29 April 2006

car chase!

J is away this evening, so I was getting ready to go downtown when I heard sirens. This is unusual enough that I paid attention, especially when they got louder and louder and then stopped. I went to the window to find a scene below me- a gray truck headed the wrong direction on the street outside, a cop car with a missing front fender, and a whole assembly of other cop cars, including the paddy wagon, and an ambulance.

The police rushed out of the cars and started breaking the windows of the truck with sticks, then hauled a young woman out of the passenger side of the truck, wrestling her to the ground and handcuffing her. They toted her away, then set up a ring of police tape (yep, it's special Icelandic police tape that says Lögreglan on it). Now the accident investigation van is there, and someone's taking photos. The excitement's over. Still, you can relive the thrill by checking out this action photo I got from the balcony. Now that's live reporting from Iceland!

Ship sighting: Yeah.. too busy staring at cars to notice just now, but I noticed another Portugese fishing boat down on the harbor this morning. Must be the season.

all aboard

Yesterday I went down to Miðbakki (the central dock nearest town) to see if the foreign ship I mentioned yesterday had actually arrived. There she was, tucked in the rightmost corner, flying a Portugese flag on the stern, and an Icelandic flag over the bridge (nice touch!). There were a few people hanging over the railings next to the gangplank, and as I slowed, they waved at me and gestured me up.

I'm always up for an adventure, so I stepped around the security fence and up the railings, where I met with a horde of very short Portugese sailors. I might mention I was not dressed to be sea-worthy, in an ankle-length denim dress and boots with two-inch heels, which also contributed to the way I towered over these guys.

I can say one phrase in Portugese, a fairly well-accented "I don't speak Portugese", which got smiles all around and a rapid-fire of talk from the guys. I'm more used to Brazilian Portugese, since my mom grew up in South America and speaks it, so I'm not sure what they were saying, but their excitement at having a visitor on board was evident. One of them spoke French slightly, so we managed to have a broken conversation, and he said he'd introduce me to the captain. We went down a spiral staircase along the side of where the nets were rolled on enormous drums, along a narrow and rusty passage to where the captain was. He was a similarly short-statured fellow with graying temples on his buzz-cut hair, and spoke enough English that he could explain things to me.

We passed the kitchen where the cook was stirring what smelled like a lot of onions on an enormous stove, while his sous-chef worked through a pile of fish fillet slicing. Around the corner we climbed a narrow staircase to the bridge, where the captain explained how the different kinds of nets worked, and the controls on the boat.

Next we descended into a warren of corridors with dining rooms, lounges, and cabins with lines of laundry (very short jeans) strung up along the walls and towels slung over radiators, into the lower level where the fish processing happens. Here's where I learned why everyone was so short- this part of the boat couldn't accommodate me in most places with my heels and height, so I had to duck low as we crossed stiles over conveyor belts and freezer mechanisms. This place was a spaghetti-pot of fish-processing equipment- chutes, rollers, and ramps, with small openings where guys stood to fillet and clean the fish.

They had two different routes for the cod and other fish, both of which ended in the deep-freeze equipment that flash-froze the fillets in 20kg units. After that it was into the deep-freeze hold, where they had the capacity for five months of fish-catch.

One level below were the engines, still throbbing to keep the freezer and power going, so it was already warm and noisy down there. I cannot imagine what it must be like when all the engines are going, fish are sluicing through the doors in the stern, and all the conveyor belts and washers are running at once in this crowded windowless place. I see why fishermen make so much money- it looks like rough work.

We wound our way back out of the fish-processing area to the upper decks, where I was invited to dinner by the captain, the cook, the chief engineer, and anyone else who had enough English to phrase the invitation. I guess the presence of a woman on board is pretty thrilling after almost three months at sea.

When I landed back on to land, the sounds of Icelandic, the pale, tall people, and the freshly-painted buildings of downtown made me feel like I'd just been in a different country. I looked down at the the dark smudges of rust on my hands, just to make sure I'd just been there, amid all those shoulder-high sailors in the steamy hold of a boat of a certain age.

28 April 2006

House sharing

When J, my parents, and I went to Akureyri, J and I stayed in a bare-bones guesthouse downtown, and my parents stayed in an apartment that was lent to us for the long weekend. I came upon the apartment in a way that's never happened to me, and in some ways I still don't quite believe it happened.

