down by the river
three boys fishing
long sticks make rods
a jetty of fallen logs
it's a hiding place they tell me
a mossy, lichen-licked place
a spongey, prone to crumbling maze
of willow stripped bare
and soon I feel stripped of cares
rinsed of the day,
in this golden, shimmering space
awake suddenly to a slower pace:
three boys, now bouncing
on a fallen tree,
frog calls, and the soft ripple of grass
magpies overhead "we need to find the secrets"
I hear them say,
"the secrets of the world"
Frost for the third morning in a row
I feel the cold air seep through
the window beside our bed;
And on the hands of my three year old
who comes into bed for a snuggle
I tuck his icy limbs around
my own, warm ones
I am happy to see it blanket the grass:
white harbinger of bright clear days,
sunshine on my cheeks as I sip tea
and even as I pull a splinter
out of my hand from loading wood
into the fire, I am grateful.
“The leaves are sparkling Mum”
And would you believe after breakfast
all three boys proceed to the trampoline
to “skate” on the icy mat - in socks -
and I don’t mind at all.
We’re all intoxicated by the beauty,
a crystallising of ordinary things
and strangely, something inside me
(the dread of winter, no doubt)
thaws and softens -
even as my fingers freeze.
Eggs and chickens are often seen at Easter - but what about trees, what might they represent to us at this time? Traditionally trees have been symbols of faith, wisdom, transformation and liberation. Do you know that the image of the tree is used repeatedly throughout the bible; Jesus dies on a tree - a cross made from the wood of a tree - just as it was said in the Old Testament. And like Jesus, trees give life - they provide safety, shelter, sustenance and substance. In the natural world trees have sophisticated root systems that keep the ground stable and nourish many creatures and fungi. Their leaves produce oxygen so that we can breathe and even their sap or resin can be used to make medicine and other useful things...
Try making an “Easter Tree” as a decoration in your homes to remind us of the life-giving power of trees and the way our own faith can start small and grow and grow.
You will need:
- a small pot, jug, vase
- sad or gravel or small stones
- a full branch - gum tree branches work well, so do olives or laurel branches!
- scissors, ribbon or sticky tape
-decorations such as blown eggs (see method below)
Support the branch in the pot or vase using sand or stones to keep it in place. You will want to show in a prominent place in you house like the living room or even the kitchen table.
Blown Easter eggs
Blown eggs are eggs that have had the gooey insides “blown” out of them. They are then carefully dyed, painted or drawn on with markers. You could even glue stickers or coloured paper on them. They are extremely light-weight when blown and make beautiful decorations to hang on your Easter Tree. Please supervise children while they use the safety pin!
You will need
- Fresh eggs
- A safety pin
- Plastic straw
- A bowl
Sit an egg in it’s egg carton or a egg cup to steady it. Next tap a push a hole into the top centre of the egg with your safety pin. Once you have made the hole, carefully push the end of the pin down to widen the hole. Insert the toothpick into the hole and turn it around inside the egg to break up the yolk and make it easier to blow. Flip the egg over and make a second hole on the opposite side with your pin. Try to make the hole on the bottom a little bit bigger - but be careful not to crack the egg as you go!
Hold the egg over a measuring jug or bowl with the bigger hole facing down. Gently guide the end of your straw into the top of the egg (or you can just use your lips!) and blow - runny egg should begin to come out of the bottom hole. It can take a minute to get going - so be patient. You’ll know it’s all out when the egg feels like and only bubbles of air come out. You can wash it carefully in some water water and then let it dry. Decorate it with whatever you like: pens, paint, dye, glue and tissue paper, stickers!
We drew on our eggs with crayon before sinking them into jars of dye + water. Once dry, we painted them with a thin coat of craft glue, then we attached a piece of string to the top of each so we could hang them on our tree...
My second offering for the Easter at home series is to try making these traditional sweet Easter buns – my version is not as sweet as the store-bought ones - I love to add extra peel and citrus zest but you can omit these if you wish. Gluten free of course!
You will need:
1 cup warm milk (any kind will do)
1/2 cup rice sourdough starter OR extra 1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp natural dried yeast
2 tablespoons sugar/ honey
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
2 whole eggs
1/3 cup psyllium husks
1/2 rice flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup arrowroot/tapioca starch
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 cups soaked dried fruit of your choosing.
zest and juice of 1 orange + 1 lemon
Whisk all of the above in a large bowl. Next add your flours, spices and fruit:
Stir to combine - don’t over mix as this will compact the flours: it should look like a wet dough - the consistency of thick, lumpy soup. Cover bowl with a clean tea towel and let it rest for 30 minutes. When you come back to it the mixture should see former and more dough like. The psyllium husks help absorb the moisture without making it too dry. If it’s still “sloppy” add an extra 1/4 cup each of the flours mentioned above.
Now, grease your hands with olive oil and scoop out a big heaped tablespoon of dough at a time - the oil on your hands will stop the dough sticking. Place balls close to each over on a baking tray lined with paper or dusted with GF flour. Once all the dough has been shaped into buns - cover them with a tea towel and let them sit to rise in a warm place.
Next make your crosses by mixing together:
4 tablespoons plain GF flour (or 2 tablespoons each of rice flour and tapioca starch)
2 teaspoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons water
Whisk together in a small bowl or jug. It should be a thin paste consistency. Add more flour or water as needed to achieve this. Scoop paste into a piping bag or a plastic zip lock bag (which you can easily snip the corner off). Pipe crosses onto each bun.
