality. The better the quality of chocolate that goes into your mousse, the better the mousse will be.


You will need: electric mixer (or a wire whisk if you want to whip the cream by hand), medium mixing bowl, double boiler (or a bowl to melt the chocolate chips in the microwave), rubber spatula, ice water or very cold tap water (if you have a well), spoon.


Melt 8 ounces chocolate chips in the double boiler, add

4 Tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

then dribble in

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

to the chocolate mixture and stir well. The mixture should be smooth and creamy; if it is not, add a little water to it (or a little more cream, since from a pint you’ll have 1/4 cup left over, unless you made the crepe mound for your dinner). Put the pan into the ice and water or the cold water in the sink or large bowl and stir to chill the chocolate mixture. If you put hot (or even warm) chocolate mix into the whipped cream, the whipped cream will melt and flatten out and your mousse will be ruined. But do not chill too much or the chocolate will stiffen too much to fold into the whipped cream. Once the mixture is cool to the touch of your warm finger, it’s ready, but should still stir easily.  When the mixture is chilled, set it aside.

Pour 1 & 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream into the mixing bowl and add

2 Tablespoons sugar.

Whip until just past the soft peak stage and the peaks come out a little shorter than the soft peak ones. The soft peak stage is what you would normally use for topping, but just a little more keeps it whipped well when you fold in the heavy chocolate mixture. Do not over-beat your cream, though. Some recipes suggest you whip it until the stiff peak stage, but the so-called ‘stiff peak stage’ when referring to whipping cream is what you get just seconds before you’ve beaten the cream into butter. Just ask Julia.

When you fold the chocolate mixture into the whipped cream, do it as quickly and as thoroughly as possible with a rubber spatula. Unmixed chocolate stiffens into hard bits, but over-mixing will flatten your whipped cream. All the recipes I read insisted on chilling the mousse in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and well-chilled mousse has a fine and buttery texture to be sure, but I sneaked a spoonful before I put it into the refrigerator and the texture was very good. We ate our first serving after chilling for two hours and it certainly wasn’t any sort of disappointment, though the texture was more like the classical texture of mousse the next day. And, unlike some store-purchased egg-free mousse mixtures, we ate the final servings today (two days after making it) and it was still holding its mousse texture and delightful flavor just fine.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cooking 101–Florentine Crepe Mound

I don’t know what ‘Florentine’ means and I changed Julia’s recipe around a bit, so I don’t really know if this would still be classified as Florentine, but I also don’t know what else to call it.

Anyway, as I wrote in yesterday’s post, making this was rather time-consuming, but it was well worth the trouble.  I cut the mound into fourths when it came out of the oven and Ben and I each ate a fourth, but it was rather heavy, so we were wishing I had cut it into smaller pieces and had served a side vegetable or salad to lighten the meal. Yesterday and today for lunch we cut the remaining fourths in half and each ate an eighth of the mound with, yesterday, a serving of green beans and, today, pork chops. By today we were acclimated to the heaviness of the mound, so eating a pork chop and applesauce along with the portion of mound felt satisfactory.

So, on to my recipe. Again, this is heavy because of all the butter and cheese, but it is certainly delicious.

You will need: rubber spatula, small sauce pan or small fry pan, 2 mixing bowls, a round baking dish or pie plate, knife, fork.

Make the crepes according to instructions I gave yesterday.

In the saucepan, melt

2 Tablespoons butter


2 & 1/2 Tablespoons rice flour

simmer the flour in the butter until thoroughly mixed, add

1 & 1/2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

dash of white pepper

dash of nutmeg

bring to a boil and  cook until thick, reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in

1/8 cup of heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup grated Swiss or sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup of parmesan cheese

set the sauce aside.


Chop and blanch or cook 1 & 1/2 cups spinach in the microwave, drain and set aside.


Soften one 8 ounce package of Neufchatel cream cheese in a mixing bowl, mash with a fork. Then sauté

1 cup chopped mushrooms

1/4 cup chopped onions

in 1 Tablespoon butter and a splash of canola oil

mix the mushrooms and onions into the cream cheese.


Pile the crepes into the pie plate with alternating layers of spinach and the cream cheese with mushrooms. Pour the cheese sauce over the entire mound, sprinkle with 1/4 cup more grated cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven for about a half hour until the mound is nicely browned on top.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cooking 101–Wheat-free Crepes

Actually, since my digestive system doesn’t tolerate wheat, nearly everything we cook at home with flour is with brown rice flour that we grind ourselves or a combination of our brown rice flour and Pamela’s Bread Mix and Flour Blend. With this recipe I used straight rice flour. Unless I note otherwise, you can directly substitute regular flour in all of our recipes.
Crepes are simple to make, but they take a lot of time. The crepe mound with cheese sauce we had for dinner last night was a joint effort for Ben and me and it still took over an hour. You can make crepes ahead of time and refrigerate them, then make the mound later, since it’s heated in the oven. I’m pressed for time this evening, so for right now I’ll just give you my recipe for crepes.
By the way, it took so long to make dinner last night (and the crepe mound is so rich) that I didn’t make the whipped cream mousse until this evening (and it’s incredible, so I’ll give you that recipe later as well).

