No, not Britain. Iceland, a country with a total population of 318,000 people, two-thirds of whom live here in Reykjavik. The whole country is roughly the size of Kentucky. The people have tremendous self-esteem which must be part of the reason Iceland is slowly inching back from the huge financial “crash” of 2008. Since the country has a very high literacy rate thanks to excellent schooling; great health care; little crime, and a passion for life outdoors, Icelanders have a right to feel good about themselves.
Buildings are either state-of the art contemporary like Harpa,
the brand new art center designed by Olafur Eliasson, the Icelandic-Danish artist who made the waterfalls in the East River last summer; built of concrete, (useful in a place of extreme weather), or cutely old-world made of wood, sometimes with the addition of corrugated iron.
The puffin, a particularly appealing Arctic bird, appears all over the place.
It’s served smoked but, happily, hasn’t been on any menu I’ve seen because it would feel a little like eating Bambi. Meanwhile, smoked salmon is coming out of my ears along with Arctic char, scallops and Icelandic lobster which is more like a langoustine. Our first night’s dinner was preceded by a very interesting cocktail called a “Birkir,” made of a birch liquor, ginger ale, vodka and a splash of lemon, garnished with a birch leaf and sprig of thyme. Unusual and delicious.
Icelanders are charming, helpful and tough–they have to be as natural disasters, like volcanoes, happen all the time. We saw two documentaries at Volcano House and talked to a woman whose mother remembers the 1973 event that wiped out a large section of the “Western Islands.” Of course, they rebuilt in a very short period of time. On the plus side sitting, as the country does, on an intersection of North American and European Tectonic Plates, they have the Aurora Borealis, waterfalls, glaciers, geothermal pools and more.
At Volcano House, there’s a great poster showing how to make an Active Volcano Cake.
Here’s what to do:
Take several sheets of heavy tinfoil and mold an upside down mountain. Fill it with chocolate cake batter (I plan to use a mix) and bake according to directions. When a knife comes out clean remove from the oven and let cool. Peel off the foil.
Invert your mountain and, with a sharp knife, cut off the top. Carefully scoop out some of the cake inside. Fill the cavity with the red jam of your choice. Put the top piece back on. Melt white chocolate and drizzle it over the top, sealing the hole and simulating snow. To serve, cut slices and watch the jam run out. Your volcano is erupting!
Santanka nu! (roughly ‘cheers’ in Icelandic, a language still directly related to what the Vikings spoke.)