When I went to Amsterdam in February, I shared a row with an Icelandic woman who spent the whole trip sleeping. When we got to Schipol, the luggage took insanely long to arrive, so we ended up talking together. We discovered that her brother works for a branch of my company, that we both live in the same neighborhood, and that we were sharing the same flight back to Iceland in a few days. I invited her to J's birthday party, and we parted ways in the midst of the vast indoor shopping complex outside the airport.

We talked again briefly as we waited to board the plane on our way back, but didn't sit in the same row, so that was it. She couldn't come to the party so I figured that was probably the end of it- we'd each burrow back into our own lives and forget about the airplane meeting.

Then, a few weeks later, I got a call from her. She needed editing help, so I met her in a café downtown and hashed out a few economics paper abstracts with her. Over dinner I told her that I was going to Akureyri over Easter, and when she discovered I didn't yet have a place to stay, she said she was from the north and could probably get an apartment. After dinner she called up a nephew of hers who was going to be out of town, and there, after three brief meetings, I was given her relative's house.

The keys arrived in the mail soon after, in an envelope without return address, and containing nothing but the keys. A few days before our planned trip, the owner of the place called me, just to tell me that the key to the apartment is a bit sticky, and I have to be sure and open it with a smooth style (his words). This guy had NEVER met me, and his aunt has only now seen me a total of four times, yet my parents stayed in his house for three days.

This whole experience reminded me of how interwoven this society is. While it sounds like it's sometimes frustrating for people that grew up here, this net of people that spreads through all the tiny towns does create a different travel experience. There's always someone to stop by and have coffee with, a personal story about some farm we've driven by a few times, people you run into elsewhere in the country, out of context as they visit their extended families. For example, J ran into the customer service woman we always use at the bank here in Kópavogur in the stairwell of the building where my parents stayed, and just now as I came back from lunch, one of the book-keeping women at my company told me that she had been sitting one table away from us at a cafe one evening in Akureyri as we all ate biscuits. Yep, small country.

Ship sighting: There's a foreign fishing ship called the Cidade de Amarente that's supposed to arrive this afternoon. I can't give you a picture because all that came up with a search were Portugese and Brazilian websites, none of which had fishing boat photos. This is the first foreign ship I recall seeing on the list since the Japanese tuna boats in the fall. Exciting!

This tanker is also coming and going today, with a 12-hour turnaround. I need to learn more about tanker construction though, because there were lots of photos of this one, and in some it had what looked like cranes (as in first link) and in others it didn't, like this one.

26 April 2006

Beyond the sea

Outside my house is a long snaking sea-wall of black stones, bordered by a running path. I went to sit on it today for some fresh air and thinking space, watching the extra-large waves kick up spray into the slanting sun, and feeling the rock I sat on hum with the impact. There was a hiccup when outgoing water meets incoming water, and the seagulls floated and bobbed there, like buoys marking the safe passage channel. As each wave sucked away, the pebbles under the water rumbled and hissed as they were dragged oceanwards. The ocean smelled like childhood- summer days when the beach on Chappaquiddick got too cold for everyone else, but my family stayed on, bundled in coats and hats, to watch the sun setting behind the waving beach grass. The later days when I sat hugging my knees, and pondering the angst of rural teenage life, and even later days when family members fell in love and got married by the ocean.

I could be so many other places- even thousands of miles away, the Atlantic still smells the same. The rock I sit on may be lava-formed instead of granite, but it's got the same sea-worn smoothness under my hands. Why then, is it so important to be here?

My parents left yesterday, after a tearful good-bye the evening before. I know that they want me to live wherever I am happiest, but it breaks my heart to see how we all feel the separation. I know they loved it when I was a 2 hour drive away, in a city they came to often on business. Now that I'm here, visits are relegated to these new intense, short periods where every moment feels like it has to be Significantly Memorable, without the hanging-out of previous days. I see why people stay close to families after this experience, but I'm left wondering also if it would feel different if I weren't living abroad. Is it easier if your parents are in New York and you live in Kansas, or is distance distance, no matter where everyone chooses to live?