This is not, by the way, quite the way Julia made her crepes, so they probably won’t be just like hers.
You will need a blender, a mixing bowl, a rubber spatula, a 1/4 Cup or 1/3 Cup measuring cup (this will depend on the size of crepes you’ll be making; I made mine about 7 & 1/2 to 8 inches in diameter, so I used 1/3 Cup; if you have a smaller fry pan and baking dish, 1/4 Cup will make 6 to 6 & 1/2 inch crepes), a small non-stick fry pan and a baking dish. The bottom of the baking dish should be just a little bigger than the bottom of your fry pan.
In the blender, put:
1 Cup cold water
1 Cup low fat milk
4 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 & 1/2 cups of rice flour
4 Tablespoons of melted butter (make sure it’s melted, otherwise you’ll just have chunks of butter in your batter)

Blend together for a couple of minutes and then stop to scrape down any flour remaining on the sides of your blender pitcher, then blend again for half a minute or so.
Heat up your frying pan (if it’s not a non-stick you’ll have to grease the pan before putting each measure of batter into it) on medium high heat (I used 7 on the scale of one through eight and then high) and measure out your crepe batter into your measuring cup. When the pan is good and hot pour the batter into the pan and swirl your pan around to coat the entire bottom. After about a minute and a half or two minutes flip your crepe over. I had to loosen the crepes with a plastic spatula for mine and then slid them to the side, grabbed the edge and flipped them over. About another 20 seconds to half a minute will be enough to finish cooking them.
My measurements of 1/3 Cup per crepe rendered a dozen crepes and it took about 35 minutes or so to mix the batter and cook the crepes one at a time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Life 101–Perceptions

The mound of crepes with spinach and cheese sauce is in the oven. The first few crepes were a little funny looking, but by the end, they were looking good, albeit not at all resembling a shape you could call round. I didn’t do everything the way Julia taught how to do it, but the sauces were delicious going in, so we’re watching the oven door and the clock pretty closely.


Yesterday we drove into Columbus to deliver pots. It was the first real snow of the season and we woke to the wonder of the enchanting beauty of a freshly blanketed landscape. The air was as crisp and cool as an iced glass of water on a hot, thirst-swollen tongue. A soft haze from the gentle snowfall filtered the whitened landscape, washed with yellows and greens from the grasses poking through the blanket and with the charcoal grey of sagebrush, trees, rocks and shrubbery in the distance, creating an image as illusory as a painting.

As we ripped along the highway returning home, the snow seemed to be flowing past us in a fierce wind, blowing and snowing with the force of a blizzard that made us shiver to see it when, in reality, the snow was falling with a rare gentleness, piling light upon the fence posts and wires.

How strange that our personal perspectives, seen through the filters of our experiences and built upon the base of a belief system, can paint life so extremely different than reality.

I have a related set of recurring dreams that just this week I began to understand. In the dreams I’m either wandering out of a church and cannot find my car, or I’m rushing through a shopping mall full of meandering people and I’m searching for Ben. I’m not actually lost, but I cannot find my way home. A third type of dream I have is that I’m at an airport with a group of friends or relatives, but we cannot all get on the same plane. Sometimes I’m on a plane with only one or two people I know, but usually I must fly alone on a very small plane that I have to board by climbing a long spiral staircase.

Writing these dreams down makes the meaning seem obvious now, but I woke Friday morning after such a dream and as I was drinking my first cup of coffee beside the wood stove I had a sense that I’m blundering through life in a filtering fog that leaves me blind to anything beyond my immediate surroundings and, so, cannot see which way to go. The problem, of course is that we humans are not gifted with sight that allows us to see more than our immediate lives. We have the media to show us what exists ‘out there,’ but we’re so caught up in our own immediacy that we cannot recognize anyone else’s perspective as legitimate.

What I want, then, is to learn how to see beyond my own blindness. This is not a goal or a project like the others I’m working on, because I don’t know how to go about it. But, then, if I don’t make it a goal or a project, how can it ever come to be? Perhaps it will have to be some sort of exploration through writing.

I’ll have to explore this further.


The crepe mound just came out of the oven, so I’m of to satiate my baser needs for the moment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cooking 101–Lesson 2

The second primary lesson I just learned (or maybe this is the third?) is not to expect people to eat a rich dessert right after a big turkey dinner.

The dinner was great and so was chocolate soufflé, but we gathered to eat at 6:00 p.m., so we were all still very full and half comatose when the soufflé came out of the oven. Soufflé doesn’t keep. Ben and I suffered through eating our share and also suffered for it all night, but Lori and Dawn couldn’t eat much of theirs, so a big portion of my labor of love (or would that be lust, for chocolate?) went into the compost pile.

And I figured out that I really prefer mousse over soufflé. Whipped cream mousse, that is. Soufflé is fun and delicious, but no matter what you put into it, there is that decidedly eggy flavor, even to the dark chocolate variety. Now, I love eggs and I love egg dishes, but dessert, to me personally, just should not be an eggy thing. So, I looked up mousse recipes on the internet, since Julia’s chocolate mousse is, essentially, an uncooked soufflé. We’re delivering pots in Livingston tomorrow morning, so we’ll stop at the grocery and get a few things and this weekend, I’ll make a mousse for dessert. For supper, I'm going to make a stack of crepes with entrée filling and cover it with cheese sauce before baking. This is a Julia sort of dish with lots of butter and cream and cheeseSmile with tongue out.

By the way, Ben and I haven’t started on our exercise program yet and we just relented – with grave reluctance -- to the weather and put our bicycles away. We’ve done few things semi athletic since our landscaping season ended,  but it’s getting late in the season and even though we haven’t been eating as many goodies as we have been lately, we haven’t lost any of the girth on our waistline emergency supply. But, then, as hard as we worked all summer, we didn’t lose much of that. Without working we’ve already re-packed what little we worked off. And, to make matters worse, I have noticed, from our big turkey dinner last weekend, the waistline of my tight pair of pants is pinching a bit more than usual. From a single meal! That’s something new.

So, the challenge to lose the extra on our emergency supply has just increased in intensity a notch or two. Yeehaw!!


Now that we can’t get into the mountains for a good excursion until ski and snowshoe season, I’m staring at them every day and longing for a good hike, so I’m reminiscing. Here are a few heretofore not posted pictures from this past summer.