Monday, April 29, 2013

Pizza cake

Ben has made a cake for the school carnival cake walk for the past several years.  I bake the cake and then assist him as he decorates, fetching him things and opening wrappers, etc.  Past entries were a cheeseburger and fries cake and a nachos platter cake.  This year he wanted to do a pizza cake like the giant pizza cookie we did for April Fool's Day.

I baked the cake in a flimsy aluminum pizza pan that I found in the baking aisle at the grocery store.  I was ready to make another cake in a regular pan if needed but it worked great. (Bonus - no cake pans to wash!)

We added some red frosting for the pizza sauce but that color in frosting is always kind of a let down.  Unless you're willing to dump a TON of the coloring in - which tastes really terrible - it always comes out a little bit orange-red.  We were able to fix that a little bit by putting the cake under the broiler for just about a minute.  The heat helped deepen the color and make the frosting look more like sauce.

Ben cut up little bits of black licorice for olives, we reshaped vanilla tootsie rolls for mushrooms, and used a circle cookie cutter to make fruit roll ups look like pepperoni.

Then we grated some white chocolate over the other toppings and put it into a cardboard pizza delivery box before dropping it off at the school.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Finally, a digital kiln controller

At the end of last year, I ordered a digital kiln controller.  I have always had to babysit my kiln and the idea of having the option to flip the switch and basically walk away seemed like a fantasy.  Most of the time, the babysitting went ok.  But there were definitely times when I over fired things because I got distracted and things got a little hotter than intended.  What I really hated about the babysitting is that I would get that jolt of anxiety that it had been too long since I checked it all the time.  So it would permeate my thoughts even if I was doing other things. 

Here's the thing about glass.  Heating it to make the beads requires high temperatures...anywhere from around 1200 to 1700 degrees.  When the bead is done and it's time to cool it down, it has to cool really slowly to allow the internal temperature to stay similar to the external temperature or it causes internal stress on the glass.  Stress can lead to cracks.  So even if the bead looks sturdy, there may be a weak point inside that creates problems later on.  The cooling process - annealing - takes hours.  And hours. 

I really wanted to order the controller from Arrow Springs, since that's where I got my kiln and they have great customer service.  I put in the order and got a message that they were waiting on parts and it would be a while.  No worries, I was December and realllllly cold at the workbench so I didn't mind waiting.  A couple of weeks ago, the controller finally arrived and last weekend I gave it a test run.   


I will still check on it occasionally, but not because I have to monitor the temperature.  More because that's my personality and I need to just be sure things are going as expected and nothing is on fire. 

Who would've thought this little box would make such a difference?  (Actually I did, because the cost made it seem like such a luxury - it would have been terrible to pine for a piece of equipment for years and finally spend the $400 for it and have it turn out to be less than amazing.)

The controller came with some pre-loaded programs which helps take some of the mystery out of doing some of my own programming if and when that time comes.  I can use the existing schedules as a template to build my own.  But I'm not even sure I'll have to do that for a least for glass work.  There are schedules already set up for annealing beads and fusing glass.

(Brace yourself for some really horrible's a garage, people.)

I haven't done any glass work for a long time and even though I know have to get through the learning curve and will eventually have useable beads, it's frustrating to feel like I'm starting all over with it.  Again.  These beads are all duds for various reasons....but I have to start somewhere.