Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Purple shades and original floor tiles

You know those pages in magazines that you keep coming back to? For me this is one of them. The bedroom belongs to designer Stefano Guidotti's home by Lake Como in Italy that was featured in the April issue of Elle Decoration UK ('Como in Colour', photographed by Mads Mogensen). In his own words he is obsessed with colour and thought of the original patterned floor tiles as huge rugs when decorating his home. The shades of his walls are beautiful and he has a wonderful selection of decorative objects. If you can get a hold of the issue then check out the leather sofa in the living room and the colour of his dining area. Such an inspiring house tour!

image by me | credit: Elle Decoration UK, April 2016, p. 167 · Mads Mogensen

Monday, 25 April 2016

Lentil soup | Vegan in the house

For a spring menu, hearty soups aren't the first thing that come to mind but here by the west coast of central Scotland the arrival of spring hit the breaks; suddenly the days turned colder with rain. Last week we finally got excellent spells of sunshine so we seem to be back on track, and the buds are rejoicing. I wanted to post this lentil soup recipe before it's too late. In the sense, out of touch with the season, especially for those who live further south and are already enjoying fine weather and trees in bloom. In our garden a huge cherry tree is about to bloom. Its branches stretch over the patio and some even reach the main roof of the house. If I would keep our son's bedroom window open they would find their way in. I wouldn't mind but he would. I cannot wait to see the cherry tree in its full glory.

Back to the soup. In January our younger daughter, a teen of 14, decided to go vegan. My husband and I discussed it between us that this was just a phase, something she needed to explore. Honestly, we thought it would last for 1-2 weeks. Apart from the smoked lamb at Christmas (Icelandic tradition), she never was much of a meat eater. That part would be easy. Quitting eggs, however, would probably break her. Or so we thought. Our girl loved her omelettes and made her own if I served e.g. fajitas or something she didn't like. Now the month of May is almost upon us and our girl is still going strong. Still a vegan.

Consequentially, I have made some adjustments in our diet - surely baking less with eggs - and I have veganised some of my own vegetarian recipes and created new ones. What I like about her going vegan is that she is learning about nutrition and cooking, and she now enjoys certain vegetables she didn't like before. I love seeing her gaining confidence in the kitchen; she now makes uncomplicated, nutritious meals without any help. Sometimes the two of us are together in the kitchen preparing a meal that needs to be adjusted for her. For a mother, who is a foodie, those are quality moments. When the days were colder I often prepared veggie chilli or other bean stews or hearty soups for lunch that would then wait on the hob when our steadfast vegan came home from school. This green lentil soup was one of those.

[The textiles seen in the images, excluding the napkin, are by Lisa Fine: Baroda 1 in indigo (bird pattern), Lahore in apricot (floral), and Chiara in sky blue/oyster (to the right). More on Lisa Fine Textiles later.]

Whether you are a vegan or not, lentils are good for you (read about health benefits of lentils); I think everyone should have a basic lentil recipe in their repertoire. Lentils are high in protein, dietary fibre, and iron, and a source of e.g. B1 and B6. Lentils and spices are a wonderful mix because the lentils absorb their flavour. In my opinion, herbs like bay leaf and thyme also go well with lentils. Just make sure you don't overcook them; they should keep their consistency. Soft lentils, yes. Mushy, not so much. For the vegetable broth I use the vegan organic bouillon powder from Marigold (it has less salt), but you can of course use vegetable stock cubes.


1 tablespoon coconut oil or light olive oil
1 small onion
2 carrots
1-2 celery sticks
3 cloves garlic
1 red chilli (or ¼ teaspoon chilli powder)
1 cup green lentils
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1250 ml organic vegetable broth (5 cups)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1-2 whole thyme sprigs
optional: 1-2 seeded tomatoes
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Rinse and drain the lentils (sometimes it's recommended that you boil them for 2 minutes before rinsing). Set them aside and prepare the vegetable broth. Boil water and pour into a heatproof measuring jug with vegetable bouillon or stock cubes. For 1250 ml water (5 cups) you will normally need 5 teaspoons of the bouillon powder or 2¼ stock cubes (brands may vary; read the label).

Peel and chop the onion. Slice the carrots and celery sticks. Remove the seeds from the chilli (if using) and chop finely. Heat the oil in a medium-large saucepan on medium heat. Add the onion and vegetables and cook for a few minutes until they have softened. Peel and press the garlic and add it to the saucepan. Cook for 1-2 more minutes, gently stirring.

Add the lentils and spices and stir gently. Pour in the broth and add the bay leaf and thyme. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and let the soup simmer for about 25-30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft but not mushy. Use a lid but tilt it to allow the steam to escape. If using tomatoes: remove the seeds and dice the tomatoes before adding to the saucepan.

