Vínarterta – Icelandic Vienna Cake

July 15, 2020

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So wow! Just look at this amazing layered treat! What we’ve got here is Vínarterta, which translates from Icelandic to “Vienna Cake”. This cake boasts multiple thin layers of cardamom flavored shortbread alternating with spiced dried plum jam and is topped with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

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I’m going to not only share this wonderful recipe with you today, but also continue to tell you all about that trip to the South Coast of Iceland that the Husband and I took with our parents back in September 2018. I told you all about visiting the Golden Circle, Seljalandfoss, Skogafoss, Dyrholaey & Vik as well as our stay at the luxurious Hótel Rangá in my previous post. Today I’ll tell you all about the big adventure we had on day four of our holiday. And I’m also delighted to tell you all about one of our absolute favorite places to stay while exploring the South Coast – The Garage Studio Apartments.

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Gorgeous spot huh? But let me tell you about our adventure first. So what was our big adventure? We went on a private Super Jeep day tour of Þórsmörk with Midgard Adventures. Þórsmörk  which translates to Thor’s Valley is a stunning nature reserve located in the Southern Highlands of Iceland between the mountain glaciers of Tindfjallajökull, the world famous Eyjafjallajökull, and Mýrdalsjökull. This lush valley has so much to offer – dramatic volcanic landscapes,

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breathtaking mountain views,

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lush valley scenery

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and amazing hiking opportunities.

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The Husband and I had visited it twice before and knew Þórsmörk is not to be missed. We really wanted the parents to be able to experience it. The thing is though, in order to enter Þórsmörk, you really must have a 4X4 vehicle as you will need to go onto the “F” roads and make several river crossings. And those “F roads” (not sure what the “F” stands for in F roads, but after having been on them, I can think of a possibility…) in the reserve are pretty rough. To be honest, even if you have rented a 4X4 vehicle, you really need to be experienced with this type of driving. And I should also mention that most rental car insurance will not cover you driving through rivers. River crossings can be quite tricky, so if you make a mistake and end up in too deep of a section the river, thus damaging your vehicle in the process, you could potentially be liable to your rental company for thousands of dollars.

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This poor bus required the aid of a tractor once it became stuck trying to cross the river.

Besides the financial burden, folks have actually died trying to cross these potentially dangerous rivers. The solution here is to hire a knowledgeable, experienced local guide. We whole heartedly recommend Midgard Adventures.

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The Husband and I have been out on adventures with Midgard previously. In 2012 we went out with them in December to experience the winter wonderland of Þórsmörk.

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We were back with them in December 2013 on a private tour of Jökulsárlón.

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And in September 2017 we were with Midgard Adventures to hike the magnificent Fimmvörðuháls trail .

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Each time our adventure with them has been one of  the highlights of our trip! And they didn’t let us down this time. The itinerary that they came up with for the Parent’s Day Tour was perfect. Not only did our charming and knowledgeable Midgard guide expertly navigate Þórsmörk, but he also took us to visit a nearby black sand beach

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as well as a couple of stunning, lesser known waterfalls.

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The parents were thrilled with the experience of crossing rivers, rough volcanic terrain and black sand beaches in the Super Jeep. And our guide knew how much the Husband and I enjoyed hiking, so he had planned ahead and dropped us off for a small hike over a mountain while he drove our parents around for some sightseeing and then met up with us on the other side. A win for everyone!

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What an absolutely superb day. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely! Take a look at this video for all of the river crossings, gorgeous scenery, hiking, blueberry picking and other live action!

After such an exciting day, we were so happy to come back to one of our absolute favorite places to stay on the South Coast – The Garage Studio Apartments. The Husband and I had stayed there previously in 2017 and we were so glad to be back! These lovely modern rustic apartments have been crafted from a former old garage that is located on a family farm belonging to Anna & Siggi. This picturesque homestead is nestled right up to the foot of the mountain topped by the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, under which the famous air traffic interrupting volcano resides.

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Siggi’s family has been living on this land for over 200 years. Now Anna & Siggi are operating a “gentleman’s farm” on the site as well as managing several apartments. Located exactly between the two famous waterfalls Skógafoss and Seljalandfoss, these exceptional apartments are the perfect central location for taking in all the South Coast of Iceland has to offer. The setting is nothing less than magical.

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You are surrounded by the most idyllic scenery – green hills, a private waterfall, a view overlooking the ocean, fields full of Icelandic horses and sheep,

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chickens, a dog (Felix) who never tires of playing fetch

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and a cat, who wouldn’t reveal their name, but was friendly nevertheless,Anna was also such an amazing host, so friendly, warm and welcoming. Her spacious apartments are stylishly decorated, sparklingly clean and filled with thoughtful little touches. And as if all of that was not enough, she served us scrumptious freshly home-baked desserts every day! Hospitality like this is hard to find!

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And the Northern Lights even decided to put on a bit of a show for us to make our stay at the Garage even more delightful.

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Want to see more of the Garage as well as those Northern Lights? Take a peek at this video:

But let me get back to telling you about this Vínarterta – today’s featured recipe.

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Although the name translates to Vienna Cake, it likely did not arrive in Iceland straight from Vienna, but rather came by way of Denmark. This grand looking cake was often served on special occasions, such as Christmas. One of the wonderful things about this cake is not only is it delicious, but it also gets better with age. So you can make this up days and days before you actually plan to serve it. You just keep it wrapped in foil stored in a cool place.

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This cake reached the height of its popularity in the late 19th to early 20th century. Back in the day, the thin layers of this cake could be easily baked in the more primitive ovens of the time or even on the stove top. And when some Icelanders emigrated to parts of Canada and the Northern United States, they brought this recipe with them. Though now a days, it is slightly different in some ways from the original, such as in North America you will often find versions with more layers and with a frosting on top. They have for the most part stayed true to the filling, whereas in present day Iceland, you are likely to find other types of filling such as rhubarb or strawberry jams.

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I baked this Vínartera using Hartshorn or Baker’s Ammonia (Ammonium Carbonate) for the leavener. You will encounter this ingredient in many older, traditional Scandinavian cookie recipes. You can substitute baking powder for it, though the cookie will not have the same crispy texture that it will get from using Hartshorn. I gotta tell you though, man is that ammonia smell strong! It is thankfully completely gone once the cookies/cake is baked, but let me just say, you will not be tempted to nibble the batter before it goes in the oven!

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The original recipe did not call for any Vodka whatsoever, but I liked the idea of a celebration cake being just a bit boozy. And I do know that good Vodka doesn’t really have much of a taste. But somehow it just makes me feel better knowing that it is there. I splurged and added a few glugs of Reyka Vodka to thin my jam just a bit as well as soak the prunes. You can virtuously soak the prunes in plain water if you are a teetotaler.

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Oh, and I guess that brings me to the dreaded “P” word. You might have noticed that I don’t call it “spiced prune filling”. No. No prunes are in this treat. Just some dried plums. I don’t know why folks freak out when they hear prune, but they do. So yeah. Spiced dried plums are what is in this scrumptious Vínarterta – and believe me you are going to love it!

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Vínarterta

  • Servings: 8 -10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Ingredients:

For the Spiced Dried Plum Filling:

  • 1 1/2 Cups Pitted Prunes
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • vodka (for soaking the prunes as well as thinning the jam – optional)

For the Cake Layers

  • 1 Cup Butter, softened
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 Cups all-purpose Flour, or as needed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Baker’s Ammonia (you can substitute 1 tsp. baking powder)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground Cardamom
  • 1/2 Cup milk
  • 1 1/2 Cup Spiced Dried Plum Filling
  • confectioner’s sugar (for sprinkling over the top – optional)

Directions:

Prepare the filling:

The night before you plan to make the filling, place the pitted prunes in a bowl and cover with vodka or warm water. Leave them to plump up overnight. (optional)

Place the prunes, sugar and spices in a saucepan and add 1 cup of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until it comes to a boil. Continue to cook until the prunes are soft and the syrup has thickened, about 20 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly. Place it into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.

If you would like to thin the jam a bit as well as add a bit of “cheer” to it, add a glug or two of vodka and stir to combine. (optional)

Prepare the shortbread:

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baker’s ammonia and cardamom.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add the flour mixture and the milk and continue to mix until a smooth dough forms. The dough should be soft and just shy of sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Divide the dough into five equal parts. On a floured work surface, roll each part out into a thin disc about 9″ in diameter. Arrange the circles on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 12 minutes, or until they are just beginning to brown at the edges.

Assembly:

While the layers are still warm, sandwich them with the spiced dried plum filling, leaving the top of the top layer of the cake bare.

Allow cake to cool completely and then wrap in foil. The cake will keep for weeks in a cool place and will improve with age.

Sprinkle top of cake with confectioner’s sugar just prior to serving.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Vínarterta:

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Baker’s Ammonia (ammonium carbonate)

Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Travel Planning Guide:

Covid-19 InformationPlease make sure you familiarize yourself with all of the Icelandic Government’s travel requirements BEFORE you head out. All of the official information can be found here.

I Heart Reykjavik– An invaluable resource for all things Iceland! I Heart Reykjavik is a small, family run company that offers you personalized service. Planning a holiday can certainly be stressful which has become even more so with rapidly changing safety requirements due to Covid 19. I Heart Reykjavik is keeping up to date with all of the government guidelines and can provide guidance here. Additionally, they can help you plan a fantastic vacation to Iceland in a couple of ways. You can browse and book tours directly on their website. The advantage here is that I Heart Reykjavik has vetted all of the companies on their carefully curated list. Often they have even gone out on the tours and you can read a review of their experience on their blog. Their recommendations can save you a ton of time pouring over tours and reviews online and let you know which company you can best trust with your money . Another advantage is that if you book all of your tours through them and then a unforeseen change due to the weather or some sort of thing, I Heart Reykjavik can suggest changes to your itinerary and assist you with rebooking. And speaking of itineraries, if you are the type of person who likes to plan out everything yourself, I Heart Reykjavik can still be of assistance. They offer an Itinerary Review service, where they can take a look at your upcoming plans and make sure everything makes sense – such as if you have allowed enough travel time. They can give you feedback concerning accommodation and alert you if there is a must see in the area you are visiting which has not found it’s way into your plans. They are truly an invaluable resource!

Getting There: Icelandair! We love Icelandair and have always had great experience with them. Take advantage of their Stopover program on your next flight to Europe.

Car Rental:  Blue Car Rental: We ALWAYS rent our car from Blue Car Rental. Friendly Icelandic company, well maintained, newer, quality vehicles – they’ve never let us down and at this point we have rented from them on six different visits and have had excellent experiences every time. The price they quote on their website has all of the insurance included so there are no surprizes when you show up at their rental desk. Highly recommend!

Accommodation: The Garage – Studio Apartments – One of our favorite places to stay in Iceland! Located on the South Coast of Iceland, between Seljalandfoss & Skógafoss waterfalls. This picturesque homestead is nestled right up to the foot of the mountain topped by the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, under which the famous air traffic interrupting volcano resides. These lovely modern rustic apartments were originally built from a former old garage that is located on a family farm belonging to Anna & Siggi. Since they built the original apartments, they have expanded and built a few more in a previous cow shed and most recently have remodeled a Haytower. These cozy apartments are studios, some of which are standard and some slightly bigger with a pull out sofa bed to accommodate extra guests. The Haytower is the biggest unit and is a full one bedroom apartment. You can book with The Garage here.(booking.com)

Tour Companies:

Midgard Adventure: I highly recommend you book a tour with Midgard. Midgard is a local family run business located in Hvolsvöllur. They offer single day and multiday tours which can be either private and shared. The shared tours are always with a small group. No massive bus tours here, just thoughtful personal service.They are skilled at helping you plan your whole itinerary as well should you desire and being locals they have first hand knowledge of the area as well as the hidden gems off the beaten path. As I have mentioned we have enjoyed four different tours with them, and on each occasion it has ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. Consistent excellence is hard to find! They are a pleasure to deal with from the first email until your action packed day has come to an end. Everyone I have ever met there is friendly, helpful and professional.  And I should mention that Midgard now has a Basecamp. They can offer both hotel as well as hostel style accommodation in their beautiful facility which also boasts a restaurant, bar, and roof top hot tub and sauna. The Husband and I haven’t had the pleasure of staying with them yet, but we did grab a delicious breakfast in their restaurant before heading out for our adventure. We are planning a Highlands Adventure, which we will of course be booking with Midgard, so we will let you know!

