Monthly Archives: July 2018

Sgrafitto pottery

Sgrafitto pottery

My daughter Sam and I have been taking pottery classes at the Markham Museum for the past few months. It has a fantastic studio space with lots of tools and glazes. We have been making some great stuff, and it’s been nice time that we have spent together. We decided that it’s more about the process and enjoyment of making, more than the finished products.

I have been wanting to try this technique for years called, Sgrafitto. It is a technique where you scratch off a layer of underglaze or paint, from a piece of clay to make a design or pattern with the contrast of the white clay underneath. I have had a lot of fun with it and have spent hours and hours watching Netflix and carving my plates. Here are some of my finished pieces from last session.

You might be wondering why I would be making so many plates… well….I am so excited to tell you! The McLaughlin Gallery and museum in Oshawa is now selling my pieces in their gift shop!!! I’m not going to be able to retire from the money, but it might pay for my pottery classes, and I can cross off selling in a gallery from my bucket list!! Here is my display on the gallery shelves, and a pic of the gift shop, in case you are ever in the area.

Anyways, as much as I would like to go on about how excited I am to be selling in a real live art gallery, let me show you how it’s done!

I start with a hunk of clay..Then, I roll it flat with a rolling pin, just like play dough, or pastry.

Here’s a tip: if you are not that great at rolling out a consistent thickness, use a couple dowels on either sides as guides. They will prevent you from rolling too thin, and will make they clay the same thickness all over.

Once I have rolled out an even layer of clay, I use styrofoam plates to cut them out the correct sizes, and I smooth out the clay and the edges with my fingers. Then, I use an underglaze, which is basically a coloured clay, to paint the top of the plates. Most of the time in pottery, you fire or bake your pieces, then glaze or paint them and they are fired again. But with underglaze, you paint it on when they clay is still wet. This way I can carve designs into them before the clay is hardened in the kiln.

As you may already know, I have a few issues with hoarding things like egg cartons, and containers. One of the things I am unable to throw out is sushi containers. They are so pretty, and the perfect size for baking, so I just wash them, and store them in my basement, along with the other things I hoard. Anyways, turns out they are the perfect size for my plates! I make the plates in the studio, put them in sushi containers to take home, and then take them home to finish for homework. I am also using them to package the finished plates with my business cards. Here’s a pic.

So once the plates have a couple coats of underglaze, it needs time to dry…. like a day or two. I never start carving right away, I have learned that you have to wait a couple days until the clay has started to harden, so you don’t gouge the clay when you carve it, but it also cant be too dry because then you end up having to scratch the underglaze off the surface.

Once the clay is ready, this is the part I love! I turn on a Netflix show, or movie, and start carving! I do many different designs. I usually know what I want to do before I start, but I basically freehand the designs. Rather than try to explain, I have filmed myself carving a couple different designs.

Then, I let the plates completely dry, pack them back up in the sushi boxes, take them to be bisque fired, or baked. Once they have been fired, they are hard, but dull and need to be glazed. So I put three coats of clear glaze on each plate, send them in to be fired again, and that’s it!

I have to say that the for couple months that I have been doing this, my learning curve has been huge. I have gotten so much better. I’ve even tried some new designs like summer, and food…(since I know my family reads this, try to find the Tiny Tom’s donuts on the summer plate 🙂

The above two plates haven’t been fired or glazed yet, but I’ll try to share a pic once they are done!

Hope you enjoyed!

Blueberry pancakes and syrup

Blueberry pancakes and syrup

So, we have recently discovered frozen blueberries from Costco. They are grown in Canada without pesticides, and are so delicious, we eat them with a spoon, frozen. Delicious!

I have also used them straight out of the bag to make jam as well. Sometimes (only when we are out of chocolate chips) I toss a few in my baking as well. There is something about the way that that they turn everything purple that I love. Anyways, today I tried making blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup and they were delicious!!

Oh, and I almost forgot to share this amazing new pan John and I bought! Our stove has this weird element where you can connect two elements together… since I’m not explaining it that well, here is a picture…

I could never figure out what it is for, until we found this pan! It cooks 12 small pancakes at once!! Amazing!

So, back to the pancakes…. I make a whole load of small pancakes…

Then, put about a cup of frozen blueberries in a small pot.and added a couple tablespoons of sugar…I let it cook until it was a rolling boil…Then I mixed about a teaspoon of corn starch with a few tablespoons of water in a glass…Then I slowly mixed it in with the blueberries…

And it instantly thickened it up.

A couple tablespoons drizzled across a line of mini pancakes, was delicious!

