Monday, 27 July 2015

A love story and quinoa dessert

Recently I crossed one book of my list when I read Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser. If I were to describe it in only a few words I would say it's a beautiful love story, one of the most intimate ones I have read. Fraser uses her diaries to tell about her life with playwright Pinter, from the day they met in 1975 to the day he died in 2008. And what a life they shared! I would like to tell you just a little bit about the book and also republish my recipe of quinoa pudding with Greek yoghurt, berries and fruit.
Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser · Lisa Hjalt

It's no secret that both Fraser and Pinter were married when they met and the press fed on their 'literary friendship', as one paper put it. Things got complicated until both got a divorce and in one entry Fraser refers to a devoted friend of both who 'thought all this romantic talk about marriage was nonsense; why couldn't we just have an affair like everyone else?' (p. 29). It cracked me up.

I often laughed or smiled during the reading. Mainly the diary entries tell the story but sometimes Fraser comments on them and, personally, I would have liked to see more of that. Fraser has a beautiful way with words and I like her unpretentious style. She gets right to the point, unafraid of exposing herself, and often describes things in a comic way. I loved the book but I would have been quite satisfied with a longer one.

It's obvious that the book ends with Pinter's death, yet when I reached that final page I was so immersed in their love story that my heart was crushed when it was all over.

I cannot say that I knew much about Pinter, except that he was a playwright and a director and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005. In person, as described by Fraser, he was nothing like I had imagined and now I'm eager to read the biography Harold Pinter by Michael Billington.

Just a few more lines about books before dessert. I have already told you about my love for author Helene Hanff (1916-1997), in my posts about 84 Charing Cross Road and Letter from New York. Since then I have also read Q's Legacy (spotted in my images), which is just as wonderful as the others. Parts of it are a repetition of what Hanff has already said in earlier works but I wouldn't let it stop me from reading it too.
A quinoa dessert · Lisa Hjalt

I have stated earlier that I would like to keep all my recipes in one place and this quinoa pudding, which I often make during the warmer months, is from my old food blog. Food blogger and writer Aran Goyoaga of Canelle et Vanille was my inspiration when I put the recipe together. She had used milk to cook the quinoa but I use water and then Greek yoghurt for the pudding itself because of its creamy texture. The recipe is simple but you have to boil the quinoa first and allow it to cool for about an hour. You can top the pudding with any kind of berries and fruits. Please note that I'm serving the pudding as a dessert for five persons.


200 g quinoa (1 cup)
625 ml water (2½ cups)
a pinch of sea salt
250-300 g strawberries (circa 1½ cup)
½-1 tablespoon unrefined cane sugar
2 peaches, nectarines or apricots
450 g Greek yoghurt
2 teaspoons organic vanilla sugar
1½-2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
to garnish: almond flakes or chopped almonds or walnuts

Rinse the quinoa thoroughly under running water to remove the coating, which contains the bitter-tasting saponins (sometimes I let it soak in water for about 30 minutes before rinsing, depending on the type I use). Put the quinoa in a medium saucepan with water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil on highest heat, then reduce it to the lowest and cook for about 20 minutes. Use a lid but let it tilt slightly to allow the steam to escape. When the quinoa is cooked, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool for about an hour.

Hull and dice the strawberries. Put them in a medium bowl and sprinkle them with ½-1 tablespoon unrefined cane sugar. Allow to sit at room temperature while the quinoa is cooling.

To make the pudding: Combine 350-400 g Greek yoghurt, vanilla sugar and maple syrup in a large bowl. Fluff the quinoa gently with a fork before adding it to the bowl.

Dice the fruit and chop the almonds/walnuts finely, if using.

To serve, ladle the pudding into dessert bowls or glass jars. Add strawberries on top and then fruit. Top with the rest of the Greek yoghurt and almond flakes or chopped almonds/walnuts.

Uppskrift á íslensku.


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Potato wedges with seasoned salt

In this household we like potatoes. A lot. I go through periods of experimenting, especially with baked potatoes because we like the skin (it gives you fibre). My almost ten-year old reminded me of these potato wedges, which I season with home-made seasoning salt, when he asked for them, and chicken, on his birthday next Saturday. He also wants apple cake with whipped cream. Mais bien sûr, monsieur!

Did you know that the Incas were the original growers of potatoes? I had no idea until I read about the history of the potato in the Larousse Culinary Encyclopedia. It was Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conqueror of the Inca empire (and founder of the city of Lima), who brought it to Europe in 1534. The English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh made the same discovery in Virginia fifty years later and brought the potato to England. Well, that didn't stop King James I from having him imprisoned for treason in the Tower of London and later executed. But that's another story and I'm sure it has nothing to do with potatoes.

