On Being a Dog Mom

Wow, it’s been a year since I’ve filled this space with my usual nonsense. I apologize to those of you who were coming here often for my tardiness! But the cool thing is that I can take a moment to reflect on what a year it’s been since my last post.  I like to think that I’m constantly shifting and expanding but week by week, and even month by month you don’t see the same progress that a whole year provides. It’s neat!

So much has changed in my life since my last post, so I’ll start with letting you all know that I can now officially touch my toes!  Sounds weird right, but a year ago I was the loser that had to crouch down to tie my shoes or pick up the piece of mail I dropped. Now, I am a yogi goddess (well at least that’s how I like to think of myself).  Yoga has calmed my mind, brightened my spirit, and it’s slowly letting my inner hippie out. Ooommmm

In September I went back to Iceland.  Yeah you’re reading that right, back to ICELAND, for the second time, where it’s cold, rainy, windy and full of vast nothingness and elves. Why go to Mexico and sit on the beach sipping margs when you can freeze your ass off on the side of a glacier. Man, I love Iceland, it’s so rad. I’ll post some more photos of that at some point…promise!

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Kirkjufellfoss, Iceland

And the highlight of the last year for me was the addition of Walter White, our mini labradoodle (yeah I’m that horrible person who bought a designer dog) who we have both become completely obsessed with. He arrived just before Christmas and threw a major wrench in our holiday plans requiring my mom to fly up from Portland for a week, but I just love this little ball of fluff so freaking much!

So since things have been a little slow and repetitive in the kitchen since his arrival I thought I’d share some thoughts on being a dog mom.  It’s a whole lotta work, even more for P who is a stay at home dog dad, having no office to retreat to. But when I come home and he rushes up all wiggles and wags with his tail hitting his face I just melt. Any amount of stress from my day goes right out the window, and then the work starts, ha ha.

Going from a two person DINK household where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want without a ton of consideration for anyone else to adding a small puppy that needs essentially constant supervision is a big change.  After the first couple days we looked at each other and said “what the hell have we done, he’s a monster”.  But after a few weeks of 1, 3 and 5am pee breaks, constant worrying about my un-vaccinated puppy catching some terrible disease just from going outside, and a lot of no’s we started to see progress.

Living in an apartment with really slow elevators isn’t a great place to raise a puppy. Unless like me, you have a large patio where you can install a Porch Potty!  The Porch Potty is a genius invention, that you could totally DIY, that enables your pup to do its business without having to rush it down 26 floors every time it has an accident. And let me tell you, puppies have A LOT of accidents!  Like more than I imagined possible. Bottom line, if you have outdoor space and you live in a condo, shell out the $300 for one of these things and you will thank yourself every day thereafter!

I would also recommend bell training your puppy. It’s about as lame as it sounds. You hang some overpriced bells on your door (or you get a bell and some rope from the $$ store) and then every time the pup has an accident you take it to the door and say something corny like “ring your bells” and then rush it outside to pee in hopes that said pup will actually make it. I was a skeptic at first but then 2 weeks in Walter started ringing the bells!  It was really magical.  What’s extra magical is that now he rings the bells when he needs to do business, AND when he just wants to sniff around, which conveniently is usually when I’m brushing my teeth, about to hop in the shower, making dinner or trying to relax. Special!

He’s almost 7 months old now…my baby…still growing and losing teeth all over the place. Our house now runs on a ‘sit’ based economy while we transition away from the former ‘treat’ based regime. His curiosity annoys me sometimes, as does my inability to find a pair of socks that matches, but having a dog of my own is so much fun and really rewarding. There is nothing better than a puppy snarffling around your bed on Saturday morning.

I’m sure if you’re reading this and have kids that you just threw up in your mouth a little, but I’m serious.  And hey, you can’t shove your kid in a cage on Friday night and run off to yoga and then grab a beer with your better half. I know Walter will never make me crappy stick figure drawings of our family, or tell me he loves me back, but when he looks up at me with his sweet little eyes I feel an immense amount of satisfaction.  He needs us and he will always need us, and the flip side of him not being able to speak is that he can never tell me he hates me, so for now, this works and our pack is complete.

And since I should probably offer a recipe after my very long hiatus, here’s Walter’s favourite stuffed kong filling:

  • all natural peanut butter, unsalted
  • plain full fat yogurt
  • chopped up apple
  • venison dog jerky bits or beef liver treats
  • 2 dried sardines

Dab a little bit of PB on the bottom of the kong to close the hole, then layer in yogurt, chopped apple and the dog treats. Wedge the sardines in so that the fish heads poke out of the top and seal it off with more PB. Freeze, and then give it to the pup to enjoy!