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Restaurants:

Gamla Fjósið (The Old Cow House) – Located just off of Route 1, about 2 km away from the Garage Apartments. Cozy family run restaurant featuring delicious comfort food prepared with locally sourced (often from their own farm) fresh ingredients. Delicious homemade bread, jams and ice cream.

Midgard Basecamp – The Restaurant at Midgard Basecamp has it all! Serving food based on their Icelandic heritage, they offer everything from pasture raised lamb, to fresh caught fish, to juicy burgers. And if you are a vegetarian or vegan there are plenty of delicious offerings to choose from as well.   Check out their wonderful Breakfast Buffet and come back in the evening for a great dinner. They also carry a good selection of the locally crafted brews.

Misc:

The Reykjavik Grapevine: A witty English language Icelandic magazine. Great read whether or not you’re planning a visit! And if you are planning a visit make sure to check out their annual “Best of” edition where they give you a curated list of the best of everything to be found in the country!

Icelandic Meteorologic Office – Great for checking the weather before you go and essential while you are visiting – especially if you are visiting in the Winter! They also have an app you can have on your phone which I definitely recommend. The weather in Iceland can change suddenly. Be prepared!


Kjötsúpa – Icelandic Lamb Soup

June 30, 2020

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Today I’m going to share with you a delicious recipe for Kjötsúpa – Icelandic Lamb Soup. Kjötsúpa actually means “meat soup”, but in Iceland the meat will almost always be lamb.

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The Husband absolutely loves to get a bowl of this when we visit Iceland. So I really wanted to try to find an authentic recipe that would taste a close as possible as I could get it to the soup we enjoy there. And the happy news is that this recipe, along with a secret ingredient I will tell you about a bit later, has done the trick!

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Annnnd…I also want to tell you all about a trip to Iceland that the Husband and I took with our parents in tow back in September 2018. You see? I am making progress writing up travel posts on the backlog of trips we have taken. What with the quarantine grounding us, I will soon be caught up and maybe then can actually post about eagerly awaited upcoming trips in a more timely fashion. (Hope springs eternal…) Anyhoo…Iceland has opened its borders to tourists from the Schengen area, EU/EEA, EFTA and UK Nationals, on June 15th, and plans at this point, to open to most countries from outside of the Schengen area on July 1st. Originally this was to include folks from the U.S. Much to my dismay, it looks like the US will now be excluded since Covid-19 cases are still on the increase here. Now be aware, Iceland has not just thrown their borders open willy-nilly. They have done a magnificent job managing Covid-19 for their citizens and are not just throwing caution to the wind at this point. So be aware that until further notice, anyone arriving in Iceland, with a few exceptions, will need to fill out a pre-registration form BEFORE they jump on a plane. You can find this form, along with official Icelandic government information on Covid 19, here. Basically folks arriving at Keflavik airport will either need to go immediately into 2 week quarantine, or will be required to have a PCR test done. The results of the test will be available 3 -5 hours later. And you will be encouraged to download the contract tracing app Rakning C-19 to your phone as well. After you have successfully navigated the safety measures which the Icelandic government has put in place to protect its citizens and visitors alike, this blog might be of some help to you with your planning for the rest of your adventures in the country. Make sure you take a look at all of the travel links I have listed at the end of this post and if you are still looking for further inspiration, you can also take a look at previous travel posts I have done on Iceland.

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By September 2018, the Husband and I had visited Iceland eight times (as of this writing, we have visited the country eleven times and are eagerly monitoring the Icelandic governments Covid-19 travel guidelines, so that we can get back for or twelfth trip). Our parents had heard all about it from us and were eager to experience it themselves. Seeing the Northern Lights was on the Father-in-law’s bucket list. So we decided to play tour guides and show them around. You read a lot about planning kid friendly holidays/vacations, but not so much about parent friendly ones. The Husband and I usually incorporate a lot of hiking and outdoor activities in our travels. But we knew that would not really be appropriate or quite frankly of interest to the Parents, whose ages range from mid 70’s to early 80’s. They would want a more sightseeing type of itinerary. We only had one week to work with, so we did not feel that a rushed driving around the entire ring road would be a good experience for them. We know that the South Coast of Iceland is gorgeous, has lots to offer and is easily accessible from the airport. This seemed like an ideal spot to take the parents. And although we have been there many times ourselves, we can never get enough of any part of Iceland, so off we went. We chose to go early in the month of September because the weather is still (hopefully – you never know with Iceland) good, it is dark enough for Northern Lights at night and there was not likely to be any snow or ice where we were visiting (a couple of the parents do have some mobility issues).

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We flew with Icelandair, rented a big SUV from Blue Car Rental and set out for the South Coast. The Lava Centre in Hvolsvöllur was our first stop. The Lava Centre sits squarely between five of Iceland’s greatest volcanos. This new award winning attraction provides a multimedia interactive experience on Iceland’s formation, earthquakes and its many volcanos. Great introduction to the country!

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Then we headed off to our hotel. We had booked with Hótel Rangá for our first two nights. Back in December 2012 as well as December 2013, the Husband and I had stayed with them for four wonderful nights in their Antarctica Suite.

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Antarctica Suite at Hotel Rangá

We had told the Parents all about it. And the Mom had seen it on one of those Housewives shows, so she was very intrigued.

IMG_0688Hótel Rangá is the only 4 star resort in South Iceland. This lovely boutique hotel is situated rather remotely next to the East Rangá river, somewhat near the small town of Hella. This remote location, far from city lights make it an ideal place to view the Northern Lights should they make an appearance. Being well aware that many of their guests are keenly interested in viewing this natural wonder, the hotel offers a service where you can sign up to be notified if the lights do show up.

Aurora over Hotel Rangá

Amazing Northern Lights we saw at Hotel Rangá on our first visit in December 2012.

The quirky decor is reminiscent of a hunting lodge

and there are several geothermal hot tubs available if you need a good soak.

This was the perfect place to stay at the beginning of our journey. Everyone was very tired after the overnight flight and the folks at Rangá, friendly and charming as always, had us relax in their plush upstairs lounge, while our rooms were readied. They were even able to get us in a bit early.

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Another great reason to stay at Rangá is their amazing restaurant which serves modern Nordic cuisine with and emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.

The next day, after partaking in their extensive Champagne buffet breakfast, we piled into the car to check out the Golden Circle. First stop: Geysir! As if you hadn’t guessed, Geysir is a geyser. In fact it is from Geysir that we get the word geyser. Geysa is an old Norse verb meaning “to gush”. Geysir doesn’t actually erupt very regularly at this point. However, Strokkur, another geyser nearby, is very predictable, erupting every 5 -7 minutes.

Then onto to Gullfoss or the Golden Waterfall. One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, the water cascades down over several levels.

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The Husband wasn’t about to pass up the chance for a bowl of Kjötsúpa at the Gullfoss Kaffi, which is located inside the visitor center. Now I usually wouldn’t recommend dining in a touristy shop, but I gotta admit – you should get a bowl of Kjötsúpa here. We had enjoyed it on a previous visit and knew it was really tasty. Trust me!

Then on to Þingvellir National Park . This World UNESCO site is gorgeous!

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And lucky us, we did have a small glimpse of those elusive Northern Lights that evening.

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The third day we headed east towards the lovely village of Vík, taking in Seljalandfoss waterfall along the way.

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The weather was not too bad that day, and the Husband and I have all of the waterproof kit at this point, so we did walk behind it. The Parents decided to sit that one out.

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Magestic Skógafoss was next on the itinerary.

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Continuing eastwards, our next stop was at Sólheimajökull, a glacial tongue of Mýrdalsjökull. We didn’t go for a glacial hike while there, but just took in views.

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Then onto Dyrhólaey

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and Vík í Mýdral’s (often just known as Vík) black sand beach.

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According to legend, those large basalt columns, or sea stacks that you see right off the coast are trolls which didn’t make it back inside before sunrise and were subsequently turned into stone.

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We had definitely seen a lot on our first three days in Iceland. To see all the live action take a peek at the video below. And stay tuned to see what we get up to on day four!

But wait – don’t go! I have yet to tell you about today’s featured recipe. Kjötsúpa is a vey traditional soup and each Icelandic family likely has their own version of it. Some folks have been known to thicken the soup with rice or oatmeal, but this version remains very soup-like in consistency. Homey and very comforting, it is just the thing to warm you on any chilly day.

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As I mentioned, I am quite pleased with this recipe because it tastes very similar to the Kjötsúpa we have enjoyed in Iceland. I think this is due in no small part to a secret ingredient, which gives it such an authentic flavor.

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I will keep it a secret no longer – Icelandic Soup Herbs. This is a mixture of arctic thyme, birch leaves, bilberry and juniper. You can find this in pretty much any grocery store in Iceland and I’ve included a link at the bottom where you can purchase it online. It will truly make a big difference. So, what are you waiting for? Make up a big pot of this Kjötsúpa to fortify you while you plan your Icelandic adventure!

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Kjötsúpa - Islandic Lamb Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds lamb on the bone
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 onion or leek, chopped
  • 1 -2 Tablespoons soup herbs (see note that follows)
  • 1 pound rutabaga (or turnips), peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup green cabbage, roughly chopped

Directions:

Trim excess fat from the meat. Place it in a large dutch oven. Add 6 cups water and salt. Slowly bring to a boil. Add pepper, soup herbsand onions. Continue to simmer for 45 minutes.

Add all of the vegetables, except for the cabbage, to the pot and continue to simmer for 15 more minutes.

Add the cabbage and simmer until all of the vegetable are fork tender.

Remove the meat from the soup. Separate out the bones and chop the meat into bite sized pieces. Add back to the soup.

Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

You can serve this soup immediately, however we usually let soup sit overnight to develop the flavors. If you so choose to rest the soup,  let it cool and then put in refrigerator overnight. Another great thing about letting the soup rest in the fridge overnight is that it is easy to skim off any excess fat, as it solidifies on top. Reheat soup and garnish with fresh parsley, chives or chopped celery leaves.

*Icelandic soup herbs are a mixture of thyme, birch leaves, bilberry and juniper. I have included a link where you can purchase it online. That is if you don’t remember to pick so up while you are visiting Iceland. Good substitutions are thyme, parsley, bay leaves.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Kjotsupa:

Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir – great cookbook!

Urta Villikrydd (wild herbs) – Soup herbs I mentioned above. This link is for a site called Nammi which sells all sorts of Icelandic products. Nammi also sells another brand of soup herbs (Sûpujurtir), but I have not tried it.

Links for Planning a Parent Friendly vacation in Iceland:

Covid-19 InformationPlease make sure you familiarize yourself with all of the Icelandic Government’s travel requirements BEFORE you head out. All of the official information can be found here.

Travel Planning Guide:

I Heart Reykjavik– An invaluable resource for all things Iceland! I Heart Reykjavik is a small, family run company that offers you personalized service. Planning a holiday can certainly be stressful which has become even more so with rapidly changing safety requirements due to Covid 19. I Heart Reykjavik is keeping up to date with all of the government guidelines and can provide guidance here. Additionally, they can help you plan a fantastic vacation to Iceland in a couple of ways. You can browse and book tours directly on their website. The advantage here is that I Heart Reykjavik has vetted all of the companies on their carefully curated list. Often they have even gone out on the tours and you can read a review of their experience on their blog. Their recommendations can save you a ton of time pouring over tours and reviews online and let you know which company you can best trust with your money . Another advantage is that if you book all of your tours through them and then a unforeseen change due to the weather or some sort of thing, I Heart Reykjavik can suggest changes to your itinerary and assist you with rebooking. And speaking of itineraries, if you are the type of person who likes to plan out everything yourself, I Heart Reykjavik can still be of assistance. They offer an Itinerary Review service, where they can take a look at your upcoming plans and make sure everything makes sense – such as if you have allowed enough travel time. They can give you feedback concerning accommodation and alert you if there is a must see in the area you are visiting which has not found it’s way into your plans. They are truly an invaluable resource!

Getting There: Icelandair! We love Icelandair and have always had great experience with them. Take advantage of their Stopover program on your next flight to Europe.

Car Rental:  Blue Car Rental: We ALWAYS rent our car from Blue Car Rental. Friendly Icelandic company, well maintained, newer, quality vehicles – they’ve never let us down and at this point we have rented from them on six different visits and have had excellent experiences every time. The price they quote on their website has all of the insurance included so there are no surprizes when you show up at their rental desk. Highly recommend!

