December is finally here and the countdown to Christmas begun. I love the season of Advent and the invitation to reorient our hearts towards the things of faith. Alex and I have been reading to each other from the "Celtic Advent" devotional and it's a beautiful collection of stories, scriptures and reflections around this season of waiting. I don't know about you but I get to this time of year and my body begins to unravel in tiredness and over-stimulation and the accumulation of another wonderful, messy, curious twelve months of life. I feel slow and limited and achey even though I'm not sick with anything in particular. Recently I've begun to simplify my festive plans and pack away (figuratively and physically) projects for the new year. I crave solitude and silence and stillness, however fleeting. I can choose to forgo listening to political podcasts, reading complex books, casting on new knitting patterns, saying yes to everything and attempting complicated recipes. Instead I lean towards the simple goodness around me: listening to the beautiful birds singing in the trees around our house, reading familiar (and loved) Christmas stories to my children, eating a ripe mango for dessert and stretching my legs in the early summer sunshine. My prayer is to notice and cherish the gifts so abundantly given to me //
Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more–a grateful heart:
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose Pulse may be
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!
Mr 10-year-old wanted to have his two best mates over and camp under the oak trees, so with the loan of his kind auntie's tent it came to pass. There was much chatter and reading by torch light, movie watching and trampoline jumping and a rather unstable Minecraft inspired birthday cake complete with marshmallow "snow blocks", blue jelly "water blocks", chocolate cake "earth blocks" and marzipan creeper and pigs. We made it together and it was fun to create and deconstruct!
For as long as I have known and loved this child of mine he has been most himself, most relaxed outside. Surrounded by grasses and wide open sky and beetles and creatures of all sizes. I pray he will always return to the nature that brings him fresh perspective and peace, and know the love of the Creator behind it all.
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 //
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...
Summer tends to be the season with the most reading for me - something perhaps about those long, light-filled days and the prickle of heat that makes me want to put my knitting away and stare at pages with the fan gently humming. Maybe there's a part of me, a learnt pattern in my body, that associates summer with reading - as mum would always gift us books for Christmas. Reading never feels like a chore in summer, a bit like walking at night: the very air of summer ushers permission to be consumed with words and breeze.
There, there by Tommy Orange (2018)
Christmas book from my sister, the first novel by Tommy Orange. It read almost like a play, dramatic and atmospheric. I found it a refreshing read and haunting in some scenes and dialogue that have stayed with me long after finishing. Highly recommend.
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper (2008)
I wanted to read this as soon as I finished Chloe Hooper's other brilliant book The Arsonist. Hooper writes masterfully, poetically, with such clarity, sensitivity and humanity around issues that are so difficult - like this: the death of a young Aboriginal man in custody on an island I'd vaguely heard of. She paints the landscape and the characters of Palm Island with nuance and freshness that help you feel it all deeply, and not easily forget. The Tall Man is investigative writing on crime, racism, policing, history and mythology in Australia of the highest calibre. I didn't want it to end, and I longed for an ending that never came. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
10 Reasons to quit your social media right now by Jaron Lanier (2018)
I had to read this even though I could think of thirty of my own reasons to quit. Jaron Lanier is a computer engineer, philosopher and musician. His "reasons" for quitting are sensible and intelligent and is definitely worth reading and pondering on.
You are not a gadget by Jaron Lanier (2010)
I enjoyed this longer manifesto of Lanier's even more than the one above. He wrote it almost a decade ago and is uncanny in his accurate predictions and concerns for what social media platforms and technologies were becoming - and have become - forces for immense social, cultural, political and economic upheaval. Highly recommend.
The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall (2020)
A speedy and enjoyable read. The plot is quite thrilling and fascinating, and while I didn't feel totally convinced by the main characters and the ending felt a bit clunky - there was something very poignant and timely about the near-future reality in which we are all micro-chipped and answerable to a global governmental system, as well as the over-reliance on digital devices, threats of constant surveillance. Critics mentioned a likeness to Atwood and I felt that too. Definitely worth a go.
The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer (1997)
Have you ever begun a book only to fall in love with it on the first few pages, only to struggle to finish it half way and then fall out with it completely by the ending? I guess my reactions with this one was as capricious and changing as the clouds. Yes, there are some really clever, beautiful sentences, and the descriptions of the Blue Mountains at the turn of the 20th century is quite mesmerising, but something fell flat and unsatisfying half-way through. If you love Ondaatje you will probably enjoy this one...
