Gleðileg Páska!

Happy Easter, everyone! We’re in the midst of Iceland’s five day spring holiday here, which is conveniently timed to allow for more dedicated study time, as my last two exams are at the end of the month. We also have a few friends in town who are celebrating their honeymoon amidst what can only be described as some extremely Icelandic weather: sun, immediately followed by hail, immediately followed by rain and black clouds, immediately followed by sun, and then back again.

It has been immensely gratifying to share our adopted town with such enthusiastic visitors, and it’s given me some nice chances to go to favorite spots (the lopapeysa stall at the back of Kólaportið which is always staffed by the same lovely old lady), and finally go to some new ones, too—like the top of Hallgrímskirkja for a great view over the city. (I’ve also had an incredible Icelandic track record this weekend—not one, not two, but three people have said to me, mid-conversation, in Icelandic, “Oh, you speak Icelandic” and not kept talking in English, but rather, switched back to Icelandic. The woman who sells the sweaters had a whole conversation with me, even. It was. The Best. So, thank you, Iceland: my confidence brimmeth over.)

Here are some shots of Reykjavík from the Hallgrímskirkja tower:

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The Sodden Circle

More photo recapping from February:

Mark’s dad R stayed with us for just about a week in February. On his last day, we wanted to take him to see some more sites outside of Reykjavík, and we thought that a day spent around the Golden Circle would be fun. And it was, but it was also wet and foggy and windy for pretty much the whole time, and it took roughly an hour just to get to the point where we could drive without the windows rolled down (the defogger on our rented VW Golf was pretty shoddy). So while Gulfoss and Geysir and Þingvellir are always pretty spectacular, they are, I admit, a bit harder to enjoy while completely sodden.

Nevertheless, I took some more photos (of course), some of which you can see below, and all of which you can see here, on the photo blog.

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Relaxication in Hvalfjörður: Part 1

Over Christmas and New Year’s Mark and I were very lucky to have our friend Graham come to visit us. It says a lot for him that he was willing to come visit during this time of year–not only is it generally cold(ish), wet, windy, and very dark, there are also just a lot of things that you can’t do in Iceland between Christmas and New Year’s because so much is closed. There are actually still a decent number of tourists here, but many of those I saw walking up and down the shopping streets seemed a bit confused and glum about the forced window shopping. Iceland highly values its tourism industry, and, I think, tends to treat tourists very well, but they definitely don’t pander to out-of-towners around the holiday season.

I consulted with a friend who has lived here for awhile about what to do (with guests) over a winter visit, and received the very good suggestion to look for a cabin in the country with a hot tub, and spend a few days there relaxing and enjoying some nice long soaks, even if (or especially if) the weather was lousy. It was also suggested that one of the outdoor hot tub perks might be seeing Northern Lights while sitting in a jacuzzi, but it was unfortunately pretty cloudy the whole time we were on our relax-ication, so no Northern Lights for us. (Nature doesn’t perform on command, I guess.)

After some delightful research (winter-rental cabins, hot tubs, Icelandic countryside), we settled on renting one of the two cozy cabins at Kalastaðir, located right on Hvalfjörð (Whale Fjörð), in West Iceland. Driving the long way, as we did on our trip there, takes you all around the fjörð, which is absolutely breathtaking. Taking the efficient, super-space-age Hvalfjarðargöng tunnel on the way back–which Wikipedia tells me is “is 5,770 m long and reaches depth of 165m below sea level”–it was just a snappy 45 minute drive from Reykjavík. Which was really perfect, for our purposes, in that it was not too long a drive, and featured lovely scenery and countryside peacefulness, in a brand new (for us) part of Iceland.

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Meat Soup and Rice Pudding: Icelandic Cooking for Friends

Yesterday, I wrote about Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir’s wonderful English-language Icelandic cookbook, Icelandic Food & Cooking. In that post, I got pretty caught up in her fun historical food facts about Iceland, so I didn’t get to the event that actually inspired the post in the first place, namely the Icelandic dinner I made for our friends Georgia and Lance when they came to visit just after Thanksgiving. Since it was the end of November and the Christmas season was descending on Iceland, I decided to make one traditional dish with some Christmas accoutrements. And I had just found Nanna’s cookbook at the library, so I was in good shape.