Before serving, remove the bay leaf and the left overs of the fresh thyme (if using). Season the soup with black pepper and salt, if you think it needs more salt. Serve with (home-made) wholegrain bread, and perhaps a glass of fine red wine . . . just saying.

Uppskrift á íslensku

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Carrington and Strachey

This setting is starting to look familiar; me, sitting on a cushion on the floor surrounded with books (that's Vassily Kandisky's Capricious Forms, 1937, on the page) and magazines, sometimes with a film or a drama series in the player. Only the cup of coffee is missing. On Netflix they have added The Honourable Woman, a gripping BBC mini series that I enjoyed watching again. The cast is great but for me Stephen Rea stands out. You will also find there a favourite of mine, the First World War drama Testament of Youth (2014), starring Alicia Vikander, based on Vera Brittain's memoir with the same name. Its set design is gorgeous; the costumes too. One of my own DVDs that I have been watching is Carrington (1995), about the interesting relationship between artist Dora Carrington (1893-1932) and writer Lytton Strachey (1880-1932).

Carrington and Strachey, played by Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce, belonged to the Bloomsbury group. Strachey was gay but he and Carrington had a special relationship and set up a home together. (If you visit the National Portrait Gallery in London you can view Carrington's portrait of Strachey.) Their story is certainly a love story, but of a different kind, with a tragic ending. Carrington took her own life following Strachey's death from cancer. Thompson is wonderful in her role but Strachey's wittiness helps Pryce steal the show. Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey) as Lady Ottoline Morrell is also a scene-stealer. She is simply fabulous. In everything she does.

I am constantly adding books to my reading list and Strachey is on it. I want to read Lytton Strachey: The New Biography by Michael Holroyd and also The Letters of Lytton Strachey, edited by Paul Levy. I just haven't decided which one to read first. Have you read them?

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Textiles of the Islamic World by John Gillow

Book review: Textiles of the Islamic World by John Gillow · Lisa Hjalt

For Christmas I got the book Textiles of the Islamic World by John Gillow, who is a well-known author, lecturer and collector in the field of textiles. First I was browsing, going back and forth just a tad too eagerly, and mainly feasting on the illustrations - gorgeous motifs and patterns - but gradually I started taking in the wealth of information. For anyone interested in textile design this book is a treasure, especially if one is interested in Islamic culture and how Islam spread to various corners of the world. The text is rich in details, e.g. on embroidery and weaving techniques, but Gillow manages well to avoid an overload of information. For a non-scholar in textile design, like myself, the book was entertaining and I can only hope to do it justice in a single blog entry. The images I snapped show just a portion of the fabrics and patterns I kept coming back to during the reading. A small portion.

[Book cover: 17th-century Ottoman embroidered textile. Private collection. New York]

Right: Wedding blanket woven by the Fulani for the Tuareg, West Africa, p. 302

Textiles of the Islamic World, published by Thames & Hudson in 2013, has 638 illustrations and is divided into eight sections, or geographical regions: 1) The Ottoman World, 2) Islamic Spain and North Africa, 3) The Arab World, 4) The Persian World, 5) Central Asia, 6) The Mughal World, 7) East and Southeast Asia, and 8) Sub-Saharan Africa. The countries within each form chapters, which Gillow starts with a short introduction before discussing regions, costumes, techniques, etc. Each chapter ends with the state of textile production in the present day. It's both alarming and saddening to read how valuable knowledge in certain countries is on the brink of being lost. War-torn areas have especially been badly affected.
Embroidered leather pot-holder and bedding cloth, Kyrgyzstan, pp. 216-7

Apart from the historic details in Gillow's book, my main interest was viewing the motifs and learning about their meaning, a topic that fascinates me. Personally, I would have welcomed much more information in the book on the symbolic meaning of motifs.

In the Muslim world, the post-Islamic textiles are richly decorated and the designs are often abstract. The patterns are geometric, floral and vegetal, and some textiles have beautiful calligraphic inscriptions, especially in Egypt. The post-Islamic textile industry avoided the use of human and god-like forms. Also animal forms, with exceptions. In Iraq, for example, there are camel, cock and lion motifs, where the camel symbolises riches and happiness, the lion, strength; the cock, victory and glory (p. 120). Then there are the hunting cloths from Herat in Afghanistan that depict animals and hunters.

