Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Hydrangeas and September issues

These days in late August give me pleasure: morning coffees, walks, mainly to enjoy blooming hydrangeas, slightly darker afternoons, and book reading by candlelight in rain or thunderstorms. Then there are the September issues. In my case only one is a fashion magazine. The World of Interiors is as solid as ever; it always seems to leave me feeling a bit richer.

A few years ago I very likely would have bought a few editions of Vogue (there are old September issues of the American, British, French, Italian, and German on my shelves) but at some point I stopped. I hadn't really planned on buying Harper's Bazaar UK but when I leafed through it in the magazine shop there was a feature that caught my attention, on Amanda Brooks and her beautiful country home in Oxfordshire. Brooks is the former fashion director of Barneys in New York.

I think me buying the issue had also something to do with the Vita Kin dress Brooks is wearing in one photo. I'm fascinated with the design, the patterns and embroidery, of these traditional Ukrainian garments - vyshyvanka. I wondered if I would grow tired of them now that everyone seems to be wearing them but it doesn't look that way. These are classics.

Apart from beautifully styled and photographed editorials that tell a story (often hard to find), there really isn't much in fashion magazines anymore that particularly appeals to me. I'm referring to the fashion part. I think I have grown out of them and I'm weary of the way fashion is presented. What's with these endless label-orientated collages of the pieces of the season that always look the same? I'm much more interested in the design process itself and what inspired a designer's collection. That's why I was pleasantly surprised with an interview with Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccoli, the creative directors at Valentino. Just look at their mood board below for this year's autumn collection! This is what I want to see.

In the interview they honour the relationship with their seamstresses, who 'put their own passion and love into the collection. . . . There is a lot of care in every single dress, in every single detail, and you feel that it is something very precious' (p. 313). They have added a third couture atelier and are training young people to learn the skills. As Chiuri points out: 'There is a dignity in this job, but it is also fun to see a punky girl in her Doc Martens working beside a 60-year-old lady in slippers - two generations together, sharing the knowledge and expertise' (p. 314). You can view a few Valentino design details on my Tumblr page.

Another enjoyable article was about Diana Vreeland, the legendary fashion editor, written by British historian Kathryn Hughes (her biography of George Eliot is on my wish list). A new book about Vreeland will be published by Rizzoli in October, Diana Vreeland: the Modern Woman: The Bazaar Years, 1936-1962, edited by her grandson Alexander Vreeland.

There were plenty of features in The World of Interiors that appealed to me. One particular about a Mexican ranch, bordering Arizona, owned by designers Jorge Almada and Anne-Marie Midy of the Casamidy furniture company. Think traditional rugs with diamond patterns and leather chairs. Midy describes the surrounding landscape as 'green after the summer rains, but bleached pale gold by the autumn' (p. 130). I want to sit on that veranda and take it all in.

An article about Caffè Stern in the Passage des Panoramas in Paris made my heart beat a little faster because of Picasso cushions that are part of the décor (see one in the above photo to the left). I cannot remember when I first fell flat for them. The covers are woven by hand and handcrafted in Flanders, created in collaboration with the Picasso foundation. A few covers are available in The Conran Shop in London.

Soon the kids go back to school and the bright colours of the hydrangeas will start to fade. Eventually, the tree leaves will start to turn. Part of me looks forward to crisp autumn mornings; another part hopes for an Indian summer.

[Update: Because of a comment below about the olive textile sample and an email I received about the red one: All samples in this post are from Fermoie. The olive green is Rabanna (L-077), the red is Marden (L-275), and the striped ones spotted in one photo are York Stripe (blue L-173, red L-016). These are all 100% cotton. All info on the yellow one spotted in a few photos are in my blog post yellow fabrics by Fermoie.]


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Built-in nooks

This summer my admiration for built-in nooks has reached a whole new level. I think it started with an Ibizan house tour in Elle Decoration UK  that I shared in a blog post in June. From then on these types of nooks were demanding my attention everywhere; also the textiles, the covers and cushions chosen to make them comfortable. I have a French issue of Elle Decoration from last summer that is filled with built-in nooks. It has been on my table this summer and I just had to take a few photos for the blog. You see, I look at my blog as a diary. I don't write one, by that I mean the dear diary type, but I note down things in my journals all the time. The visual part is very important to me as well and I like being able to store these images on the blog for others to enjoy but also for myself to look them up later.

Let us start with a few nooks that appeared in a feature on Scorcialupi, a holiday rental in the Italian region of Puglia. I find the outdoor living area above absolutely stunning. The two indoor ones below are also neat.

