There’s so much to be cheerful about when you speak with Sophie Hansen. The former city girl who turned to country life - Sophie carves out the very image of wholesome goodness that most of us can only dream about. Living on a farm with her husband and two children, Sophie continues to weave together a community around recipes, the emotion and nostalgia of eating good, simple food - all while listening to House of Pain’s Jump Around while hurtling into the air on the trampoline.
We dreamily imagined hanging over the garden gate, catching up with Sophie about how she came to live in rural Australia, the wine bar where she once worked, and of course - her forthcoming book (out in Autumn 2022).
Spend a while with Sophie, as she takes us through her days - it’s the very best inspiration for slowing down your days and reconnecting.
Sophie Hansen - tell us what we should know about you: I’m a food writer living on our family farm just out of Orange. I grew up in Sydney, studied print journalism at university (in Canberra) and then spent my twenties working for food magazines both in Sydney and for a few years in Northern Italy (for the Slow Food movement’s editorial house). These days I write recipes, recipe books and do freelance work for a bunch of different clients.
Where do you live and why do you love it? And when did you move there and why? I live on our farm about 25 minutes west of Orange in Central Western NSW (about four hours from Sydney) with my husband Tim, daughter Alice (14) and son Tom (12). I love it so much! I love the space, I love how after 16 years here I know the land pretty well, like where the elderflower trees grow along the creek out the back, how there’s a spring in a certain paddock that bubbles clear soft water after rain. I love that our kids are growing up with so much space and with responsibilities on the farm, so they can be a part of what we do.
I moved here in 2005 after my now husband Tim and I got engaged, I didn’t even really think about it too much, I just fell in love with him, where he lived and the idea of our life together on this farm. So I quit my job working at R.M.Williams magazines and went west. It’s funny to think now that it never occurred to me then that I could have tried for a remote working arrangement while now that’s the norm!
Anyway, I was ready for a change and an adventure so I took a job working for a local winery doing their marketing and managing their new wine bar which was a new thing for me but a great way to meet lots of people in the food and wine industry here and it was a great job.
You started Local is Lovely in 2011. How did that come about? Around this time, we were doing farmers markets most weekends with the farmed venison we produce here on the farm (our business is called Mandagery Creek Venison). I’d do a newsletter with recipes and cooking tips every month and noticed all our fellow stallholders doing something similar, sharing family recipes, scribbling their famous apple recipe on the back of brown paper bags and so on. I started to think it would be great if we could pull all these recipes together and give them an online home.
I was missing writing and working in an editorial role and a friend from my mag days suggested I start a blog. I had no idea what that was so I did a bit of Google and discovered a whole new world of cool people creating and sharing their own content on their own little corners of the web. I was so excited to start my own and decided to gather together all our market recipes, our venison ones, our friends from the markets and stories from the farm and farms around us into a blog and called it Local is Lovely.
I owe that blog so much, it has led to many opportunities, four books and a whole new way to work for myself that I never imagined when I first left Sydney.
Is farm life as gruelling as we imagine? When do you ever get a break? I wouldn’t say gruelling - or at least not right now when we are well out of drought and going through a pretty incredible spring season - but it is constant. There’s always something to do, a fence to fix, stock to check, and so on. And I have to say that my husband Tim, who really is the full time farmer, does the lion’s share of the work! I love getting out of the office and doing jobs around the farm with the dog on my lap, the kids on their bikes and Tim to chat to.
As I said though, you’ve caught us at a great time, the farm is looking incredible, there are calves and fawns everywhere, the dams are all full and I’ve never seen so much grass! It might be a different story come February when the ground is hard, dusty and dry….And a whole other story again when bushfires threaten or when things are lean and cold and muddy. But right now things are good and we’re leaning in.
You’ve written four books full of generous, inspiring recipes - what’s your current favourite thing to cook/bake? I made a ricotta and plum jam crostata today and it was just delicious and such a fun thing to make, I love making pastry using my palms and the heel of my hand to work butter into flour and bring it together into dough. These kitchen projects are like a meditation for me!
