Monday, 26 October 2015

Comfort food: Spice loaf / bread

Perhaps I shouldn't admit it but I got into the holiday spirit early this year. I blame the kids. One evening when having dinner they started talking about our Christmas traditions, the food we enjoy, and I haven't recovered. I think I may have to pretend to be American and celebrate Thanksgiving this year just to get me some turkey and pumpkin pie. Back to my holiday mood. It's serious. I even baked a spice loaf two days in a row last week, mainly to enjoy the Christmassy scent of spices coming from the oven. And yesterday I started my experiments for our Christmas brunches, which you may have seen on Instagram.

October has kept me busy but one of the highlights this month was getting my friend (Cafe)Sigrun's cookbook in the mail, which you can spot in two images. It's the cookbook I worked on and told you about in this post. It was published in Iceland in the beginning of the month and has been well received. I thought my heart would burst when I opened the envelope. It was a strange feeling holding the book in my hands and turning its pages: there they were in print the documents that had been on my computer screen for months! I'm going to share a few recipes later and give you a peek inside the book.

The spice loaf recipe, which contains cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa powder, is one of those from my old food blog. I adapted it from my friend (Cafe)Sigrun, who was inspired by a spice tour in Africa when she put hers together, which is spicier. I have been baking the spice bread, a loaf cake, for many years and it's our comfort food. Sometimes when it's cold outside, and it's just the children and me at home, we enjoy it with hot chocolate for dinner. It's one of the few things I eat with butter, but I also like it without it. I bake it with spelt flour and I combine white and wholemeal, but you can use another flour. When I make it I use a dl measuring jug (something I was brought up with in Iceland) but I have added the measurement in grams and cups for those who don't have one or have never heard of it before.


3½ dl spelt flour (175 g, scant 1½ cups)
2½ dl rolled oats (100 g, 1 cup)
1¼ dl organic unrefined cane sugar (110 g, ½ cup)
2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder, organic/fair-trade
2½ teaspoons baking powder, gluten free
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
250 ml milk / soya milk (1 cup)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Add the milk and maple syrup and combine slowly, until there is no dry spelt flour left at the bottom. Add 1-3 tablespoons of milk if needed.

Line a (ceramic) loaf tin with baking parchment and pour the batter into it.

Bake at 190°C/375°F (175°C fan oven) for 35-40 minutes. You can stick a fork into the middle to see if the bread is ready. My children prefer the loaf a little sticky so I never bake it longer than 35 minutes in my oven. You can freeze slices of the spice loaf and put them straight into a toaster.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Rhubarb and strawberry crumble

You know those lame family jokes that I believe every family has a set of? My husband is the author of most of ours and even managed to make one about crumbles. Every time I'm preparing a crumble - rhubarb and strawberry is our favourite - he or any of the children can be heard singing a line from Adele's Bond song Skyfall, with slight changes. Instead of when it crumbles, they sing let it crumble. I know, terribly lame, but still it puts a smile on my face every time. I don't know what it is with a crumble baking in the oven, but it seems that ten minutes before it's ready everyone is already in the kitchen waiting, even walking around my farm table and peeking through the oven window. It must be the aroma. Crumbles are indeed comforting, even more so in autumn when the leaves have started to turn.

We are very fond of rhubarb crumbles with either fresh strawberries or blueberries, preferably both, but fresh plums and apricots are also wonderful. Instead of adding much sugar to the fruit and berry base, I use chopped semi-dried dates and only two tablespoons of sugar. Dates are naturally rich in sugar but they are also a good source of dietary fibre.

Most of you are probably used to plenty of butter in the crumble topping but mine contains none. I don't bake or cook with butter. I rub a bit of soft coconut oil into spelt flour and then I usually add ground almonds, or finely chopped, for that delicious crunchy texture. Walnuts and hazelnuts are also ideal.

When I was growing up I spent much time with my paternal grandparents. Their rhubarb bed in the garden was large and we ate the stalks like candy. The rhubarb was also used to make jam and my mother would often prepare a rhubarb pudding for dessert. Here in the UK, a rhubarb pudding looks like a cake - nothing like my mother used to make. I guess my mother's version could be called Nordic style rhubarb pudding. It was smooth like a thick soup or a smoothie, served warm with cream - sugary and delicious!

