Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Spice Tree

We went up in the mountains to get our Christmas tree this year. Okay, we got three trees -(hey, they were only 5 bucks each!) We have one in the living room, one outside with lights on it and I couldn't resist a little one for the kitchen. My friend Clarice at Storybook Woods always has a wonderful tree in her kitchen and I always love it so thought I would give it a try this year. I fell in love with the wispy, droopy hemlocks I saw up in the mountains and really wanted one. On the long drive home I decided I'd do a tree with just spices on it and I went through the bulk spice section of our grocery store in my head, trying to decide what to make out of whole spices. So this is what happened...
I loved the color and idea of a pink peppercorn garland but found it tedious and near impossible to string those things so I resorted to smearing raffia with hot glue and pressing the mixed peppercorns on as best I could. I drilled holes in whole nutmegs and strung them up with cardamom pods and juniper berries. I couldn't resist painting star anise gold and hanging them here and there along with whole chiles (Hint: When stringing whole chiles with needle and thread, please don't absentmindedly stick the needle in your mouth. Let's just say it's a bad idea.)
Did a small garland of cinnamon sticks, juniper berries and cardamom pods too. Then decided I was spending too much time on this and had to get back to other projects -like baking! (Note the Christmas braids cooling under the spice tree..) I didn't even get into the whole cloves and allspice I purchased. I also had dreams of an angel with bay leaf wings that never materialized. Maybe next year. This was fun and I love my little sweet smelling tree. I'm sure there are a million variations of this sort one could come up with. It was fun to work with natural materials and within the confines of a theme....I highly recommend this project. (ps-the tree is resting in an old enameled pot that's filled with gravel and water)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Holiday Needle Felting

Here are the latest needle felted dolls I recently created for a Christmas sale. These are sculpted with a barbed needle from 100% wool. The eyes and lips are also entirely made with small bits of colored wool felted into place with the needle. To the right is a tree full of holiday characters. You'll see a couple Jack Frosts, a brownie at the bottom, a playful little pixie or two and a jolly old elf in red. (Sorry pics are so small. Please click on photo to enlarge.)
Old Man Winter (below) is blowing up a storm of ice and snow. He's wired onto a wooden base. This is one of my first experiments with wrinkles and baggy eyes and I'm pleased with how he turned out.
And on the bottom left is a little dark haired angel peeking out of a felted sweater stocking. She was created for an annual gift exchange and I'm glad my good friend Mary ended up with her. I like her (the angel and especially Mary) a lot!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cozy Fall Recipes

Let the fall leaves fall
And the cold snow snow
And the rain rain rain ‘til April:
Our coats are warm

And the pantry’s full
And there’s cake upon the table.

-Clyde Watson

I often recite this poem to myself this time of year. This is how fall feels to me. These days we have a fire every day in the old wood cookstove in our kitchen and painted dolls dry in the warming oven. The freezer is full of fresh local meat and berries, the winter squash are picked and stored away and the winter vegetables wait to be picked at our convenience. Fruitcakes are made and aging to their best. I like to be stocked up. I like to cook hearty dishes and soups this time of year. The house is cozy, the orchard is bare and the air is brisk. Lovely! Let the cold wind blow!

When Autumn rolls around I often make the following recipes. They are favorites of ours and I hope you enjoy them too.

Winter Squash Custard (aka-”Pumpkin Pudding”)
This is like the inside of a pumpkin pie yet not quite so rich and sweet. Yet it’s certainly rich and sweet enough for my family to think it a great treat. The fall we harvested too many butternut squash from our garden I developed this recipe to help use them up. I modified my favorite pumpkin pie recipe to made a dessert that wasn’t quite so rich and sweet. I really prefer winter squash in this recipe as it’s much richer and sweeter than pumpkin . A butternut squash a little on the large side should give you plenty for this recipe. Hubbard squash would also be great.

To cook a butternut squash: Cut squash down the middle and scrape out the seeds. Place cut side down in a 9x13 pan. Add about 1 inch of water and bake in a 350 degree oven until the thickest part of the squash is soft when pierced with a knife. Let cool and scoop out the orange flesh.

3 c cooked winter squash
1/2 c pure maple syrup
1 c heavy cream
4 eggs
1 1/2 TB flour
3/4 tsp each cinnamon and vanilla
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
-pinch of salt
1 TB fresh ginger juice (optional-but I always add some fresh ginger of some kind!)

