Walking in the forest on an autumn afternoon. The gentle sun filters through every crack and bug-eaten leaf. It is a lesson in shadow and light, in life and decay. Underfoot the crunch of leaves, the snap of sticks, the remains of a dead fox or two, the slow gurgle of the river. The forest is a hidden world, sheltered from the wind, and creaking with willow limbs, oak, elm, holly, hawthorn. Foreign and familiar. Stooping down we see the tiny cyclamens blooming in lilac magnificence, mossy stumps and spider threads. Three boys and a man sit perched in a high up branch. I hear them laughing as I pack my camera away and feel the dappled light on my face //
+Easter is the season my heart and soul craves all year long. I am reminded once again to slow down. To give attention to the season forming around and within. The feel of autumn sunshine on my skin, the crisp of a cool morning and the sound of trees rustling and unleaving. I know the abundance of life and love given to me, mysterious and undeserved, and am thankful. I hear the goodness of God in the sound of raindrops on the roof after weeks of dryness. And in the efforts of baking, stacking the woodpile, covering eggs with tissue paper, keeping a candle-light vigil on the kitchen window sill, holding a book in my hands, peeling a quince, hugging my menfolk tight, tasting wood smoke on my tongue, singing in jolly abandon at church. Every year I hope in the promise of Easter - in the offering and the renewing, in the recklessness and the lament, in the anticipation and the sweetness - and the hope changes me.
the morning after rain
clouds are swirling
parting for the sun
feet sink into soft ground
and I can breathe in air
that's light and fresh
sweet with dampness
fragranced with grass
with creatures and wet earth
the morning after rain
hawthorn berries are glistening
finches dart for shallow worms
and in every direction
crows calling, magpies warbling
I can see the willows shaking off summer
thistles black and disintegrating
the morning after rain
paints a backdrop for the present:
our world awash with beauty
smothered with overuse
studded with grief
we hope still
Early autumn is a beautiful season, and this year is no exception with her crisp mornings and sublime sunshine soaked afternoons. There is much to lament over at the moment, conflicts in the world and devastating floods in our own land. Locally as the virus circulates along with common colds and bugs, businesses struggle to keep on and we feebly plan for the future. And yet the season keeps unfurling, making us stop and wonder, hope and pray. Early autumn is brimming with colour: the garden lush from rain and the deep pink of valerian and sedum, hedgerows dotted with red hawthorn berries and rosehips, the bees are busily gathering pollen and nectar from the flowering yellow box, lavender, catmint and dandelions. The cows have begun to calve and the chickens keep laying delicious brown and speckled eggs. I have years of linen scraps gathering dust in a big box - and recently decided to try to use some of them up in various ways - I have hand sewn 166 hexagons for this big cushion and am experimenting with garments and other things to give as gifts. I am trying to sketch more often in my journal, the familiar marks of blue ink bringing comfort and catharsis. Listening to a favorite song by Wovenhand that captures the season well and reading the pages of Marilynne Robinson's book Home: “There's so much to be grateful for, words are poor things"... //
Summer is a season of such abundance and bright colour when it comes to food. The garden is giving us fresh tomatoes, zucchinis and herbs each day. I have also been picking wild elderberries, mulberries and blackberries from the farm for the freezer and drying cornflower and calendula petals for soap, tea and decorating cakes. I eagerly await the raspberries, green beans and quinces and delight in the variety and deliciousness of stone fruit available at our local green grocer and farmers markets. Here are some recipes in high rotation at the moment:
Tomato + Watermelon Salad
This has become a favourite salad of mine lately. It is the most beautiful combination of sweet and tart, fragrant and salty. A perfect accompaniment to baked fish or lamb or simply on its own.
1/4 wedge of a whole large watermelon (approx 2kg)
3 large, ripe tomatoes
100g fresh goats cheese or soft feta cheese
handful fresh mint
generous pinch of sea salt + cracked black pepper
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons EV olive oil
Cut watermelon and tomatoes into similar sized cubes. Crumble goats cheese + roughly chopped fresh mint leaves on top. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the salt with generous pinches of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Gently toss salad to combine and eat straight away...
Mango + Coconut Jellies (Gummies)
I have been making these jellies (gummies) and marshmallows a lot this summer in an attempt to use up seasonal fruit, but also boost our daily intake of grass-fed bovine gelatine - they make a delicious quick, refreshing, nutrient dense snack. The best gelatine powder I have tried is by Australian company Saturee or Nutra Organics.
pulp of 1 ripe mango
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons grassfed bovine gelatine powder
1/2 cup water
1 cup coconut milk (no additives)
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
2 tablespoons grassfed bovine gelatine powder
1/2 cup water
To make the mango layer: sprinkle gelatine into a small bowl over 1/2 cup of water. The gelatine witll swell or "bloom" after a few minutes. Meanwhile blend fresh mango + orange juice in a small saucepan using a stick blender or similar. Bring fruit puree to a gentle simmer and stir in gelatine until dissolved. Remove from heat and pour into a glass or ceramic dish. Chill in the freezer while you make the coconut layer.
