Homemade Ornaments: Pinecone Gnomes

Homemade Gnome OrnamentI love making ornaments from found, natural materials. Cat-sitting for my crafty neighbor Jane last week, I spotted these little gnome ornaments she had made from the pinecones that fall on our neighborhood sidewalks, and asked if I could share them on The Tangled Nest.

Jane’s gnomes were inspired by this this Better Homes and Garden project.  But per usual for Jane, she made charming improvements to the basic instructions, adding eyes made with a fine sharpie, and rosy cheeks made from watered down craft paint.  She also added bells to the hat, and used a chennile ball for the nose, rather than the wooden ball you’ll find recommended in the magazine article, and wool felt for the scarves rather than pipe cleaners.

Pine Cone Gnome MaterialsFor Jane’s gnomes, you’ll need:

  • Colored wool felt
  • 1 inch diameter wooden balls for the head
  •  1-1/2- to 2-inch-long pinecones
  • Wool roving: light gray and/or curly white wool
  • Hot-glue gun and glue sticks
  • Embroidery needle and contrasting thread
  • Thread for hanging, and optional tiny bells

Gnome Hat SeamInstructions:

  1. For the hats, cut wool triangles 3 3/4 inches on each side; fold in half, and blanket stitch together.
  2. For the scarves, cut 1/2 x 6 inch felt strips, and fringe the ends.
  3. Hot glue the wooden ball to the flat end of the pinecone.  Turn up the bottom of each hat, fill with a little roving if you like, and hot glue to the top of the wooden ball head.  Add chennille ball nose, and eyes and cheeks if you like.
  4. Sew a loop of decorative braid or thread and a bell to the top.

This project is earthy enough for Waldorf folk, and simple enough for children to join in.  Here is Jane’s daughter Sadie with the gnome she made herself:

Pine Cone Gnome
For more handmade-ornament inspiration (including more ornaments made from neighborhood pinecones), see my post Six Simple Homemade Ornaments You Can Make.

Friday Links: Holiday Craft Projects

Drawstrong bagI’ve written before on this blog about simple gifts and “The Sanctity of Giving.”  I love gifts, and I don’t believe opting out of holiday commercialism has to mean a moratorium on giving.  This week I’m sharing a few suggestions from the Tangled Nest archives: craft projects that can bring a handmade simplicity to your holiday gift-giving. There is definitely still time to make anything listed below.  It’s a curious paradox–when I’m super-busy, pausing to create something by hand makes me feel calmer instead of busier.

(And when there just isn’t time for homemade, take a look at my 2011 holiday gift guide).

What are you making as gifts this holiday season?

Friday Links: Hobbit Home, Pigeon Code, Friendly Sharks

Maybe it’s the Hobbit zeitgeist, or maybe it’s the dark rainy Seattle days making me yearn for coziness–whatever it is, I want to live in this cottage! (Heidi’s blog details how she built it).

Hobbit Home

What’s not to love about this feature on the ten grumpiest authors in literary history? Especially since it leads off with my beloved curmudgeon Maurice Sendak.

Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter

Two lovely candid photographs of Beatrix Potter and her rabbits from Retronaut.

I’ve been following this fascinating story about a pigeon skeleton found in a British chimney with a Wold War Two-era coded message attached to it. NY Times: Code Found on Pigeon Baffles British Cryptographers.

I’ve started a Pinterest account, with boards that will be of interest to gardeners, book-lovers, chicken-keepers, coop-builders, vegetarian cooks, craft-makers, corvid-lovers, and more. Come see!

And finally, these local fisherman in the Philippines have made some remarkable new friends:

Previous Friday Links:
November 23: Beekeeping Donkeys and Rooster-Free Eggs

A Visit to Bluebird Grain Farms: Let the Holiday Baking Begin!

Bluebird Grain Farms produces the most beautiful and delicious  flours I have ever used.  So when we drove across the rainy autumn mountain pass a couple weeks ago to spend a few days in Winthrop and the Methow Valley, visiting the farm was a highlight for me.

We followed a winding dirt road miles out of town to find the farm, tucked into the hills and so picturesque, even on this foggy day with slush falling from the sky.  It’s truly a plow-to-package operation at Bluebird, where organic grains are sown, grown, harvested, cured, milled and sold right there on the 300 acre farm.

Brooke Lucy owns the farm with her husband, and walked over from their house on the property to show us around, starting with the shelves of fresh-milled grains offered for sale.  The signature grain at Bluebird is emmer farro, a nourishing, super-tasty ancient wheat, prized by modern artisinal bakers, and available whole-grain or fresh-milled.