Appliqué tent panel from Khiyammiya, the 'Street of the Tent Makers', in the Old City of Cairo, Egypt, p. 93

In Saudi Arabia the two holy cities Mecca and Medina are of great importance to Muslims. Mecca was the Prophet Mohammed's (c. AD 570-622) birthplace, the founder of Islam who died in Medina. In the book, Gillow points out the significance of cloth related to the Ka'bah, the holiest spot in Mecca:
The Ka'bah, known as 'Bait Allah' ('The House of God'), is a great cube of black rock. Since historical times it has been given an annual cover, known as the 'Kiswa' (literally, 'robe'), of woven fabric adorned with calligraphic inscriptions in Arabic and embroidered in silver thread with the name of God. This was traditionally the gift of the Caliph, and in Ottoman times was made either in Cairo or Damascus and sent with great ceremony on the annual camel caravan that left both those places with a mass of pilgrims to cross the desert to Mecca and Medina. (p. 122)

Block-printed shawl from the 19th century, Deccan, India, p. 244

As someone who is fascinated with block prints (they are so perfectly imperfect), I found the chapters about India and Bangladesh quite interesting. Above I mentioned war-torn areas. Syria is one of those countries, and I think the destruction of Palmyra hasn't escaped anyone who follows the news these days. What I didn't know, and found fascinating, is that in Syria the use of block-printed cloths dates back to ancient Rome. In Palmyra they have discovered block-printed cloth from India that dates from the time of Queen Zenobia. 'The patterns on these finds are exactly the same as patterns on contemporary block-printed cloth from Rajasthan' (p. 106). Think of it, the patterns used in the Roman colony of Palmyra in the 3rd century are still in use in India circa 1750 years later!

Left: Curtain made up of brocaded silk strips woven on draw-looms, Djerba, Tunisia, North Africa, p. 73.
Right: Mende strip-woven cloth, Sierra Leone and Hausa wrap, Nigeria, p. 295

For a long time East Africa has been on my list of future destinations (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda are on it) and, obviously, I read that chapter with great interest. I also enjoyed comparing the textiles of Sub-Saharan Africa with the designs in the countries of North Africa (the two images above should give you an idea). Oman, on the south-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, is also on my list. The Omanis had a great influence on the culture and dress of East Africa. The spice island of Zanzibar was 'for centuries an outpost of Omani power' (p. 299), and 'a notable Muslim centre as early as the tenth century AD' (p. 296). The city of Mombasa in Kenya and the island of Pemba (Tanzania) were also part of the seaborne trading routes of the Omanis. (I didn't take photos of the textiles (mainly garments) featured in the East Africa chapter; I found the textiles shown in the West Africa chapter more appealing.)

Suzani with an embroidered pattern of floral repeats enclosed within multiple cockerels' heads,
Urgut, Uzbekistan, p. 185

Early 19th-century Lakhai suzani, southern Uzbekistan, Central Asia, p. 191

Gillow's chapter about Uzbekistan in Central Asia was another one that appealed to me, especially the illustrations of suzani hangings, which are embroidered with flowers and vines. I could have photographed the entire chapter. Let me add that photographing patterns can be very tricky; sometimes there is so much movement in the pattern that it's hard to find a focal point. One of the patterns that mesmerised me was the early 19th-century Lakhai suzani in the photo above (I have posted another angle of it on Instagram). The Lakhai people live in the Surxondaryo (Surkhandarya) region, in the south-east part of the country, and 'claim descent from Karamysh, the sole surviving brother of Ghenghis Khan' (p. 190). Lakhai was Karamysh's youngest son. (Please find another example of Lakhai suzani on my Tumblr page.)

White Tekke chyrpy for an old woman, Turkmenistan and painted 'hunting cloth', Herat, Afghanistan, p. 183

I could have written a blog entry for each section of Gillow's book but opted for keeping everything in one place and not too long. The visual part of my review could give you the wrong idea of the book. As I'm more interested in the patterns and use of motifs on e.g. rugs and wall hangings, I didn't really take any photos of the garments. The book has a lot of illustrations of garments and accessories, both for men and women, which should satisfy those interested in Islamic fashion and style.

Next on my textile-books reading list are two by Gillow, African Textiles: Colour and Creativity Across a Continent (it's on my spring reading list) and Indian Textiles (co-author Nicholas Barnard), also published by Thames and Hudson. Given how much I enjoyed reading this book, I have the feeling I will feature both on the blog some other time.

Detail of a Molesalaam appliqué, Kathiawar, India, p. 242

images by me | credit: photos from the book shown here are by Luke Gillow and Tamsin Beedle, except: cover photo · Clive Loveless, London | suzani p. 191 · Longevity Studio , London | West Africa blanket p. 302 · James Austin

Thursday, 7 April 2016

a nice surprise

On Tuesday I was sitting by my desk preparing another blog entry when the doorbell rang and it turned out to be a delivery guy with a box for me. I was clueless. I wasn't expecting anything. I opened it to find a box inside with organic chocolate from Green & Black's and a bottle of organic red wine. I was still clueless and had no idea where this was coming from until I found a gift tag. It was a surprise from my friend Sigrún. (Some of you already know her as CafeSigrun, the one who runs the recipe website and had a her first cookbook published in Iceland last year.) Such a thoughtful and wonderful surprise that made my day.

We are already enjoying the chocolate but saving the red wine until tomorrow, with our Friday pizza.