Accommodation:

Hótel Rangá – Gorgeous 4 star boutique hotel, decorated in a rustic hunting lodge or ski resort style. It is located out in the country (hence no light pollution), about two hours from Reykjavik. Hotel Rangá caters to folks hoping to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights and will give you a wake up call should you desire if the elusive lights do make an appearance. The rooms range from cozy standards to quirky spacious suites. Expansive breakfast buffet. Comfortable laid back lounges. Relaxing geothermal hot tubs, private observatory with telescopes for sky gazing and an on site restaurant serving up delicious modern Nordic cuisine. All of that with a friendly, helpful & welcoming staff. Highly recommended.

Destinations:

The Lava Centre: Located in Hvolsvöllur, The Lava Centre sits squarely between five of Iceland’s greatest volcanos. This new award winning attraction provides a multimedia interactive experience on Iceland’s formation, earthquakes and its many volcanos. Great introduction to the country!

The Golden Circle: This popular tour route usually begins Reykjavik, loops around for 140 miles to include three stunning locations: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area & Gullfoss Waterfall and then ends up back in Reykjavik. It generally takes 3 1/2 hours to complete the drive and that is without stopping at all, which I don’t know why anyone would want to do that. So, it is definitely an all day activity when you factor in stops along the way. Many tour companies offer Golden Circle tours. If you are interested in driving it yourself, take a look at I Heart Reykjavik’s Guide. Here you will find answers to many of the questions you might have as well as a google driving map which not only includes the three main areas of interests, but also restaurants along the way, and other attractions which you might want to add to your itinerary.

Geysir Geothermal Area – See the original Geysir as well as Strokkur and other geothermal attractions.

Þingvellir National Park– Unesco World Heritage Site. First Icelandic Parliament, or Alþingi, was held here in the year 930 AD. It is also the place where you can see the rift between the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates. You can literally walk between the continents.

Gullfoss – Stunning multi level waterfall located on Hvítá river in south Iceland. Gull means “Gold” in Icelandic and Foss means “waterfall” – hence Golden Falls. One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls.

Seljalandfoss – A beautiful waterfall located just off of Route 1 on the South Coast. If the weather is good and you don’t mind getting a bit wet, you can walk behind this waterfall.

Skógafoss – Another beautiful waterfall located just off of Route1 on the South Coast. Due to the amount of spray from the falls, if the sun is out you will likely see a rainbow in front of it.

Sólheimajökull– A glacial tongue of Mýrdalsjökull located just off Route 1 on the South Coast of Iceland.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach– Famous picturesque black sand beach located near the village of Vík. Please be careful at this beach. The waves and rip currents are quite powerful. There are sneaker waves which can seemingly come out of nowhere and travel much further up the beach than expected, knocking you off your feet and potentially pulling you out to the freezing sea. Never turn your back to the waves. Unfortunately there have been several fatalities at this beach.

Dyrhólaey Peninsula – Stunning views of Iceland’s south coast and over to Reynisfjara Beach.


Kanilterta (Icelandic Cinnamon Cake)

May 8, 2020

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Today I would like to share this Icelandic recipe for Kanilterta with you. This delicious treat boasts four layers of cinnamon spiced buttery cake separated by sweet vanilla whipped cream & topped with silky decadent chocolate. I even bet you have all the ingredients necessary to make it in your pantry right now.

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Oh, and I also want to tell you all about our visit to Iceland for an amazing Ice Cave adventure back in February 2018.

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Now I know when folks are planning a get away in February they might be dreaming of a sunny Caribbean island or something. Iceland might not be the country that comes to mind. However, anyone who knows me, or has read my blog at all knows the Husband and I are not beach people at all. We much prefer the colder climes and absolutely love Iceland at anytime of the year. We had taken a trip to Scotland to go to Up Helly Aa– Europe’s largest Viking fire festival, which takes place at the end of January. So we decided to take advantage of Icelandair’s Stopover offer. You see, if you fly to any of their destinations you can add an up to a 7 day stopover in Iceland at no charge! So it was a no brainer for us. We actually ended up spending one night in Iceland on the way to Scotland and then spent an additional 6 nights on the way back to Virginia.

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And in addition to Icelander’s fantastic Stopover offer, on certain flights they also offer the option to “Class Up” from economy seats to Saga Premium. So, how it works is 10 days prior to an eligible flight, you will receive an email asking if you would like to place a bid. You are then able to decide the amount you are willing to pay, in addition to the cost of your original ticket, to have a Saga class seat.

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You should keep in mind that it is per seat. So if you bid $200 and there are two of you on the ticket, then you have actually bid $400. And this is per segment of the flight. So if you have a roundtrip flight, you would be bidding on the flight over as well as the flight back. If your bid is not accepted, nothing changes with your original ticket. You still have the same seats. However if your bid is accepted, you will find yourself in Saga Class. We made a bid and it was accepted!

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Our flight arrived in Iceland around 6:30 am and we were not headed on to Scotland until 7 am the next morning. So we chose to stay close to the airport rather than to travel into Reykjavik. Tired after our overnight flight, we checked into the Silica Hotel at the famous Blue Lagoon.

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The Blue Lagoon is located near the town of Grindavik and is only about a 15 – 20 minute drive from the airport. The Silica Hotel is only about a 3 minute drive, or a short stroll through the beautiful green moss covered lava fields, from the Blue Lagoon. Needless to say, we arrived well before our check-in time, but were able to take advantage of their abundant breakfast buffet while we waited for our room. Since the hotel was not very busy, being February and all, they were able to get us into our room a bit early.

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View from our room at The Silica Hotel

After some shut eye, we took a stroll over to the Blue Lagoon

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Strolling through the lava fields

to enjoy a delicious dinner at the Lava Restaurant.

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We did not spend any time in the actual lagoon at the Blue Lagoon on this trip. We have several times in the past and truly enjoy it and do recommend it, even if it is a bit touristy. There is a reason why folks love it! And I should mention that when you book a room at the Silica Hotel, premium entrance to the Blue Lagoon is included. That is really quite a perk, especially in the summer time. The Blue Lagoon has become so popular at this point, it is unlikely that you could gain entrance without booking in advance. But there is also even another perk to staying at the Silica Hotel – they have their own private lagoon for folks staying with them! How awesome is that!!!

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Now there isn’t a swim up bar, like there is in the main Blue Lagoon, however you can place a drink order with one of the Silica employees and they will deliver it to you while you soak in the Silica Lagoon. The Husband and I loved this little private oasis. Not crowded at all, very quiet. We spent quite a while relaxing and unwinding here on the first night of our trip!

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After all of our adventures in Scotland, we arrived back in Iceland and taxied into Reykjavik. We had been dreaming of visiting an Ice Cave for sometime and February was the perfect time to go on an Ice Cave adventure. You see, it needs to be cold to safely visit an Ice Cave, so most of these tours take place from October – March. February was just perfect! So I booked a two day tour, which would take us and a small number of other guests (no more than 8) out along the South Coast, stopping to visit Seljalandfoss & Skógafoss Waterfalls, the Reynisfjara Black Sand beach, and Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. Then we would spend the night at the tour group’s cottage, have a traditional Icelandic dinner and enjoy the Northern Lights if possible. The second day we would visit the Diamond Beach, Jökulsárlón, walk on a glacier, go to an Ice Cave and then be back in Reykjavik by around 21:00 – 22:00. Two full days without a doubt! Even though we had seen a lot of the South Coast, we were happy to see it again. And even happier to sit back and let some other folks do the driving. On the day our tour began it was raining. And I don’t mean just a little drizzly, just spitting a bit…I mean all out, cats and dogs, RAINING! Sure, it will let up soon I thought…HA! If anything it intensified throughout the day! But we didn’t let it stop us! We had all our waterproof gear at the ready.

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Drenched at Seljalandfoss.

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Soggy at Skógafoss

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Soaked before the Basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach

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Drowned at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

 

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We arrived in a big water-logged heap at the cottage, which was quite charming and thankfully warm.

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The tour company had prepared a lovely Icelandic lamb dinner for us. But first they wanted us to try an Icelandic national delicacy – Hákarl, which translates to rotten or putrefied shark. Yup, you read that right. You see Greenlands shark meat is actually poisonous when fresh due to its high levels of urea and trimethylamine oxide. However after it is buried in sand and pressed down by stones, hung to dry for weeks and then cured for a month or so more, it is just fine! Usually eating a bit is followed quickly by taking a shot of Brennivín – an Icelandic liquor also known as Black Death. The Husband is allergic to seafood, so he got a pass on the putrefied shark and merely concentrate on the shots of Death. Lucky me, I got to sample both. Hmmmm… Rotten Shark & Black Death…what could go wrong?

So how did it taste? Well, the smell was worse than the taste. The taste wasn’t great, but probably not the worst thing ever, though I certainly have not found myself craving either. Needless to say, the Northern Lights did not make an appearance that night. Or if they did , the heavy cloud cover and pouring rain obscured them. But, good news, when we woke in the morning the rain had decided to move on. It was cold and windy, but all things considered and knowing what it was like just the day before, not too bad for February in Iceland. We ate breakfast and then set out for the day. First stop, Diamond Beach & Jökulsárlón.

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And finally, the time had arrived! We met up with some local ice cave guides, boarded their modified 4X4 and set off on a very bumpy ride towards Vatnajokull to explore an ice cave!

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Ice caves in Iceland are formed from beneath by the canals of water which run under the glaciers. In the summer these caves are often filled with water and impassible, but with the coming of cold water they freeze and voila – ICE CAVE! Incredibly otherworldly and stunningly beautiful – I’ll just let my pictures do the talking:

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We not only got to see a traditional ice cave, but after a short walk across the glacier, we got to see a convertible type of ice cave – you know…one with the roof off. Really, it was more like a fissure in the glacier. Also, incredibly beautiful.

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And the great news is that new caves form every year, so you could likely go again and again and it would always be different!

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Alas, it was time to head back to Reykjavik. We stopped for a short look see at Svínafellsjökull (the glacier where the scenes from North of the Wall in Game of Thrones were filmed), but then got right on the road.

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I had been monitoring the weather on my phone throughout the day and was worried about a storm that was moving in. Sure enough, the weather soon turned bad. We thought rain was a problem, but not so much. What we ended up with on the way back to the city was much worse – very windy and driving snow. There was little visibility, multiple cars had gone off the road and driving was treacherous!

When we finally arrived in Hveragerði at the foot of the Hellisheidi Mountain Pass, the one that we needed to take to get back into Reykjavik…yeah, that one…we found that it was impassable and closed.

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We sat and waited to see if a plow might make it across the mountain somehow, but after about an hour and some consulting with other stuck tour drivers as well as the police, we realized that we were going to have to go around. Yeah….go around a mountain! Thus turning what should have been about a 40 minute drive over the pass into a 2 hour + blizzard driving odyssey! But I gotta give it to our driver. He was awesome. Calm and confident. We finally showed up back in the city around 2 am! Let me tell you, that was the point where we were really glad we weren’t the ones doing the driving, but rather were in the expert hands of a driver who was experienced driving in Iceland’s tricky, ever-changing winter weather. Although this two day Ice Cave trip turned out a little different than we might have imagined, we ended up having a fantastic time and quite an adventure!

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The rest of our time in Iceland we spent relaxing in Reykjavik. We stayed in an AirBnB which was in a great location and had a lovely view.

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We went shopping and wandered about town

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took in the street art

stopped for coffee at Reykjavik Roasters,

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visited our favorite restaurants like Íslenski Barinn and Snaps,

enjoyed a kanilsnúðar or two from Brauð & Co.

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and stopped by our favorite bars

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and of course, ate a hot dog or two or so…

 We were lucky that the Winter Lights Festival was taking place while we were there. This festival is an annual February event in Reykjavik which celebrates both the Winter world and the growing sunlight after a long period of darkness. Every night during the festival various buildings throughout the city have light installations. You can get a map and stroll through the city to see them all.

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And we got even more snow, which made me a very, very happy camper. So yeah, February is a great time to visit Iceland! To see all the action as it happened, take a look at this video:

But oh yeah, I was supposed to tell you about his Kanilterta. This traditional Icelandic cake was often baked around the Christmas holidays and served with hot chocolate on Christmas Day. However, in recent years it has lost some of its popularity, being seen as rather old fashioned. Old fashioned it may be, and perhaps not very polished or fancy looking, but it is truly delicious!

IMG_0019I know I’ve told you before that the Husband doesn’t really like sweet desserts. Well, he absolutely LOVED this cake. Has asked for multiple slices!

IMG_0109The layers are more like a cookie or soft shortbread than a traditional layer cake. They are incredibly buttery and decadent. The vanilla whipped cream between the layers serves to light each bite.IMG_0024The top layer of silky dark chocolate is absolutely amazing. Where has this cake been all of my life?!!