Trading books, flour, and stories of raising daughters with the lovely owner of Bluebird Grain Farms, Brooke Lucy.

The first time I used this flour to make our favorite sandwich bread, we all stood around saying, “What is that wonderful fragrance?”  Even in a house used to the glorious smell of baking bread, there was something about this grain that was exceptional, and the bread wasn’t out of the oven, yet!  Come eating-time, you’ll find this wheat lends a complexity and flavor that you can’t find in off-the-shelf flours, even the usual organic flours.  Tangled Nest bread recipeFresh-milling in small batches is one of the secrets–these flours are meant to be used within about 40 days of purchase.

One of the many things that makes Bluebird Grains unique is their curing and storing process.  Until very recently in the long human-wheat history, grain was stored in wood granaries where, no matter how tightly constructed, some air flow and breathability allowed the grain to cure without becoming damp or moldy.  In today’s giant air-tight metal granaries, where huge amounts of grain are stored for long periods, the moisture in the grain is contained, and so fumigants are required to treat the wheat. Some speculate that the recent proliferation of gluten sensitivities may for some sufferers have to do with these toxic fumigants, rather than wheat itself.  At Bluebird, the small granaries are made of wood, and fumigants are unnecessary–the flours are as pure and healthful as you can get.

In addition to the emmer farro, Bluebird’s whole line of products are extra-wonderful.  I love their all-purpose hard white wheat flour, and while we were at the farm, we picked up some organic farro pasta flour, which includes a simple recipe created specially for this product.  Other offerings include cereals, pancake mixes, a variety of flours milled-to-order–and who could resist this time of year?–the most beautiful gift baskets.  You can find Bluebird Grains at in Washington and Oregon natural groceries (their website has a list of retail locations), or you can order from their online store.  For the committed baker, there is even a Bluebird Grain Monthly CSA.

For much more on Bluebird Grain Farms and all its offerings (including some delightful original recipes), explore their website, and subscribe to their E-newsletter.

Thanks to Brooke for the hospitality at Bluebird Grain Farms.  And happy holiday baking to all!


Friday Links: Beekeeping Donkeys and Rooster-free Eggs

Happy Friday! I’m trying a new feature where I share a roundup of links at the end of each week, for your weekend perusal. Let me know what you think.

Chicken Reproduction Poster by Amanda Visell via The Tangled Nest blog



November 23rd is Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day - The Tangled Nest BlogFriday, November 23rd is national Buy Nothing Day.  I hope you’ll join us in joyfully opting out of consumer culture for just one day.  Instead of shopping on Black Friday, we are planning to bake bread; practice our instruments and start working on some holiday duets (Claire plays cello, I play violin badly, we both play piano, and Tom plays, um, cowbell); go for a walk in one of West Seattle’s wooded parks (no matter how much it’s raining); and come home to a nice cup of hot chocolate.  Some friends are hosting a soup, cider and board games party that evening.  Sounds relaxing!  What are your plans for a lovely day of not-shopping?

Visit Adbusters for more information on the campaign, though this year I’m really liking the site for Buy Nothing Day, UK.  (International Buy Nothing Days are not linked to Thanksgiving/Black Friday, and so are being celebrated on November 24th.)


Rainy Saturday, Colored Pens, New Directions

I’m using a rainy autumn Saturday to brainstorm new directions for The Tangled Nest blog. More will be revealed soon!


Preserving Pumpkin (and 2 Recipes)

It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin.
–Mma Ramotswe, The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Pumpkins are one of my absolute favorite things to grow.  When people visit my garden and see the long vines with their ripening green and orange orbs, they often say, “I would grow pumpkins, but I don’t have enough room.”  A common misconception!  Unlike a summer squash, say a zucchini, that takes up a whole world of garden, sugar pie pumpkin vines can be planted at the corner of a bed, then their vines trained around the edges.  When the summer garden begins its descent into depressing barren brown-ness, the pumpkin vines will be graced with gorgeous orange fruits that turn our minds to cozy things–tea during a rainstorm, books by the fire, and of course pumpkin pie.  Preferably with hazelnut-rum whipped cream.


For best color, nutrition, and storage, pick your pumpkins when they are fully mature.  The stems should start to feel corky rather than moist and fleshy, the fruits should be full sized, and the skins should be rather tough–it will be hard to poke your thumbnail into it.  Cut them leaving several inches of stem, and keep them in the garden for a few days to “cure” before preserving.

Even if you didn’t grow pumpkins this year, you might find it satisfying to choose some pretty ones from your local farm and preserve them for winter cooking.  When you see the gorgeous yellow-orange puree you produce, you will never want to open a can of that brown Libby’s stuff ever again.