The Twilight of Democracy by Applebaum (2020)
Oh this was a fascinating read. Insightful and frightening. I asked my local library to purchase a copy of Applebaum's book after I heard her interviewed on the New Yorker politics and more podcast. I'm glad they were able to get it in. Applebaum has been watching and writing about (and living) politics in Central Europe for decades, but has much to say about her place of origin USA too. Highly recommend.
Water my Soul by Luci Shaw (2003)
A re-read. Shaw explores the rich, interior life of faith through the seasons of the garden. Beautiful, wise, timeless. Highly recommend.
Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird (2006)
Read for my course in contemplative faith. I'd never heard of it before. I love the way Laird weaves in personal stories, poetry, literature and wisdom by the great Christian mystics along with more practical tips and exercises for cultivating a prayer-filled awareness of God's loving presence in everyday life. I would definitely recommend this one for anyone starting out on the contemplative journey //
What have you been reading lately?
in summer I can walk in the evening light
when little people have gone to bed
when dishes have been washed and dried
each step a kind of devotion
a prayer for being alive
in summer I can walk in sandals
and feel the breeze under my skirt
coolness and dust and grass seeds
anoint my summer skin:
tanned hands and dry feet.
in summer I can walk at a slower pace,
follow tracks of who came before me:
rabbit, horseshoe, tractor tred
I wait for kangaroos hopping down the hill
and lean in to hear the frogs croak,
and crane my neck for the goshawks,
I can never tell if they are hunting or playing.
in summer I can walk and gather
dried grasses in my hands,
elderberries off a twisted old tree,
blackberries from a thorny vine,
I reach for dancing thistle fibres
and hear my son's voice:
"Mum! Look at all the fairies"
in summer I can walk in the moonlight
when the stars begin to shine,
and I let my feet do the praying:
each step breaking bread
each breath thanksgiving
It really is! We are going through so many plums at the moment as we are getting them fresh in our CSA fruit box each week. There is nothing so nice as locally grown (without chemicals), seasonal fruit that tastes and feels as it should! This is my gluten-free adaptation of Stephanie Alexander's frangipane tart in her cookbook-to-rule-them-all, A Cook's Companion. She doesn't call for plums, but of course they work perfectly alongside almonds and the buttery shortbread base. It works just as well with nectarines, peaches, apricots, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, mulberries, raspberries, pears, poached quinces or apples or rhubarb. Basically most fruit!
Plum Frangipane Tart
For the base:
200g plain gluten-free flour (or 100g each of rice flour + 100g tapioca/arrowroot starch or cornflour)
1 tablespoon sugar
100g cold butter, sliced into small cubes
1 small egg
2 teaspoons cold water
Blend flour, sugar and butter in a food processor until crumbly. Add egg and water with the motor running and blend together until a dough forms. Roll out onto a piece of floured parchment paper (I might this minimises mess and stickiness). I do not bother chilling the dough as specified in the recipe - I simply roll out a disc shape to fit my pie dish which is about 22cm in diameter (with enough size to line the fluted sides).
Instead of greasing and flouring the dish, I lift the dough with the baking parchment and place both of them in (the paper of course creating a barrier between the dough and dish). This ensures simple lifting out of the tart and cleaning of the dish. Feel free to grease if you prefer! Once dough is pressed into the dish, use a fork to mark a number of pricks on the base of the tart.
Bake in a low-moderate oven (160'c) for 25 minutes or until lightly golden. Again I don't bother with weights or rice for the baking, the dough seems to keep it's shape well enough.
For the frangipane:
150g white sugar
120g unsalted butter
200g ground almonds
1/4 cup brandy or similar (this really gives it a delicious something else, but can be omitted)
1/4 cup flaked almonds
5 small-medium sized plums, pitted and halved or sliced into wedges. You may need more/less depending on the size of the plums to cover the surface of the tart.
Cream together butter and sugar in a food processor. Add almonds, eggs and brandy if using and mix well. Spread over tart base and arrange pitted and sliced plums on top of the tart. Bake in the oven (180'c) for 20 minutes. Oven oven and pull out tart so you can scatter with flaked almonds and a tablespoon of white or raw sugar (you may omit this if you wish). Cook for a further 15 minutes (or until tart is golden brown and the centre feels springy to touch - the size of the plums and moisture in them may increase cooking time). Cool in the tin. Serve on it's own or with some double cream.
