INTERVIEW WITH JESSICA LEWIS STEVENS
Jessica Lewis Stevens is a wonderful mother, maker, and baker living in the green mountains of Vermont with her three sons and her partner. Their cosy and wholesome life inspires me to no end. Jessica’s hand dyed silks and recipes are equally loved in our home, and it feels special to be connected through her work as we enjoy these gifts she has shared. One of my many favorite projects Jessica has created is her Seasonal Story Club. Keep an eye out for these seasonal project guides that will soon be released as PDF booklets. I am very excited to enjoy them with my daughters! We are honored to be working with Jessica on a special Mother’s Day giveaway featuring a few of her favorite Suu Kuu formulas and download copies of her delightful cookbook zines. Enter to win on our Instagram page May 9th-11th. Let’s get to know Jessica further! I know you will love her beautiful spirit. Follow Jessica’s stunning instagram feed @sugarhouseworkshop, and find her projects here.
What are some of your morning habits that help to set the tone for a good day?
I love the fresh energy of morning time. I thrive on routines and rhythms, so my mornings nearly always look the same: after tending to the baby, we head to the kitchen to brew tea. While the kettle’s on, I like to take my morning tinctures and drink a big glass of water before I start fixing breakfast. Daily I take a milky oat tincture, as well as an elixir made from tulsi, motherwort, violet honey, and violet flower essence. My older sons go outside to take care of our chickens, and I start the day’s bread. I bake sourdough bread for friends and neighbors as well as ourselves, so one of the first things I do each day is make dough and feed my sourdough starter. It’s a practice of gratitude and work I love connecting with each morning. After breakfast, we take a morning walk before moving on to the work and play of the day.
How does your place influence the way you live?
Living in connection and reciprocity with the place we call home is one of my greatest joys. We love celebrating the seasons together; relishing in the presence of wild, seasonal foods, crafting and dyeing with plants, growing our garden, rooting down into our long winters. On a community level, we live in a place where we can exchange our bread for raw milk and vegetables, and source the bulk of our diet very locally. From the people to the plants and the water, living here feels abundant and we’re always embracing ways to observe and honor that.
Do you have a favorite book that relates to motherhood or that has impacted the way you mother your sons?
When my oldest son was small, I read Seven Times the Sun by Shea Darian and Heaven on Earth by Sharifa Oppenheimer, and both were so helpful and impactful. As we’ve entered the school years, I have really enjoyed The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart. I love reading memoir, and especially those written by mothers, even if they’re not specifically about motherhood. A couple that come to mind from recent reading are the memoirs of Sally Mann and Joy Harjo.
What are some of your favorite books to read with your children?
My children are at different stages with the stories they love, but I love watching the ways they still intersect. Henry (eight and a half) loves fantasy and adventure, and has been reading through the Redwall and Oz series for a while now. He loves to share and retell the stories, and in hearing about them, River (three and a half) has come to love them too. We love reading Arnold Lobel stories and the A. A. Milne classics with River, and Henry likes to listen in and smile and chat over familiar moments from when we read them to him. I’d say our house favorite is the Wind in the Willows - my husband Stuart does the best voices and we read it over and over. I’ll always remember listening to him reading it to Henry in bed on a cozy night while I labored with River by the wood stove, and it’s such a dear memory.
Do you have a favorite tea blend for this season?
Tulsi and rose has been my favorite blend through the end of winter and into spring. I grew lots of tulsi in the garden last summer, and gathered dropped rose petals from the wild rose bush outside for weeks while it bloomed. It’s been a balm for my body and spirit as I’ve recovered from birth and as we open our hearts to a new growing season. I often add an infused honey I’ve made too, usually lemon balm or nettle.
I love your article on baking as a way to comfort difficult times. What other things bring you a sense of balance right now?
Leaning into all of the ways we can be in relationship with springtime right now has been so nurturing, noticing and being a part of the cycle of renewal. We’re letting go of some of our more rigid routines and making space to spend a Tuesday morning gathering dandelions for petal shortbread instead of math practice. I think nourishing my body and my relationship with it is centering right now, as we emerge from winter, as I leave the fourth trimester, and considering the overarching circumstances. Making good simple food, moving intuitively, breathing deeply, daily tea and herbal infusions, and generally caring for my physical self in small but meaningful ways.
What have you been listening to this season?
