Woman with a garden inside her is the title of this astoundingly beautiful watercolour by my friend and artist Adam Lee. I think it sums up well how I feel today, on this my 32nd birthday. I have been blessed with the most sublime and sunshine filled autumn weather, blue sky and green grass and leaves begin to golden. I have been surprised with a smoke bush tree to plant and the most beautiful hand written card from my husband. I have filled a jug with flowers from my local green grocer and various things from my own garden. I have felt the soft fibres of wool and silk and mohair in my hands as I make slow progress on a cardigan. I have listened to and read birthday wishes from the dearest of friends and family. I have drunk tea outside, twice and soaked in the goodness of the earth. I am glad to be alive //
there is life in the vine
in each and every season
our growing and remaining
a place to dwell in love
in autumn as the leaves fall
when mornings grow darker
fruit is stored for what will come:
cheer, loss, communion
winter brings frozen things
ground, breath, tired limbs,
when we are slow and needy
of every clear sky, of warming
springtime flush of green
life budding from branch and tree
and the steady hum of bees,
of children in bare feet
in summer work and play,
beating heat and flowering,
when days begin to sprawl
each raindrop brings relief
there is life in the smallest leaf,
in stretching and growing,
ripening and rotting,
in pruning and resting,
refreshing at the roots
each season is necessary
its own kind of beautiful
when we remain in love,
there is life in Him.
“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing, and all
the trees of the field shall clap their hands."
Today is the third Sunday of Advent where we consider the gift of joy! Joy is that deep down sense of contentment regardless of what’s going right or wrong in our lives. Jesus said that He came so that “our joy may be full”, that our wellbeing and flourishing is at the heart of God’s desire for all of us.
Like the gift of hope, joy is not dependant on what we do but rather it is a state of being. We know life will bring unexpected blows and losses, many of us have felt them this year with increased illness, isolation and uncertainty. Joy is not saying that our hardships and suffering don’t matter, it is acknowledging them whilst also turning our focus to God and trusting that he sees, loves and cares for us at all times. There is joy in speaking to babies who can’t form their words yet smile and understand us, there is joy in giving to others not expecting them to give anything back, there is joy in laughter and cheerfulness, there is joy in rest and a slower pace, there can even be a joy in letting-go of things and thoughts that no longer serve us.
Let us light the third candle on our Advent Wreath, the candle of Joy:
Thank you for the gift of joy:
that deep down sense of being well,
in spite of what’s going wrong in our lives.
Joy that lasts so much longer
than fleeting “happiness”
Thank you for saying that you
have come SO that “our joy may be full”
that our wellbeing and flourishing
is at the heart of your desire for every one of us.
Let us feel JOY afresh this season. Amen.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
I keep thinking about this poem by Emily Dickinson and that image of hope living in us like a bird, singing continually in the soul.
I've come to realise that the beautiful thing about hope is that doesn’t require us to do anything; rather it is a state of being. The hope that Jesus gifts us is born out of love, trust and connection.
We hope for our children and grandchildren’s futures; we hope for a restored, healthy environment that flourishes; we hope for inequalities and injustices to be righted, we hope for unity and peace in a divided people, we hope for lives with purpose and meaning.
Living with hope is living with knowledge that we have a loving creator, an advocate - God - who is working all things together for good - that what we see right now isn’t all there is, that the best is yet to come, and that we all have a part to play in our shared future.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13)
Let's pray as we light the first candle on the Advent wreath, the candle of Hope:
thank you for the hope we have in you:
the hope that does not disappoint.
Hope that is born out of love,
trust and intimate relationship.
Hope not only in what we see
but what we don’t see as well.
Help us to provide HOPE for our family,
neighbours and strangers this
Advent season through words
and acts of kindness, generosity
and love. Amen.
Today we celebrated Beren's fifth birthday! He is wonderful; funny, curious, strong-limbed, sensitive and we love him...