The above images are also unrelated to potatoes. I snapped them in our garden in the end of May and wanted to post them on the blog to remind me of that pretty plant in bloom. Its roots are in the neighbours' garden and right before blooming it sneaks over the fence and allows us to enjoy its beautiful white flowers. I call it 'the shawl' because of its shape.

Let us start with the spicy seasoned salt, which couldn't be simpler. For my mix I use whole pink Himalayan crystal salt, but using fine sea salt is fine. The ratio of the smoked paprika depends on my mood; its flavour can be a bit dominant so perhaps it's best to start with ¼ teaspoon. The ratio of the chilli powder depends on which type of chilli powder I use, milder or hotter version. This seasoned salt doesn't burn any tongues, at least not ours, but it has a bit of an edge.


1½ tablespoons Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼-½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon red chilli flakes
a pinch of or ¼ teaspoon chilli powder

Put everything in a glass jar with a lid and shake well. Remember to label the jar, and perhaps add the ratios in case you want to make changes later.

You can use the seasoned salt to roast vegetables or to coat chicken. It's ideal when preparing grilled sandwhiches. You can also use it to add a bit of salty flavour to the meal you're cooking, as long as the spices go well with other ingredients of the dish.

Baked potatoes with thyme and rosemary are a classic that one cannot go wrong with, but when enjoying potatoes with, for example, burgers or chicken drumsticks my taste buds call for something different, preferably something spicy. If I can only get very large baking potatoes I usually parboil them for 7-10 minutes and let them steam dry in a colander before cutting them into wedges. Please note that I'm cooking this side dish for 5 persons so you may want to adjust the recipe.


1 kg baking potatoes (2.2 lb)
1 tablespoon light olive oil or other vegetable oil
1 teaspoon spicy seasoned salt (see recipe above)

Scrub the potatoes clean. To make wedges, cut each potato in half lengthwise, and each half into three parts lengthwise (each potato should give you 6 wedges, but if the potatoes are very large you may want to cut the wedges in half crosswise as well). Make sure the wedges are not too thin, as you bake them in the oven with the skin facing down.

There are two ways to coat the wedges: 1) Put the ingredients in a large freezer bag, seal it and rotate it thoroughly to make sure all the wedges are coated. Then spread the wedges over a large baking tray lined with baking parchment with the skin facing down. 2) If you like coating them with your hands you can put everything in a large roasting tray and then spread the wedges with the skin facing down.

Cook in the oven at 220˚C/425˚F (200˚C fan oven) for about 25-30 minutes, or until the wedges are cooked through, golden and crisp. We like our potatoes well done so usually I lower the heat after 25 minutes and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or even longer.

Serve the potato wedges with quality mayonnaise or sour cream. You can also make a dip by adding some ground cumin to a small bowl of Greek yoghurt.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Whitby the historic sea front town

On Saturday I celebrated my birthday in Whitby, the historic, picturesque sea front town in North Yorkshire. The harbour splits the town into two parts, with the older located on the East bank. Whitby has old houses, narrow cobblestone streets from mediaeval times, beautiful shopfronts, colourful doors, taverns, cafés, sandy beaches and cliffs, not to mention the famous ruins of the Whitby Abbey, the gothic church on top of the East Cliff.

Whitby is probably familiar to those who have read the Gothic horror classic Dracula by Bram Stoker. Count Dracula is shipwrecked off the Whitby coast and comes ashore disguised as a black dog, and then the "fun" begins! After having been to Whitby I must say that it is the perfect setting for the tale.
The marina in Whitby and in the background the North York Moors National Park

The view from the 199 steps in all directions is simply breathtaking. When you look over the old red rooftops it feels as if you have travelled back in time or have entered a fairy tale. I can recommend entering the town from the steps, which have an adjoining donkey track (there is parking on the East Cliff by the Whitby Abbey ruins). When you walk down the steps you step right into Church Street (see my images below), a charming narrow cobblestone street, where you will find all kinds of wonderful shops, inns and cafés.