Every night after I put the baby to bed, the spring peepers in our creek become positively symphonic. It’s one of the most joyful sounds and I look forward to it each day. I’ve been playing Fiona Apple’s new record most days, and I’ve really been enjoying Jess Sah Bi & Peter One’s album “Our Garden Needs Its Flowers.” At the beginning of each month I look forward to hearing the almanac from the Fair Folk podcast. It’s so grounding and inspiring to consider folk traditions and ancestral heritage for each month and season as it begins.
What are your favorite songs to sing to/with your children?
Our favorite song to sing together is Over in the Meadow. We sing classic verses and we make up our own, sometimes very silly ones too. My friend Meg Chittenden is a Waldorf music teacher, and a few years back she released a songbook called At Home in Harmony. We love listening and singing those songs, and a slowed down version of What Will I Do With the Baby-O? has become my favorite lullaby.
Will you share a little on your evening routine?
We like to keep evenings easy and consistent. Now that the weather is warm and inviting, we like to spend some time after dinner playing outside. When we come inside, the older boys wash up for bedtime and I will help them wash their hands and feet with a warm cloth and offer herbal oil for them to rub into their feet or their shoulders before they dress for bed. I’ll take the baby to nurse and settle in for the night, and dad takes over with the older boys for a chapter from whichever book they’re reading and some silly chatter before they go to sleep. After the baby is asleep, I return to the kitchen for a last cup of tea or glass of water (often with a dropperful of Lake of Dreams), and join my husband to relax and catch up and do a bit of knitting or stitching before bedtime. Before I climb into bed, I will also choose an herbal oil to rub onto my shoulders, feet, and anywhere else that feels like it could use attention. I make oils infused with violet leaf, rose, yarrow, goldenrod, calendula, pine, and other herbs and I’ll choose whichever I’m feeling that day. It’s a moment to drop back into my body and prepare for rest, and I find it so soothing.
Sugarhouse Workshop's Spring Swirl Olive Oil Boule
Makes two loaves
125g active starter
800g warm water
50g olive oil
1000g flour - a mix of half bread flour and half all purpose is recommended, or mix in some whole wheat or spelt for a different texture
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
About 1/2 cup pesto*
*Any pesto works here, and this bread can take on different character depending on what you use. For our spring pesto, we used mostly ramps along with some nettles, chives, and violets, and added almonds, romano cheese, a squeeze of lemon, salt, and olive oil. Try classic basil as your primary leafy green, or experiment with parsley, cilantro, arugula, or carrot tops. Add smaller amounts of more flavorful herbs, don’t forget the garlic if you’re not using ramps, and embrace the season with a handful of dandelion or calendula petals or a few violet flowers.
In the morning, combine the starter and water in your bread bowl and gently stir to dissolve the starter. Add the olive oil and then the flour, and mix to form a sticky dough.
Cover with a kitchen cloth and allow the dough to hydrate for about an hour.
After an hour, sprinkle the salt over the dough and splash a palmful of water on top. Stretch and fold the dough several times to incorporate the salt and then replace the kitchen cloth. Allow the dough to bulk ferment until it has risen significantly - this could take 3 hours in a warm room, or up to 8 if it’s quite cool. During this time, occasionally stretch and fold the dough, 3-4 times total.
When the dough has risen, flour your counter and tip the dough out of the bowl. Divide in half using a bench knife. Gently pat each half of dough into a thick, loose rectangle about 12x8.” Spoon a few tablespoons of pesto onto each rectangle, leaving about 1/2” of space uncovered around the edges. Once the pesto is evenly spread, carefully roll the dough into a spiral starting from one of the longer sides. Once you have a log shape, tuck the open ends under and use your hands to create some tension and form a loose ball.
Flour your proofing baskets and place the dough in the baskets, covered with a kitchen cloth.
Allow the dough to proof overnight in the refrigerator for up to 18 hours.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 500 degrees with your Dutch oven(s) inside. When they’re ready, gently turn your boules out onto a piece of parchment paper. Score the dough with a deep X across the center, and place in the pot (with the parchment paper underneath). Cover with the lid and bake 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, lower the temperature to 450 degrees and bake another 10 minutes. Last, remove the lids and bake uncovered at 450 for another 15-20 minutes until a deep golden brown.
Cool the boules at least an hour before slicing