Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Bread buns | Turnip tomato soup with parsley

Hearty soups and home-made bread buns keep me going these days when in my mind I just want to escape to another planet. Honestly, I don't think I'm handling the new Trump-ideology-era as well as I thought I could. Four years of 'alternative facts' is a daunting prospect. Without books I would be lost; in my attempt to block the news I have even started listening to books podcasts from 2012! It's therapy. And so is spending quality moments in the kitchen. A photo of the bread buns that I posted on Instagram on Sunday sparked this blog entry. Two people asked for the recipe and I decided to bake them again and share with another recipe for turnip tomato soup with parsley.

The bread buns are adapted from a bread recipe (without seeds) printed on the packet of the Doves Farm quick yeast. It needs no activation, you simply add it to the flour before the liquid. In the bread buns I use coconut oil but any quality vegetable oil will do. The sesame seeds are my addition and usually I top the buns with both sesame and poppy seeds. The original recipe contains plain flour but every time I make the buns I substitute about 60 grams (¼ cup) for wholemeal spelt flour, to add dietary fibre.


500 g organic white spelt flour or plain flour
½ teaspoon fine sea/Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon organic unrefined cane sugar
1 teaspoon Doves Farm quick yeast
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
275-300 ml warm water
1 tablespoon coconut oil
optional topping: milk/soya milk; sesame seeds; poppy seeds

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and sesame seeds, with a wooden spoon.

Mix in the water, starting with 275 ml, adding the oil as the dough comes together (if using coconut oil melt it before use; there is 1 teaspoon of oil in the original recipe). Add 1-2 tablespoons of water if needed.

Knead the dough on a floured surface for 4-5 minutes. Return it to the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for at least 35 minutes.

Divide the dough into 8 parts and roll into balls. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and flatten each slightly with the palm of your hand. Brush each one with milk/soya milk and sprinkle sesame seeds on top (and poppy seeds if using). Bake at 200°C/400°F (180°C fan oven) for 12-14 minutes.

[Note for American readers: 1 cup of white spelt flour is about 130 grams, which means that 500 grams = scant 3½ cups, depending on the type you use. For the warm water: prepare 1¼ cup. Start adding 1 cup and two tablespoons to the dough and add 1 tablespoon or more if needed.]

Uppskrift á íslensku.

The taste of this soup is partly the work of two of my children. It was a cold winter day and we wanted to make a soup with turnip, celery and lentils. We are big fans of swedes and turnips in this house. Turnips (white or yellow with purple near the leaf bases) give you dietary fibre, Vitamin B6 and C, to name some of their benefits. We looked up ideas online and found a recipe of red lentil soup with turnip and parsley on the website of Martha Stewart, which became our inspiration. The main difference is that we don't use as much of the lentils in ours and we use canned plum tomatoes instead of raw tomatoes. We have been preparing this soup on the colder days in January.


1 tablespoon light olive oil
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 celery sticks
1 turnip
1 can (400 g) plum tomatoes (14 oz)
1250 ml water (5 cups)
60 g / 75 ml red lentils (¼ cup)
a pinch of ground cumin
a pinch of smoked paprika
1 small bay leaf
½-1 teaspoon coarse sea/Himalayan salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Modena balsamic vinegar
75 ml finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (scant ⅓ cup)

Start with preparing the vegetables. Peel and chop the onion. Trim and finely slice the celery sticks. Peel the cloves of garlic, finely slice one and press the other two when added to the saucepan. Peel and dice the turnip and set it aside.

In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until tender, gently stirring.

Increase the heat to high and add the plum tomatoes with juice, red lentils (rinse them first), diced turnip and water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, add ½ teaspoon of salt, a handful of chopped parsley and black pepper. Allow to simmer for 25 minutes.

Towards the end, stir in Modena balsamic vinegar, the rest of the parsley, and add more salt if needed. For extra comfort, serve with home-made bread or bread buns.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

The recent Instagram photo that sparked this blog entry

Friday, 20 January 2017

Coffee table books | Bitten by Witch Fever & Hokusai

Recently I mentioned that I had a few coffee table books in sight. Some of them have already been published; others will soon be or in the spring, like Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave. On the list below is one that I'm currently reading with great interest, Lucinda Hawksley's book Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home, a Christmas gift from a friend. It presents 275 facsimile samples of wallpaper designs that have all been tested positively for arsenic content.

For some time I have wanted to see a new art book on my coffee table and I believe I have found the right one, Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave. The book features 300 illustrations of works by the great Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), created during the last thirty years of his life. Its publication (early May) coincides with an exhibition that opens at the British Museum on the 25th of May, and closes in August. How I would love to travel to London to see it and spend a few days in the Bloomsbury area.

Katsushika Hokusai's, Clear day with a southern breeze (Red Fuji), 1831

Let us take a look at the list of the coffee table books I'm interested in, in random order with a comment on each (you may already have spotted some in the blog's sidebar):