1-3: Scorcialupi, Elle Decoration (French), July/August 2014, pp. 108-117/Christian Schaulin

As much as I like the nook below, with its harmonious colour palette, I'm not sure I would want one in my outdoor dining area, especially if I were entertaining. If one person has to stand up then others have to move or make space. However, this kind of rustic style is right up my alley and I like how the industrial Tolix chairs create contrast (this photo only shows one clearly). The nook belongs to a beautiful and stylish home on the Greek island of Mykonos.

4: Mykonos house tour, Elle Decoration (French), July/August 2014, pp. 130-141/Giorgio Baroni

Monday, 17 August 2015

Meringue tops and chocolate sauce

I remember Nigella Lawson saying wittily in one of her TV episodes that adding strawberries makes you feel like eating very healthily. She was wearing a robe and I think she was making pancakes for breakfast at a beach house. It stuck with me. I need to borrow her words because the meringue tops have the highest sugar content of all my recipes. After years of occasional experimenting I gave up and concluded that a healthier version was a wishful thinking. A certain ratio of sugar and egg whites is needed for the meringue texture to feel right. It cushions the blow just a little to use organic unrefined cane sugar, but after all sugar is sugar. I serve the meringue tops with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, strawberries and blueberries, and if I'm making them in summertime I like adding nectarines or peaches.

This is one of the recipes I have already shared on the old food blog and when making them yesterday I thought, why not snap new photos. Actually, I had already separated eggs and was about to make Belgian waffles when the jar of coconut oil came flying out of the cupboard and broke into pieces on the floor. I had berries in the fridge, so making meringue tops instead was an excellent idea.

In comparison to my other recipes, these meringue tops may have a high sugar content but their taste isn't over-sugary. It is said that the fibre and fructose of strawberries help regulate blood sugar, which may explain why we never feel a sugar-rush after enjoying them. But note that this isn't a recipe that I make every week, these are just for special occasions. I used to own a KitchenAid mixer but for many years I haven't used a mixer when baking, except for whipping cream and egg whites. Now I use a simple handheld mixer on a stand so I find it best to add the sugar gradually, not in one go. In my meringue experiments I tried using baking powder, lemon juice, cream of tartar and a blend of it all, but in the end I switched to cornflour and add just a bit to the sugar. If you are new to meringue making, make sure not a trace of egg yolk goes into the mixing bowl (see tip below).


4 egg whites (use large free-range eggs, at room temperature)
185 g organic unrefined cane sugar (as fine as possible)
½ teaspoon cornflour
a pinch of sea salt
for chocolate meringue tops: ½ tablespoon cocoa powder

Separate the eggs. Add the egg whites to a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and cornflour.

Beat the egg whites until you get a slightly fluffy texture. Gradually add the sugar until the texture has become thick (the process takes me about 10-12 minutes). If making chocolate meringue tops, sieve over the cocoa powder and use a spatula to gently fold it in to create a marbled effect.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment and use a spatula to form 6 meringue tops, using slow swirling movements.

Bake at 140°C/275°F (125°C fan oven) for about 80 minutes, then turn the oven off, open the oven door and let the meringue tops sit in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Serve with whipped cream and fresh berries, and perhaps the chocolate sauce below.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

If you are new to meringue making or perhaps a bit clumsy then perhaps it's better to separate cold eggs, one at a time: Use separate bowls for the egg whites and yolks. After cracking each egg, transfer the egg white from the bowl to the mixing bowl before cracking another one. If using cold eggs, cover the mixing bowl with a plastic film or a plate when you are done and wait for about 30 minutes until you start beating the egg whites.

Meringue tops ready for the oven

The chocolate sauce is a variation of the chocolate frosting I made for my chocolate tray bake recipe. I just added more water to turn it into a sauce (you can also use it on ice cream). Make sure to always bake with quality cocoa powder, preferably organic/fair-trade. Prepare the chocolate sauce while the meringue tops are baking in the oven to give it time to cool.


3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1½ tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
2½ tablespoons pure maple syrup or agave syrup
4½-5 tablespoons water (about 75 ml)
a small piece organic dark chocolate or milk chocolate (15-20 g)
optional: a pinch of sea salt

Put all the ingredients into a small pan or saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium heat, stirring gently. Then remove from heat.

Pour the chocolate sauce into a bowl and let it sit for 30-40 minutes before serving.

Uppskrift á íslensku.