I really do love cooking but only when I have the time - those Tuesday nights when we’re not home from sport and town till 8pm and everyone’s starving and I haven’t been organised enough to have something bubbling in the slow cooker, those nights aren’t exactly calm mindful cooking! But on a sunny Sunday morning when I can play some sweet tunes and make pastry and pie - that’s the best.
How do you approach writing a recipe? Generally I start with a memory or an idea. A recipe I had once in a restaurant, or on my travels or as a child and try to create it, make it my best version and then test it on my family. I feel like food is very emotional, I try to think about how we’re all going to feel on a particular night and make something that will soothe, nourish or cheer. So on a cold Sunday night for example, after a big weekend when everyone’s exhausted, something like really good mashed potatoes with sausages baked in a super tasty gravy and a rocket salad and peas on the side, I know that will make everyone at my table happy, me as well!
And then I write that recipe and share it with the hope that on a day like that in your house you might make it too and feel all the feels!
When you’re tired - but, as is part of life, kids want dinner - what would you make? Honestly, sometimes the best dinner is a dippy egg! A soft boiled egg with (good) toast soldiers and maybe a green salad? My kids absolutely love a simple tomato pasta. They are really good at trying new foods, don’t mind spice etc and of course they're older now, but still the simple meals are the ones they seem to love the most.
Favourite toasted sandwich set up? So I’d start with really good sourdough bread, then (using a jaffle maker to keep everything tucked inside) I’d fill with creamed corn (homemade if you’ve got it, or stuff from the can!) and top with pickles and some grated cheddar. Then toast it all really well and serve with chilli flakes. Yum!
At a dinner party I am likely to be… Um…I always reckon the best part of the party happens in the kitchen so if it’s not my kitchen I’m probably sitting at someone else’s bench hijacking the playlist to put on some kitchen tunes!
Favourite Little Tienda piece? My new Meadow Polly dress is up there! But perhaps my favourite of all is a blue, pink and white check (think it’s the ‘picnic’ print) shirt that I have had for years, wear often and always feel really good in.
Someone you love following on Instagram? Right now, to fuel my festive fire, it’s Anja Dunk, a German cookery writer based in London. I love that every one of her pictures and captions feel so cosy and warm and I can just imagine sitting in her kitchen by morning candle light eating ginger cake and drinking strong tea with her.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, no Covid or money hassles, where would we receive a postcard from and who would you be with? I’d love to take my family to Denmark, my mother’s family came from there and I have been lucky enough to spend a little time in Copenhagen. I honestly think it’s the most wonderful, beautiful, friendly and special city in the world and I know Tim and the kids would love it too.
What’s a song that always puts you in a good mood? Jump Around by House of Pain always makes me laugh and want to get up and get up and jump around (I make my kids play it really loudly and then jump on the trampoline with me - great stress release!). One of my lifelong goals is to learn every word.
What book are you currently reading? I’m reading Jeanette Winterson’s Christmas Days and it’s just wonderful. We’re discussing it in the next episode of the new podcast I’m doing with my friend (bibliotherapist) Germaine Leece; Something to Eat and Something to Read.
Tell us - what’s coming up next for you? My next book is coming out in Autumn next year, it’s all about food and art and I co-wrote it with my mum, artist Annie Herron. Which is a bit special!
Also there’s the new podcast, Something to Eat and Something to Read which is a total passion project and I’m loving it! We read a book each episode and pick through the ‘food bits’ and what they mean to us and then we read out a listener letter and ‘prescribe’ him or her something to eat and something to read. It’s a dream and speaking to Germaine for each episode is like getting really good (free) therapy!
Follow Sophie on Instagram.
Sophie wears the Little Tienda Meadow Polly dress throughout.
Photography by Alice Hansen.