To make the coconut layer: sprinkle gelatine into a small bowl over 1/2 cup of water. The gelatine will swell or "bloom" after a few minutes. Meanwhile gently heat coconut milk together with maple syrup. Whisk in gelatine until dissolved, should take a minute or two. Remove from heat and let it cool down for a few minutes.
Take mango layer out of the freezer and test that the top is "set". If so, pour the coconut milk layer over it and put the dish in the fridge (not the freezer this time!) until completely set. It usually takes an hour or so. Once completely set you can score the jellies into cubes or rectangles or any shape of your liking. Keep in the fridge in a sealed container for up to two weeks.
** my boys LOVE these jellies; they hold their shape at room temperature so you can put them in a lunch box too **
Baked Ricotta Tarts with Nectarines and Honey
These are so simple and good. They make a lovely quick breakfast or mid morning snack - ricotta is full of protein and calcium, plus you get the goodness of eggs, honey and fresh fruit.
500g fresh firm ricotta
1/2 cup runny honey
zest from 1 orange
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2-3 ripe nectarines (apricots, plums, peaches or berries work well too)
Preheat oven to 180'c. In a bowl whisk together ricotta, eggs, honey, zest and cinnamon. Grease (with melted butter) or line with paper some muffin tins; alternatively you can make one large tart in a 20cm cake tin. Spoon ricotta mixture into tins. Slice nectarines into thin wedges - I usually get about eight segments from each fruit. Place 1-2 segments into each tin over the ricotta. Top fruit with a little raw sugar if you like. Bake tarts for 20-30 minutes in the oven until the tops are golden. Cool completely - they will shrink a little and lift out more easily from the tins. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge and consume within a week.
Everyone has their preferences when it comes to topping a pavlova and mine changes with the seasons. In summertime I really don't think there is a better combination than silky, ripe mango and juicy tart raspberries. I also love that in the rare case there are any leftovers, the flavour and texture of the fruit changes pleasantly after a day or two in the fridge - something that can't be said about brown bananas and rubbery grapes!
6 free-range egg whites at room temperature
pinch sea salt
1 cup or 180g white caster sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons arrowroot/tapioca flour or GF cornflower
2 cups pure cream (for whipping)
fruit of your choosing (I went for 1 large ripe mango + punnet of fresh raspberries)
** A scatter of dried cornflowers brings a delightful pop of edible colour **
Preheat oven to 180'c. In a clean bowl beat egg whites with a pinch of salt using a handheld or electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar one tablespoon at a time and continue to beat until sugar is dissolved and stiff peaks form. Gently fold in vinegar, tapioca flour and vanilla.
Carefully spoon out mixture onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. I like to heap my mixture into a circle about 22cm in diameter. Immediately turn the oven down to 150'c and bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the pavlova cool with the door slightly open (I wedge a wooden spoon between the door and the oven).
Whip cream and spread over the top of the cool pavlova. Adorn with summer fruit and devour with friends!
January is hot and humid. The pasture is tall and golden, seed heads flying. The cows have been ailing with eye infections and my farmer man is out working long hours in the heat. We've watched rainclouds build and roll over us without giving a drop. We've savoured dips in the dam and ripe summer fruit. I've put ice cubes in my coffee and begun a special quilt project using only linen scraps. Twice I've gone for a walk and watched the same wedged-tail eagle perched, perfectly still on the branch of a tall gum tree. We've stretched our hands into the soft fur of our new maremma pup, Pippin. He is the first puppy we've owned, and although a working dog, he is full of delight and fluffiness. I cannot help but smile when I see him. It's summertime - when the days stretch on and on, and we sigh audibly with relief when the evening breezes come in. We have nowhere to go and not much to do, which is to say, we're content to lay low in this beautiful and exhausting season //
2021 was another year of frequent making; sewing, stitching and knitting things to wear and give away as gifts. I found having a craft project going at all times helped with the constant changing and unsettling of routines. It tethered me to the confines of a thing - something to hold in my hands - to start and finish. To wear with joy, to give away with love. I was able to fill some gaps in my wardrobe and make use of scraps and offcuts too.
Here are my favourite me-made things from the year:
Hinterland Dress + Lark Tee
The perfect combination! I ended making two hinterland dresses this year - the first in a beautiful terracotta/clay coloured linen cotton and the second in a natural oatmeal hemp-linen. The pattern by Sew Liberated is well-written and easy to follow, but it's worth taking time to make sure the fit is correct, especially in the bust and shoulders. I opted for the sleeveless version without a button placket and the thin waist ties. The pockets are deep and generous.