Ship sighting: This afternoon, a large fishing ship along the lines of Engey was hovering around the harbor entrance, between the outermost island and Akrafjall. It stayed there for several hours, drifting a distance that seemed too large to have been held by anchor. This seems to be a new trend in the harbor experience- the drifting boat. Maybe it did happen before and I just couldn't see it in all the dark.

21 April 2006

in the good old summertime

Yesterday was a day off work, to celebrate the first day of summer, in spite of the snow squall the day before. I woke early and walked down to where my parents are staying to eat breakfast with them. The sun was out, and as I walked along, coat fully unbuttoned, sunglasses on, the rays highlighted the fat buds on the hedges and made the single patch of daffodils I saw glow golden. Maybe it was summertime after all, in spite of having no plans to dig out those kicky sandals anytime soon.

Later in the day, J and I did the obligatory walkaround downtown. Most people had the day off, so there were activities planned, at least according to the ITR website. It turned out to be a game of dodgeball in the main square, and a bunch of people sitting around eating ice cream. A few people were making brave attempts at springtime outfits, so there were a few bare inches of leg, some brief flashes of bare arms, but the clouding-over day and rapidly dropping temperature hid many of them quickly.

Something about days like this here make me a little sad. Everyone's out on the street looking for the party or event, but the event IS going and seeing who else is out on the street, since even new arrivals like me and J found people we knew prowling the pavement. I wonder how much of my gloom stems from an American "entertain me now" additude, and how much of it is that days like yesterday highlight the tiny town nature of Reykjavík that I forget in the midst of the routines of daily life here. In general this seems to be a place where people take entertainment into their own hands, rather than expecting the city to provide- parades are one to three actual bands or dance troupes, followed by the hordes of people that came out to be part of the day. Fireworks at New Years are not put on by the city, but are the accumulated celebration of the thousands of residents here. Want music? Chances are the guy playing is the cousin of a friend, rather than some dude from Cali you've never met and never will.

Still, a free day off work is nothing to complain about, and as J and I sat in a chic café on Laugavegur, I remembered why I love it here. There we were, sitting in the middle of this place that would fit in perfectly in New York or Boston, eating beautifully prepared food, and at the table next to us toddler was taking tentative first drunken steps to the amusement of the supertrendy waiter guys. The crowd in the place ranged from pretty people drinking beer to this family of all generations, and nobody was angry that the presence of the child ruined the fabulousness of the place, or that his poor mind would be corrupted by being around people having a late-afternoon beer. He was a well-behaved little kid too, and while he peeped curiously over the tables at a few people, he didn't interfere with anyone's meal. It's not so bad being part of this tiny place, I guess.

Ship sighting: not sure when I'll get to the rest of the Northern story, so I'll share the photos from Akureyri now. J and I did a lap around the harbor when we were there so I could inspect the boats and the piles of nets and boat parts. The location of the harbor is so great, with the towering mountains all around (and why am I always so enchanted by fjords?) that it's almost making me question my loyalty to the Reykjavík harbor. Maybe J and I should move to Akureyri, just so I can rename the blog "Akureyri Harbor Watch".

18 April 2006

life on a northern farm

For the first part of our trip last week, the four of us (me, J, and my parents) headed about 2 1/2 hours north to a farm owned by the family of one of J's co-workers. The day we drove up was crisp and clear in the south, with an extra flavor of camaraderie that comes from upcoming holidays and people looking forward to nice plans. The service stations along the route north were crowded with families throwing back hamburgers and fries, ice-creams, coffee and soup. It was even clear enough to get a glimpse of the full spine of Snæfellsnes as we passed Borgarnes and made our way towards the lava that surrounds the Bifröst business school. We climbed the spine of Snæfellsnes into the snow, our rented landcruiser navigating the snow and wind easily, and descended to the valley where the road splits off to the West Fjords.

From there, the drive winds along the pointy end of several fjords, climbing the gentler ridges between them. The landscape was freshly covered in snow, so the brightly colored farm buildings stood out clearly in the sparse landscape.

Our destination was just off the main road, tucked among mountains and with a view of a freshwater lake, and then the ocean beyond. It's a working dairy farm with a herd of horses, a sprinkling of chickens, and a companionable Icelandic sheepdog that chases more than she herds. We arrived just in time for afternoon coffee, so we sat down with our hosts, two of the sons of the farmer who runs the place. They were taking care of the milking and feeding while he and his wife were on holiday.