Lovely things bringing colour to my life: golden fennel flowers, profusion of pink hebe and the zinnias about to open // in my hands a top I'm knitting for my sister in the most theatrical and luscious yarn, a row added each morning and evening as the kettle comes to boil // on the table flowers for my son, to mark his 9th birthday and also balloons and a giant fruit mince pie (as requested), holding this beautiful human tight and delighting in him reading, snug in my hammock, as the sun sets // the sight and sounds of the farm's not-so-little and very enthusiastic goat kids, nibbling our hands, tickling, bleating for oak leaves (or anything really) // cutting fresh plums in half for tarts, eating them whole, stewing them slowly // savouring the summer rain and mild mornings, the return of school, beginning of kindergarten and my weekly studies, sandal wearing and overnight-zucchinis and everything this season brings...
"The question of attention in the age of digital media may ultimately come down to the question of limits, the acceptance of which may be the condition of a more enduring joy and satisfying life. What digital media promises on the other hand is an experience of limitlessness exemplified by the infinite scroll. It tempts us to become gluttons of the hyperreal. There is always more, and much of it may even seem urgent and critical. But we cannot attend to it all, nor should we. I know this, of course, but I need to remind myself more frequently than I’d care to admit."
- M.ichael Sacasas, from his article: "Attention, Austerity, Freedom"
Earlier this month I quit instagram.
I had spent almost six years sharing publicly: lovely photogenic bits of my life: farm, kids, meals, garden, sunsets, flowers in hand and crafty projects. Highlights and carefully curated lowlights, poems, recipes, thoughts. It was almost six years of watching other people's lives too, people I knew in real life and others I'd never met before - their faces, homes, artworks, babies, businesses, handmade clothes, coffee mugs, freshly baked loaves of bread.
I joined in 2015 when everyone else seemed to be there. I was drawn to the visual nature of it: photos with little notes accompanying. It felt so much more interesting and enjoyable than other social media platforms that were focused on text and emojis. It also seemed a more convenient way to share (and follow) than writing and reading blog posts. The blog was dead, we all said. I had a toddler and a newborn baby, we were learning to farm and start a small business from scratch - it seemed the perfect place to document the journey: to fix the beautiful, ridiculous and important scenes in time.
Then something began to shift in me, in the platform, my feed became a way to idealise my own experiences: an easy way to escape the monotony and difficulty of life with three tiny people dependant on me and a business that was holding on by fragile threads. I thought about it constantly, and in the middle of moments, how I could document and caption them later in a post.
I loved how it gave me a sense of accomplishment, a reward for my doing. I loved how it seemed to justify and reinforce the life choices I had made. I loved how connected I felt to people, how it allowed me to do less real life socialising and the (more difficult) reaching out to friends and family through phone and email. I also loved how immediate the feedback was - almost instantly - the likes. I'd rationalise that the liking and comments weren't important: they weren't a reflection of me, or my worth - but in my body was a different story: the quick release of dopamine-laced warmth was something I wanted everyday if I could, and I was becoming addicted.
I felt gripped, somehow beholden - like I couldn't leave but couldn't stay. I was spending on average 1.5-2.5 hours every on it. Scrolling, checking, reading, liking, watching stories, posting, re-reading my own posts and reviewing other people's posts I'd put in my bookmarked folders for ideas and inspirations (inevitably leading to looking up patterns and products). I called it a "little hobby", "a non-essential", "a tool for decompressing" but really it took up a big part of my life.
I tried extended breaks from it - some for a few weeks, the longest was four months. It would follow a predictable pattern: I would feel increasingly unhappy and overwhelmed using it, decided to leave for a while, delete the app from my phone, almost immediately feel better to no longer have the temptation to use it, followed days later by sadness and irritability (a withdrawal of sorts, with regular unlocking and locking of my phone), followed by calm relief, clarity, peacefulness. I would ask myself why I even used it anymore, and talk to friends and family who were willing to hear me ramble around in circles. Then I'd decide to return - download the app again - resolve to use the platform differently, with more boundaries and a lighter grip. It wasn't the platform, it was me I'd say, I can approach it differently! And I would, to begin with... but then I'd inevitably circle back to the uncomfortable, addictive mode.
In the past twelve months I've read and listened to some really thoughtful, challenging articles, podcasts and books on how social media is changing us: our culture, politics and relationships (see bottom of this post for more references and links). I really believe we need to speak about our experiences and gather together to brainstorm some best practice tools for these platforms and the important needs they meet - as well as call for appropriate governmental industry regulation.