(I was just about to take all my finals, so I was dividing my time between flipping through this cookbook and making declension charts. As you can see below, the used pages of declension charts became my bookmarks, which was actually helpful. Every time I turned back to a recipe, I would be reminded of the pattern for masculine singular nouns or something along those lines…)

Declension Bookmark

Declension Bookmark

Although we had gotten some jólabjór to share with our guests, I also went out and got a few cans of Egil’s Appelsín and Malt so that we could mix together the traditional fizzy jólabland. Per the website Jo’s Icelandic Recipes:

“This mix is, as far as I know, purely an Icelandic invention. In the first half of this century not many people could afford to buy ale and fizzy drinks, and they were therefore something to be enjoyed at festive occasions, such as Christmas and birthdays. Mixing the drinks together was probably believed to make it even more enjoyable to drink. The taste is sweet, malty and mellow. This is a comforting drink that always makes me think of Christmas.”

We were a bit skeptical of the orange-and-malt mix, but it is actually rather pleasant (and very sweet, of course). I’m told that most Icelanders have their own preferred appelsín to malt ratio, which makes me think that this drink is sort of the Icelandic Christmas equivalent to an Arnold Palmer.

Nanna notes in her book that “starters were more or less unknown in Iceland until fairly recently. An Icelandic meal had two courses: the main dish and a dessert.” So I decided to keep it simple and stick with the classic meal set-up. For the main, I made kjötsúpa–“for most Icelanders, this is THE Icelandic soup,” Nanna confirms (and which you all may remember from a previous post). Icelandic Meat Soup is very simple and very delicious. There aren’t many ingredients, just lamb, rutabagas, potatoes, carrots, an onion, and if you like (Nanna doesn’t, my landlady does), a handful or so of brown rice or rolled oats. (I skipped the rice/oats this time.) It’s the long simmering that brings all these ingredients together and makes this soup…well, super. It is homey and great for winter–a great recipe to try if you like lamb, too!

Homemade Kjötsúpa

Homemade Kjötsúpa

For dessert, I decided to make ris a l’mande, a rice pudding that is “a popular Christmas dessert all over Scandinavia…and has been served on Christmas Eve in many Icelandic homes for over a century.” (I’ve had this several times at Danish julefrokost parties and always loved it.) This is also a relatively simple dish that really just needs a little time to settle into its flavors, rather than any sort of extensive preparation. I happened to have some real vanilla beans on hand which I had been saving for a special occasion, which gave it a nice kick. And instead of the traditional cherry sauce or the apricot sauce that Nanna recommends, we used rhubarb jam to top it off, which was delightful.

So my first adventure in Icelandic cooking was pain-free and delicious. It has certainly not been my last, but I’ll save my other food recaps for after Christmas.

Enjoy your holiday, everyone!

48 Hours in Iceland: Georgia and Lance Come to Visit, Part One

Just after Thanksgiving and just before most of the test-taking madness began, my very good friend (and former co-worker) Georgia and her husband Lance came to visit us in Iceland. Georgia and Lance had just been to Paris to visit another friend (very cosmopolitan, they are) and were able to tack on a few days in Iceland, courtesy of Icelandair’s very clever free-stopover-in-Iceland business strategy opportunity. As our first visitors since we arrived in August, we definitely wanted to show G&L a good time, and show off Iceland to its best advantage, but we had some time constraints: they arrived on Thursday afternoon/early evening, I had my first test on Friday at 12:30, and their flight home was at 5:00 PM on Saturday. All things considered, though, I think we produced a pretty great Iceland Experience, and it was just super nice to have old friends around, if even for a short time.

I remember when I received my first visitors in New York, just a few months after I had settled in there for college. I felt an immense sense of pressure–I wanted to not only show off the best, most interesting, most unique and un-touristy New York, I also wanted to be able to do that like born-and-bred local–no guide books! Instead, I got lost taking my aunt to a famous hot dog joint which was a less than 10 minute walk from my dorm (I walked us in the exact opposite direction…for about 20 minutes) and also managed to lead her and my mother on an unexpected tour of the sketchier side of Times Square and the freeway after leaving a Broadway show. (“Let’s just pick a direction and walk,” I said. “There’s got to be about 50 restaurants we can choose from in any direction!” This was not at all true of the direction I picked.)

Lesson learned, Mark and I decided that still being pretty new to Reykjavík ourselves, we’d certainly try and share some of our favorite spots, but would also take advantage of the excuse to get out and try new things while G&L were visiting. Another little Staycation, if you will.

So, here’s Part One of the 48-Hour Iceland Experience–one, very particular version of it; there could be so many, of course.

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