Left: The waterfall, Gullfloss
Centre: Harpa - the Concert Hall and Convention Centre at Reykjavik.
Right: Angelica, growing wild around Stokkseyri.
We are finally in Reykjavik. It is busy with tourists, very noticeable in primary coloured anoraks. We walk around Harpa, the stunning concert hall, sitting right at the water’s edge, made like a honeycomb of glass. The anoraks are everywhere – red, blue, yellow, lime green – and I remind myself that we too are tourists filling the space, albeit dressed in tasteful black.
He’s got the hand-knitted cardigan now, in natural dark brown wool, he’s had a brunch of skyr (served with lingonberries) and I’ve had the pickled sheep’s head (deliciously served as a terrine or brawn) with mustard and dark bread, so we decide to scarpa, hire a car for two days and head to the country.
The first day we drive north east to Gullfoss, a massive waterfall (OK it’s not Niagara but it’s pretty spectacular and very loud). We have lunch at the nearby visitor centre and “family” restaurant, where the food is surprisingly good. RTV has the roast lamb (lots of sheep in Iceland) and I have a traditional dish – plokkfiskur - cod and potatoes in creamy white sauce with a dark brown “bread” cooked in the steaming hot earth. (I’m sure they’ve now found easier ways of cooking rúgbrauð!) Once home, I try out the recipe given to me in Iceland (see below) and find that it is indeed good with smoked salmon, lamb pâté, cheese, pickled herring or simply buttered for a tea or coffee break.
The next day we have a magical drive south to the sea. We stop at Stokkseyri, population 400, watch birds dive for fish in the shallows, take a break at a little café in a charming wooden house. Here we discuss books with the lovely proprietor, in particular the Icelandic “noir” crime genre. She continues to knit between frothing cappuccinos.
Travel for me is generally about food, traditions, art museums and shoe shops. (Shallow? I feel no shame.) Iceland however, is about landscape and puffins.
Interesting trivia (from Wikepedia) -Each square km is shared by 3 people, 8 sheep, 100 puffins.
It’s a sane country despite building plans being changed to accommodate settlements of elves (trolls) because some of the population believes in them - (democracy in action). It’s an ethical country with a VAT of 24% (except on food) which is noticeably spent on the comfort of its people. (The roads are a dream to drive).
The financial crash of 2008 saw many stranded by dodgy deals and predictions. (Fishermen left their nets hoping to make billions.) Bankers and Financial Advisors complicit in the disaster were jailed, whereas in our country they would be retired on substantial "packages".
(Rye bread, a touch of sweetness, no yeast . VERY easy and delicious and keeps for days!)
1 1/2 cups dark rye flour
3/4 cups wholemeal or plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk*
1/3 cup treacle or molasses
1 small loaf tin approx. 250cm x 100cm
Prepare the tin by buttering it or using a baking spray.
Stir together the buttermilk and treacle.
Mix together all the other ingredients.
Pour the milk mixture over the dry ingredients and blend everything together for a sticky dough.
Fill the loaf tin. The tin should be deep enough to allow the bread to rise.
Now for the tricky bit. The bread used to be cooked in a closed container for eight hours, buried in hot earth, giving it a dense crumb. You do not have a spring nearby. To create a sort of steamy atmosphere, cover the loaf tin with foil, crimping it loosely around the rim. Put the loaf tin in a baking dish half-filled with water (like a bain-marie). Bake at 120˚C for 4.5 hours. Remove from oven, un-mould and cool on a rack.
*If you can't find buttermilk at the supermarket, plain milk will be fine. The acidity in the buttermilk works wonders with the baking soda as a raising agent.
You must be impressed by my mastery of and Þ- þ and Ð - ð. These are old runic letters once also used in old English and Norse.
Þ– þ (upper and lower case) - The letter Thorn is always used at the beginning of a word but since it doesn’t exist outside Iceland and the Faroes, it’s hard to look up a town on Google maps that begins with Þ. It’s the sound of “th” as in Thor.
Ð - ð (upper and lower case) is the letter Eth. It’s never found at the beginning of a word and is a “soft th” sound. (I can't actually tell the difference!)
G in the middle or end of a word is not really sounded so with this information, can you pronounce Rúgbrauð? Good luck!
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