I also made 5 long-sleeve lark tees (pattern by Grainline Studio). This felt like a real accomplishment - the pattern itself is very straightforward and easy to follow. I loved being able to modify the arm and torso length to fit my body perfectly and the rounded boat-neck (which has always been my favourite neckline). Not to mention being able to use natural knit fabrics that suit the seasons - cotton jersey and merino wool jersey. I reach for them day after day! They are wonderful worn on their own and under sleeveless dresses like my hinterland and washi dresses.
Someone once told me knitting in colour work was like painting; it is so enjoyable! And stranded colour work is not nearly as difficult as I always thought it would be - the hardest thing is holding an even and relaxed (but not too relaxed) tension with the different strands of yarn - and like most craft techniques it becomes easier and more natural the more you do it.
I loved this pattern inspired by traditional fair isle designs the first time I saw it. I extended the ribbing on the brim so that it would cover my ears a little better - I can't stand a hat that doesn't do that - what is the purpose?! I was also able to use yarn already in my stash.
Seashell Mitts and Fiddler Mitts
Warm fingerless mittens were a saving grace for me this year over the cold months when the circulation in my hands got so poor I was getting blue and white fingers and chill blains on my knuckles. It seems my thyroid is no longer functioning as she should and that is affecting a number of things, including circulation in my body.
Melissa's seashell mitts pattern is free and wonderful to follow. The other pair were requested by Archie - I used the Fiddler Mitts pattern without the frilly edging.
Seaside Shawl + Felix Cardigan
I finished this shawl at the beginning of 2021 and have worn it non-stop through every season - it is so versatile! I love the subtle sage green colour and can wear it with pretty much everything I own. The cotton-silk yarn is soft and durable and doesn't pill at all. The pattern is by Carrie Bostick Hodge.
And the Felix Cardigan. It is perhaps my favourite knitted garment yet - it was a simple and quick knit and is flattering over dresses or tops. I used wool yarn unravelled from a wrap I made years ago held together with a silk + mohair blend. The result is soft and warm and snuggly. It does pill but not too noticeably thanks to the halo of the mohair. I love this dearly.
Wiksten Oversize Jacket
Thus was a very luxurious and technically challenging project for me. I have admired versions of this jacket using the Merchant & Mills jacquard cotton for a few years. When this clay-rose hued version of the fabric came on sale I purchased just enough to make one for myself. The jacquard was quite fiddly to sew neatly with, but I got there in the end. The jacket is also lined with a medium weight cotton-linen fabric - the result is a very warm and quite heavy, snuggly jacket. You really do feel like you are pulled down into a hug - or wearing a quilt around your shoulders. I love the pockets too. Pattern by Wiksten in Making Magazine.
I love these camisoles. They are the perfect summer layer - lightweight and almost silky cotton lawn from Liberty of London and the elegant and simple camisole pattern from True Bias. I was able to cut them from just 1 metre of fabric with generous scraps left over. Highly recommend the pattern too which is easy to follow.
Flying Geese Cushion + Prayer Quilt
I also have to include these: a flying geese prayer cushion and also reflective blanket as a collaboration with my friend and artist Adam Lee. It was an invigorating and enjoyable creative process to play with linen and cotton and the traditional geese "triangle" design. The cushion was to accompany a commissioned painting of his and the prayer blanket will be part of an exhibition Adam is doing for Kyneton Contemporary in March. The latter will include five of Adam's mesmerising, beautiful paintings with five accompanying blankets that have been made by local makers and artisans and are in conversation with each his painted works and themes. I cannot wait to see them all sharing space together.
Winter + Spring Making
How about you friends, what have you loved making this past year?
Christmas was a day of blessing, of excitement and sunshine, quiet and calm, candlelight. It was perhaps the simplest and gentlest one we've had as a family (in part owning to my being so weary and recovering from recent illness), and yet it was a day overflowing with love, and mugs of warm tea, good food and company, hearty thankfulness.
May all God wants
to bless you with
come to be, and may
your inner mangers,
fresh with hope,
hold wonders of His love,
and splendors of His world,
and wisdoms of His word
May peace surround you,
behind and before you,
your words and work,
your hearth and kin,
and all the friends
you haven't seen,
in your heart speak:
the prince of peace
And as the trees of the field
clap their hands,
may you sing joy -
marvel in the clouds
bees and sprouting seeds
full plates and grubby chins,
it all begins with love.
December is a blur of endings and illness and sunshine and the garden bursting with colour and growth, the flap of birds and the buzz of bees. We pick spent poppy heads for the door wreath and eat the last of the snow peas and shell the first of the broad beans (which the boys call "exploding rocket beans!"). Our dwelling, Fiddler's Cottage, undergoes much needed repairs to the wood cladding and is also given a lick of fresh paint which is glorious to behold.. We observe the four weeks of advent with our calendar of boxes filled with love notes and sweets, we read storybooks and Christmas fables and scriptures and poems, on Sundays we light the candles on our wreath and reflect on the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love Jesus brings...
"To step over the low wall that divides
Road from concrete walk above the shore
Brings sharply back something known long before--
The miniature gaiety of seasides."
-Philip Larkin, To the Sea
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...