Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A time well spent

I have a confession to make. This morning was rainy and dull and with time on my hands I thought it best to finish organising the rest of our clothes. A chest of drawers in our bedroom is still empty after the move and there are still clothes in boxes. It all started well but then I longed for a cup of coffee and probably made the mistake of bringing it upstairs. Before I knew it I was sitting on the rug with books and magazines, and the film Out Of Africa (1985) running in player. I have no excuse. Most of the drawers are still empty but I believe my time was well spent. In my opinion it cannot be a waste of time if it leaves you inspired.

Lately I have been watching Out of Africa a lot. I don't sit with my eyes fixed on the screen, I just let it run in the player and watch it with one eye or listen while I'm doing something else. I often keep the director Sidney Pollack's commentary on because I never grow tired of what he has to say about Karen Blixen, Kenya and how they shot the film. He doesn't only talk about particular scenes, as most directors do, he goes deeper and I love his way of storytelling. Maybe this is just my way of holding on to his voice after his death. Anyway, it's a film I have watched so many times that I can no longer keep track, but each time I do I'm drawn to different scenes. This morning it was the relationship between Blixen [Meryl Streep] and her Somali servant Farah [Malick Bowens], who was with her the entire time she lived on the farm in Kenya. Their conversations aren't long but the scenes are delightful and often witty. In her book Shadows on the Grass she refers to him as her "servant by the grace of God" and I think Pollack's film captures the meaning of it beautifully.

About my rereading. Karen Blixen's Out of Africa is one of the books I have been reading again. I was thinking about it the other day that the more I see of the stuff people share on social media - selfies and pointless websites, dare I say stupidity? - the more I feel the need to take a step back and revisit either quality books or films. They help to cleanse the mind of rubbish articles and unwanted images out there.

A note on my photos: Top photo shows page 133 in the Dec. 2015 issue of The World of Interiors (taken by Andreas von Einsiedel). The article 'Window on the World' is about the late Julian Barrow, an artist and world traveller, who had a studio in Chelsea. The patterns are from V&A Pattern: Indian Florals. The bottom photo shows a page in the same issue of WoI. The article, 'Bauhaus Below the Border' which starts on page 66, is about Josef and Anni Albers. The exhibition 'A Beautiful Confluence: Anni and Josef Albers and the Latin American World' runs at the Museo delle Culture in Milan until 21 Feb.

Friday, 22 January 2016

carnations in winter

The difference the sun makes! When this day started it was just one of those dull, grey ones; a typical winter day. I won't say depressing because I had carnations in the living room and I brought coffee in here and some of the books I'm reading. (Do you also read many at once?) Later I was listening to lectures online when something wonderful happened: The sun came out and everything changed. By the way, in Iceland they are celebrating bóndadagur, or what we would call Husband’s Day in English.

Back to the lectures. I like taking free courses online; I think it enriches the spirit and broadens one's horizons. Currently, through Coursera, I'm registered in a class taught at Wesleyan University, called The Modern and the Postmodern (Part 2). The teacher was so enthusiastic about the material in part 1 that I had to continue. He is a teacher that has one's undivided attention, and today he certainly managed it with a series of lectures called 'Intensity and the Ordinary: Art, Loss, Forgiveness'. In that one he uses Virginia Woolf's novel, To the Lighthouse, to show "how giving up the search for the 'really real' can liberate one to attend to the everyday." Those who have read it will know what he's referring to. The book is one of my favourites by Woolf and I happened to reread it last summer. I had told you that I was reading her diaries. Because of the move to Scotland there wasn't much time for reading but now I'm finishing Volume 2, which covers the period 1920-24. I haven't ordered Volume 3, yet, but it's on my book list for February.

Did you know that pink carnations have the greatest significance of them all? It's believed that 'they first appeared on earth from the Virgin Mary's tears – making them the symbol of a mother's undying love' (source). It wasn't the reason I bought them but after I looked up their meaning I find myself looking at them differently. Have a wonderful weekend!