Combine all ingredients except heavy cream in a large bowl and puree with a hand blender until well blended. Add cream. Alternatively, mash the winter squash with a potato masher then add rest of ingredients. Pour into buttered over proof dish (I like a 9in round casserole) and bake in a 325 oven until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean-a little over an hour...

Triple Ginger Gingerbread
This is my favorite gingerbread. It’s dense and spicy. Best to bake it in a bundt pan or some other type of pan which you will turn over and serve bottom side up as the gingerbread tends to fall in the middle. This has never bothered me, however, or anyone else who has tried it. I think it improves by sitting for a day (even two!) tightly wrapped on the kitchen counter so it’s a good dessert to make ahead of time. It also freezes well. The day you want to serve it just whip the cream and serve!
I’ll give you the original recipe (from an old Bon Appitite magazine) then my healthier variation below. The variation really is wonderful and you won’t feel deprived at all. The variation would almost work well for muffins.

Pour 1/2 c boiling water over 1/2 c finely chopped crystallized ginger. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

3c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda’
1TB cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt

Whisk together in large bowl:
1 1/2 c sugar
1 c oil
1 c molasses
2 eggs
1 TB grated fresh ginger

Add the warm water/crystallized ginger to the wet ingredients and whisk to combine. Now add the dry ingredients to the wets and mix until just combined. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan and bake about 1 hr at 350.

Healthier variation:
Substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose, increase eggs to 3, warm water to 3/4 c, reduce oil to 1/2 c and use unrefined cane sugar (such as Rapadura) instead of white sugar. Healthier yet still delicious!

(Wow-two posts in two days?)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Folk Dolls, Mr. and Mrs. Apple

When I tell people I like dolls many of them proudly haul out a Madame Alexander or a fashion doll still in the box. While these dolls can be lovely they really don't excite me. What I want to see is the doll your grandmother made for your mother during the depression when money was tight. I want to see a doll that was made with more love and ingenuity than money and materials. I want to see a doll that was made to be loved by a specific child. I want to see a folk doll.
If you too like these kind of dolls then you will love Wendy Lavitt's book American Folk Dolls. I was fortunate to snag this book at a rummage sale this summer and I read it cover to cover, not missing a word. For the most part the chapters are arranged according to the material the doll (more specifically, the head) is made from (i.e.-Cloth Dolls, Wooden Dolls, Apple Nut and Bean Dolls, etc.) but there also are chapters on native American dolls and black dolls. Real life stories and historical accounts abound in this text making it very interesting and at times heart rending. Plus there are lots of great color photos!
I thought I'd share my very own folk dolls with you. Every year when I get Mr. and Mrs. Apple out of the box marked "Autumn" I appreciate them more. I think they're wonderful. This is an apple-headed doll couple busy in the act of pressing cider. These were made by a friend of my grandmothers and given to her probably 40 years ago. (I need to find out her name and give her credit.) My grandparents had a farm and pressed cider every year so I think the friend thought this a very appropriate gift. These dolls and their accessories were displayed in my grandmother's china cabinet for years and I remember as a child looking at their wrinkled faces, amazed these heads were actually apples. When I was young the faces were golden brown. Now (I'm almost 40) they're quite black and it's hard to see their little black eyes shining out.

My grandmother gave these to me a few years ago because she knew I liked dolls. Since then I've had plenty of time to study the lovely couple and their accessories and I never cease to be amazed at the ingenuity shown by their maker. This is not a dollmaker who ran down to WalMart's craft section to get what she needed. Let me tell you what she used. The details are amazing:

First of all the couple has wire bodies wrapped in old nylon panty hose, covered with homemade clothes. Hair is sheep's wool. Hands are wool stuffed felt, boots are hand stitched naugahyde. Mrs. Apple has lace-trimmed bloomers.

The basket holding the apples is a painted styrofoam cup with wire handles. The apples inside include painted salt-dough apples with toothpick stems.The cider jug is a painted medicine jar one would stick a needle into. Its handle is a piece of elbow macaroni! (I didn't realize this until I dropped it last year and broke off the handle. I was heartbroken until I took a closer look at it. Then I laughed and went to my pantry for another
"handle" to glue on. I still need to paint it.)

The apple press is made from entirely scavenged materials-
styrofoam, a plastic plant pot, etc:

The "apples" in the press are torn foam cushion.

