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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Just a Day at the Beach

Well, hello, Internet. How was your day?


Good. How’s mine? So nice of you to ask.

Because my day was awesome, Internet. Because I went sea bathing in the North Atlantic, after dark (5:30 PM), in November, and I not only didn’t pass out, freak out, or die, I actually enjoyed it.

How do you like them apples?!

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It’s Not Always Christmas…

Það er ekki alltaf jólin…

One of my teachers amusingly remarked this when students were complaining about the difficulty of an assignment. “Well,” she explained, “it’s not always Christmas.” This is apparently a rather common, “go on and get over it,” phrase that parents are known to use with their kids.

First Snow!

So, remember how I was waxing rhapsodic about the fall just days ago? Well, it’s certainly still fall, but Iceland has a funny (and attractive) sense of humor: I woke up this morning to our first snow of the season here in Reykjavík. (I think it may have already snowed in the North…)

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The funny thing is that it is supposed to start raining within hours. So enjoy this lovely snow while it lasts!

Segðu Já!


Towards the end of September, when plane tickets, general living, and fun outings were starting to eat into my summer savings, I adopted a policy of “say yes!” whenever a work opportunity came my way. This wasn’t a bad policy, wallet-wise, and so I decided, when considering all of the new things that were on my horizon, that I would try to stick with this ethos when unusual life opportunities came my way.

Which is how, dear readers, Mark and I ended up standing on a glacier this weekend, in the rain, preparing ourselves to climb a vertical ice wall. Segðu já! (Full photos here.)

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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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Back to a Good Start

Well, halló again, internet. After a whirlwind couple of weeks—a whirlwind summer, when you get right down to it—Mark and I have made it back to Iceland. That Gortex rain slicker I acquired this summer came in handy immediately—it was rainy and a bit nippy when we left the airport. But, although I may seriously regret saying this later, I can tell you now that I am full up on sunshine for awhile (you can remind me that I said this in February). I got enough 100+ weather and more than my fair share of sunburns over the last few months and so cloudy weather, sweaters, and rain seem like just what I need right now.

We flew in Saturday night/Sunday morning (got in right around midnight), had a day to stock up on groceries, run errands, and unpack most of our stuff, and then bam: it all started today. But before I get to “It All,” let me just take a pause to share the epically awesome triumph I experienced at the airport.

Picture Mark and I at the very end of a long, but quickly moving line at Passport Control. It has been, of course, about three months since I have had a spoken conversation with anyone in Icelandic, and while I have been trying to practice as much as I have been able to, one worries that all one’s language skills have dribbled out of one’s ears. But, as King Henry Shakespeare my mother would say, “once more unto the breach!” And so, when it came our turn at the window, I presented our passports and documentation to the policeman and greeted him with a chipper “Góða kvölðið!”

And wouldn’t you know it? He answered me in Icelandic! And gee golly, I answered him back. And whoopitee doo, we had a whole blinking conversation.

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