Everywhere you look there is something to photograph but on Saturday the town was packed with people, which made it difficult to snap photos. We drove to Whitby and on the way into town you have to pass the North York Moors National Park, which has a beautiful landscape.
Marie Antoinette's Patisserie in Church Street

There was only one thing I spotted in Whitby that bothered me (not for the first time). As we were walking in Church Street I saw the sign of Marie Antoinette's Patisserie with the phrase 'let them eat cake'. It's a phrase commonly misattributed to the Queen. She was supposed to have said it upon learning that the peasants couldn't afford bread. The fact is she never uttered these words; it was just French Revolution propaganda. It so happens that in my bag I had my copy of Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser (an early birthday present from hubby). A few years back I read Fraser's biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey, where she corrects the 'let them eat cake' story and I think it's my duty to do so too, in case you spot the quote in my photo of the sign.

I took some photos of the Whitby Abbey, which I might share later. As I said earlier, there were so many people in Whitby that day that made it difficult to take photos. This trip was also a pleasure trip for the family and I wanted to spare them; it's no fun continually having to stop walking while someone is photographing. The idea is to return to Whitby on a weekday and go for a stroll with the camera while they relax on the beach.


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Peonies and V&A Indian floral patterns

At some point I scribbled down in my notebook that the Chinese name for a peony is sho yu, which means the most beautiful. What a fitting name! In Iceland, where I grew up, peonies are called farmer's roses - bóndarósir. Perhaps a blog post about peonies is a cliché but last year I accompanied them with a book on textiles and I thought textiles and peonies were a good annual theme. The latest textile book in my collection is V&A Pattern: Indian Florals.

On the cover: Length of furnishing fabric, cotton embroidered with silk thread,
Gujurat (for the European market), early 18th century (V&A: IS.298-1951)

The V&A Pattern: Indian Florals is a small book with only four pages of text by Rosemary Crill. It has 66 pages of prints, plus the one featured on the cover and a few additional ones (a total of 71). There are short descriptions below the prints (like my captions) and the book includes a high-resolution images disc with all the patterns.
Bed-cover, dyed and quilted cotton (chintz), Coromandel Coast (for the European market),
c. 1725-50 (V&A: CIRC.465-1912)
Length of dress fabric, block-printed cotton (chintz), South India (for the European market),
18th century (V&A: IS.27-1976)

The V&A Pattern books are a wonderful introduction to the design archives - textiles, decorations, wallpapers and prints - of the Victoria and Albert Museum. For textile enthusiasts or students they are ideal for collecting. Next time I think I will go for Kimono or William Morris, or perhaps the Box-Set III, which includes the books: Spitalfields Silks, Chinese Textiles, Pop Patterns, and Walter Crane.

I find it a bit difficult to make up my mind, but the books aren't expensive so I believe that in a short time I will have a good collection on my coffee table and on my bookshelves.

As I write this, my last bouquet of peonies this season is sitting in a white ceramic vase on my kitchen table. I am going to risk sounding dramatic (I'm anything but) when I say that I wish I had the powers to stop the peonies from withering. I don't want to wait for almost a whole year to breathe in their heavenly scent again.

Peonies are indeed the most beautiful.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Kember & Jones deli café in Glasgow

Yesterday we took a trip to the Scottish city of Glasgow and I fell head-over-heels in love with its West End district. Somewhere in the heart of this beautiful and laid-back district, with cafés and restaurants on every corner, I turned to my husband and asked him: Where has this city been all my life? At 134 Byres Road we found Kember & Jones deli café and when I opened the door I was home. We got a table upstairs with view over the ground floor where we took in the wonderful atmosphere of this place.

I never write any of those 'my week in Instagram' posts on my blog (sorry folks, I find them pointless) but when I took the camera out of my bag to snap photos of the West End district to share on the blog, I realised that I had left the battery in the charger at home ... duh! Luckily my husband had his phone with him so I was able to snap these two at Kember & Jones and share them on Instagram. This only means that I have to return to Glasgow one day.

Back to the café. Personally, I cannot stand it when my latte is served in a large glass. Dazzled by the café's rustic interior style, I forgot to ask how they served it at Kember & Jones and it arrived in a medium-sized, vintage-looking glass, which didn't bother my latte-soul at all. More importantly, it was good! I ordered a sandwich from their menu with roasted vegetables, hummus, spinach and harissa chilli dressing, with beans and salad on the side, and it was heavenly. When I thought this café couldn't enchant me anymore I found pretty much all the cookbooks on my wish list on display on the ground floor (Sunday Suppers by Karen Mordechai and A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse by Mimi Thorisson, just to name a few, and I added to it The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers). This café is simply a charmer.

As a final note, let me just say that if you ever travel to Glasgow or have a stop-over, don't make the mistake of staying only one day. I could spend days in the West End district alone. In fact, I think I could spend days just enjoying the cafés, restaurants and scenery on Byres Road!