 

IMG_0135Wonderfully rich and buttery with warm cinnamon and chocolate notes, this Kanilterta is absolutely irresistible! It is welcome all year round in our house. Once you give it a whirl, I’ll bet you’ll be hooked too!IMG_0029

 

Kanilterta - (Icelandic Cinnamon Cake)

  • Servings: 12- 14 slices
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly modified from: Þjóðlegt með kaffinu

Ingredients:

  • 260 grams salted butter
  • 350 grams sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 300 grams all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 4 dl  (400 ml or 13.5 oz) cream
  • 3 Tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • 75 grams dark chocolate
  • 1 Tablespoon butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour and cinnamon together. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined.

Butter four to six 8″ round cake pans and line with parchment. Divide the dough equally between the pans and spread it out into an even layer. Or, if you do not have the round pans, you can draw 4 – 6 circles measuring 8″ in diameter on parchment paper and bake on a cookie sheet.

Bake each layer for 12 -15 minutes or until set. I baked four layers. If you are making six layers, the baking time will likely be closer to 8 – 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Whip cream until it starts to thicken. Add confectioners sugar, cream of tartar and vanilla bean paste and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream mixture evenly between each layer of the cake, leaving the top layer bare.

Place layered cake in refrigerator or freezer briefly while you prepare chocolate for the top layer. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat.

Once chocolate has cooled to room temperature, spread chocolate over the top layer of the cake.

Enjoy!

Kanilterta brought to you today by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Kanilterta:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

8″ Round non-stick cake pan

Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Bean Paste

Valhrona French Chocolate Pearls – This is what I used to decorate the top of the cake. It is a crispy bit of cereal coated in dark chocolate. This link if for a much, much bigger bag than you would need for just this dessert, but I wanted to let you know what I had used.

Links for Planning your vacation in February in Iceland:

Getting There: Icelandair! We love Icelandair and have always had great experience with them. Take advantage of their Stopover program on your next flight to Europe.

Accommodation: 

Silica Hotel at Blue Lagoon: Lovely hotel with its own private lagoon for guests. Extensive breakfast buffet and very close to Keflavik Airport as well as (of course) the Blue Lagoon.

Once in Reykjavik, we stayed in an AirBnB on this visit. Planet Apartments were the folks who managed the unit we stayed in. They have several lovely apartments with great views of the sea. Very friendly & helpful folks to work with.

Car Rental – We did not actually rent a car this time, but relied on taxis. When we do rent a car, here is the company we love:

Blue Car Rental: We ALWAYS rent our car from Blue Car Rental. Friendly Icelandic company, well maintained, newer, quality vehicles – they’ve never let us down and at this point we have rented from them on six different visits and have had excellent experiences every time. The price they quote on their website has all of the insurance included so there are no surprizes when you show up at their rental desk. Highly recommend!

Tours: So visiting an Ice Cave was a lot of fun. We definitely recommend it. I did want to take this time though to impart some advice. Visiting an ice cave is weather dependent in a couple of ways. First of all you need to visit between the months of November – March, when the weather is cold enough that the caves are more stable. Second of all, weather in Iceland is unpredictable. Tours are often cancelled in the winter, so you need to try to remain flexible and go into it knowing your tour might be cancelled due to the weather. That being said, you have to consider how you will be getting to the ice cave. Some of the best caves are located in Vatnjökull, which is about a 5+ hour drive from Reykjavik. You could drive yourself out that way to meet up with a tour – a lot leave from Jökulsárlón. However, keep in mind you will be driving in Iceland during the Winter, so you might end up having to deal with less than favorable to downright dangerous winter driving conditions.  Rather than driving yourself, you could book a tour which leaves from Reykjavik and let a local do the driving, like we did. A word of caution here – although they do offer day tours out to Jökulsárlón, I do not recommend them. You will spend at least 10 hours driving – so that is a long day in a car. And keep in mind, the days have less daylight hours at this time of year, so most of it will be in the dark. I think a two or three day tour is a better option. I bet you think that the two day Ice Cave & South Shore tour that we took looked like a lot of fun. It really was and I would have recommended the tour company that we used with out hesitation. The problem is that they sadly ended up going bankrupt in 2019. However, I know a lot of other tour groups out there do similar tours to this one. Which brings me to my actual recommendation here: I Heart Reykjavik! If you are familiar with my past recommendations for Iceland, you will be familiar with this company. We have gone on a couple of walking tours of Reykjavik with them which were fantastic! It was as if you had a local friend there who was able to give you the inside tip on the best restaurants, pubs and shops while telling you all about the city. And I also follow their blog, which offers just a ton of useful advice and tips for your visit.

I Heart Reykjavik– An invaluable resource for all things Iceland! I Heart Reykjavik is a small, family run company that offers you personalized service. They can help you plan a fantastic vacation to Iceland in a couple of ways. You can browse and book tours directly on their website. The advantage here is that I Heart Reykjavik has vetted all of the companies on their carefully curated list. Often they have even gone out on the tours and you can read a review of their experience on their blog. Their recommendations can save you a ton of time pouring over tours and reviews online and let you know which company you can best trust with your money . Another advantage is that if you book all of your tours through them and then a unforeseen change due to the weather or some sort of thing, I Heart Reykjavik can suggest changes to your itinerary and assist you with rebooking. And speaking of itineraries, if you are the type of person who likes to plan out everything yourself, I Heart Reykjavik can still be of assistance. They offer an Itinerary Review service, where they can take a look at your upcoming plans and make sure everything makes sense – such as if you have allowed enough travel time. They can give you feedback concerning accommodation and alert you if there is a must see in the area you are visiting which has not found it’s way into your plans. They are truly an invaluable resource!

Here is a link to an excellent, informative blog post I Heart Reykjavik wrote about visiting Ice Caves just last year. They can help you find the best tried & tested company to take you on an Ice Cave Adventure, according to your individual needs.

Destinations:

Seljalandfoss – A beautiful waterfall located just off of Route 1 on the South Coast. If the weather is good and you don’t mind getting a bit wet, you can walk behind this waterfall.

Skógafoss – Another beautiful waterfall located just off of Route1 on the South Coast. Due to the amount of spray from the falls, if the sun is out you will likely see a rainbow in front of it.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach– Famous picturesque black sand beach located near the village of Vík. Please be careful at this beach. The waves and rip currents are quite powerful. There are sneaker waves which can seemingly come out of nowhere and travel much further up the beach than expected, knocking you off your feet and potentially pulling you out to the freezing sea. Never turn your back to the waves. Unfortunately there have been several fatalities at this beach.

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – Stunning canyon located near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur in South Iceland. In Season 8 of Game of Thrones you can see the Dragons fly through this snow covered canyon. The vegetation in the canyon suffered from the amount of tourists and it was closed until June 2019, to allow it to recover.

Svínafellsjökull– An outlet glacier of Vatnajökull located in Skaftafell Nature Reserve. Game of Thrones filmed many of season 7’s North of the Wall scenes here.

Jökulsárlón – is a large lake which was formed by a glacier (glacial lagoon). It is located in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Bits of the Vatnajökull glacier break off (calve) into the lake, forming icebergs. These icebergs float around until they melt enough to fit through the narrow opening of the lake and drift out into the ocean.

Diamond Beach A black sand beach near Jökulsárlón often peppered with icebergs which have calved from the glacier, traveled out to the ocean and then washed back up on the beach.

Restaurant/Bars:

Íslenski Barinn– Love, love, love! Delicious food & local brews in a comfortable, cozy setting.

Kaldi Bar Fun & hip Bar featuring beers from the Kaldi Brewery

Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar (Kormakur’s and Skjöldur’s alehouse) – Or just plain Ölstofan –house brew Brío is not to be missed!

Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – Legendary Icelandic Hot Dog stand in Reykjavik. A one a day must for the Husband while we are visiting the city!

Reykjavik Roasters– Best coffee & vibe. Love the cinnamon scones!

Brauð & Company– Bakes my most favorite in the world kanilsnúðar!

Snaps Bistro– Laid back, French style bistro, serving up delicious cocktails and amazing breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinners. A favorite with locals and tourists a like.

Misc:

Þjóðlegt með kaffinu – Besides being a Facebook page, there is also a cookbook penned by Jón Símonía Bjarnadóttir & Gudfinna Hreidarsdóttir. It is available in English, Danish & German. You can purchase it when you visit Iceland or contact them at icelandiccakes@google.com

The Reykjavik Grapevine: A witty English language Icelandic magazine. Great read whether or not you’re planning a visit! And if you are planning a visit make sure to check out their annual “Best of” edition where they give you a curated list of the best of everything to be found in the country!

Icelandic Meteorologic Office – Great for checking the weather before you go and essential while you are visiting – especially if you are visiting in the Winter! They also have an app you can have on your phone which I definitely recommend. The weather in Iceland can change suddenly. Be prepared!

 

 


Scottish Oat Cakes

April 24, 2020

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So the Husband and I went on this amazing trip to Scotland back in January of 2018. I told you a bit about the Glasgow portion of our adventures in a post back on January 26th of last year. I meant to fill you in on the rest of the trip…the part that was actually the most exciting. You see, we went up to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands for Up Helly Aa – which is Europe’s largest Viking fire festival! Think of it like Mardi Gras if it took place on the same latitude as Greenland! Alas, you know that thing about the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Long story short…I just flaked and did not write the post. However, that is a wrong that I can easily right. It only took a little pandemic to get me writing. Anyway, I’m going to tell you all about it today along with travel tips and recommendations! And I will give you a great recipe for Scottish Oat Cakes. These cracker/cookies are great on their own and also lovely with a slice of cheese or some jam.

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So when last I left you, we were hanging out in Glasgow – taking in all the sights, seeing a bunch of live music at the Celtic Connections festival, tasting whisky and chocolate and sipping champagne in a spa. Before we knew it, it was time to get on up to the Shetland Islands to see those Vikings! The Husband doesn’t really get nervous about most things, but he was not looking forward to flying over the North Atlantic in a tiny plane with propellers. But when faced with the alternative of spending 12 hours on a ferry crossing the North Atlantic in January, he was sure he could tolerate an hour or so on a tiny propeller plane. So he took a shot or two of liquid encouragement and on the teeny plane we went!

Up Helly Aa (pronounced Up Hell ee Ah) is held the last Tuesday in January in Lerwick every year. It marks the end of the Yule season with a nod to the Shetlands Viking heritage. (Up is from uppi which means “end” Helly means “holy days” and Aa is “all” – hence “The end of all Holy days.”) The Shetlands were ruled by the Norse for some 500 years until they became part of Scotland in 1468. On this day, once night falls, the town lights are extinguished and a band of over 900 blazing torch bearing guizers (folks in various disguises – think Halloween) led by a modern day Jarl and his Squad who are kitted out as Vikings, go on a procession through the streets with a full size replica Viking longship, that they have lovingly built, in tow. Once they reach a designated spot, they throw their torches into the ship, turning it into the largest bonfire you’ve ever seen! Sounds absolutely amazing right?!! Let me tell you it absolutely was!!!

P1010945But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning. Our arrival in Lerwick after the scary mini propeller plane adventure. Once again on terra firma, we met up with out good friends and fellow Viking enthusiasts, Bill & Virginia and headed off to check into our lovely AirBnB and have a poke about the town. The town of Lerwick is charming.

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OMG! Remember these?!!

IMG_3362Another thing which made me very happy was that there were plenty of Shetland ponies around. I love horses and often carry sugar cubes or apples with me if I think there is a chance I might encounter any.

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We had been dreaming about going to this festival for some time, so we were all very excited! First thing we needed to do was get ahold of the Raven Banner which would fly over the town on Up Helly Aa, signifying the Guizer Jarl was in charge.

Version 2Up Helly Aa starts pretty early with the Jarl Squad marching to Market Cross. So who is the Jarl? Well a different man is chosen to be Jarl each year. This is a huge honor for the chosen one.

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Jarl Stewart Jamieson (portraying Viking Thorvald Thorvaldsson) Lewick 2018 Up Helly Aa

He then selects the men he wishes to be in his Viking squad. These men are the only ones you will see dressed as Vikings (besides the Junior Jarl and his Viking squad). There are no guizers  in the morning march, only Vikings. This is the first time anyone in the town gets to see the Jarls squads outfits as well as their replica longship, which have been designed with the utmost secrecy. So believe me, everyone is super curious. The modern day Vikings draw a big crowd as they march through the streets, the Guizer Jarl and his squad lead the way

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Followed by the Junior Jarl & his squad

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until they reach the Market Cross, where they stop and read The Proclamation (or Bill).