Pumpkins are not very acidic, so they cannot be safely canned in a water bath.  If you want beautiful canned pumpkin puree, you will have to pressure can it, and since I have a subrational fear of pressure canners, I freeze my pumpkin, which works perfectly well, even if it isn’t as pretty.  (For directions on pressure canning pumpkin, check the indispensable Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.)

There are two ways to prepare the pumpkin for pureeing:  roasting or boiling.  To boil, use a sharp serrated knife to cut the pumpkin into halves or quarters, scoop out the innards, save a little handful of seeds for next year’s planting, and the rest for roasting (the innards and a few skins can go to the chickens), then cut into large chunks and pop into a big pot of boiling water until soft enough to poke easily with a fork. Let cool, then skin.  The combination of a tough-skinned squash and me wielding a giant sharp knife strikes fear into the heart of my long-suffering husband (with good reason, I admit), so I personally use the roasting method:  use a fork to poke holes into the skins, then pop the pumpkins into a 350 degree oven for up to an hour, until soft.  Protected by their skins, the pumpkins are actually steamed, rather than roasted.  Let cool until easily handled.  Slice the fruits and remove the innards.  The skins will slip right off, and the pumpkins will slice like butter.  Many hands make light work, and it was fun to prepare pumpkins alongside my daughter.  Claire de-gunked the pumpkins and saved the seeds, while I sliced, both of us singing along with Abigail Washburn and her banjo.

One way or another, you now have soft, skinned pumpkin, ready to puree.  The intrepid may use a potato masher, but the rest of us will prefer a blender or food processor.  Having tried all three ways, I go with the food processor.  The processing should be easy, and the fruit should quickly puree into a soft, smooth, orange puddingy mixture.  If it seems to take forever, the pumpkin may still be too hard.  Even if you roasted it to begin with, hard pumpkin chucks can be popped back into boiling water if need be.

The prettiest color of orange...
The prettiest color of orange...

PumpkinFilling480Freeze in containers or freezer bags.  Our freezer space is limited, so I use bags because they take up less room.  Be sure to label the containers with the contents, date, and amount stored, and fill them in the amounts you most often use.  I pack most of mine with one cup of puree for pumpkin bread, and a few with two cups for my favorite pie recipe.  For easy storage in a crowded freezer, smash the bags flat, pile them on a cookie sheet, and freeze into a nice, stackable shape.

Be sure to save a cup of two for a batch of fresh bread!  Here’s my favorite recipe–all spices are “to taste,” and Claire, like many children,  prefers it with fewer spices in general.  I have grown to enjoy a nice gingery flavor alongside squash, but the cinnamon and ginger measurements could be reversed if you prefer.  This recipe works  well with any kind of winter squash, yams, or sweet potatoes, but I like it best with nice orange pumpkin.  If you use white whole wheat flour, the bread is even better the day after baking; the germ will have melded with the moisture of the pumpkin, the milk, and the spices.  So lovely.


Tangled Nest Pumpkin Bread

Whisk together:
1 1/2 cups flour (white whole wheat, all-purpose, or a mixture)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

In a liquid measuring cup stir together:
1/3 cup milk (or substitute water, soy, or rice milk)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, or the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat until creamy:
6 tablespoons butter, preferably unsalted

Add, and then beat until smooth (about 3 minutes):
1 cup sugar, and 1/3 cup brown sugar (light or dark)

Beat in 2 eggs, one at a time

Add, and beat until just blended:
1 cup of your beautiful pumpkin puree

Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk/vanilla mixture.  Beat only as much as necessary, but scrape the bowl sides and bottom as needed to blend all the butter/sugar.

Fold in 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

You can also add a handful of raisins if you don’t mind squishy things hiding in your food.  (If I liked such things, I think I would try golden raisins.)

Spread evenly into a 9×5 greased bread pan, and sprinkle more chopped walnuts or pepitos on top.  Bake in a 350 degree oven, until a tester comes out clean, about an hour.  You may need to put foil over the top to keep it from over-browning in the last 15 minutes of baking.  Let cool in the pan for five minutes before turning out to cool completely.  Meanwhile, luxuriate in the incredible pumpkin-spicy fragrance of your kitchen.

And here’s how we roast seeds:  wash the seeds, remove most of the pumpkin gunk, pat off excess water, and let them air dry on a dish towel for an hour or so.  Saute in a little butter, soy sauce, and splash of worcestershire sauce until the liquids start to cling to the seeds.  Transfer to a baking sheet and roast at 350 until beginning to plump and brown–somewhere between 7 and 15 minutes.