· The Japanese House: Architecture and Life: 1945 to 2017  by Pippo Ciorra and Florence Ostende (Marsilio). If architecture is your thing this book is a comprehensive study of Japanese architecture since the Second World War.
· The Long Life of Design in Italy: B&B Italia. 50 Years and Beyond  by Stefano Casciani (Skira). In 1966, Piero Ambrogio Busnelli established the Italian furniture company B&B Italia and now we are able to enjoy its story in a beautiful book (see a short video on their website).
· Blumarine: Anna Molinari by Elena Loewenthal, edited by Maria Luisa Frisa (Rizzoli). The Queen of Roses, designer Anna Molinari of the Italian fashion house Blumarine has many fans. I believe fashion design enthusiasts are waiting for the publication of this one, which contains photographs by the likes of Helmut Newton, Tim Walker, Albert Watson, and Craig McDean. I think I would buy it for the cover alone!
· Adobe Houses: House of Sun and Earth  by Kathryn Masson (Rizzoli). I would really like to get my hands on this book that presents twenty-three Californian homes, showing both interiors and gardens. Adobe houses with whitewashed walls and exposed beams ... yes please.
· Art House: The Collaboration of Chara Schreyer & Gary Hutton by Alisa Carroll (Assouline). A visual feast: five residences designed to house 600 works of art, a collaboration of art collector Schreyer with interior designer Hutton.
· Flourish: Stunning Arrangements with Flowers and Foliage by Willow Crossley (Kyle Books). If you are looking for a new decorative style for your home by using flowers I'm sure Willow Crossley's new book will inspire you, and Emma Mitchell's beautiful photography.
· Around That Time: Horst at Home in Vogue by Valentine Lawford and Ivan Shaw (Abrams Books). I still haven't found this one in a bookshop, I have only seen magazine features (one spotted in my bottom image). It contains, among others, photographs by Horst P. Horst that appeared in Vogue's Book of Houses, Gardens, People from 1968 (his partner Valentine Lawford wrote the text). The foreword is written by Vogue's Hamish Bowles. Here is a sneak peek.
· Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home by Lucinda Hawksley (Thames & Hudson, published in association with The National Archives). The aforementioned book that presents 275 facsimile samples of wallpaper designs, including e.g. Corbière, Son & Brindle, Christopher Dresser and Morris & Co. (See more below.)
· Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave by Timothy Clark, Shugo Asano and Roger Keyes (Thames & Hudson). The aforementioned book about the Japanese influential master Katsushika Hokusai that features artworks he created during his last thirty years. It also gives his daughter Eijo (Ōi) a due attention, an artist of the late 19th century Edo period. The publication coincides with a British Museum exhibition opening in May.

A detail of Hokusai's, The poet Rihaku lost in wonder at the majesty of the great waterfall

I had to include these two Hokusai's woodblock pieces in this blog entry. His career spanned over seven decades but most people are familiar with his later work. The blue colour, or the Prussian blue, as it has been called, has always fascinated me and drawn me to his art.

For those interested in viewing more pieces by Hokusai (or any other artist) there is a wonderful selection of his artworks on Artsy and an editorial piece containing some fun facts. Artsy is a website I only recently added to my bookmarks and which instantly became a favourite (they also have a podcast). Artsy's mission is to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

'Blue Bird Amongst the Strawberries', a pattern by Charles F. A. Voysey, recalls William Morris's
well-known 'Strawberry Thief' of 1883. From the book Bitten by Witch Fever, p. 131

By reading Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home, which I haven't finished, I have realised that I was blissfully unaware that poisonous pigments were used in wallpaper design without being considered dangerous (it was Carl Wilhelm Scheele who in 1775 used arsenic to create a green pigment, Scheele's Green, that became popular and was used e.g. to create a vibrant colour for wallpapers):
Many dismissed as ludicrous the doctors who held that the wallpapers were poisonous, including English wallpaper designer William Morris, who stated that they 'were bitten as people were bitten by the witch fever'. (p. 7)
I had to leaf through the final chapter to learn that the first arsenic-free wallpapers weren't produced in Britain until 1859, with 'little public recognition'. By the 1870s, Morris & Co. finally 'bent to public pressure' and then it became 'big news' (p. 226). This book is indeed interesting, not to mention beautifully designed: There are seven short chapters - they look like brochures - in between pages of colour coded plates that show the wallpapers tested for arsenic content.

Pale green. Corbière, Son & Brindle, London, UK, 1879. From the book Bitten by Witch Fever, Plates V, p. 141

images by me | Katsushika Hokusai art via: 1. The British Museum, 2. Thames & Hudson Spring 2017 Catalogue

Friday, 6 January 2017

Books and coffee | Happy New Year

Books and coffee: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing · Lisa Hjalt

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed a relaxing holiday season and that 2017 will send good things your way. In this house we're still in holiday mode, without the festive food. Packed after New Year's, one of the kids suggested a menu of apples and carrots this week, which I found a wee bit extreme, as the Scots would say. We spent Christmas at home with occasional walks to the Waterstones bookshop and café. Browsing sufficed because there were plenty of books under the tree. Remember about a month ago when I mentioned rereading Little Women if I had the Penguin clothbound edition? Guess what, my husband gave me the book and two other classics. These editions are so beautiful. I haven't finished the books on my last reading list but I read Louisa May Alcott into the new year. These days I'm noting down ideas for my next list and after our library visit on Wednesday some are just waiting to be read. To give you a hint: On my table you can spot The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. I will reveal the list later.

In December I watched some TV (by that I mean catching up with the BBC iPlayer - I don't watch TV, I read). I loved Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings in The Lady in the Van (2015). How Alan Bennett put up with Mrs Shepherd for fifteen years is beyond my kin. On BBC there was a documentary, Alan Bennett's Diaries (2016), by Adam Low that I enjoyed. I'm thinking about reading Bennett's diaries after viewing his latest volume, Keeping On Keeping On, in a bookshop. And oh yes, I was in awe of BBC2's adaptation of Zadie Smith's NW, directed by Saul Dibb, screenplay by Rachel Bennette, which I watched after finishing the book. The cast was fantastic and Nikki Amuka-Bird better receive an award for her role as Natalie/Keisha Blake. She was extraordinary. My only disappointment with the film was that they left out the hilarious and tragic character of Annie, from the 'guest' chapter about Felix, but I completely get why they did.

Well, it's time to finish sprucing up the home for the weekend. I will soon share my review of Map Stories by Francisca Mattéoli, which I meant to do before Christmas, and I have a few coffee table books in sight.