IMG_6947This document, which has also been kept secret until the big day, includes instructions for the day along peppered with a healthy dose of local jokes and satire. The Jarl Squad then departs to go pose for formal pictures with their galley at Alexandra Wharf.

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Post photo op, the Jarl Squads departs to visit various primary schools, hospitals and retirement homes. We took the opportunity to wander about the town and do some shopping. Many of the shop owners participate in a window decorating competition for the festival.

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The Jarl will later chose the winner later, but I had a definite favorite! The Viking in a bubble bath at the Shetland Soap Company was perfect.

Everyone in the town was in great Viking form! Lots of horned helmets (yes, we know the Vikings didn’t actually wear them, but wearing a horned helm is really fun!) Here are some wee Vikings we encountered along the way:

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Wee Vikings in training! Photo Credit for wee red haired Viking to Bill Watson.

The Husband had grown out his beard for months so I could get these braids in it. I think it’s a great look for him, though it took awhile for him to get used to the feeling of them!

After some shopping, we set off to see The Fiery Sessions which showcase some of Shetlands best traditional music. Then we somehow found ourselves in a pub for some more live music and perhaps a drink or two.

And finally it was time for the main event! The big burn! Now this event goes on no matter what the weather may be. “No postponement for the weather” is the boast often heard throughout the town. And you can imagine at that time of year in the North Atlantic – the weather can be remarkable – snow, sleet, rain, hail and gale force winds have been know to make an appearance. On our night, we considered ourselves pretty lucky, as it was only a bit wet and windy. As you can see, there might have been a few sparks flying about, so it’s a good thing that everything in town was thoroughly dampened!

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IMG_7025The procession starts at 7:30. All of the torches are lit and the Jarl, perched in his longship, is pulled through the streets by his Viking squad

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followed by hundreds of those guizers that I mentioned. Those are the other participants in the festival. Traditionally groups of townsmen, though recently that is changing as there are now some female guizers, form dozens of squads. Each squad has it’s own costume theme ranging from hula girls, to belly dancers to StormTroopers, to cats, cows or skeletons. Again the squads have kept their particular costume a secret from everyone until this procession.

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The torchlit procession, 900-ish folks strong, then winds through Lerwick’s streets

P1010819until the longship is pulled into a park where once the Jarl disembarks and gives the signal, all of the torches are pitched into the longship.

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Jarl getting ready to leave the longship before the big burn!

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And if you haven’t had your fill of fire, there was a bit more to be seen overhead.

But the party doesn’t end here. No, no no! It literally goes on all night long! At this point folks all retire to different halls around town for the after -parties. Now these halls are ticketed events and are usually by invitation only, though some tickets are made available to the public. Our AirBnB hosts were kind enough to score some tickets for us.

IMG_6821At the Halls you will find food, drink and dancing. The Guizers squads that I mentioned before then take turns visiting the different halls to perform an act – such as singing, dancing or doing a comedy sketch.

It is a tradition that every Guizer must dance with at least one of the ladies in each hall and take a dram. Considering there are around 11 or 12 halls each year, can you just imagine the state of the poor Guizers in the morning?!! Good thing that the day after Up Helly Aa is a public holiday! What an unforgettable experience!!! Watch the action packed day in the following video.

And I should mention that in addition to all of the excitement of the festival, the Shetland Islands are gorgeous. We visited a place called Jarlshof which is a prehistoric & Norse settlement archaeological site.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1993.JPGLocated in Sumburgh on the tip of the mainland Shetland it contains settlement sites which range over 4000 years of human history – from late Neolithic through Bronze and Iron Ages, the Norse settlement all the way up to a 16th Century Laird’s house.

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We absolutely loved exploring here, despite the fact that the weather was certainly not the best that day. High winds and torrential downpours. We were soaked to the skin, but couldn’t tear ourselves away. Definitely a must see if you are visiting Shetland!

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Now I guess I should get back to those oatcakes I mentioned at the outset. Oatcakes are a staple in most Scottish kitchens. Kind of a cross between a cookie and a cracker they have a lovely texture and a slightly sweet and salty taste.

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They are very easy to make and quite versatile. You can eat them plain, with a bit of butter, jam,

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smoked salmon or with cheese. They are a perfect addition to your cheeseboard!

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So if Up Helly Aa sounds right up your alley – get planning right away! Lots of folks are interested in going and there are only so many places to stay. And while your making your arrangements – you can pour yourself a wee dram and nibble on some of these tasty Scottish Oat Cakes!

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Scottish Oat Cakes

  • Servings: 16 - 25 pieces - depending on how you cut them
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking or instant)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cups butter – cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1/4 cup very hot water
  • Maldon flaky Sea Salt for finishing

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the oats, flour sugar, salt and baking soda in a food processor. Scatter the butter cubes over the dry ingredients.. Pulse until the mixture looks like coarse grains of sand. Add the hot water slowly, using only as much as you need to get the oat/flour/butter mixture to form into thick dough.

Dust the counter with some extra flour and turn the dough out onto the work surface. Roll the dough out to a 1/4″ thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the oatcakes.

Place the oat cakes on the prepared sheet. Sprinkle a small amount of Maldon sea salt over the cakes. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until lightly browned.

Remove cookies to a rack to cool.

Enjoy!

Scottish Oat Cakes brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Planning your vacation in The Shetland Islands, Scotland:

Car RentalWe rented our car from Star Rent a Car and were very pleased with both the car and the agency. I definitely would recommend that you do rent a car. Sumburgh Airport is about 20 -25 minutes away from Lerwick. There are taxis available, but if you would like to explore the island, outside of town, you pretty much need a car to do so. And if you are not used to driving on the left side of the road, you will likely want an automatic car, as to avoid shifting gears with your left hand. The number of automatics available are limited, so please remember to reserve your car well ahead of time!

Accommodation: Lerwick is a pretty small town and most of the accommodation available books well in advance (like a year prior) of the festival. I was ready to give up looking (I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get accommodation and had waited until May 2017 to try to book for January 2018) and just plan on going the following year when just by chance, someone cancelled an AirBnB reservation while I happened to be on the sight. I grabbed it immediately and it was absolutely perfect. Ramsay & Nikola’s stylish and cozy house is conveniently located, close to a large grocery store, a delicious restaurant Called Fjara, an Iron Age Broch as well as being a short walk into town. It was immaculatly clean, had all the amenities one could want and was well stocked with tea and coffe. Nikola & Ramsay were friendly and warm hosts. They thoughtfully provided us with milk, bread, the local paper as well as a couple bottles of wine and spot on recommendations for local restaurants. All of our communication with them were easy and their responses prompt. We were visiting Shetland for Up Helly Aa and Ramsay was able to get tickets to one of the Halls for us which we would not have likely been able to do on our own. Furthermore he gave us advice concerning where to stand for the best views during the procession. All of his assistance greatly enhanced our overall festival experience. Here is a link to Ramsay’s house – though I’m not sure if he is still offering it for rent: Refurbished & Modern House in Lerwick.

Before finding the Airbnb, I had emailed many other hotels and guesthouses. Most did not even bother to respond, however Anona Michael of Rockvilla Guesthouse did respond promptly. Sadly she was all booked up, but took the time to recommend other accommodations for me to check availability, as well as offer advice on the festival in general. Rockvilla Guesthouse is right on the procession route, so if you could score a room with them it make things much easier for you!

Restaurants:

Fjara Cafe Bar – Loved this restaurant! Friendly and welcoming, with simply amazing views, it is open for breakfast through dinner and even later for cocktails. Seasonal menu features Shetlands finest ingredients, homemade baked goods and local brews.

 

Peerie Shop Cafe – Cozy & bustling cafe located in the heart of Lerwick. Features delicious homemade breakfasts, baked goods, soups, sandwiches and coffee. Don’t miss out on their scones with clotted cream and jam!

 

Sumburgh Hotel Restaurant – This is a strange recommendation for me as our experience here was …. well…quite strange! I will let my trip advisor review entitled “We only met one rude person in the Shetland Islands…” do the talking here:

Let me start this by saying, I usually do not write bad reviews. And I hesitate to do so even now, however we experienced such poor hospitality, I don’t think I can let it go without saying something. At the end of January, friends and I visited Jarlshof which is located right near the Sumburgh Hotel. It was raining, cold and windy. After taking in the sights, we hoped to grab some lunch at the Sumburgh Hotel Lounge. Unfortunately, it was after two and lunch service had finished. This is when we encountered the only rude person we met during our entire visit to the Shetland Islands. The good news for the Shetland Island folks is this person was not a local. She had an accent, maybe Italian. She briskly told us lunch was over at 2 pm. Although it was only five after two, we said we understood this but asked if there wasn’t anything at all, maybe even some crisps or bar snacks we could have. She seemed very annoyed and said, “all we have it soup”. A warm bowl of soup sounded great to us. Then, rather than seating us in the warm lounge, she ushered us out to a sort of sun porch type of area, which was unheated and very drafty and cold. We asked if we could eat in the dining room and she said “no, lunch is over.” But other folks were still seated inside and more came in a took seats while we were shivering on the porch like unwanted step children! The barman, who was very friendly to us, seemed somewhat embarrassed by her behavior. I don’t know what had happened to that woman before we showed up to put her in such a mood, but she definitely took it all out on us. We ate our soup, which was very good by the way, and left. Otherwise the hotel seemed nice. As long as you don’t meet up with the rude woman, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Shopping:

Mirrie Dancers Chocolates – Mirrie Dancers is the name the locals on Shetland use for the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. These gorgeous, handmade chocolates take inspiration from this natural phenomenon as well as the beauty which abounds in Shetland and Orkney. You will find these little gems both beautiful and incredibly delicious! Lovely treat for yourself and a great souvenir to carry back home.

Ninian Gift Shop – Fantastic gift shop which has everything from lovely unique handmade Shetland knitwear to jewelry to stationary to home goods. Wonderfully curated, you will definitely find the perfect gift here for yourself and others as well!

Things to do:

Up Helly Aa: Um….have you read this blog? Yeah, you want to go to this festival!!!

Shetland Museum & Archives – Absolutely wonderful museum!

Shetland Arts & Craft Trail – If you are visiting during Up Helly Aa, these shops will likely have very limited opening, since it is off season, so call ahead to make sure they are open


Nashville “Hot” Chicken & Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey Butter

March 1, 2019

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Anyone out there heard of Nashville Hot Chicken? If you have, I’ll give you a couple of minutes to finish that happy dance you must be doing at the mention of it right now, for those of you who haven’t … Oh, good Lord child, hold onto your hat! Nashville Hot Chicken is the local specialty of Nashville. You see in Nashville, they don’t just have fried chicken, which is awesome all on its lonesome, I must say. No, they have a very special, spicy hot chicken. Served up atop a piece of white bread and topped with pickles, the chicken there is marinated in a hot, spicy buttermilk brine, dredged in a spicy hot flour dredge, fried and then slathered with a fiery cayenne glaze – and that’s the mild version! Folks in Nashville are not playing! This chicken is a taste sensation that will truly light up all of your senses! The husband and I love us some spicy food, so this is right up our alley.

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As is Nashville. The chicken isn’t the only thing that’s hot there! Obviously if you love country music, you should make a bee line for this destination. But country music isn’t the only thing on the menu – we’ve pretty much come across every genre of music when visiting there. They don’t call it Music City for nothing! Not to mention, if you love food – the dynamic food scene you will find in Nashville is amazing! The signature hot chicken isn’t all there is to be had, so those of you with more tender taste buds do not need to despair.

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The husband and I have visited two times and are always planning for our next trip there. We’ve enjoyed all sorts of music entertainment – from beloved bluegrass at the iconic Station Inn to all that the honky tonks of Broadway have to offer! And food wise – yes we have sampled the Nashville Hot Chicken (more on that to come…) but we’ve also enjoyed inspired mexican dishes at St. Anjeo

IMG_7674and to die for fusion Indian/American southern dishes at the Chauhan Ale & Masala House

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as well as all the barbecue, biscuits,

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rooftop cocktails

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and fine dining you can shake a stick at. Nashville has it all going on ya’ll! And where should one stay while experiencing this bustling town? Well both times we’ve visited, we’ve stayed in a lovely suite at the Thompson Nashville in the Gulch.