It seems like yesterday he was born; my autumn baby, my biggest baby (8lbs11oz), my shortest labour (3.5hrs), with a head of silky dark hair just like mine had been as a baby. When my grandma was told of his birth she said "Beren the Brown", and he certainly was as a newborn, but by his first birthday he was becoming blonde. Sometime between his first and second birthday his tight curls emerged and have stayed every since!
I knitted him a second stockinette snake (his first greeny-hued one was a Christmas present) - but this time in red, black and grey. A homage to the many, many red and black drawings he does at the moment.
He requested a "chocolate cake with lots of red and a red and black snake" - I made a gluten-free devils food chocolate cake with ermine frosting, and with the help of some marzipan I shaped a red and black snake and some rocks and toadstools. Raspberries and strawberries added some tasty "red" along with geraniums from the garden and sprigs of green mint and nasturtium leaves. He was well-pleased!
Our Easter Sunday morning special. This recipe makes enough biggish pancakes for 2-3 people. It can easily be doubled or trebled! The use of milk kefir instead of plain milk is really special, not only does it help the pancakes rise and have a fluffier texture, it also adds a yeasty delicious flavour which somehow reminds me of brioche. You can also use buttermilk or full cream milk with bicarb soda mixed in.
You will need:
1 large free range egg
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
(can be omitted for savoury pancakes) 3/4 cups milk kefir OR full cream milk
buttermilk with 1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda 1 cups plain flour mix (50/50 brown rice
+ tapioca flours)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
2 teaspoons GF baking powder,
Pinch each ground vanilla bean
+ ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons melted butter
In a small bowl whisk together flour and baking powder. In a separate larger bowl beat egg and honey together with a fork – then alternate adding spoons of flour and milk in small amounts, whisking well between each. Stir in melted butter. The batter improves if it’s allowed to sit at room temperature
for 20 minutes before cooking – but it isn’t absolutely necessary. Spoon into a hot frypan on medium heat (add a little butter before if not using a non-stick pan) and flip over once bubbles appear all over.
Try adding 1/2 cup of grated carrot with extra ground cinnamon and nutmeg for a carrot-cake flavour... or 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives for a lovely green-flecked pancake to accompany cream cheese and smoked fish.
I love the tradition of keeping a prayer vigil on Easter Saturday. Why not try making a simple candle wreath using a plate and greenery as a symbol of your commitment to pray - keep the candle alight all day if you can (in a safe spot!) like on the kitchen table and every time you see it flickering remember to pray for anyone on your list, for the world, or a simple thanksgiving for Jesus, the Light of the world.
You will need:
A large plate, platter or shallow wooden bowl.
Fresh or dried flowers, leaves, nuts, acorns, leaves, greenery.
A pillar candle or any other you wish to use.
Arrange flowers and leaves and nuts around the edge of the plate. Place the candle in the centre and light it as a sign of your commitment to prayer today. You might like to read this traditional Paschal Candle prayer:
May the light of Christ
In Glory rising again,
Dispel the darkness of
Heart and mind.
or read this lovely poem by Joan Mellings:
On Easter Saturday night,
A flickering flame burns bright,
The Paschal Candle a vigil keeps,
While the busy world is hushed and sleeps
My second offering for celebrating Easter at home is to try making doughy garden scenes using homemade salt dough. Find the recipe below or use your own favourite recipe. Gather sticks, pebbles, flowers, nuts, seeds and stones from the garden to use in your scene.
You might like to make the garden where Jesus was buried in the tomb, using a big stone to roll over the entrance. Use your imagination and explore the different textures and patterns nature can make in the dough. Big kids will enjoy this too!
You will need:
2 cups plain flour
1 cup fine salt
2 tbsp oil
4 tbs cream of tartar
2 cups water
few drops food colouring (green, brown, grey, whatever you wish!
Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture thickens and comes away from the sides of the pan. Tip out onto a clean plate and roll dough into a ball and let it cool before playing with it.
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.
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...
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...