I recently borrowed Jaron Lanier's books "10 Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Right Now" and "You are not a gadget" from my local library. I'd seen Lanier in the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, last year and was intrigued in his perspective as a computer scientist and "internet pioneer" but also a philosopher and musician. He is deeply concerned about social media platforms that play into our human desires for attention, approval and connection, whilst also exacerbating addiction, sadness, alienation, irrational behaviour, intolerance and mob mentality. He asks why organisations that purport to be "for people" rely on the free sharing of data that is collected and sold, targeted advertising and algorithms aimed at modifying human behaviour that ultimately go against people. Pit people against each other. Lanier is not anti-technology, or anti-internet - quite the opposite - he is calling for more dialogue around how to nurture personal dignity and promote diverse and kind community within the online world. These lines of his really stood out to me:
"The most important thing to ask about any technology is how it is changing people"
"If we associate human identity with the digital reduction instead of reality at large we will reduce ourselves"
In the end quitting instagram was my answer to an ongoing dilemma I found myself in. It felt good to realise I did have a choice and this could be mine. I know it doesn't "fix" the structural problems within the platform, or my own baggage around why I became addicted. It also creates a new burden of exploring ways to stay in touch with friends and connections made primarily through it. I really do miss "seeing" the glimpses of life on there - the creative community and diverse, provocative voices. I need to make more effort now to seek those out in other ways.
Quitting marks the end of a six year chapter - almost as old as my second born son. And while it is sad and painful in many ways, it has also made space and time in my life for something new. It has allowed me - so far - to rest, to contract, and to begin things I have long dreamed of like re-enrolling in my studies and in launching a monthly newsletter celebrating the seasons of life.
Some things to consider if you are using social media and not enjoying it, or at least debating whether you should quit. Let's call it Eight Steps to Quitting Instagram:
Step 1. Ask yourself some questions
-Why am I using this platform? Has my “why” changed from when I first started?
-List the positives and negatives you experience using it. Is one list longer or are they even?
-Track average time spent using it each day or week. Multiply it by a month or a year for some perspective. Be curious, not judgemental.
-If you want to stay, what would make it better for you?
-If you want to quit, what is stopping you from doing it?
Step 2. Talk your answers out with someone
Choose someone you trust to really listen to you - not tell you what you should do - but really listen, dig deeper on those answers you wrote down to the questions. I found this step especially cathartic and clarifying (thank you lovely people who know who you are).
Step 3. Try an extended break
Like a month or more. You could delete the app from you phone, ask someone to change your password or even disable your account if you feel that would help you get the break. Notice how you feel during the break: again, try writing some thoughts down. I usually found every time I had a break I felt pretty blue for the first few days. Like really sad, flat, unmotivated. I let myself feel that and try to be empathic...
Step 4. Remember you have a choice
… to stay… to quit. It's yours. It's going to be different from your best friend, your spouse. You can quit and decide six months later you want to join again, or two years.
Step 5. If you want to quit, you can download your data
This is assuming you want to actually delete your account and thus wipe your data. If you want to keep a record of your posts, messages, photos, stories, comments, activity - you can actually request this from the company. Go to settings and in "security" you can click request your data. It took about two days to receive mine.
Step 6. Make a book or prints from your favourite posts
There are many companies that will allow you to link up your social media account and easily access your photos. This is NOT an advert but I have used Artifact Uprising, Vista Print and Snap Fish for photo book printing and even fairly happy with the results. Friends have recommended Chat Books and I’m sure there are dozens of others similar.
Step 7. Ride the wave
This isn't really a step, or maybe it is. Ride the wave of letting go of something that was a big part of your life. Bake a cake. Dance a little dance. Have a cry. Light a candle.
Helpful further reading and listening on the subject
10 Arguments for Quitting Social Media Right Now by Jaron Lanier (2017)
You are not a gadget by Jaron Lanier (2010)
Rage Inside the Machine: The Prejudice of Algorithms, and How to Stop the Internet Making Bigots of Us All by Robert Elliot Smith (2020)
CBC's Ideas Podcast with Nahlah Ayed
Episode: The Joy of Mediocrity, March, 2020
Episode: Engineering Humanity with Brett Frischmann Part I + II, April, 2020
Episode: CBC Massey Lectures with Ron Diebart
Radio National's Big Ideas Podcast with Paul Barclay
Epsiode: The Inherent Prejudice of Algorithms, Jan, 2021
Epsiode: Ginger Forman on how trolling causes real-life harm, Nov 2020
Deep Brain Podcast
Episode: You can't hit unsend, Sep, 2019.
- Mental Health and Social Media (ABC news)
- Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman by Jia Tolentino (Guardian)
- Attention, Asterity, Freedom by Michael Sacasas of The Covivial Society
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...