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The Gulch is a very trendy, hip neighborhood on the southwest fringe of downtown Nashville. It is only blocks from Music City Central and just steps to the downtown honky tonks. This luxury hotel shares the block with the aforementioned Station Inn and boasts a fantastic rooftop bar & lounge as well as an award winning restaurant. While I’m sure all of their rooms are lovely, the Thompson suite is absolutely decadent. So spacious, boasting floor to ceiling windows, wet bars, clawfoot bathtubs, rain showers and Nashville inspired finishes – such as sliding barn doors and Marshall bluetooth speakers – this room is a destination in itself.

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But let me get back to that Hot Chicken. On our last visit to Nashville, the Husband and I decided to go sample some of the city’s hot chicken. Although the African-American community in the area had been enjoying spicy chicken for generations, Nashville Hot Chicken as it is now known was likely introduced in 1930. Apparently, there was a gentleman who was quite a womanizer. After a late night out, after which he was unable, or unwilling to provide the details of which to his current girlfriend, she saw fit to exact a little revenge on him and fried him up a special batch of chicken on which she quite liberally applied the cayenne. In a twist of fate, the victim here ended up really loving this fiery chicken. The gentleman for whom this revenge chicken was prepared was from the family of Andre Prince Jeffries – the proprietor of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shacks, one of the better known hot chicken places in Nashville. They’ve been serving up this signature dish since the 1930s. Currently there are over two dozen establishments in Nashville serving up their own versions of Hot Chicken. The husband and I chose to check out Hattie B’s Nashville Hot Chicken.

IMG_7654Hattie B’s is a no frills kind of place, we dined on a wooden picnic table on a screened in porch, but that doesn’t seem to stop folks from lining up around the block to get ahold of some of their molten gold. We stood in line for about 30 minutes on the day we visited, but it was so worth it!IMG_7655They offer several spice levels for their chicken – southern, mild, medium, hot, damn hot and shut the cluck up! So, as I’ve mentioned, we like spicy and consider ourselves somewhat spice experienced. Spice aficionados. So I decided to go for the hot chicken. The husband he went for damn hot. And we couldn’t resist ordering one chicken tender that was designated at the “shut the cluck up” level.

IMG_7656Well, all I can say is by Nashville Hot Chicken standards, we are pretty much novices. I could eat my “hot” chicken – but it took quite a good portion of that pitcher of beer we ordered to get it down. I’m telling you this was a brow mopping, slightly sweating experience. There was absolutely no way I was going to even attempt one small taste of the “shut the cluck up’ tender that had been sitting there mocking us as we persevered through our chicken choices. But the Husband, although his mouth was already on fire, was not one to back down to a challenge. So, God help him, he took a bite!

Yup…..just as I suspected. It was pretty much life changing! There are ghost peppers rumored to be in play here. What it taught us is respect. We respect Nashville Hot Chicken now. Oh we still order it, but are always careful to get a more descriptive explanation of the spice level involved, using Hattie B’s as a baseline. That chicken hurts so good, but is not for the faint of heart!

But back to this recipe I’m sharing with you today. Do not be scared. Although I am calling this Nashville Hot Chicken, it is very very mild to what I just described.

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And if you really don’t like a lot of spice, don’t bother with the spicy glaze. What you must do is the brine. This chicken is so moist, tender and flavorful, which I think is mostly due to that brine. You don’t want to miss out on that. And just know going into this that chickens now a days are so bred to be so huge, more like turkeys really, it is unlikely you will be able to get the larger pieces like the breast and thighs done when deep-frying. You should plan to finish the chicken in the oven.

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And although it is traditional to serve Nashville Hot Chicken with a piece of white bread and pickles, I served mine up with some soft, tender buttermilk biscuits which we slathered with honey butter.

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Quite the treat I must say.  The chicken is delicious, but these biscuits are pretty amazing all on their own. Soft and airy, but with a bit of a crispy crust on the outside. Sturdy enough to hold up as a sandwich. And out of this world simply smeared with honey butter!

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So if you are ready for a taste adventure, book that trip to Nashville and give Prince’s or Hattie B’s a whirl. For an introduction to the cuisine, or to start your taste bud training, whip up this recipe!

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Nashville Hot Chicken & Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey Butter

  • Servings: 4 - 6
  • Difficulty: easy - but does involve deep-frying & all the mess that goes along with it...
  • Print

recipe from: Chef Marion Anderson with Sur La Table Cooking Classes

Ingredients:

Nashville Spice Mix:

  • 2 Tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 6 Tablespoons granulated garlic
  • 4 Tablespoons paprika
  • 4 Tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Sea Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Marinade:

  • 1 (3 – 4 pound) whole chicken cut into 10 serving pieces
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Frank’s
  • 1/4 cup Nashville spice-mix

For the Seasoned Flour Dredge:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Nashville Spice Mix

For the dip:

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup Nashville Spice Mix
  • 1 cup reserved oil from frying
  • sea salt for seasoning

Directions:

Whisk all of the ingredients for the Nashville Spice Mix together until combined and set aside.

Place the chicken in a large dish. Combine 4 cups of the buttermilk, hot sauce and the Nashville Spice Mix. Mix thoroughly and then pour over the chicken. Cover and allow chicken to marinate in the refrigerator for 3 – 8 hours. I prefer a longer marinade and just let the chicken marinate overnight.

About 30 minutes before you are ready to fry the chicken, remove it from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Then leave it to rest on a wire rack which has been placed over a baking sheet. Allow the chicken to drain and come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven the 350° F. Place a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the oven.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and spice mix and set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup buttermilk, egg, baking power and baking soda for the dip.

Place a large, heavy Dutch oven on the stove. Clip a deep-fry thermometer to the side and fill with about 3 inches of oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches a temperature of 350°F.

Pick up a piece of the chicken, dredge it in the seasoned flour. Shake any excess flour from the chicken and then dip it into the egg mixture. Give it a shake and then dip it once more into the seasoned flour. Shake off the excess again.

Slide the coated chicken, skin side down into the hot oil. Once all of the chicken you are cooking in that batch has been added to the pan, adjust the flame as necessary. Cook for about  8-10 minutes and then check the chicken. It should be golden brown. Remove the chicken from the oil to baking tray lined with paper towels. Check the internal temperature with an instant read thermometer. It should register 165°F, if it has not reached this level, but is a perfect shade of golden brown, place the chicken into the preheated oven to finish cooking. Continue frying the chicken, remembering to allow the oil to return to 350°F between batches.

Once all of the chicken is cooked, move it from the paper towels to a wire cooling rack which has been set over a rimmed baking sheet. Add some of the hot cooking oil to the remaining Nashville Spice Mix and whisk until a paste forms. You want the paste to be thin enough to brush over the chicken as a glaze, so add as much oil as you need to achieve this consistency. Generously glaze the chicken and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

Serve over a piece of white bread, along with some pickle chips if you want to be truly authentic. Or serve with some lovely Buttermilk Biscuits which have been slathered with Honey Butter, as I did. (Biscuit recipe noted below.)

Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey Butter

servings: 8 – 16 biscuits depending on how you cut them!

Ingredients:

For the biscuits:

  • 2 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) frozen unsalted butter
  • 1 cup cold buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, beaten

For the Honey Butter:

  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Grate the frozen butter over the flour mixture and toss until all the butter is coated. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Using a fork, mix until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just one or two times. The less touching the better. Pat the dough out to a 1″ thickness. Using a biscuit cutter, cut the biscuits out, taking care not to twist the cutter. Just push straight down and pull straight up, otherwise your biscuits will not rise as high as you might hope.

Place the biscuits on the prepared tray and brush with the beaten egg. Bake until golden-brown, about 12 -14 minutes.

Transfer biscuits to a wire rack to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the softened butter, honey and salt. Mix until the butter is light and fluffy. Serve with warm biscuits and spicy chicken.

Enjoy!

Nashville Hot Chicken & Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey Butter brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Nashville Hot Chicken & Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey Butter:

Le Creuset Signature 5 1/2 quart Round Dutch Oven

Instant Read Deep Fry Thermometer

Solid Stainless Steel Spider Skimmer Ladle

Stainless Steel Cooling Rack

Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Rimmed Sheet

Silicone basting brush set

Mason Cash Into the Forest mixing bowl

Stainless Steel Box Grater

Stainless Steel Biscuit Cutters

Links for Planning your vacation in Nashville:

Accommodation:

Thompson Nashville – This boutique hotel is located in the hip and trendy Gulch neighborhood of downtown Nashville, just a few minutes walk from  It boasts a rooftop lounge, a cozy cafe and contemporary seafood restaurant. The cozy rooms feature floor to ceiling windows, sliding barn doors and premium linens.

Restaurants/Bars:

St. Añejo

Chauhan Ale & Masala House

Whiskey Kitchen

Hattie B’s -Get your Nashville Hot Chicken here! Go ahead…try the Shut the Cluck Up level…I dare you!

Biscuit Love

L.A. Jackson – Rooftop Bar at the Thompson Nashville hotel featuring sweeping views of downtown Nashville, creative cocktails and delicious small plates.

Acme Feed & Seed 

Shopping:

Vincent Peach – Gorgeous jewelry featuring tahitian pearls, tusks, leather, vintage coins, fossils and pave diamonds as far as the eye can see. Worn by the likes of Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Stephen Tyler.

Carter Vintage Guitars – Very friendly guitar store chock full of quality vintage instruments and accessories as well as a laid back and knowledgeable staff.

 

 

 


Skúffukaka – Icelandic Chocolate Cake

August 24, 2018

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I can’t believe that I didn’t experience Skúffukaka until our 7th visit to Iceland, considering it is a traditional dessert. Indeed nearly every Icelandic family has their own version of the recipe, complete with closely guarded secret ingredients. Basically it is a dark chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, sprinkled with coconut flakes. It isn’t fancy per se – in fact skúffukaka means “oven pan cake” or “baking tray cake”. They have a similar version of this recipe in Sweden which is called Kärleksmums (love-yums), but folks in Iceland are pretty practical, so they’ve decided to call it Baking Tray Cake. But don’t let its rustic name put you off, this cake is delicious! I was served my first slice at The Garage Apartments by our lovely host Anna. The Husband and I didn’t know we were eating Skúffukaka at the time, we just knew we loved it!

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The Skúffukaka baked for us by our lovely host Anna at the Garage Apartments.

Anna served us wonderful baked goods every day of our visit. The first being that amazing Varmahlíð Apple Cake that I told you about in my previous blog. I was able to search around the internet and figure out that the chocolate cake she served was called Skùffukaka and then I researched a recipe, which I will share here with you today.

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But let me also take this opportunity to both tell you more about that fantastic trip to Iceland that the Husband and I went on last September as well as alert you to a new feature on my blog. If you look up at the top navigation bar, there is now a “travels” section you can choose. I have organized all of our travel posts here. So it will be much easier to find that trip we took to Prague way back in 2013, should you be searching. These posts not only feature a delicious dish that we experienced on our trip, but are also chock full of lovely pictures and recommendations with links for hotels, restaurants, guides, shops etc, should you be inspired to visit the destination yourself. But back to this Iceland trip from 2017. After we had so much fun on the South Coast, we headed towards the East Fjords. The East Fjords are really a hidden gem in Iceland. Well, I guess they aren’t really hidden. They are right there in plain sight. They are just often overlooked by tourists. Most visitors don’t venture that far from Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. That, and the fact that only roughly 3% of Iceland’s population lives in this area of the country, ensures you will be able to experience some peaceful, beautiful isolation.

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On our way north-east, we stopped by the stunning  Jökulsárlón. Actually we stopped by on our way north and then again when we came back south. We just can not get enough of its breathtaking beauty.

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Jökulsárlón is a large lake which was formed by a glacier. It is located in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Bits of the Vatnajökull glacier break off (calve) into the lake, forming icebergs. These icebergs float around until they melt enough to fit through the narrow opening of the lake and drift out into the ocean,

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though some do wash up on the nearby black sand beach, known as Diamond Beach.

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The first time we visited it was in December of 2013. It was really chilly that day, I’m talking like 12°F (-11°C). We braved the temps as long as we could, but we were pretty dang cold! So visiting in September was quite a different experience. It was sunny and warm both days. We really lucked out!

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A couple of seals swimming about

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Once we were able to finally tear ourselves away from Jökulsárlón, we continued on our northeast journey, taking a bit of time out to soak up the beauty that is Vestrahorn. Vestrahorn is one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. It is located on the Stokksnes peninsula. One of Iceland’s earliest settlement farms was located in this area. The 454 meter high Vestrahorn mountain rises up from the lava dune strewn shore line. Truly a photographer’s paradise!