Only took a couple minutes to make and was well with the effort!

If only we had some whipped cream to go with it!!



So, I went to Walmart to pick up Certo to make some jam yesterday. I asked the young man, “Do you sell the boxed Certo, for making your own jam?”

To which the young man replied, “You can make jam?

I’m sometimes amazed that in my grandparents time, people had to go to the store every day to get meat for dinner, because they didn’t have a fridge. People had to use the fruits and vegetables from their garden to feed their families for the winter, and there was no such thing as frozen dinners. But things have changed so much over two generations, that our generation is, for the most part, unaware of skills like how to make jam. And it really isn’t that hard, honest. If a zombie apocalypse ever does come, our generation is screwed…. or at least we have a lot of learning to do…let’s just pray that we still have wifi!

Anyways, I thought I would post how to make jam. This year, I’m going to post how to get a little creative with jam recipes. They really are pretty forgiving, andthere has only been a couple times over the last 15-20 years that my jam hasn’t set properly. So, hopefully these tips will help.

I bought a flat of over ripe figs for $5, which I thought was a great deal…ok, except they looked more like this…

So, I skinned them and chopped them up..

But, that only made just under two cups, which is not enough for jam. So, I found a couple of ripe mangos in the back of the fridge, so I chopped them up too.

Then I washed a bunch of jars, and lids, and tossed them in the oven at 300 degrees.Tip number one: this is the easiest way to sterilize the jars and lids. You leave them in the hot oven while you are cooking the jam. I added the mango and figs to a saucepan, mixed it with the powdered pectin and brought it to a boil.

The other thing I should mention is that if I am going off script with my fruits, and mixing fruits, or adding fruits like figs and mangos, that are not on the little recipe paper that comes in the powder box, I always try to keep the fruit at about 4 1/2 cups. 4 1/2 cups fruit and 6 cups of sugar has always worked for me. I know that sounds like a lot of sugar, which it is, but it’s not like anyone should be eating a bowl full of jam, just a teaspoon at a time.

Tip number two: the recipe always says to let it boil for a minute, but let it boil for longer. Make sure it comes to a rolling boil, and let it continue for 2-3 minutes. If you don’t let it boil for long enough here, your jam might not thicken enough. Then, I always measure my sugar into a bowl first.. this way I don’t loose count, and I can focus on stirring it as I pour it in.

Keep stirring it, and scraping the sides until,it comes to a rolling boil. Once again, let it boil for longer that what the recipe will tell you. The jam will foam a little and boil up a lot, increasing in size. Don’t let it boil over, burned jam smells horrible, and is not fun to clean up.

You can let the jam set and cool down for a couple minutes before you jar it. If there is a lot of foam floating on the top, skim it off with a spoon into a bowl. The foamy part is still delicious to eat on toast, just doesn’t look so pretty of the top of your jam jars.

I usually use a smaller measuring cup to spoon it into a container with a lip, or spout to pour it into the jars.

Tip number 3: fill 5 or 6 jars half full at one time, then fill the second half. Most of the pieces of fruit float, and if you fill one jar at a time, by the time you get to the last jar, there usually isn’t any fruit left.

Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe the rims of the jars to make sure there isn’t any jam to prevent the jars from sealing properly.

Use oven mitts and a towel to pick up the jars and tighten the lids. This is the part where I burn my fingers most often. The jars are really hot, and the jam is really hot, so you can’t do it with bare hands.

Tip number 4…my best tip of all. Turn the oven off, and put all of the filled jars back in the oven and leave them there for 12-24 hours. This will seal the jars… no need to boil them. In a few hours, you should hear the jar lids pop, as they cool down and seal.

And, finally, Tip number 5, label them ASAP. Trust me, it’s really hard to tell the difference between Blueberry, blueberry-banana, and Blueberry-strawberry jam by looking at them! Label them as soon as they are cool enough.

I order address mailing labels from Vista print, and instead of an address, I write, “This jar contains…” it is a pretty inexpensive way to have custom labels. I also order circle labels for the tops of the jars saying something like “made for you in the Viero kitchen”

Now that everything is labelled, come Christmas time, I just pull out a few bottles and put them in a little gift basket, maybe toss in some cookies, and give them out as teacher presents, and gifts.

I usually make 60-100 jars of jam every summer. I’ve only made about 40 so far, so I’ve got some works to do still. But, trust me, come December, I am always thankful that I put in the time now!

I hope I have inspired you to go off the recipe card, and experiment. But, if you have never made jam, strawberry is always the best place to start! Good luck!