Yeah, I’m a dog mom, and I’m proud of it. We work hard to train Walter and make sure he’s happy and having fun. We also spoil him rotten, and I love every minute of it. Especially when I’m listening to jazz, trying to enjoy a glass of wine in the bathtub and he barrels in and tries to hop in the tub with me.  Those are really special moments!

Love ya W and the big boy you’re becoming!

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Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with French Lentils

Happy New New Year!  Wow, it’s 2015, I really can’t believe it.  Unfortunately 2014 was a dismal year on the blog for me; not because I wasn’t cooking a ton and doing fun things. In fact, I think my cooking reached a new level and I was doing so many fun things that I just didn’t get a chance to properly collect my thoughts in this space as often as I wanted.

I’m not making resolutions or promises to blog a lot this year, but we’ll see what happens. Two weeks ago I proclaimed this blog was dead, and now here I am, back at it.  Last night I created something so delicious and amazing that I just had to share it.  Also, 2015 should be an exciting year for me for a number of reasons. I’m starting a photography course tonight so that means better pictures to accompany these posts, and I have a a few fun trips planned this year.  In addition to a handful of weekend getaways, I’m off to the Carolinas for a wedding and reunion with my college friends in March, that will take me to Raleigh, and Charleston (yeah, I’m already hungry for that one), and then in September my dream of going back to Iceland is coming true.  Two years after our first visit and becoming completely obsessed with all things Icelandic we’ve decided to do a full island 11 day road trip!  We’re also taking a little side trip to Amsterdam to get our proper Euro fix.

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So now that we’re all caught up and re-acquainted, I’ll let you in on a little secret I’ve learned.  It’s the ticket to perfectly roasted veggies.  Before you toss your veg on the sheet pan, rub a good thick layer of olive oil over it (also really great for moisturizing your hands while you cook).  Then throw down the veg, and drizzle more olive oil and salt and pepper on top.  This ensures that the side that roasts down first gets nice and caramelized in the oven.

And without further ado, the goods.  I had an amazing dinner at Pourhouse here in Vancouver just before Christmas that consisted of a cauliflower ‘steak’ on a bed of lentils with a yogurt raita and papadum’s.  To me it was the perfect plate of food for a vegetarian. So good in fact, that I left vowing to re-create it, which I did last night.  I just ate the leftovers at my desk and felt like I’d had lunch in a little Parisian bistro.  This dish is quintessentially French, it’s hearty, it’s healthy, and inexpensive to make.  The only thing I need to improve is my cauliflower cutting skills.  I only was able to get two actual ‘steaks’ because you need to cut all the way down to the stem.  But don’t worry, just toss whatever you get on a sheet pan and roast it up.

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Roasted Cauliflower Steak at Pourhouse

Roasted Cauliflower with French Green Lentils and Herbed Yogurt 

Pre-heat your oven to 400.

For the cauliflower:

  • 1 head white cauliflower, trimmed, sliced in half, and then cut into 3/4 in. steaks as best as you can (start from the larger inside pieces and work your way out)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the lentils:

  • 1 cup french green or de puy lentils
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • half a white onion or 2 small shallots diced
  • 1 tbsp herbs de provence
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • water, as needed

For the yogurt sauce:

  • 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt (honestly stop wasting your time with low fat dairy)
  • 1/2 cup chopped herbs (I used dill and mint)
  • squeeze of fresh lemon juice

While the oven pre-heats, boil the lentils over medium high heat with the stock, veggies (feel free to add celery, leeks etc. to this one), and herbs. Cover and simmer about 25 min. until the lentils are tender, but retain their bite, and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add water or more stock throughout this process as needed. I find cooking the lentils in stock vs. water gives a much richer flavour.

Place the cauliflower on an oiled roasting pan, drizzle more oil on top and season with sale and pepper. Roast for 20 min, turn carefully, and roast for another 12-15 minutes, until tender but crisp.

Mix up all the yogurt sauce ingredients and when you’re ready to plate, put a big scoop of lentils down first, top with a piece of cauliflower steak and then dollop of yogurt.

Bon appetit!

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My Roasted Cauliflower Steak

Obsessed with Iceland

If you haven’t figured it out from reading my blog, I’ll just come out and say it.  I’m obsessed with Iceland!!!  I think about going there at least once a day, I have dreams about it, and I have developed an odd enthusiasm for Icelandic products.  You may think it strange that someone could spend 72 hours in a place and it subsequently consume their thoughts.  It would make more sense if it were somewhere exotic like Bali, or Madagascar but brrrr, it’s cold in Iceland and expensive, and barren and weird…which is why I fell in love.