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We spent the night in an adorable little cabin

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where we were lucky enough to see a quick glimpse of the Northern Lights through the clouds.

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The next day we continued on towards Seyðisfjörður where we would be spending several days. On the way, zigzagging along the fjords on route 1, we saw many sleepy fishing towns surrounded by rugged mountains and dramatic coastlines. When we reached Egilsstaðir, we ventured off the ring road, up and over the Fjarðarheiði mountain pass, descending down into charming Seyðisfjörður (population 675). Nestled at the end of the fjord and surrounded by often snow peaked mountains and cascading waterfalls, picturesque Seyðisfjörður delights. Populated by many artists, musicians and craftspeople, this friendly town feels so welcoming.

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On our second day there we set off on a hike to see Tvísöngur, the sound sculpture created by german artist Lukas Kühne.

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This concrete structure consists of five interconnected domes, each with its own resonance that corresponds to a tone in the five tone harmony of traditional Icelandic singing.

After exploring the structure, we continued hiking on the Tvísöngur loop which took us up onto a plateau where we were treated to a bird’s eye view of the town and the fjord.

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Later that night we were delighted when the Northern Lights again made an appearance.

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After leaving Seyðisfjörður we headed south again, stopping at the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon where the Aurora put on an amazing show. It was so intense, it was actually difficult to get a good picture because rather than a wispy trail of green against the black sky, the entire sky turned green.

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Our final adventure on this action packed trip was going on a glacier walk on Svínafellsjökull glacier in Skaftafell National Park with Icelandic Mountain Guides. They showed us how to use crampons and ice axes and then off we went.

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Svínafellsjökull glacier is where the scenes that took place “beyond the wall” in Game of Thrones were shot.

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So I’m sure you must be really inspired now to plan your own adventure in Iceland. Please take a look at the helpful links below if you need some assistance in planning. And do whip up some moist and decadent Skúffukaka while pouring over maps and booking sights. With a slice of that chocolatey goodness and mug of coffee, hepped up on all that sugar and caffeine, there’ll be no stopping you!

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Skúffukaka

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe adapted from: Belle -ÆÐISLEG SKÚFFUKAKA

Ingredients:

For the Cake:

  • 280 grams sugar
  • 125 grams butter- room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs – room temperature
  • 200 grams flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 50 grams natural unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 100 ml milk

For the Frosting:

  • 130 grams salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 250 grams confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100 grams dark chocolate, melted
  • 2 Tablespoons cream
  • 1 -2 Tablespoon strong coffee – cooled
  • coconut flakes to sprinkle over the cake

Directions:

For the Cake;

Preheat the oven to 355° F (180°C).

Butter and flour one 9X9″ baking tray.

In a bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cocoa. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together for 1 -2 minutes. Add the eggs, mixing well after the addition of each egg. Add the vanilla extract. Mix on medium high-speed for 6 -7 minutes until light and fluffy.

Add the dry mixture to the butter & sugar. Mix until just combined.

Add the milk and mix until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking tray and spread evenly. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Set on a wire rack to cool before frosting.

For the Frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the butter and egg together until combined. With the mixer on low-speed, add the confectioners sugar slowly, 1/4 cup  at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the cocoa and vanilla. Add the melted and cooled chocolate and continue mixing.

Mix in the cream and 1 – 2 Tablespoons of the cooled coffee to taste. Continue mixing until the frosting is smooth. If the icing is not the correct consistency for frosting the cake you can either add a bit more confectioner’s sugar or refrigerate for a short time to allow it to set.

Spread frosting over the cooled cake. This recipe makes a good amount of frosting, so you may not use all of it on the cake. Add as thick a layer of frosting as you prefer. Sprinkle with coconut flakes.

Enjoy!

Skúffukaka brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Skúffukaka:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Oxo Good Grips 7 Piece Nesting Measuring Beaker Set

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Links for Planning your vacation in the East Fjords Iceland:

Accommodation:

Bragdavellir Cottages: located 10km from Djúpivogur, just off of Route 1, these cottages are clean, cozy and offer a fantastic view. Our only regret is that we had just one night’s stay.

Lónsleira Apartments: located in Seyðisfjörður these apartments are perfection! Stylishly furnished, sparklingly clean with amazing location and view!

Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon: We loved this hotel! So chic and stylish, not only are the rooms beautiful, but it is also located between Jökulsárlón and Skatafell National Park, two amazing destinations. We can not wait to visit again!

Restaurants/Bars:

Íshúsið Pizzeria: Located in Höfn, right on the harbor, this friendly pizzeria serves up some outstanding pies! We stopped on our way north and again on the way back south.

Kaffi Lára – El Grilló Bar: Located in Seyðisfjörður. Warm and friendly, you will love relaxing in this local bar/restaurant. Everything we tried here was very good, burgers to barbecue, but there was one standout item….they serve the BEST baked potatoes I have ever eaten. I kid you not. One night when we were there, we saw a couple who had just finished their meal. The lady ordered a slice of pie for dessert and her companion ordered another baked potato! Amazing!!!

Tours:

Icelandic Mountain Guides: Want to go on a glacier adventure? Contact these professionals! They won’t let you down!

Rental Cars:

Blue Car Rental: We ALWAYS rent our car from Blue Car Rental. Friendly Icelandic company, well maintained, newer, quality vehicles – they’ve never let us down and at this point we have rented from them on six different visits and have had excellent experiences every time. The price they quote on their website has all of the insurance included so there are no surprizes when you show up at their rental desk. Highly recommend!


Varmahlíð Apple Cake

August 12, 2018

 

 

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Last September the Husband and I went on an amazing trip to Iceland. It was our 7th time visiting and we just can’t get enough of the place! Indeed since this trip we have visited again in February 2018 and are planning another visit this Fall! But let me not get ahead of myself. I’m just going to tell you about the September 2017 visit right now. Believe me, there be more to come. So last September, we were mostly focused on visiting the East Fjords, but we did spend some time revisiting the South Coast. Although we had been there several times, there were still plenty of things in the area that we hadn’t experienced. I first encountered this Varmahlíð Apple Cake

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at The Garage Apartments, which are an absolutely wonderful base of operations if you are visiting that area of the country.

P1010297 (1)These lovely modern rustic apartments are found in former old garage that is located on a family farm belonging to Anna & Siggi. This picturesque homestead is nestled right up to the foot of the mountain topped by the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, under which the famous air traffic interrupting volcano resides.

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Varmahlíð actually means “warm hill”. There is another Varmahlíð in North Iceland. With all the geothermal activity on the island it is easy to see why there would be more than one place known as Varmahlíð. But here I’m referring to an area on the South Coast near the Ejyafjallajökull volcano.

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Siggi’s family has been living on this land for over 200 years. Now Anna & Siggi are operating a “gentleman’s farm” on the site as well as managing several apartments for Iceland’s ever-expanding tourist market.

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Located exactly between the two famous waterfalls Skógafoss

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and Seljalandfoss,

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You can walk behind Seljalandfoss for an alternate view!

these exceptional apartments are the perfect central location for taking in all the South Coast of Iceland has to offer. We of course visited the waterfalls, not our first visit but they never seem to get old. We spent some time on the black sand beach near Vik

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and visited the plane wreck at Sólheimasandur.

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Next we travelled out to the breath-taking Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar).

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Once there we met the adorable Tóti, Vestmannaeyjar’s famous puffin

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and saw the whole town turn out to rescue baby pufflings at night (for more info on the pufflings and Westman islands (see Iceland links below). We went on an exciting rib safari tour around Heimaey.

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The Famous Elephant rock

Drank some local beer at the Brothers Brewery,

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visited the Eldheimar museum which documents the story of the surprise 1973 eruption of the volcano which caused the roughly 5,00 locals to flee on fishing boats in the middle of the night to the safety of the mainland. The eruption, which lasted for 5 months, buried 1/3 of the town in lava and destroyed over 400 houses and businesses. The resilient islanders did return and rebuilt the thriving community you will find today. Fascinating stuff! You really should consider visiting.

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One of the recently uncovered houses which had been buried by lava & ash during the eruption.

And if all the gorgeous scenery hasn’t convinced you, we had the best meal we have ever had in Iceland, which is saying something because the food there is fantastic. The restaurant is Slipurinn. Located in an old machinery shop this family owned eatery features seasonal local sourced dishes often including herbs and seaweed foraged right there on the island. Simply divine food in a friendly and casual environment. Don’t miss it!

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The Husband and I atop the newly formed volcano – Mt. Eldfell

Back on the mainland, we hiked the magnificent Fimmvörðuháls trail, a big accomplishment for us. This challenging 13 mile hike took us up over a mountain (approximately 3,600 feet elevation), past 22 waterfalls,

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past the still warm lava fields from the most recent eruption,

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between two glaciers,

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over the Kattarhryggur (cat’s spine)

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and down the other side through Goðaland (the land of the Gods),

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finishing in Thorsmork (Thor’s Forest).

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It was just jaw dropingly gorgeous and occasionally somewhat terrifying! – Narrow paths with steep drop-offs are not for the faint of heart!

And not only was the Garage Apartments location ideal for all our explorations, but Anna was also such an amazing host, so friendly, warm and welcoming. Her spacious apartments were stylishly decorated, sparklingly clean

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and filled with thoughtful little touches,

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Adorable mice on the bed side table!

and as if all of that was not enough, she served us scrumptious freshly home-baked desserts every day! This delicious Apple Cake was one of them.

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This particular Iceland trip was chock full of activities and I can not tell you how happy we were to come back to find home baked treats waiting for us. What a pleasant surprize! Moist and tender and not too sweet, it was just perfect with a nice hot mug of tea. Anna kindly shared the recipe with me, which I will now share with you.

 

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I must admit, I had to do a few conversions before baking this cake. I don’t have any measuring devices marked with deciliters – but I was able to figure it out pretty quickly. I baked the cake in an 8X8″ pan, but you could also use a 9X9″ – just make sure you adjust the baking time.

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And if you are planning a trip to Iceland anytime in the future and want to visit the South Coast, you’ll know exactly where you should book your accommodation. As a matter of fact, the Husband and I are taking our parents to Iceland this fall. It will be their first trip so we will be playing tour guides for them. And guess where we’ll be staying…That’s right! We are very much looking forward to our upcoming stay at the cozy Garage apartments. For further Iceland recommendations, see my guide at the bottom of this post. In the meantime, try this recipe and enjoy a slice of Varmahlíð Apple Cake while you plan your upcoming adventure.

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Varmahlíð Apple Cake

  • Servings: 9 pieces
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Anna, owner of the Garage Apartments

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams soft salted butter
  • 2.5 Deciliter Sugar (1 cup + 1 Tablespoon)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Deciliter Cream (100 ml)
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 -5 green apples – sliced

Directions:

Preheat oven to 355° F (180°C)

Place the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add the cream and vanilla. Stir to combine.

Add the flour/baking powder mix to the batter. Mix until just combined.

Place the batter in a buttered deep 8X8″ baking pan and top with the apples. ( I sprinkled the top of my cake with cinnamon sugar, but this was not included in Anna’s recipe. If you love cinnamon like I do, just mix 1/4 cup sugar with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and sprinkle over the apples before baking.)

Bake for 45 -50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean at 355°F (180°C).

Enjoy!

Varmahlíð Apple Cake brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Varmahlíð Apple Cake:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Oxo Good Grips 7 Piece Nesting Measuring Beaker Set

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Links for Planning your vacation in Iceland:

I have tons of links, as well as some lovely photos, and delicious Icelandic recipes in previous blogs that I have written about our adventures in Iceland. For some inspiration take a look at:

December 2012 Visit to the South Coast & Reykjavik featuring White Chocolate Skyramisu

December 2013 Visit to the South Coast, Jökulsárlón & Reykjavik featuring Kanilsnúðar

July & December Visit to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, The Westfjords & Reykjavik featuring Ástarpungar aka Love Balls 

Here is a fun video that show you some of the beauty Iceland has to offer, which will surely get you excited for any upcoming Iceland visit. And it will teach you a few words in Icelandic as well. It is known as “The Hardest Karaoke Song in the World”! Sing along to Inspired by Iceland’s “A – Ö of Iceland”.

If you enjoyed this video, take a look at Inspired By Iceland’s site. They have great little videos showing you gorgeous scenes from each area of Iceland, while teaching you a few more Icelandic words along the way.

Westman Island links:

To Buy tickets on the Herjólfur Ferry as well as read about all the things to see and do take a look at: Visit Westman Islands.

Hotel Vestmannaeyjar – Great accommodation on the Islands.