They are best eaten warm from the oven.  So delicious!  And, as Mma Ramotswe says, they’re a reminder of the simple, most peaceful, most essential things in life.

Favorite pumpkin recipe?  Please share!

November 2012: This post was originally published on October 20, 2009. This year, after harvesting the few little sugar pie pumpkins from our garden, I find myself turning to the instructions on my own blog for a reminder of the best way to prepare them for baking and freezing.  I see that this archive post has been popular as autumn moves into glorious fullness so I’m pushing it to the front page again.  Enjoy.


Reading to Trees

You will have to trust me on this:  Thinking about reading to a tree feels stranger than actually reading to a tree, especially once you get going.  The other day I walked to the wooded park near my home with a particular aspen in mind and a book in my pocket.  What does one read to an aspen?  Though I am sure there are many possibilities, the answer on this day for this tree was obvious. Keats.

If you read aloud to a tree, you will find yourself in the company of an uncommonly attentive, responsive, possibly even grateful listener.  And is the tree’s response (a singular stillness, a branching rustle, the dropping of golden leaves after a particular line, Thou art a dreaming thing, A fever of thyself…as if to whisper, Yes, yes…) real or imagined?  I know how I would reply to this question, but I am not at all certain that it matters.  We are always, and everywhere, part of a great conversation.


(Thanks to Flickr user rickhanger.)

How to Build a Cairn

In celebration of the new book, Cairns:  Messengers in Stone, here is a guest post from the author, geologist (and good friend) David Williams.  It’s a beautiful book–well-written, nicely designed, a delight to read and to give.  Here’s David:

Most of us know the story of Hansel and Gretel: Evil stepmother brow beats milquetoast husband into abandoning kids in the forest but enterprising son leaves a trail to follow home. The first time Hansel uses stones, which works, but the second time he drops bread crumbs, which fails, and the duo almost gets eaten by a mean old nasty witch. Ultimately the kids survive but perhaps they wouldn’t have gotten into this situation if they had done what many experienced hikers do and built a cairn.

It wouldn’t have been hard. A cairn is simply a heap of stones. Neither size nor shape really matter. Most often used in this country for indicating a trail, cairns are also erected to mark a grave, serve as an alter or shrine, or reveal property boundaries or hunting grounds. Built across countries and cultures, cairns have been an effective means of communications for thousands of years.

With such an enduring history, you can imagine the pressure for building a good cairn. Just picking out the right stone can involve many considerations. A cairn made of river cobbles, with their well-rounded edges, will look and have to be built differently than one made of sandstone blocks, which often break into nice flat pieces. Basalt and granite offer a third style, with their jagged, rough surfaces that often interlock well and allow one to build a large and very stable cairn.
Once you have your rocks, you need to choose the right spot. Think of a cairn as Madonna or Lady Gaga; it wants to be seen and noticed, so don’t hide your cairns where no one can see them.

Now you have to start to pile up your heap and like many things in life, with a good base the rest will follow. Start with big rocks, preferably tilted slightly toward the center, so that when they settle gravity will help lock the stones in place. You may also want to work with differently-sized rocks, which can also guarantee a stable, pleasing, and downright handsome cairn well worth the hours you spent on building it.

Various wild animals make good use of cairns. Cairns create shelter for insects, reptiles, and rodents. Weasels and some wild canines deposit their scats on the highly visible cairns as a territorial mark. Some creatures, like this chicken, just like to bask on the rocks.

Your work is not done yet. As the cairn rises, you must ensure that every stone has at least three points of contact, which prevents unseemly and destabilizing stone wiggle. All joints must overlap, or bridge each other, too. Finally comes the capstone. “Well, obviously one big stone rather that lots of wee ones,” writes folk musician and cairn-builder Dave Goulder.

One final consideration. Should you even build a cairn? From a ecological point of view cairns can provide habitat for a variety of species but you should be aware when acquiring rocks for your cairn. That rock might provide a protected haven for ground dwellers such as rodents, reptiles, or insects. It might also create ideal habitat for plants and lichens. And, if you have to walk off trail to get a rock for your cairn, you might be doing more damage to fragile ecosystems. There are also cultural and esthetic concerns. The rocks and/or the landscape may be sacred to native people. And in national parks from Acadia to Yosemite, there has been an epidemic of cairns with vast cities of cairns being erected in the backcountry. Some might feel this is a way to connect to nature. Some may find these spots to be offensive rock grafitti and not respectful of the wilderness experience. So no pressure.