08 March 2006

Come for dinner

Everyone who's been to Iceland knows that to eat out requires deep pockets here in Reykjavík. Going to dinner is a special occasion that means dressing up and really enjoying when you're out. The restaurants here are great, but if you're not interested in Thai, hamburgers, or pizza, it's going to cost at least a hundred USD for two.

This means that Icelanders have made entertaining at home an art form. Most houses I've been to have well-stocked kitchens, bookshelves overflowing with beautiful recipe books, and the inhabitants have the know-how to go with all this culinary equipment. With the raw ingredients available here, it's quite a treat to be invited over and appreciate the fruits of these labors. Everyone dresses up, even if it is a short notice invitation, and meals always involve multiple courses, good china, and tablecloths. J and I once made the mistake of thinking it wasn't a dress-up event, since the only times I'd seen our hostess, she'd been dressed in a lopapeysa and jeans, so we arrived in jeans. They'd set the table with layered tablecloths and candles, tucked the kids in bed, and were dressed for an evening out. Another time after J and I had been in a cabin for the whole weekend, we invited someone over for a simple pasta meal in two hours, and again, our guest arrived in a tie and jacket, wine in hand, to find me and J in t-shirts. We learned our lesson after that.

All these people we've gone to visit live in lovely houses in the suburbs, with rooms and dining tables, leaving J and I uncertain of how to reciprocate. We chose to live in the 101 instead of Kópavogur or somewhere, so we compromised on the space issue. We've also only got 5 chairs and they don't match, and we've only recently graduated from paper-towel napkins thanks to my crafty mom making cloth ones as a Christmas gift. Our place has kind of a single-room loft thing going, so if we do go into amazing culinary gyrations, we'd have to eat in view of all the pots and pans we used. Also, the food we make tends to be on the wholesome and easy-to-make side. I'm great at cooking randomly good things out of the four strange ingredients in the fridge (pepper cream cheese and spinach can make a GREAT pasta sauce) but it's never from a recipe so it always comes out differently. Not really the kind of thing I want to serve to guests.

J already introduced the idea of weekend coffee, where we provide the coffee, the setting, and an eclectic mix of people, and the guests provide baked goods of their choice. It has taken on a life of its own, and during one of the more memorable ones, one couple arrived with a waffle iron, waffle batter, whipped cream, and jam. They set up on the counter and were turning out waffles in a matter of minutes.

I suppose it's partly what happens anywhere as you get older- entertaining gets more elaborate as people accumulate the trappings of grown-up-ness, but people here have been developing these skills for a lot longer. Boston yuppies eat out, Ice-yuppies eat in.

Ship sighting: Lots of container ship activity recently, which J and I have enjoyed being able to actually see. Naja Arctica departed over the weekend on the way to Greenland, and was the most beautiful cargo ship I've ever seen. Everything was red and crisp white, including all the four-high stacks of containers on the deck. While searching for pictures on the internet, I also found this awesome website that plots the location of ships when they last called in their position. You can filter by different types of ships to only see research vessels or cruise ships, or zoom in for a closer look. If you look at Iceland and environs, you can see the last reported position of Naja Arctica. At time of writing she was just rounding the southernmost tip of Greenland.

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