Thursday, 13 August 2015

BBC's Life in Squares

Did you watch the miniseries Life in Squares on BBC? It was introduced as a three-part drama about the relationship between English painter Vanessa Bell and her sister, writer Virginia Woolf. To me it felt more like the story of Vanessa and artist Duncan Grant's relationship. Not that I'm complaining, I thoroughly enjoyed the series and its beautiful set design and costumes. Actress Phoebe Fox plays the younger Vanessa and Eve Best the older. I hadn't seen Fox in anything before and was very impressed with her performance; she fit well into my idea of Vanessa. James Norton is memorable in the role of younger Duncan (I first saw him as Tommy in Happy Valley) and so is Rupert Penry-Jones in that of the older. In fact, the entire cast is wonderful, an assembly of fine British actors who give great performances and bring to life on screen the famous avant-garde Bloomsbury group and its bohemian lifestyle, with the help of screenwriter Amanda Coe and Swedish director Simon Kaijser.

The series is still available on the BBC iPlayer but will soon be released on DVD. If you haven't already watched it I have to warn you about the first episode. A lot of material is crammed into it - love affairs and deaths - that will make much more sense to those already familiar with the individuals of the Bloomsbury circle. It's my personal opinion that there should have been four episodes instead of three to better introduce the characters. In episode 2 the storytelling becomes much more flowing and easier to follow.

Maybe it's a cliché to call the lifestyle of the Bloomsbury group bohemian, as I did above, but the mise en scène certainly is. Think paintings, art supplies, desks, books, letters, etc. During the World War I, Vanessa Bell set up a home in the Charleston House in Sussex, where the main part of the Life in Squares takes place. You will find beautiful images of its artistic interiors on the website of House & Garden.

For me the timing of the series is interesting because in the beginning of this summer I picked up Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, which I tend to read in summertime. During the reading I started thinking about the sisters, watched The Hours (2002) for the hundredth time, and pre-ordered the paperback edition of Vanessa Bell by Frances Spalding. I realised my focus had always been on Virginia and her story, and I didn't know enough about Vanessa. The series has now given me a better idea and I'm even more eager to receive the biography in the mail.

The World of Interiors, September 2014, p. 146

I have what I can only call a longstanding infatuation with Virginia Woolf. I cannot remember when it started, and I cannot remember which of her work I read first. So much has been written about her life and if you are interested in her story I can recommend the book Moments Of Being: Autobiographical Writings. Then there is her nephew Quentin Bell's (son of Vanessa and Clive Bell) biography about her life from the year 1912 to 1941, Virginia Woolf: A Biography. Her husband Leonard Woolf edited her diaries and published them after her death (see A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf).

After watching Life in Squares I'm eager to go a little Bloomsbury-group crazy. I'm looking forward to reading the aforementioned biography of Vanessa Bell and then I would love to watch again Carrington (1995), starring two of my favourites, Emma Thompson as Dora Carrington and Jonathan Pryce as Lytton Strachey (see trailer). There is a film in the making by Dutch director Sacha Polak called Vita & Virginia, about Virginia's relationship with Vita Sackville-West. More to look forward to!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

A natural kitchen with texture

Texture done right is what comes to mind when I view the image above. Kitchens with open shelving usually have that element of lightness that I like and the decorative scheme in this one, the natural and warm look with earthy ceramics and kitchenware, is ideal. Apart from the moss green units the palette is neutral, meaning that texture is the key to an eye-catching look. Everything works here and the cover of the Chesterfield sofa, hand-woven Hungarian linen, adds that extra textural touch. The shelves and other kitchen units are carved from untreated oak, and wooden crates are used for storage instead of closing the units with doors.

About three months ago I pinned two images of this same kitchen. They looked familiar but I just couldn't place them until recently when I leafed through a stack of magazines to look for a particular house tour. In the February 2015 issue of Elle Decoration UK, there it was, another angle of this kitchen I thought I must have seen before, part of a feature called Revival of a Classic (photographed by Michael Paul). Initially I thought it was perhaps Scandinavian but it belongs to a renovated Edwardian style house by the coast in West Sussex. If you like natural and rustic style this house tour won't disappoint you. The house owner is Alex Legendre, who owns the I Gigi boutique in Brighton.

[Want to see more? The images I pinned show the 'Butler' sink, a vintage find, and the use of wooden crates as storage. For those of you who don't use Pinterest, you can view these images on the website of the Norwegian interior magazine Vakre Hjem & Interiør.]

image by me | credit: Elle Decoration UK, February 2015, p. 88 · Michael Paul