Fake Duck, and Pork Buns, and Thai Eggplants, oh my!

So, one of the things I continually say that I miss the most about living in the US is the food. Not all the high fructose corn syrup, no, but the general availability and variety of fresh vegetables and ingredients and the breadth of affordable and interesting cuisines. It’s not to say that interesting an unexpected foods can’t be found in Reykjavík. I keep seeing fresh turmeric at the Bónus, which blows my mind, for instance, and we just got our first Ramen shop—a coworker told me they had Udon noodles, which he had to Google because he’d never seen them before. But I’m not always sure of where to look for these things here, or when I find them, they can be rather decadent expenses (i.e. the Halloween pumpkin when we first arrived).

But I’m starting to discover that while food options might be limited here, they are not as limited as I thought.

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Dandelion Harvest

Or, the uppskera túnfífils, I believe.

One of the most easily recognizable signs of summer’s arrival here in Iceland (what equates to a cold spring for most of the rest of you) is the sudden profusion of dandelions everywhere. I always found these pleasant enough to look at (that is, when the little puff balls weren’t making me sneeze) but had never thought much about trying to do anything with them until this year, when a particularly enterprising friend of mine mentioned that you can make all sorts of things out of them—wine, in particular.

Well, dandelion wine sounded quite romantic, and I do like make-your-own sorts of projects. Also, I am up for any and all opportunities to forage around for edible things, particularly in Iceland (see: MUSSELLING!). So I set about doing some research on how to make dandelion wine, found a number of recipes/websites/videos/tutorials explaining the process, and decided to set out this weekend in search of some lovely soon-to-be-wine.

(Happily, I found a perfect white wicker basket with a handle a few weekends ago, so I got to hop around the fields and ocean-side paths swinging a basket along with me as I collected flowers. It was seriously picturesque.)

Well. I waited until midday when the dandelions visible from my doorway seemed to be opening and ripe for plucking (I had read that it is best to pick them when they are fully open) and then went out and picked myself a whole blooming (pun!) basket of flowers. My hands were basically mustard-colored by the time I got done.


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Here We Go A’Musselling

So last weekend, just the day after after hobnobbing with writer-types and heads-of-state, we went and did something really awesome: we gathered mussels in Hvalfjörður (which you’ll remember as our favorite relaxication locale) and made ourselves an epic mussel feast. We had long known that people gathered mussels in this fjord—had even eaten them in restaurants—but weren’t sure when/where to go do the gathering ourselves.

Luckily, we have two new friends who are not only experts in finding cool activities, but also are socially-open enough to actually join in groups and outings and such. And nice enough to bring us along. Yippee! These excellent friends, Mike and Kevin, found out that the Icelandic Touring Association was caravaning out to Hvalfjörður to collect mussels (for a…you’ll like this vocab…Kræklingaferð [Mussel Journey]) and that anyone could join them free of charge. So we got together some pots, some giant reusable grocery bags (we felt very optimistic about our mussel-collecting skillz), some borrowed gardening gloves, a plastic shovel, and some boots, and headed to the fjord.

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(I can’t believe) I made butter…

After the relative success of our first “Uncommon Adventure” video, we set out on round two yesterday, this time on an adventure of a much different, much more old-timey tenor. We had been brainstorming a variety of ideas (some of which, like surfing, I opted out of) and spinning off of my desire to learn how to milk an animal, my filmmaker colleague Hallur decided that perhaps we should visit Árbæjarsafn, Reykjavík’s Open Air Museum, and get them to teach me some traditional húsfreyja, or housewife, skills.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither am I going to become a really bang-up domestic worker in an hour, so we kept it simple and decided we’d stick to two tasks: spinning yarn and churning butter. I’ll be writing about this in more detail later—and there will be a video, too, of course—so I won’t go into too much hilarious detail about this except to say, spoiler-alert: this stuff ain’t easy. Spinning yarn is like the original multi-tasking nightmare: you have to pulse your foot on a peddle at a steady and somewhat unnatural rhythm, while gently twisting the carded wool into a thread which you feed into the spindle with your hands. It was very quickly determined that as a potential housewife, I had better have other skills on offer, because my yarn technique wasn’t going to nab me any husbands any time soon.

So, áfram með smjörið! (“Onwards with the butter!” LITERALLY, guys.)

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It’s Bun Day!

A delicious, delicious cream bun. (Photo by Anne Cathrine Nyberg via Wikimedia Commons)

A delicious, delicious cream bun. (Photo by Anne Cathrine Nyberg via Wikimedia Commons)

As you may remember from last year, Bolludagur, or Bun Day, kicks off a holiday spree here in Iceland just before Lent. It revolves entirely around one vital mission: to acquire and stuff yourself with as many cream buns as possible.

This is obviously totally pressing, breaking news, so I’ve written it up for the Grapevine (here).

But more importantly, we have upped the ante this year and yesterday—because, internet, we are heroes—we made our very own vatnsdeigsbollur (they weren’t hard at all, actually) using this recipe, with additional reference to this one, which even has a video. They came out amazingly, due in no small part to the fact that Mark decided it would be a good idea to make lemon cream for the filling. So: lemon cream buns with mixed berry jam and melted chocolate topping. I think we won. For-ev-er.

After which, we consumed the buns, a process which I can confirm was a lot like this (just sub in “cream bun!” for “cook-ie!”)

Now, I will post pictures to make you all very, very hungry. (I promise, I did some of the work. It just wasn’t documented.)

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Bolla, bolla, bolla!

The Great Vanilja Mystery

It’s the little things that really surprise me living in Iceland. The things that I take for granted as being the same anywhere, and then come to find are really just not. These are often the things, I might add, which Icelanders take for granted, too.