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Tomato soup with vegetables and curry powder

I wrote this yesterday when we were in the living room with hot chocolate and enjoying the warmth from the fireplace. Not only has it been cold outside but on Sunday our boiler broke down and the repairman isn't expected until today. Feeling thankful for that fireplace! Yesterday we really needed something warming and comforting for lunch and all we could think of was a bowl of it's-cold-outside soup. It's the name we gave my variation of Hadda's tomato soup, a hearty soup we found on the CafeSigrun website many years ago, when we still lived in Iceland. It's the ideal soup on cold winter days.

We all liked the original tomato soup recipe but it contains light cream cheese, which is something I don't normally buy (the rest of the ingredients can usually be found in my cupboards/fridge), and too much rosemary for my taste. Therefore, I decided to adjust the recipe slightly, and I added beans to make it even more filling. I serve the soup with bread, either fresh from the oven or the bread maker. For a certain texture you will need either a hand blender or a food processor/blender to prepare the soup. There is no need to despair if you don't have any of these appliances in your kitchen, just chop the vegetables finely instead of coarsely; it will only change the texture of the soup, not its taste. This is a big batch of soup that I'm making for five people. Adjust accordingly if making for only 1-2 persons, or refrigerate the rest and warm up the day after.


1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 carrots
2 celery sticks
4 potatoes
2 x 400 g cans tomatoes (2 x 14 oz)
500-700 ml water (2-3 cups)
2 organic vegetable stock cubes (or 1 and 1 chicken stock cube)
2-3 tablespoons organic ketchup
- or 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses or unrefined cane sugar
½ tablespoon curry powder (hot or mild)
½ tablespoon ground coriander
½ tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon rosemary
optional: a pinch of saffron strands
1 can (400 g) kidney beans or black beans (14 oz)
100-125 ml coconut milk (½ cup or a little less)
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel the onion and chop coarsely. Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion on low heat until it softens, occasionally stirring gently. Peel and press the garlic and add it to the saucepan.

Peel the potatoes. Chop the carrots, celery sticks and potatoes coarsely, add to the saucepan and cook for a few minutes on low heat, just to soften the vegetables.

Add the canned tomatoes, water, vegetable stock cubes and ketchup. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Then add the spices and herbs, put the lid on and leave to simmer for 15 minutes on low-medium heat.

Remove the saucepan from heat. Use a hand blender to purée the soup, not too smoothly (unless you prefer it), but be careful: The soup is very hot and you could get burned if you spray the soup up and out of the saucepan! To be on the safe side you can allow it to cool before using the hand blender, but hold it straight up and down and only press the button when the bottom part of the blender is in the soup. I like it when the soup contains a few coarse bits so I mainly purée the potatoes and largest bits. You can also purée the soup in batches in a food processor/blender but then you must allow it to cool first.

Rinse and drain the beans and add to the saucepan with the coconut milk. Gently heat the soup (don't bring to the boil) for a few minutes and taste with salt and black pepper before serving.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Books and Bowie

I hope your new year is off to a good start! As much as I enjoyed the leisurely holidays, I'm glad to be back to a daily routine. You may have noticed it on Instagram but I got a book at Christmas that I have hardly looked up from, Textiles of the Islamic World by John Gillow. I'm going to tell you more about it later but if you are into textiles this one won't disappoint. The motifs and details are captivating. On the side I did some rereading. I read The Hobbit by Tolkien again just for fun and I'm currently reading War and Peace. I blame BBC. Their new adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel made me want to revisit the characters. (For those of you who cannot watch the series, BBC's War & Peace (2015) is available for pre-order.)

I am wondering how many of you are listening to David Bowie songs today - may he rest in peace! It's hard to pick a favourite but the songs Heroes and Space Oddity are high on my list. Those of you who grew up with Bowie songs very likely have a memory to share. One of my brothers painted 'Bowie' in big capital letters on one of his bedroom walls, in black. If the curtains weren't drawn passers-by could spot it if they looked up. It only meant that I had the coolest big brother on earth!

Now it's time to leave the capsule
if you dare
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating
in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today