I had already posted a rhubarb and strawberry crumble recipe on the old food blog. In essence, this is the same recipe but the base is larger and I have added blueberries. You can replace the blueberries with more strawberries or other berries. We lived in Luxembourg when I put the recipe together and were so lucky to have rhubarb in the garden. I was inspired by a rhubarb and blueberry crumble recipe from my friend CafeSigrun that I had tried and loved. Remember her cookbook that I told you about? It just got published in Iceland. In fact, this morning I was listening to a live interview with her on an Icelandic radio station where she was introducing it. More on the book later. If you are expecting guests and want to serve the crumble for dessert you can prepare everything beforehand but wait with topping the base. Do so right before the crumble goes into the oven or else you will lose the crunchy texture that makes a crumble so tasty.


fruit & berry compote/base
400-450 g rhubarb
300 g strawberries
150 g blueberries
100 g semi-dried dates
2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

crumble topping
50 g ground almonds or finely chopped
100 g white spelt flour
3 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil, soft
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice or water

Fruit and berry base: Wash the rhubarb, trim off the leaves and chop the stalks into 2-2.5 cm chunks (about 1 inch) and put them into a large bowl. If the stalks are chunky chop them more finely. Rinse and hull the strawberries. Depending on their size, either halve or quarter the strawberries and add them to the bowl. Remove the stones, then chop the dates finely and add them to the bowl. Finally add the sugar, ground ginger and nutmeg and mix gently with a spoon. Set aside while preparing the crumble topping.

Crumble topping: If not using store-bought ground almonds, process whole almonds in a food processor. Set them aside. Combine the spelt flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the soft coconut oil and rub together with your fingertips (if it's warm and your coconut oil is in a liquid form then simply place it in the fridge before using). Add the ground almonds and orange juice and rub together a little longer.

Put the compote in a pie dish and spread it evenly (mine is 25 x 5 cm (about 10 x 2 in.) with sides that don't slope much). Top the compote with the crumble topping and bake at 200°C/400°F (180°C fan oven) for 30 minutes, until golden brown on top. If the top starts getting too brown, you may want to cover it with baking parchment or foil about ten minutes before the crumble is ready.

Allow the crumble to cool for a few minutes before serving with whipped cream, home-made vanilla ice cream or Greek yoghurt.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Diary of Virginia Woolf - Volume 1

'Something interesting happens every day' are words spoken by Virginia Woolf that my son and I have taken to heart and turned into a question that we ask each other every day. It started in the summer when I was reading The Diary of Virginia Woolf - Volume 1: 1915-19, part of my ongoing Woolf-and-Bloomsbury-group phase. They appear in a short documentary, The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf, in the bonus material of The Hours (2002) DVD (towards the end, at minute 24). One interviewee was the late Nigel Nicolson, the son of Woolf's closest friend Vita Sackville-West. He talks about his childhood memories of Woolf, about the questions she would ask about events of the day, and how she would encourage keeping a diary because 'something interesting happens every day'.

For those who thrive on the thrill of a good plot in novels, perhaps reading diary entries with everyday descriptions of, for example, the weather doesn't sound interesting. I think one has to be intrigued by any kind of life writing to enjoy such books. In the case of Woolf's diaries, it helps to be a fan of her work. My idea was to end my evening reading with one or two entries from Volume 1 but I always read more. What I found fascinating is how she observes people and her surroundings. The precise descriptions sometimes feel like poetry, especially when she describes the weather or the changing of the seasons. Then there is life during the Great War, which interested me. 'Happily the weather is turned cloudy; spring blotted out, but one must sacrifice spring to the war' (p. 128 - 15 March 1918).

The diaries, five volumes, were edited by Anne Olivier Bell (wife of Quentin, the son of Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell). There are footnotes for those who want to know more about the people and events Woolf writes about. The first volume covers the years 1915 to 1919. 'My writing now delights me solely because I love writing & dont [sic], honestly, care a hang what anyone says. What seas of horror one dives through in order to pick up these pearls—however they are worth it' (p. 20 - 16 January 1915). After six weeks of entries the diary stops in February 1915, when Woolf slid into madness, right before the publishing of her first work, The Voyage Out, in March 1915. Sadly, two years before she had tried to commit suicide. Because of her mental problems there is silence until 1917 when she starts again with brief entries. In the autumn the entries get longer but it isn't until in 1918 that the diary takes off and becomes an essential part of her life. In January 1919 she writes:
I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing, since I have just reread my years diary & am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest typewriting, if I stopped & took thought, it would never be written at all; & the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap. (pp. 233-34)

On the back cover: The Monk's House kitchen entry, Virginia and Leonard Woolf's home in Rodmell

In April 1919, Woolf writes a long entry where she contemplates on her diary writing:
I got out this diary, & read as one always does read one's own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough & random style of it, often so ungrammatical, & crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. ... But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practise. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses & the stumbles. ... What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit, & yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace any thing, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds & ends without looking them through. (p. 266)
I am currently waiting for a copy of Volume 2: 1920-24 to arrive in the mail, looking forward to picking up where I left off. For those of you who aren't into diaries but are interested in her life, there is a biography called Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee, which I intend to read when I'm done with all the five volumes of the diaries. Lee is one of the interviewee in the aforementioned documentary.