Take, for instance, The Mystery of the Missing Vanilla Extract. Last year, when I unexpectedly took to baking, I found myself, naturally enough, needing a lot of vanilla extract. (Seriously, vanilla is the sauteed onion of baking: it is nigh on impossible to find a baking recipe without it.) I had sent my spice collection to us in Iceland but hadn’t thought to send extract because they would totally have that there, right? Well, yes. Kind of. When you go to the grocery store and check the baking aisle, you will invariably find several kinds of extracts: lemon, almond, and rum are pretty standard, and then depending on the time of year and how well stocked your store is, there will also be cardamom extract and peppermint extract etc. What you won’t ever find on the shelf is vanilla extract. Vials of vanilla beans, definitely. But no vanilla extract.

Back at home, vanilla beans are particularly pricey compared to extract—I actually got a vial of nice vanilla beans for Christmas one year—and so I found the ubiquitousness of the vanilla bean in Iceland to be pretty strange. Also, why wasn’t there any vanilla extract when they had all these other types? I asked the ladies in my saumaklubbur (sewing club), and they assured me that there was, in fact, vanilla extract in Iceland, but sometimes, it was placed in weird parts of the grocery store. So I started checking spice aisles and around the candy, but still—never any vanilla extract. I checked online how to make your own and discovered that it requires a fair amount of vodka to make. Vodka costs a pinky finger here, so that was right out. And yeah, I had other things to be thinking about besides vanilla extract, so I just gave up and started using vanilla bean.

(You totally didn’t expect me to go on this long about vanilla extract, did you? Now you know.)

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Books and Bacon

Chelsea and Darren were lovely guests this weekend and we did a lot of fun, albeit mostly low-key, things. These included sweater-hunting in thrift stores (per Mark and my’s usual, perhaps embarrassing, tradition, we took other people shopping and found something for ourselves—in this case, a delightfully ugly-but-awesome sweater with a mama polar bear and a baby polar bear which had been marked way down because apparently, no one else gets what Awesome is…), wandering around the Kolaportið, getting late night hot dogs, looking at the organ in Hallgrímskirka (I really need to go back and hear it being played finally), cooking a nice fish dinner, and watching movies. There are very few people with whom a first-weekend-back-in-town would go over well, particularly given that Mark and I had to spend a fair amount of time on Sunday doing work. But Chelsea and Darren are the Chill Visit All-Stars and I very much hope that they will come back for a longer visit in the future. We had a great time, you guys!

But on to the B&B… On our “town day” on Saturday, we all stopped by Little Free Library Reykjavík, since I hadn’t actually seen it since I arrived. This was extremely satisfying! Not only was the library still there and in good shape (no graffiti or vandalism to speak of, knock wood, and it appears to still be watertight after the rainy summer…knock wood x2), but it still had books in it. Books which I didn’t recognize and definitely did not put in there or collect myself. Which is really heartening–it looks like people are really using it! At this point, I am unconvinced that anyone has brought the books back after reading them, but baby steps. I am  glad that it is getting off to a strong start.

After visiting the library and adding a few more books to the box we had lunch (a waitress mistook my Icelandic accent for Faroese which was certainly a first and somehow heartening), and then…drum roll…went to the Bacon Festival!

Darren in particular was a very good sport about Bacon Fest, for which I thank him here on the Interweb. Chelsea and Mark chose not to partake, both for very good reasons (too full/legitimately a little grossed out by the grease-drowned bacon/not a bacon-eater), but it would have been, well, super sad for me to be eating free bacon all by myself.

Bacon Fest, for the uninitiated, is basically just an excuse to close down a major street for uber-specific gluttony. There was country band playing Icelandic covers of American honky tonk (“Stand by Your Man” is perfect bacon music, bt-dubs), an abundance of bouncy-castles for kids (like, three or four at least), and about seven stands and tents where bacon and sausage were being given out by the Ali Bacon company. Someone was even handing out flyers for a Bacon After Party, which was hilarious, but might have been pushing it.

I didn’t realize it when we arrived, but it would have technically been possible to start at the church and wend our way down toward the city center, eating bacon every few feet. I can’t say that I regret not doing this, because, you know, I want to live to see my golden years, but somehow, I was pleased with the option—and the fact that having so many stands spread out the crowd a little.

It’s Baaacon!

My heart is bursting with joy. I made it through my first week of school and new job, I have two lovely friends flying into Reykjavík for a couple days tonight (on their way to Amsterdam–I’m only a teeny bit jealous), and Iceland has now bestowed me with an ideal opportunity to post the video for a commercial which, I’m only kinda-sorta ashamed to say, is very near and dear to my heart.

Right, Larissa. That is a totally awesome and hi-larious commercial. But what does it have to do with Iceland?

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Skyr is Here!

Not long ago, I passed along the thrilling information that Icelandic skyr was going to start being exported to Whole Foods in the US. I checked on this when we got to Arizona, but unfortunately, no skyr (at least no Iceland-made skyr) was in stock. And then, last night: Ta Da! Feast your eyes, America: Skyr is here!

Found in a Whole Foods in Portland, Maine.

Just imagine that you are hearing a (my) goofy, child-like giggle on loop as you look at this.

Mark and I essentially cleared out the full stock, at least of the flavored varieties. We agreed that without the rhubarb jam, the plain skyr just was not going to transport us as much. We were rhapsodizing so intensely about our skyr triumph at the register that the girl checking us out took one out of the bag and checked the ingredients: “16 grams of protein?” She was impressed. “19 grams of sugar?” She was less so. (But it’s fat free! And so much protein! And it’s skyr!)

I will admit that the imported skyr is not a cheap deal: it set us back about $2.39 a piece. But it’s so filling and thick and creamy! And so heart-warming. Totally worth the splurge.