Tuesday, 29 November 2016

My quiet coffee moment

book and coffee · Lisa Hjalt

Today I needed a quiet coffee moment with books and notebooks. As soon as I had taken the photo, my Persian prince came downstairs and fell asleep on the table, next to the stack of books. He's snoring. Does anyone else feel as if in these last days they have been bombarded with commercialism? I'm referring to the endless Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails filling up my inbox, often more than one from the same brand within 24 hours. Enough is enough! This morning I mercilessly clicked the 'unsubscribe' button and kept only book and textile-related newsletters.

Did you see the Little Women-inspired doodle on Google? Writer Louisa May Alcott was born on this day, also C.S. Lewis. I have been thinking about the film (1994) all morning. Winona Ryder was wonderful in the role of Jo March and I have always had a soft spot for Gabriel Byrne who played Professor Bhaer. It's been many years since I read the book. Perhaps if I get a copy of the Penguin clothbound classic I will read it again. Speaking of books. Soon I will share my review of editor Robert Gottlieb's Avid Reader: A Life. It was the last one on my 'Booktober' reading list and I finished it before all the others. A likely indicator of how much I enjoyed reading his memoir.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Advent preparation with our calico Persian

First, Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers; I hope you enjoy a wonderful day with your loved ones! There is no celebration on this side of the Atlantic but I must admit that this morning I regretted not having planned a festive dinner. It would have been wonderful to sit down this evening to a decorated table. Luckily, the holiday season is almost upon us and it isn't a long wait until Christmas Day when we sit down to enjoy our turkey feast. Earlier when I got home, I opened my cupboards to bring out some of the things needed for our first Advent Sunday brunch and brought it upstairs to sort it out. Enter our calico Persian.

She curiously watched me choose the things needed to decorate the table. I was going to iron the table linen when I thought, Why not snap a photo for the blog? When I had fastened that bird on the branch I set up the tripod, adjusted the frame and the settings, and took one test photo. Suddenly she appeared in the frame. I should have known, especially with her up-to-no-good nature. Well, I'm glad for her photobombing. She turned it into a fun shoot and the bird survived unharmed. Only turning upside down.

Advent preparation with our up-to-no-good calico Persian

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Pizza buns (yeast-free)

Are you embracing the colder season or are you one of those who want to turn into a bear and hibernate? Coming from Iceland, where the days turn much darker in winter, I know a few who suffer from the winter blues but luckily their condition isn't serious, nothing that cannot be tackled with vitamin D and a cosy home. Candlelight, hot chocolate and warm socks often do the trick. Hyacinths too! This is the time to spread hyacinth bulbs in vases all over the home. The weather here on the west coast of Scotland has turned colder but we haven't quite stepped across the threshold and into winter. My trick to deal with the cold is a warm sweater and comfort food, especially bean stews or freshly baked bread or buns. Warm kitchens with heavenly scents are the best in winter, which is why yesterday I greeted the children with home-made pizza buns after school. It's one of my Antwerp recipes and brings back good memories.

Pizza buns ready for the oven

Before we make the pizza buns I would like to comment on baking powder: No one in this house is allergic but in my recipes I always use the gluten-free baking powder from Doves Farm. They don't pay me for advertising it, it's simply what I like best. Just recently I tried another brand, also gluten-free, but that one gave the pizza buns an aftertaste I didn't like. The reason I never use regular baking powder is that annoying aftertaste it always seems to give (use at least 50% less in the recipe if using regular).

We were living in Antwerp when I put this recipe for soft pizza buns together and for some reason haven't shared it on the blog. Personally, I'm not a big fan of pizza buns (my son and I want the real thing: pizza) but my daughters love the home-made ones. The buns are a great after-school snack, especially on cold days, freshly baked from the oven. For the dough I use white spelt flour but you can of course adjust the recipe for wholegrain (organic plain flour is also fine). The amount of salt depends on how salty your pizza sauce is: Mine isn't, it only has ¼ teaspoon. If your pizza sauce is salty you may want to use less salt. You can also add a bit of unrefined sugar to the sauce, or to the dough. Sometimes I substitute 2-3 tablespoons of the spelt flour for semolina or polenta. For a vegan version simply use soy yoghurt and vegan cheese. [Note for American readers: 1 cup of white spelt flour is about 130 grams, which means you will need scant 3¼ cups, depending on the type you use. For the lukewarm water, start with ½ cup and 2 tablespoons (= 155 ml) and add 1-2 tablespoons if needed.]