Bake buns in a hot oven at 190-200’c for 15-25 minutes depending on the size of your buns. They should look golden in colour when baked. While the buns are hot - brush them with warmed marmalade/apricot jam or honey over the buns. You need about 3 tablespoons of jam for the lot - I find this is a wonderful way to use up the jam or marmalade nobody seems to be eating. These buns are best enjoyed warm! Eat then within 3 days or slice up and freeze for another time.
Today was my birthday. I turned thirty one! And so enjoyed celebrating with a quiet day at home with my little people; the autumn sun shone brightly and there were plenty of moments to sit and knit and sip milky tea. I made an upside down pear and ginger cake and one of my favourite dishes - moussaka - using beef from the farm for dinner. Alex surprised me with a playlist of my favourite tunes from the last decade and a brand new axe! It is a really very lovely Swedish crafted axe and will make chopping the wood so much more enjoyable...
On Sunday we took a walk in the forest, we started out with no great objective or plan except to enjoy each other's company and the arch of tall trees swaying overhead, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the cool, earthy air all around us. Forests are magical places, and we are blessed to be able to explore the one the farm that touches the edge of the river -it is full of old oaks, elms, hawthorn, pine, holly, monkey puzzle, ash, willow, gum...
Alex brought his hatchet and soon found an elm sapling to begin shaping into a long bow, I brought my camera to capture living beauty all around us: lichen, red holly berries, leaves turning golden, soft green moss, boys at play.
We spent most of our time building a cubby - or "camp" as they liked to call it - under a low-lying oak branch that made a kind of roof over one spot. I rolled logs to make a entrance, and found rocks to form a fire-place while the boys looked for slaters and tiny spiders and bugs in the leaf meal. It felt good to put my strength into something, it reminded me of the years we spent building wigwams out of fallen eucalyptus branches in the paddock beside our old house. To be able to tidy up and fashion something creative at the same time.
Let's go again tomorrow we said...
Quince is my favourite fruit, and to my utter delight we recently stumbled across an old fruiting quince on the farm! It is the epitome of autumn for me, I love the rich fragrance of the fruit and the way it changes from pale yellow to deep red when cooking. People often ask me what to cook with quinces aside from the obvious quince paste and stewed fruit. I actually love to eat it in savoury dishes such as Moroccan-style chicken tagine or simply quartered and popped in around a shoulder of lamb set to slow roast. It lends itself so well to meat, but then there is this recipe too: quince tarte tatin (upside down tart). It is not a super-sweet tart which I love, and the flavour of honey on the quinces and nuts in the pastry is especially delicious! And gluten free of course...
You will need:
4 medium sized quinces, peeled, cored and sliced about 2cm thick
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons honey
For the pastry:
3/4 cup almond or hazelnut meal
1 cup plain GF flour (I use 50:50 rice and arrowroot flours)
1/4 cup sugar
100g cold butter
1 small egg
Combine flours, sugar, butter and egg in a food processor and blend until smooth and they form a ball of dough. If it’s too dry you can add a teaspoon of water / if it’s too wet add a tablespoon of flour and continue until you achieve the right consistency. Roll dough out onto a floured surface or a piece of baking paper and roll out into the shape of the pie dish or tin you will use. My dish is about 22cm wide. Set aside.
In a frying pan melt honey and butter together until small bubbles begin to form. Lower the heat and gently sauté quince slices, turning them with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes or until they begin to soften.
Place a circle of banking paper in your pie dish or tin: arrange quince slices on top and pour any remaining honey butter juices on top. Next gently ease your piece of pastry over the top tucking the edges down over the quince. Bake in a moderate oven 160’c for 45mins to 1hr - the pastry will look golden brown and the quince will begin to blush red around the sides.
Invert the tart on a big plate or wooden board and enjoy warm or cool with cream, greek yoghurt, cheese or by itself...
Autumn, she’s a gift to me
(and always my favourite season)
that soft sun,
slow golden unleaving -
she is the mandarin
I’m peeling with my hands
by the back door
(and all the pips I find
under my boys’ beds)
the sound of bees
about the verbena bush
she’s the morning frost,
the late afternoon walks,
sandpit tunnels, the birds
in the trees:
magpies, crows, kookaburras,
goshawks, willy wagtails fanning -
and the two black swans
that appeared one morning
in the dam
she’s the velvet ears
of freshly born calves,
the green spear-tips
of daffodil bulbs
the brownest, driest, heat-bleached earth
soaked with longed-for rain
and the burst of bright bright green -
she’s birthdays and busyness
chickens, eggs, children, dishes -
the dance of wants and needs and jobs
the first boxes packed, virus caught,
windows thrust open, weeds pulled -
she’s the steam of morning, midday,
afternoon, late afternoon and evening tea -
she’s the season of letting
what must fall away, go -
of sitting gently with old shadows,
speaking kind words to fresh fears
but finding beauty there -
and oh, in all those golden leaves…
have been so very mild this year
so unusually warm in clime
and yet for us - you are still
the crunch of leaves
the shortening days,
the leaving one place
and returning to another
a child clutching a quiet bird
a man dreaming for the future
a woman growing older,
hair longer, feet worn
leaf meal, egg dyed.
your ruby pomegranates,
quince and sugar plums
from the tree -
what was wonderful,
trying, thoughtful -
what will be
road, hill, city, breeze,
you are autumn to me.
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...