The fancy looking black brackets holding up the bar are plastic, department store sock hangers!

The only things I can see that are specifically store bought are Mr. Apple's hat and the cat. I try to store them in very dry conditions but I'm sure even with the best of care these apple heads won't last forever. Maybe someday I'll have to carve new heads for them. I hope I can pass these along to my grandkids as I really think they're wonderful and true folk dolls. I hope you like them too. Thanks for letting me share about them!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wooden Dolls..in progress

To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn
There is a Season Turn, Turn, Turn....
This has been my theme song ever since my wonderful husband bought me a lathe. Have I mentioned he's the dearest man who ever lived? Well he is. He not only bought us a lathe but he patiently showed me how to use it in such a way that I would not harm myself or others. Very helpful! I hardly had to nag at all.
There's something very satisfying in making something out of nothing. This is wood that would have been burned in our stove. Who knew there were dolls hidden inside our firewood?
To the right you can see two dolls that I've finished turning still on the lathe and "blanks" scattered all around. This is how all the dolls start out.
When the dolls come off the lathe I cut them apart with the band saw then shape them using the belt sander. I sand off the back and stomach and leave the shoulder/chest and the hips/bottom alone so the curves look somewhat womanly. (Looking at the photo from left to right you can see the progression from unshaped to finished.-click on photo for close-up) Then I cut the bottom of the hips and leave a piece in the center that I can secure the legs to. The body is drilled and limbs are attached using a 3mm elastic cord. When made correctly the arms will hold in any position and the legs will lock standing up and sitting down. She sits very securely. She can't stand alone but hey, even that bottle-blonde Barbie has to be propped up!
I enjoyed the look of the woodgrain of the first doll I turned and regretted covering her up with paint (she's the green one). I decided I wouldn't do that again. I want to celebrate the wood, not conceal it. The facial features and hair are drawn using my daughter's PrimaColor pencils. Everything is sealed with good old shellac. Old fashoined and non-toxic. It's a bit shiny, though. Must dull that. I don't want to antique these dolls but I also don't want them looking shiny and new, either.
The color variations you see are a result of the different woods used. The light colored dolls with faces are vine maple. The doll with hair is hemlock. The unfinished ones are alder and hemlock. These are darker and have a prettier grain but they tear out on the lathe. The maple turns "like buttah".
I don't have anything in the photo for scale but I measured the standing doll. She stands 9 1/2 inches (50 cm) tall.
I always stitch a little heart onto the dolls I make for my kids. If the doll is for a birthday I'll stitch the age of the child in the heart. I'm ripping off Raggedy Anne I know, but as a child I loved peeking under her dress to see the red heart on her chest. So I thought I might as well color a little heart on the chest of my wooden dolls. I hope the child who ends up with one of these dolls discovers the heart and likes it.
Clothes? This is not my strong suit. I've figured out what dress and pantaloons I'm making but haven't made them all yet. Will show them when they're all done and ready for sale. Trying to do a production-line type of affair.
The backdrop for these photos is a shelf in progress made by my husband. He hand carved the gold star and we all collected the redwood cones that make up the textured inlay. He's carving some great stuff lately. I'll post photos of his creations when I can.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Embroidered Dolls

I've been communicating with Ana, my wonderful new dollmaking friend in London. If you love doll blogs you must check hers out. Her list of dollmaking links is exactly what mine would be if I had a list! Click here to visit her blog. Anyway, we've been talking about embroidered doll faces so I thought I'd share some of the dolls I've done this way. (For a closer view click on photos)
Here's Anne Elliot (I have an Austen thing going with some of my dolls) and little Bettina in brown. (Thank you, Judi Ward for the small doll pattern!) They're both made basically the same way. I sewed the skin fabric to the dress fabric before I cut out thier bodies. Then I just took some more dress fabric and gathered it round and sewed it on to make a skirt. I'm not a good seamstress and hate following patterns so this is how I get around it.

Here's a close up of their faces. Anne was the first doll face I ever embroidered and I like her wistful look very much. I love Bettina too. The blush on their cheeks is from Rembrandt chalk pastels. I've stained enough clothes with those things, I figured it would last on their faces.

To the left is a little doll in pink I made for a little friend's birthday yesterday. I think I tried too hard with her face and I'm not too crazy about it. She looks too sophisticated or something. It seems the harder I try the less I like the results. If I just wing it without caring too much about the results things seem to work out better! I'm sure this will all improve with experience. Anyway, she has painted ballet shoes. She's made from the same pattern as Bettina.