The farmhouse was everything a farmhouse should be, and a little more. The entry was full of cow-scented clothes and tall rubber boots, but inside the door, the house was immaculate, cozy, and full of family photos and memorabilia. The bookshelves were stacked high with books- the best classic Icelandic authors as well as Icelandic translations of Tintin and Asterix, and the windows everywhere looked out on mountains and huge fields in all directions.

After coffee, an elaborate meal that also involved cheese, bread, milk straight from the farm, and cookies, J went to watch milking and I went with my parents to explore. We watched the pregnant mares and yearlings being fed, then walked up behind the house to where the stallions were by themselves, then further on to the glacial till hummocks that give the farm its name ("behind the mounds" in English). The whole time we were accompanied by the farm dog Tina, her straw and cream colored coat blending with the dried grass hummocks and fresh snow patches.

We ate dinner together in the large kitchen, the traditional lamb, caramelized potatoes, and green(ish) peas, accompanied by red cabbage and rhubarb jam. I'd never made the potatoes that way before, but our host showed me how- the trick is basically, wait, wait, wait, now stir like crazy! I think I'll do better next time- my sugar glaze had a few candy lumps in it (on second thought, maybe I'll keep making it that way).

The next day, we all crept out into the silent morning one by one. First J, to help with the morning milking, then I went out when Tina barked outside my window, then my parents. We watched the milk truck on its rural pick-up milk come to pump the latest from the milk house, then I tried to feed apples to the horses. Unlike Vermont horses, these guys hadn't a clue what to do with an apple, since apples have historically been VERY precious here, and not something to feed to the horses. They were also so shy that I left them on a fencepost and stepped away. When I looked back, one was sampling the new flavors cautiously.

We had to get back on the road soon after for our next stop in Akureyri, but we stopped on the way up at the historic Þingeyri church before we left the valley. It was closed, but we peeked in at the carved apostles in the choir loft, and the gold starred ceiling. Like many buildings in the Icelandic country though, no amount of internal decoration can hope to compare to the vast landscape outside. We paid our silent respects to the Icelanders in the graveyard (so many near-centenarians there) while observed by a herd of ponies, then continued our way north.

Ship sighting: This morning as J and I rounded the corner of our building towards the sea, a fully loaded cargo ship was on the way in, perfectly placed in front of Snæfellsjökull. The mountain was covered in snow and absolutely crisp against the blue sky and turquoise morning-sea, so the ship looked all the more dark, hulking, and enormous. I'm not sure what ship it was though, since the boats listed as having arrived today are all either fishing boats or came too early to be that one.

17 April 2006

joining the migration

J and I, with parents in tow, have just returned from a whirlwind tour of the northern lands, along with many other Icelanders from the Reykjavík area (closest I've seen to a traffic jam here). We stayed on a farm among Icelandic cattle and horses, we went to the lesser-known cousin of the Blue Lagoon, we walked among dark castles of lava, and spent Easter on a tiny island in the middle of a northern fjord. Yesterday we were in the middle of a snowstorm, today in Reykjavík it is finally feeling like springtime- sun, a flag-snapping breeze, and the drowsy feeling of holidays. More later.

11 April 2006

State visit

This morning J and I drove the mossy, windy road to the airport, where we fetched my parents. It's their first visit to The Land, and they were told by my brother who came in November that they'd love it, that it was SO amazing, that they'd love it, and did he mention that it was amazing? So far they've taken to it quite well, babbling about the cairns, the soil, and the hills during the drive back, asking questions about everything, and marvelling at all the things I've gotten used to seeing every day. After living here for a while the "strange" receptors do get dulled, and I've started to think it really isn't THAT different from the States. You got your roads, your jungle jump-up in the suburbs, trucks, houses. Yep, not so different. Then a visitor comes and everything seems new again- the tiny scale of life here, the odd way that this metropolis seems to spring out of the lava emptiness after the drive from the airport.

Like good coming-to-see-the-expat visitors, they've arrived laden with the maximum luggage allowance, most of which contains goodies for us. When people start asking about what we want three months before they arrive, the list piles up until the bags are full, apparently. It's like Christmas and my birthday all in one every time someone comes, and I've only seen the contents of one bag, which is full of wine and designer shoes from my sister-in-law.