makes 20
435 g white spelt flour
1½ tablespoons baking powder, gluten-free
1 teaspoon (or less) fine sea/Himalayan salt
75 ml natural yoghurt (5 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon light olive oil
150-175 ml lukewarm water
3½-4 tablespoons pizza sauce
100 g cheese, grated (1 cup)
optional: Parmesan cheese and dried oregano/Italian herb mix

Prepare the pizza sauce if you do not have any leftover sauce. Here is my pizza sauce recipe.

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (see my above note on baking powder). Make a well in the centre and add the yoghurt, oil and water (start with 150 ml). Combine with a wooden spoon. Knead the dough with your hands while it is still in the bowl to get a feel for its texture. The dough is not supposed to be too wet, but if it is simply sift some flour over it and knead some more.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead it lightly with your hands. Bring out your rolling pin and roll and stretch the dough to form a square that is about 37 cm (14.6 inches). I make a square instead of a rectangle because I like my buns thick.

Spread the pizza sauce evenly over the square and sprinkle the cheese on top. Add some Parmesan and dried herbs, if using. Tightly but gently roll up the square into a thick log. Use a sharp knife to cut it in half, then cut each into 10 slices. Line a baking tray with baking parchment (the tray I use is 35 x 25 cm/13.8 x 9.8 inches). Place the buns into the baking tray in five rows of four.

Bake the pizza buns at 220°C/425°F (200°C fan oven) for 13-15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before serving them warm.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Creating the ideal 'julehygge'

Clementines and candlelight have taken over this household. I love it. I love this time of year when the Advent approaches and we think of ways to create the ideal julehygge, as the Danes would say (jul is their word for Christmas; for hygge see my post about The Little Book of Hygge). On my desk I keep a stack of December issues that I leaf through with my coffee, mainly to get decorating ideas for the Christmas table. For me, the Nordic magazines, for example Bo Bedre, represent the true spirit of Christmas and I wish I could buy them in shops here in the UK. When it comes to decorating we are minimalists and we like to keep it natural: candles, evergreens and pine cones. Our Christmas table is the only thing that changes from year to year, mainly the colour palette, which depends on the napkins and runners we pick. The photo above shows a decorated dining area in Milan that appeared in the latest Elle Decoration UK. At first my eyes were so fixed on the glass jars with the clementines that I didn't notice the tealights on each plate. What a wonderful idea!

By the first Advent Sunday, 27. November this year, our home will be festive looking because that's when we enjoy our first Advent brunch. I serve hot chocolate with whipped cream, Swedish braided bread with cardamom, and usually home-made confectionery. This year I'm going for my own nougat or marzipan. In my notebook I have scribbled down recipe ideas and I just have to test them the day before. If they go wrong my daughters will make cookies with cinnamon and cloves. Later, before sitting down for dinner, I serve the holiday season's first jólaglögg (Icelandic), or mulled wine, for my husband and me. This year I was thinking about making some adjustments to this Jamie Oliver recipe. [If you are looking for minimalist Christmas ideas you can check out my Christmas board on Pinterest.]

Do you have any Advent traditions?

image by me | credit: Elle Decoration UK, December 2016, p. 86 · Fabrizio Cicconi

Friday, 11 November 2016

farewell Master Cohen

Leonard Cohen has left the stage. I have been listening to his live performances with my morning coffee and reminiscing about my teenage years, when I bought 'I'm Your Man,' my first Cohen album. Wonderful memories. Today I'm actually enjoying Facebook because it's interesting to see which songs my friends are sharing - Suzanne was my choice when I heard the news this morning. This wonderful celebration of Cohen's life feels like a healing process after the US election results. On that topic I will say this: I refuse to let a man I have no respect for disturb my equilibrium.

Back to Cohen. It's time to buy a copy of Book of Longing, which has been too long on my wish list. If you're a fan don't let editor David Remnick's interview with him in The New Yorker escape you, 'Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker' ('How the Light Gets In,' October 17, 2016 issue). Yesterday they shared an audio file on their website with part of the interview, where Cohen prepares for his death.

Farewell Master Cohen and thank you for your poetry and music.