Stofan Bakhús – Great bakery! Got the best kanilsnúðars there that I have ever had in Iceland! We also got some great sandwiches to take on a hike. Everything there looks delicious. Go be tempted!

On puffins: If you travel to the Westman Island at the end of August/beginning of September there is a good chance you will see baby puffins (pufflings) being rescued by the local children. At this time of year, the pufflings leave their nests but get confused by the lights of the town and rather than flying out to sea, they end up flying into town. The children go out at night with flashlights to find them. They take them home in cardboard boxes for the night. The next morning they take them to the Saeheimar Aquarium to be measured and weighed and the children can have their pictures taken with their little charges as well. Once done, the kids take the little birds to the shore and release them back into the wild during daylight hours so that they won’t become confused. We were lucky enough to be there when this was happening and it was unforgettable!

*On a sad note: Tóti the Puffin passed away in July. He was a great ambassador for Vestmannaeyjar and brought joy to many. The Husband and I are so glad we were able to meet him. He will be sorely missed.

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Interested in hiking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail? See here:

If you are interested in hiking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, you can go all on your own. However, we strongly recommend going with a guide.  Weather at  the top of the mountain is very unpredictable and many tourists have ended up having to call ICE-SAR to be rescued. Don’t let this happen to you! We absolutely love the tour company Midgard Adventure and have gone out with them on many exciting adventures. They not only provided us with a knowledgeable and engaging guide but when we descended down into Thorsmork after our epic 9 – 10 hour hike, the folks from Midgard had grilled some hot dogs and were waiting for us with a cooler of beer as well as other snacks. It was just perfection! Check out their other tours as well. They are an amazing company! And they now offer cozy accommodation as well. Take a look at their basecamp where you can find a restaurant, cafe and bar as well.

 

 

 

 


Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs)

February 18, 2014

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So you know how I pulled that disappearing act back in the Fall? Well there were just a whole bunch of reasons that happened, some fun and some not so fun. But this post is going to be about one of the fun things. My husband had to go to Berlin for business and I got to tag along! Well, what I actually did was wait until all of his work stuff was nearly done and then flew over and met him. I worked out really well. I avoided all of the stressful icky work stuff and turned up just in time to do all the fun vacation-y, touristy stuff. The only thing I was really sad I missed out on was the Donor Kebab shop that turned into a full on disco suddenly at 3 a.m. My husband took me back to the scene but it failed to make it’s dance-tastic transformation for me. But luckily the Disco Donor Kebab wasn’t the only sight to be taken in whilst in Berlin. What a great city!

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We only had a couple of days to play the tourists there, but we made the most of them. Folks were really friendly and we couldn’t have been anymore impressed with the public transportation system. It was so well thought out, it just made it incredibly easy to speed all about the town. The weather was just perfect, warm but not too warm during the day and jacket weather in the evening. We stayed over in the part of the city that had been “East Berlin” before the wall came down, in the Mitte neighbourhood. If anyone is headed over that way, I have to tell you, we stayed in a great little boutique hotel, Casa Camper. Yup, it is owned by the same folks that do the Camper shoes. Our room was  a bit quirky, sleek, modern and spacious. The hotel is in a great location close to tons of shops, restaurants and the Weinmeisterstraße underground station is right across the street. One of the best things about the hotel is that they don’t do those silly little mini bars in your room, instead they have a lounge located on the top floor which is open 24 hours a day. You can always get a snack there and they have a fully stocked honor bar that you can help yourself to any time of the day or night. Makes you feel right at home! On the weekend they serve their generous breakfasts until 2 pm! It was a great find and as far as I’m concerned the place to stay in Berlin. We spent most of what little time we had in the city checking out the various museums at Museumsinsel (Museum island…that’s right a whole island of nothing but museums!), the Fernsehturm (tv tower – tallest structure in Germany),

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the Berlinerdom (Berlin Cathedral)

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and visiting a pub or two or three…

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Statue of St. George in front of Brauhaus Georgbraeu

Besides the many pints of beer we quaffed (uh…there really were quite a few…) we had some really tasty meals. (Good thing or we really would’ve been in a state with all that beer on empty stomachs…) My husband loves meatballs. Seriously. He likes those little appetizer cocktail meatballs, he likes them perched on top of spaghetti, stuffed into subs or just all on their lonesome. So you can imagine how delighted he was to find them on the menu of pretty much every restaurant we visited! When we got back home, he was somewhat despondent that his meatball access had been curtailed. So I set out to find a recipe for Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs), just like we had in Berlin. These savoury meatballs cooked in a creamy white sauce came close and definitely brought a smile to his face. Cooked in a broth, rather than grilled, these meatballs are very tender, a bit spicy and have a fresh zing from the lemon zest. The original recipe called for veal, but I went with beef, though I think pork would also work well.  Also there seems to be some folks out there who are quite insistent that capers must be included in this dish for it to be authentic. If that is true, I have fallen a bit short here as there wasn’t a caper to be had in my house on the day I prepared them. If you are a caper fan, feel free to toss a bunch into the mix.

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I served these meatballs over Spaetzle, which I made from scratch. I’m afraid though that I don’t really have that recipe down yet. Certainly not enough to share with you. I’m thinking at this point that a Spaetzle maker might be a necessity here, cause I tried a variety of methods from colander, to potato ricer to strainer and often just ended up with some sort of mutant uber-spaetzle blob. So I’ll put that one on hold right now. I will mention though that after struggling with my homemade spaetzle demons, I found a lovely box of Authentic German Spaetzle at the grocery store, just hanging out there with all of the pastas. That might be the way to go to save yourself a bit of frustration if you haven’t already acquired mad spaetzle making skills. Rice or parsley butter potatoes would also be a good alternative as an accompaniment. And don’t forget a tall frosty beer. I went with one of our all time favourite beers, Pinkus Ur-Pils,  which happens to be brewed in Germany, so that worked out just perfectly. As they say in Germany, “Prost!”

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Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs)

recipe adapted from: Craig Claiborne at The New York Times

yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 4 teaspoons butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoky paprika
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped with additional for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions:

Put beef in mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper and mix to combine.

Heat 1 teaspoon of butter in saute pan. Add onion and garlic. Cook until softened. Add onion mixture to beef. Add breadcrumbs, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and zest, paprika, parsley, chives and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly. Shape mixture into equal sized balls.

Heat remaining butter in saucepan and add flour, stirring with whisk until smooth. Add broth, and wine, stirring continuously. Add meatballs to simmering sauce. Stir gently from time to time so that they cook evenly, about 25 minutes.

Beat sour scream with egg yolk and lemon juice. Add mixture to meatballs. Heat briefly without boiling. Serve hot with spaetzle.

Enjoy!


Newfoundland 2011

August 31, 2011

Lea & Jay at Petty Harbour Newfoundland

Back in the last week of July, Jay and I took a fantastic holiday to St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada. We have been a couple of times in the past (see my previous posts: Off to Newfoundland Again, Ant in a Teacup, and Out with the Old) and absolutely love it there. We’ve always gone at the end of July, beginning of August and it is a truly blessed relief from the sweltering Virginia summers. Although the temps were 102°F (39°C) in Falls Church, the mercury never went over 65°F (18°C) in St John’s, for the entirety of our visit. Bliss! Now, I will say, one does see quite a bit of fog (even when it is sunny)

Sunny Fog over Signal Hill

and certainly more than a couple of raindrops have been known to fall in Newfoundland. For me that weather is right up my alley, whereas I understand it may not be desirable for some. However, the temperature isn’t the only thing that brings us back to St. John’s that time of year. The George Street Festival is also a huge attraction for us. For six days each year, they close George street off to traffic and hold the festival. There is a big main stage in the middle of the street where featured bands play until about 11:30 pm. However, the party doesn’t end there. George Street is a fairly short street-about 3 blocks-but it is jammed packed with pubs and bars of all sorts-literally about 45! To aid festival goers in being able to quickly get liquid refreshments, “speed bars” are set  up outside all of the pubs. I mean you wouldn’t want to have to walk all the way inside a bar to refresh your cocktail…would you?  Once the main stage activities end, bands in most of the bars start playing. The fun goes on until daybreak! This year one of our favourite bands, Great Big Sea, was opening the Festival.

The guys in the band are from the great island of Newfoundland, so we knew excitement would be running high and that was definitely the case. Even though it poured down rain for a good bit of the show, spirits were not dampened.

It was great fun. We did a lot of hiking on this trip as well, up to Signal Hill

Jay on the way up

Lea at the Queen's Battery

and out to Cuckold’s Cove

Cuckold's Cove

a long hike (perhaps a little longer than we intended) from Ft. Amherst to Freshwater Bay

Jay at the beginning of the trail

Still hiking...

a hike around Petty Harbour

Petty Harbour

and a hike out to Quidi Vidi lake

Quidi Vidi Lake shanty

and a hike up in the clouds.

It was a wonderful holiday. Great weather, great music, great food, and gorgeous surroundings.We’re just sorry it was over so soon! We’re hoping to spend more time there next summer. Don’t miss all of the rest of the great photos we took on our trip. Click here to see our Newfoundland photo gallery.

Food will once again be the focus of my next blog. Think boozy cupcakes….YUM!


Back to New York-Finally!

May 27, 2011

Jay and I travelled up to New York a few weeks ago. Jay’s work is headquartered there and it had been quite some time since he’d stopped in. We were a bit nervous they’d forgotten what he looked like! To smooth his long absence over a bit, I made a batch of Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip cookies for him to take along with him into the office.

Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip cookies

We stayed at the Standard hotel as usual and as usual it was fantastic!

Standard King Room

While poor Jay slaved away at work, I strolled all around lower Manhattan. The weather was perfect. Once he finished up his day, we met back up and went out to Fig and Olive for a really wonderful dinner.

Truly it was great in every way. The food was delicious and for once, the atmosphere was great – beautiful decor, not crowded, not ear splittingly loud and no detectable attitude. Amazing! Jay and I have not had great dining history in New York in the past. One restaurant we visited previously had some of the best mexican food I’ve ever tasted, but was a nightmare of an experience – crowded (sitting butt-cheek to butt-cheek with strangers crowded- on the verge of a panic attack crowded – and loud to the point we even gave up trying to talk to each other, we just stared across the table at one another in disbelief. One other restaurant had made us wait for over an hour for very bland, yet very expensive dishes. How disappointing! So we were so incredibly happy to find Fig and Olive, which was such a breath of fresh air (another unique experience in NYC)! This restaurant serves Riviera and Coastal Cuisines from the South of France, Italy and Spain. You definitely feel the Mediterranean ambiance as soon as you walk into the restaurant -stucco walls, rosemary and olive trees throughout, lots of candles, olive oil and wine bottles. The restaurant was really quite spacious, but our table felt very warm and intimate. And let me say the food did not disappoint either. We started off with their crostini with three different toppings – mushroom artichoke truffle parmesan, eggplant basil and sundried tomato, and manchego fig spread and almond. They were all great but our favourite was the mushroom artichoke. Jay ordered Penne Funghi Tartufo with Grilled Chicken – cremini mushroom, parmesan, black truffle paste, fresh parsley and scallions with a white truffle olive oil. I had the Grilled Truffle Chicken Paillard – a free range chicken breast marinated with thyme and served with truffle mashed potato leek confit. We washed it all down with an Abruzzo Montepulciano wine. YUM!  Truly a spectacular dinner! I can’t believe we didn’t save room for dessert, but I have no doubt we will definitely be visiting this establishment again. Sorry I didn’t get any photos of the food. The candlelight contributed immensely to the mood but not so much towards any viewable food photography.

The next day, I dashed out to Chelsea Market first thing in the morning on a mission for coffee and some fabulous bread from Amy’s Bread in particular.

The mission was easily accomplished and I returned to the room with caffeine in hand as well a a mouth-wateringly delicious chocolate sourdough twist and a hunk of brioche toast. Sorry no photo of these item either, we ate them too quickly! What a wonderful bakery. It took amazing restraint on my part not to purchase one of everything they had. I’ve recently gotten very interested in trying to bake my own bread. I’ve been pouring over Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and scheming. Amy’s Bread in Chelsea market is fun because you can actually watch the bakers at work through these huge glass windows. I spent quite a bit of time gazing in the day before, so I knew I had to get over there for breakfast and get some of that awesome bread.

Bannetons Stacked-Up at Amy's

Before we left to catch the train we were able to grab a burger for lunch at the good old Standard Grill at the hotel. These burgers are the best! We always try to budget in some time for them!

The Standard Burger

All in all a great visit! Looking forward to the next.


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