They're staying downtown, and have already had their first experience of how things are different here, when they tried to find a café for breakfast at 8am. They were kindly sent to 10-11 by the woman who was getting ready to open in a few hours. It's strange to have family here like this once again, feeling out the way the relationship is different now that we live so far away from each other, instead of a car ride away and mostly experiencing the same weather patterns. There's so much to share, so much to see, and so much to talk about.

Ship sighting: I feel for anyone out on the sea this morning, since the waves were still quite high on the way to the airport. Still, the schedule shows a good mix of ships today, including a sizeable tanker, Themestern. Here's a picture of the Themestern stern.

10 April 2006

and rule the boisterous deep*

This afternoon when we came home from work, J and I went straight to the window, coats still on, to survey the scene below. The weather here was crazy all day- sheets of driving rain and hail followed by golden sun (repeat cycle a hundred times) and apparently the wind had whipped the ocean into a furious frenzy. The surf was pounding the sea wall outside, throwing boulders the size of sheep across the bike path, and spraying kelp all the way to the road. It was high tide just as we came home, the peak of action, and it roared and surged, climbing the stones like some kind of nimble, unstoppable animal.

This was even exciting enough to bring out the locals, and the grass behind the path was sprinkled with cautious viewers. One guy was out with sound recording equipment, and J and I watched as he stood right atop the wall, then turned his back to the ocean to fiddle with something. Sure enough, an immense wall of water leaped up behind him, and he scrambled out of the way as the water rushed to surround him.

I'm used to waves like this only lasting for a half hour or so, but now, three hours later, they're still roaring over the wall, with a tone is so low and rumbling that I can press my hand to the window and feel the vibrations as sea meets stones. I think it will be the sound to put me to sleep tonight, tucked high above the flying kelp pieces.

Oh, and if you're curious, all the wild weather STILL has not taken care of the Raven Treasure.

Ship sighting: I took a trip around the docks during my wave inspection, so now you can see Eldborg in partial déshabillé (and don't you LOVE that truck/crane thing?). This boat trio was further down the dock. The one on the left is the Famous Gold Boat discussed in the comments on this post. On the way back, this house, with the peeling paint, the nails rusting through the fence rails, and the strange dogs (the one on the right had a broken leg even) in the window captured my imagination. This house needs a story written about it.

*I am curious to know if ANYONE that didn't go to the same high school as I did knows what this refers to.

07 April 2006

The living air

This morning I woke to the buffeting wind against the window panes, an almost regular feature of life here. The sea outside was laced with whitecaps, and the outer panes of the double glass were flexing in the gusts. The wind here is almost constant, even on the nicest of days, and while it does serious damage to your hair (maybe this is why the Icelandic haircut preferences tend towards messy... if you can't be it, join it), it certainly clears out the lungs well.

Last night, for example, we went to a seedy Thai/Icelandic restaurant/disco near the main bus station in town, and after a spicy beery meal in the smoky atmosphere, nothing was quite so welcome as the first gust of air when we stepped outside again. At the end of a long workday, I step out the door and the wind picks me up and shakes out the worries. The wind keeps me swimming quickly too, so I can avoid having my arms in the wind-whipped air as much as possible.

Unfortunately, this wind also creates problems when combined with those ravens I'm always talking about. Two weeks ago, one of them let loose as they flew past the window, leaving a huge splatter across both panes of our living room window. In spite of the collective creative potential of the two brains in the house, J and I have been unable to figure out how to remove it. The window is two panes wide, and each pane is four feet wide (more than a meter each for you Euro readers). They can only be reached from the balcony on one side, and we're on the fifth floor.

I tried some creative gyrations last weekend, involving a mop and some pretzeled contortions on the balcony, but I only managed to smear the nearer one a bit, and the leftmost pane is still sullied. Now, every time the weather is bad, I keep hoping the wind is blowing off the sea, and maybe, just maybe, it will scrub our window clean. I've run out of other ideas, but I've gotta say, the view is NOT the same with a huge white splatter in the middle of it.