Below her is a gaggle of cuddly wool-stuffed velour gnomes I made for a Christmas sale last year. They are made in the Waldorf doll tradition with little noses, simple faces and pointed hats. They're very sweet. Sorry the photo is so dark.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Seaside Creativity

I wiped away the weeds and foam,
I fetched my sea-born treasures home;
But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
Had left their beauty on the shore,
With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar.
We took our annual vacation on the Washington coast. The ocean is wonderfully restorative and sets the creative wheels churning. I'm always inspired to pick up sand dollars, seaweed, clever driftwood and razor clam shells and to try to fashion a wonderful work of art out of them. Won't this perfect razor clam shell make great angel wings? Hey-I could paint a face on this sand dollar! How about seaweed hair? These ideas always work in my imagination but not in my hands. Also, I hate the seashell creations seen in the ubiquitous coastal gift shops-the tacky clam man with glued on googlie eyes holding a driftwood banjo, the seashell mosaics, you know what I mean. I truly believe that normally sensible creative people fall under a kind of artistic mind fog when they get their first whiff of salt air. They either believe they are capable of creating genuine works of art out of flotsam and jetsam or they think such finished pieces are irresistible and lay down good money for them. Five miles inland on their way home they look at what they made or bought and shake their heads with regret. "What the heck was I thinking?" they wonder. I'm telling you, this is a genuine undiagnosed psychiatric condition. I know because I suffer from it. At least I come to my senses when I get home. People who live in seaside towns are never cured.
I was better this year. Yes, I collected a whole bag full of small pieces of driftwood that looked like body parts so I could fashion an art doll out of them. I couldn't complete this thought, though as I had no way to hold the parts together. I had wire but no holes through which to secure it. After a few minutes trying to chip holes in the wood with a pocket knife then a metal skewer from the kitchen drawer I decided I was wasting my time.
So this year I redirected my attention to the camera . I loved how the water trails through the wet grey sand looked like bare winter trees so I snapped a couple photos.

Also, here is Sandy the mermaid when completed then the next day after the wind had drifted dry sand over her. I love the contrast.

I guess we just can't improve upon Mother Nature, right? But next year I'm thinking maybe a pressed seaweed collage would really be cool if I did it right...

Coming soon: Dolls! Finally!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Early Apples Make Easy Apple Crisp

My uncle knows apples. He's raised hundreds of trees, knows how to prune and graft like a pro (skills he learned from my grandfather), and is quite a connoisseur of apple varieties. He especially loves eating a good apple and has been knows to drive hundreds of miles to get his hands on a case of a particular variety he's had a hankering for.
Knowing all this, I thought he would know better than to stroll into the orchard one summer afternoon and head straight for the Yellow Transparent tree. Before I could stop him he bit into one of the greeny yellow fruits and began munching with apparent pleasure. "Oh," I said catching up with him, "Those really aren't very good".
"No, Yellow Transparents aren't the best." he agreed between bites. "But they're ripe!"
That about sums up the Yellow Transparent apple. It's the first ripe fruit in the orchard, ripening in Western Washington in July. They're so early I'm always a bit surprised to notice they're ready. This tree is a common site in orchards where the owner is trying to extend the apple season as long as possible by staggering the harvest. Now through October some variety will be getting ripe about every month. The problem is I'm just not in much of an apple mood in July-I'm still picking raspberries for heaven's sake! The Yellow Transparents are okay for baking if you catch them while they're a bit green and still on the tree but turn mealy pretty quickly. At that point they're only good for sauce. One thing I do love unabashedly about the Yellow Transparent tree is this: I suffer no guilt in cutting the gnarly, lichen-covered blossoming branches in the spring to enjoy indoors. If I sacrifice a few apples? Eh, no biggie.
All that being said I am grateful to have at my disposal many pounds of fresh, free organic apples. The following recipe is how I most often prepare them for my family. I never follow a recipe when I make a crisp and once you make this a couple times you won't either. As long as you remember what the major topping ingredients are and the fact that they're combined in equal proportions, you'll be home free. Use the crisp topping for any kind of fruit or berries. It's yummy. It turns any apple into a dessert well worth eating:
Easy Apple Crisp
3-4 pounds fresh apples, peeled and sliced, tossed with-
1/2-1 cup sugar (depending on tartness of apples) and
1-2 tsp cinnamon (to taste)
Combine the following in food processor:
1 c rolled oats
1 c flour (I use whole wheat pastry)
1 c brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt (1/2 tsp table salt)
Pulse above ingredients until combined. Then add-
1 c butter(or coconut oil) chilled and cut into small pieces
Pulse until butter is cut into flour mixture.
Grease a 9x12 (or larger) baking dish. Spread apples into dish then sprinkle topping over them, distributing as evenly as you can. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes-1 hour or until topping is golden brown and the apples are soft in the middle and bubbling at the edges.
Serve with ice or whipped cream. Enjoy!

