Friday, 9 December 2016

literary postcards | final 2016 reading list

'Give me books, fruit, French wine, fine weather and a little music.' These lines by John Keats are on a postcard in front of me. It's an Obvious State design, a creative studio that makes paper goods and items for the literary minded. Searching for a Christmas present for the book lover? Your search will end in their online shop that offers notebooks, bookmarks, tote bags and more. They are even offering a holiday discount. I received four postcards in the mail, a surprise gift for adding their #osfall tag to one of my bookish photos on Instagram, the one related to my early autumn reading list. Speaking of reading lists, it's time for the last one of 2016.

When you have like thousand books on your to-read and wish lists it's not easy to prioritise them, but I'm certain to find the first two on the list under the tree after dinner on Christmas Eve (that's when we open the presents; a Nordic tradition). I wanted to give a nod to some bookish blogger for recommending Carrión's book but I lost the link when my hard drive crashed some weeks ago. Carrión has written an extended essay about why bookshops matter and takes his reader on a journey around the world, visiting various bookshops such as Shakespeare & Company in Paris, Strand in NYC and Librairie des Colonnes in Tangier, just to name a few. James Wood is a staff writer and book critic at The New Yorker and his book is a blend of memoir and criticism. Here is my last list of 2016:

· Bookshops  by Jorge Carrión
· The Nearest Thing to Life  by James Wood
· The Makioka Sisters  by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki
· The Noise of Time  by Julian Barnes
· All We Shall Know  by Donal Ryan
· A Man in Love: My Struggle 2  by Karl Ove Knausgård
· Boyhood Island: My Struggle 3  by Karl Ove Knausgård
· The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between  by Hisham Matar

In my notebook I had started writing down ideas for a Japanese reading list to share later. Tanizaki's book has been on my list for so long and I just couldn't wait any longer when I realised I could order a copy at the library. I still haven't finished Zadie Smith's works from my last list but I'm already reading the books by Barnes and Ryan. The latter is an Irish author that I only discovered recently and I like his writing style. I cannot wait to continue reading Karl Ove Knausgård's autobiographical novels. When I finished his first My Struggle book I wanted to go straight to the library to borrow the next. All the good things that have been written and said about it turned out be true and I believe the next two will live up to my expectations. I'm looking forward to picking up The Return, a memoir by the Libyan novelist Hisham Matar. He was only nineteen when his father was kidnapped in Libya, then under the rule of Gaddafi, and probably died in prison in Tripoli. I read Matar's novel In the Country of Men many years ago. I no longer remember it in details but I remember being moved by it.

I enjoy connecting with my blog readers and it's always wonderful to receive an email from a perfect stranger who has been following the blog (some prefer emails to comments and that's fine), and perhaps loved a book I shared. Since I started sharing my reading lists I have received a few emails with questions like: Did you like this book? Will you write a review about this one? In my replies I have said that the reading lists are mainly there for my love of books; to give my blog readers ideas for reading. I have no intention of writing a review about every single book on my lists. Clearly, some readers are curious about or interested in knowing my thoughts so perhaps from now on I will write just a few lines in the comment section of each list when I'm done. Let me think about it.

With a few exceptions, I have enjoyed the books on my 2016 lists. Perhaps I will put those thoughts into words in a separate a post. Let me think about that as well.

And one reader asked what's my favourite reading spot. I have a few but these days I have been reading a lot in the dining room while enjoying long lunch. I snapped a photo recently of a common scenario: On that day it was pasta, today it was hummus and pitta bread.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

my quiet coffee moment

Today I needed a quiet coffee moment with books and notebooks. As soon as I had taken the photo, my Persian prince came downstairs and fell asleep on the table, next to the stack of books. He's snoring. Does anyone else feel as if in these last days they have been bombarded with commercialism? I'm referring to the endless Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails filling up my inbox, often more than one from the same brand within 24 hours. Enough is enough! This morning I mercilessly clicked the 'unsubscribe' button and kept only book and textile-related newsletters.

Did you see the Little Women-inspired doodle on Google? Writer Louisa May Alcott was born on this day, also C.S. Lewis. I have been thinking about the film (2000) all morning. Winona Ryder was wonderful in the role of Jo March and I have always had a soft spot for Gabriel Byrne who played Professor Bhaer. It's been many years since I read the book. Perhaps if I get a copy of the Penguin clothbound classic I will read it again. Speaking of books. Soon I will share my review of editor Robert Gottlieb's Avid Reader: A Life. It was the last one on my 'Booktober' reading list and I finished it before all the others. A likely indicator of how much I enjoyed reading his memoir.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Advent preparation with our calico Persian

First, Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers; I hope you enjoy a wonderful day with your loved ones! There is no celebration on this side of the Atlantic but I must admit that this morning I regretted not having planned a festive dinner. It would have been wonderful to sit down this evening to a decorated table. Luckily, the holiday season is almost upon us and it isn't a long wait until Christmas Day when we sit down to enjoy our turkey feast. Earlier when I got home, I opened my cupboards to bring out some of the things needed for our first Advent Sunday brunch and brought it upstairs to sort it out. Enter our calico Persian.

