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.