Friday, July 20, 2007

In Praise of the Humble, Homegrown Potato

Here's one of the first pickings of veggies from our garden. It's finally staring to produce enough to make a dent in our food bill, which is nice. It's fun to "go shopping" in the garden. Yes, some of those carrots are purple! They're wonderful and the summer squash is delicious but it's the potatoes that have me exited this year. If you've been around me for any amount of time in the last 6 months you've heard me complain about the amazingly awful potatoes that are available at the stores. Organic, non-organic, yellow, red, whatever-They've been terrible. I've planned the potato patch this year with great anticipation. Finally here are the first of the Red Pontiacs. From one potato planted we harvested 30 in its place. They are lovely, thin skinned, sized from a cherry up to a tangerine. The kids love digging them-it's like a treasure hunt every time. They just needed a quick dip in the sink, a steam bath on top of the stove and a rubdown with a little butter and salt and they were ready for the table. Worth the wait? Oooh yeah....They were creamy and delicious and the thin red skins were almost crisp. The next day we dug more and I tossed them with a little olive oil and coarse salt and roasted them in the oven.
Maybe I'm appreciating my garden more this year because this spring I had the good fortune to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It helped me appreciate once again the wonders of growing my own and, if that's not possible, the benefits of buying locally. I've been taking our large garden for granted the past few years and seeing it as a source of work only. Lately though, I've been appreciating the garden, labor and all, for the beautiful place it is and the many gifts it gives. Could I save time and money and effort by buying potatoes at the store? Maybe. But this year the savings aren't worth the cost.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cynthia's Rebirth

This needle felted doll was a gift for my sister Cynthia for her 50th birthday. Cynthia's life has recently opened up in so many wonderful ways and she's enjoying it as never before. I really wanted to create a doll for her to mark this joyous transition. I had the image in mind for a long time of her being reborn out of a flower but I couldn't figure out how to pull this off in cloth. Wool proved to be the medium and the felting needle the tool that would finally do the trick. It slightly resembles her but the charm around her neck is supposed to confirm her identity-it's a moon (and also looks like the letter C!) and the name Cynthia finds its origins in Artemis, the goddess of the moon.
There's a wire armature in the doll and the flower. The flower's stem is glued into a wooden base.

Midsummer Elf

Here's a little fellow I made around Midsummer's Eve-June 21st. He's stands about 5 inches tall and he's needle felted with a pipe cleaner armature. He sits in a nest among some found eggshells, a butterfly and some blown eggs collected from my doves.

My kids and I love to read stories all about how the fairies stay up all through that short Midsummer's night and dance and play. The kids build the fairies little houses and leave out a little something for them to eat. This year we baked tiny little cinnamon rolls which they presented to the fairies on little leaf plates. The fairies usually leave a little something for the kids in return-a pretty polished stone or a poem or a small gift. This year the fairies found a couple very old pennies somewhere out in the yard and they left them for the kids among half eaten tiny rolls. How nice of them!

Mother Nature in Wool

This is a needle felted, 100% wool doll. I think she looks wise and kind-maybe a little mischievous, too. I like her face and the way her hair trails down her neck. It's hard to see but she has the words "Sun", "Earth", "Wind" and "Rain" felted in various scenes on her body as well as flowering vines.
She was created as a travelling companion for my friend (also named Rain!) as she and her family pulled up stakes and travelled around the country, looking for a more centered and simple life.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Welcome to my blog, Island Hearth & Handicrafts. I hope to use this space to document the various things I create and to share a bit of our life as we live it on our 2 acres on a beautiful island in Puget Sound.

Please bear with me as I muddle through Blogging 101.