She curiously watched me choose the things needed to decorate the table. I was going to iron the table linen when I thought, Why not snap a photo for the blog? When I had fastened that bird on the branch I set up the tripod, adjusted the frame and the settings, and took one test photo. Suddenly she appeared in the frame. I should have known, especially with her up-to-no-good nature. Well, I'm glad for her photobombing. She turned it into a fun shoot and the bird survived unharmed. Only turning upside down.

Advent preparation with our up-to-no-good calico Persian

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

pizza buns (yeast-free)

Are you embracing the colder season or are you one of those who want to turn into a bear and hibernate? Coming from Iceland, where the days turn much darker in winter, I know a few who suffer from the winter blues but luckily their condition isn't serious, nothing that cannot be tackled with vitamin D and a cosy home. Candlelight, hot chocolate and warm socks often do the trick. Hyacinths too! This is the time to spread hyacinth bulbs in vases all over the home. The weather here on the west coast of Scotland has turned colder but we haven't quite stepped across the threshold and into winter. My trick to deal with the cold is a warm sweater and comfort food, especially bean stews or freshly baked bread or buns. Warm kitchens with heavenly scents are the best in winter, which is why yesterday I greeted the children with home-made pizza buns after school. It's one of my Antwerp recipes and brings back good memories.

Pizza buns ready for the oven

Before we make the pizza buns I would like to comment on baking powder: No one in this house is allergic but in my recipes I always use the gluten-free baking powder from Doves Farm. They don't pay me for advertising it, it's simply what I like best. Just recently I tried another brand, also gluten-free, but that one gave the pizza buns an aftertaste I didn't like. The reason I never use regular baking powder is that annoying aftertaste it always seems to give (use at least 50% less in the recipe if using regular).

We were living in Antwerp when I put this recipe for soft pizza buns together and for some reason haven't shared it on the blog. Personally, I'm not a big fan of pizza buns (my son and I want the real thing: pizza) but my daughters love the home-made ones. The buns are a great after-school snack, especially on cold days, freshly baked from the oven. For the dough I use white spelt flour but you can of course adjust the recipe for wholegrain (organic plain flour is also fine). The amount of salt depends on how salty your pizza sauce is: Mine isn't, it only has ¼ teaspoon. If your pizza sauce is salty you may want to use less salt. You can also add a bit of unrefined sugar to the sauce, or to the dough. Sometimes I substitute 2-3 tablespoons of the spelt flour for semolina or polenta. For a vegan version simply use soy yoghurt and vegan cheese. [Note for American readers: 1 cup of white spelt flour is about 130 grams, which means you will need scant 3¼ cups, depending on the type you use. For the lukewarm water, start with ½ cup and 2 tablespoons (= 155 ml) and add 1-2 tablespoons if needed.]


makes 20
435 g white spelt flour
1½ tablespoons baking powder, gluten-free
1 teaspoon (or less) fine sea/Himalayan salt
75 ml natural yoghurt (5 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon light olive oil
150-175 ml lukewarm water
3½-4 tablespoons pizza sauce
100 g cheese, grated (1 cup)
optional: Parmesan cheese and dried oregano/Italian herb mix

Prepare the pizza sauce if you do not have any leftover sauce. Here is my pizza sauce recipe.

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (see my above note on baking powder). Make a well in the centre and add the yoghurt, oil and water (start with 150 ml). Combine with a wooden spoon. Knead the dough with your hands while it is still in the bowl to get a feel for its texture. The dough is not supposed to be too wet, but if it is simply sift some flour over it and knead some more.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead it lightly with your hands. Bring out your rolling pin and roll and stretch the dough to form a square that is about 37 cm (14.6 inches). I make a square instead of a rectangle because I like my buns thick.

Spread the pizza sauce evenly over the square and sprinkle the cheese on top. Add some Parmesan and dried herbs, if using. Tightly but gently roll up the square into a thick log. Use a sharp knife to cut it in half, then cut each into 10 slices. Line a baking tray with baking parchment (the tray I use is 35 x 25 cm/13.8 x 9.8 inches). Place the buns into the baking tray in five rows of four.

Bake the pizza buns at 220°C/425°F (200°C fan oven) for 13-15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before serving them warm.
Uppskrift á íslensku.