Ship sighting: Some heavy tanker action today- there are four different ships either arriving or departing. One of them is Kotlas. Apparently this is also the name of a town in Russia, so the image search for this one was full of pictures of Russian buildings, and all kinds of shady-looking boats in the port there.

05 April 2006

closing the circle

As many readers know, I'm a weaver and have been for about ten years, so when I planned my move here, the only thing I knew I had to bring was my loom. It was my high school graduation gift, chosen for its portability (a folding loom! how awesome is that?) and versatility- I can weave something a yard wide, and have the design flexibility for almost anything. My loom came with me to college, it moved with me to Martha's Vineyard after school, it moved to Boston when I started working there. My designs have evolved from disco thread (silver filament) and black chenille in everything, to materials collected from all over the world in patterns that reflect accumulated views and ideas. The loom has been a sporadic source of income too- I never marketed, but word got around and friends and family of friends ordered scarves through the years, enough to support the habit and hobby.

Last year, when I was packing up my apartment, I sent the loom in to storage since I couldn't bring it over until I had a job and a home. It finally came in November, and when I opened it, still chilly from its days in the Eimskip warehouse awaiting customs clearance, I discovered that the sea journey had not been kind to it. Two of the most essential pieces were broken, rendering it so structurally unsound I was unable to weave it.

That was a strange day, opening all those boxes that seemed full of the energy of those strangely hot days in April last year when I packed my supplies, uncertain of when, or even where I'd see them again. Also, this one thing I had most wanted to survive had not come through unscathed. J reminded me gently that it was fixable, and that I did have insurance to pay for the parts. I called the store I'd ordered the loom from, the best fiber supplier in the East, who assured me they'd be able to send the leg and other parts I needed. I sent them a picture with the pieces I needed circled, and hoped for the best. When the pieces finally did arrive in the middle of March, they had sent the leg for the other side of the loom.

True to their awesome customer service, they sent the correct part the next day to J's brother, who gamely humped a huge box with the correct leg through Icelandair, cradled in his hiking socks and t-shirts. Last Sunday J and I finally put it back together, and my loom, after travelling so far, was finally ready to go.

I'd been planning for this for months, so I'd set aside a pile of yarn, a combination of hand-dyed wool from my weaving teacher in Vermont and skeins from the Faroe Islands, another gift. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a pile of color, textile design, and weaving pattern books, thinking of color combinations, imagining how the colors could be combined in different patterns, and looking out at the sun lighting up Akrafjall. I started winding the warp later with the warping board propped against the sun-filtered windowpane, settling back in to the familiar hand motions as the ravens sailed by outside.

Ship sighting: nothing much exciting due in today, but this morning was a nice drive past the harbor. Eldborg is still getting fixed up in the slip, the research boat is in the prime central spot, and there was a scattering of boats in the more inner part of the harbor, below Esja, shrouded in clouds and covered in snow.

04 April 2006

Gleðilega Páska

´Tis the season here, again. It looks like Easter is almost as exciting around here as Christmas. We get more days off work (a five-day weekend next week) and people in my office are travelling far and wide during the time, both in Iceland and across the stones. Earlier today two women dressed as chickens came through the office, pushing a cart full of boxes. They delivered one of these to each person. This thing is taller than the length of my hand, adorned with a drunken looking bottlebrush chicken, and is apparently full of further goodies. It's the special company packaging too, with the logo surrounded by pastel eggs. I guess Easter is big.

Unlike Christmas though, there have been NONE of the signals I am accustomed to at this time of year. No bunnies, no sickening chicks-wearing-bows pictures, no mint-peach-lavendar-pink-baby blue décor beswagging the fruit displays in the grocery stores. There doesn't seem to really be much in the way of special Easter foods at all actually, not even special páskasmjör (we had Christmas butter, so it seemed like a possibility). Nothing but chocolate. It's also confirmation season now, so the radio is peppered with ads for special confirmation bargains to be had. I guess it's important to buy books or electronics for this important event.

The weather has also not added much in the way of Eastertime feelings. It snowed yesterday and this morning, so even that tender spring air isn't around. The Icelandic seasonal calendar is just two- summer, and winter, but I'm beginning to think they really should be called dark, and not dark, since the weather's about the same now as it was in January. I can't say I love those humid days of July and August in New England (part of why it was easy to think of moving away), but every now and then, like today, I wish for a little of that springtime balminess.

Ship sighting: The tanker Keilir is coming in today, among some of the usual Eimskip/Atlansskip/Samskip/various fiskiskip suspects. I like this one because it's named after such a cool mountain.

03 April 2006

Welcome to April

It is snowing furiously right now. Word to the wise: don't come to Iceland for the balmy weather!

that is all I have to say.

Leftovers in style

Whenever we make the traditional Icelandic lamb dinner (small potatoes, red cabbage, rabarbarasulta) there is always a huge chunk of lamb leftover. We mastered Hlölli @ home sandwiches, and have done toasted lamb on salads, but we still had a chunk left on Saturday evening and needed a new idea. J suggested soup for Sunday, so I hit my recipe book collection for inspiration. Mind you, the only recipes I actually follow are for baked goods, so anything was worth checking out. I found a lamb chop with white beans recipe in a Williams Sonoma book that sounded great, so I sent J out for provisions. The result was so incredibly good I have to write it down (partly in hopes that I'll be able to make it again sometime). Unfortunately, as is always the case with my cooking style, I haven't got a clue exactly how much of what went in, so all measurements and times are quite approximate.

Ingredients list:
2 cups leftover lamb, cubed (maybe it was more.. not sure)
1 small box regular button mushrooms, cut in similar cubes as the lamb
1 variety pack fresh mushrooms, cubed (J went crazy at Hagkaup and brought this back- good choice!)
Half an onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 can white cannellini beans
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup stock, made with an antique vegetable bouillon cube from the US
1/2 liter mushroom stock, made from a new Icelandic bouillon cube
a few dried Czech forest mushrooms (or dried mushroom mix from the store, or none at all)
olive oil
fresh pepper

To make it:
Heat a large pot on medium heat. Add some olive oil and heat that a little too. Add onions and garlic and cook until they start to go translucent on you and make the house smell like onions (good start folks!). Add mushrooms (all but the dried ones) and season with the rosemary and pepper. Let these cook and swap flavors for a while, stirring occasionally, and add the juice from the can of beans if you need more liquid. When the mushrooms are still firm but partly cooked (as I said, precise measurements!) add the beans and the lamb. Let them share the pot for a while, and heat through. Keep stirring! When the lamb goes fragrant on you, add the tomatoes, and the stock. Stir it up, lower the heat some, and cover for 10-15 minutes or so- you want some simmer in there so flavors can swap.

At this point it seemed to need more liquid, so I added another cup or two of hot water, which I dropped the Czech mushrooms into for some extra flavor. Those shared the pot for a while, then I added a bit more pepper, and called it quits. It was exceptional- the lamb flavor had bloomed in the soup, and since it had been seasoned already, there were all these new dimensions to the broth. Each spoonful was full of morsels- sliced garlics, wild mushrooms, and lamb. I can't believe it was inspired by a languishing leftover. There are leftovers, and I expect it will be even better after the getting-to-know-you session in the fridge.

While the soup was simmering, I also took two old hot-dog buns from the Hlölli @ home evening, cubed them, then tossed in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper, and my Trader Joe's 21-season salute (probably any mix would make them great). These, toasted in a 200c oven for about 11 minutes, are impossibly good croutons. I made batch on Saturday morning that never saw a salad. They were so good I kept sneaking a few here and there, and by Sunday evening there were about 10 lonely croutons left, out of a 2-baking sheet batch. They're so good I want to let bread go stale in the house so I can make them, but I will have to put them in a box religiously after they've been made, or J will never get a single one.

Ship sighting: Sundays like yesterday are great days to live by the sea. The sky was bright, the breeze stirred whitecaps, and the air was just right for raven flight. I saw the whale-watching ships go out and return, a few fishing boats coming home, and a four-crane cargo ship headed to Akranes. I'm not sure what ship that one was, but while I was looking for it, I discovered that there's a kelp-harvesting boat called Karlsey docked up there. It's owned by a company that specializes in seaweed meal production. Apparently, rockweed is good for plants as well as livestock and pets (only 1/4 teaspoon for your cat though!). If you're into that kind of thing, pick up a bag today, and think of the kelp-choked shores of Breðafjörður as you dish it out to Fluffy.