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I recently finished reading Names For the Sea (for which apparently there are 12 of in Icelandic) by Sarah Moss about the year she spent living in Iceland with her young family, teaching english at the university.  Although some of the things I read surprised me, as a whole it was fascinating.  My husband and I often talk about selling everything and moving to Europe.  We debate where we would live and what we would do and Iceland does creep onto the list.  I’m not sure it’s somewhere I could commit to living long term, but a year…sure!

The amazing thing about Iceland is that it it’s essentially at the Arctic Circle, yet they have distinct seasons.  Yes it is always on the chilly side, and as Sarah says in her book, and I experienced first hand, you never leave the house without a sweater, even in August!  The other thing that stays with me is the unique and almost painfully beautiful landscapes. It was the mossy rocks, they cast a spell on me…wait, maybe the elves did that!  I was buying all natural toothpaste the other day and when I read one of the ingredients on the Kiss My Face one was Icelandic moss I put it in my basket and walked on without a second thought.  Why wouldn’t I want to brush my teeth with that beautiful moss?

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It’s difficult to describe, and if you’re a lover of beaches and palm trees then Iceland may not be for you.  But I love mountains and snow, and seeing those windswept lava fields just worked for me.  Think of the blackest rock you’ve ever seen, and spread that out in a ripple pattern for miles on end, and then cover it with bright green moss that screams life. Get a ray of sun shining on it, smell the water vaporizing in the air and that is just the beginning.

Here are a few things I noticed on my trip, and/or found really interesting in Sarah’s book.

On Recycling:  Iceland is essentially 99% carbon neutral. They advertise this on the plane going over.  Yet apparently recycling your used goods onto someone else is just not a thing that is done.  If you look on Craigslist for Reykjavik, there’s almost nothing for sale.  This is because Icelanders believe that once you’re done with something it’s finished, and should be completely discarded.  God forbid you use something someone else previously owned. In my mind this goes against the idea of reducing your carbon footprint.  If I have cheap Ikea bookshelves and I move house, I would certainly sell or give them away, vs. putting them in the dumpster.

On Grocery Shopping:  You can’t really grow anything in Iceland, unless it’s in a greenhouse.  The vast majority of the island is blanketed by lava flows or glaciers, although there is some arable farmland.  So most of the food items have to come from somewhere else. And it’s not like here in Vancouver where my strawberries from Whole Foods were picked a day or two ago in California.  No, in Iceland your food has probably been traveling at least a week, maybe two, or more?  There are two major grocery stores in Iceland. Bonus, which you can’t miss because it’s got yellow signs with a pink drunk looking pig on it, and Hagkaup, which is the more posh market.  Apparently stuff that doesn’t sell at Hagkaup goes to Bonus.  I went into Bonus not knowing this. The produce was not very good, although I did end up with some awesome Icelandic feta.  Most of the veggies we bought that weren’t imported were tasteless (greenhouse grown).  The apples were from South Africa and were a bit mealy.  And pretty much everything was processed and pre-packaged.  Even the apples were in a package.  If you wanted just one, take a hike.  You had to buy a pre-wrapped package with 4 apples in it.  You can’t look at them in the round to make sure they’re ok and get 4 you really want either.  It’s a crap shoot.

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On Elves: Yes, you are reading this correctly.  Elves, elf in the singular, little woodland creatures who are known to help Santa out once a year or so.  Well in Iceland they are treated like royalty.  I want an Icelander to do an AMA on Reddit about this elf believing business, but for now I’ll go with it, because I did feel a strange connection to the Earth when I was there, so I can’t discount what others are feeling.  Apparently the places where elves live are very important.  Sarah shared her findings on this in her book and the most fascinating thing to me was that these people bought a house and just didn’t feel quite right about it, like it was haunted or something.  So a person who speaks to elves came in, and discovered that the house had been built on top of where these elves had been living for like ever. So to make amends, she recommended putting a rock in the corner of the bathroom for the elf to feel like it had a place within the house, and then a larger rock was placed in the yard for the elf as well.  Lucky elf, having a city house and a country house!

On Driving: Driving in Iceland is no sweat, my husband did it, jet lagged and sick.  Once you’re out of Reykjavik you’re lucky if you pass 3 cars an hour on the road.  But don’t expect Icelanders to use their turn signals.  They don’t think anyone (including the person driving directly behind them) has a right to know where they’re going.  And taking the bus. Please, that’s for students only.  Bus service becomes limited in the summer months because there’s no demand for it. It’s a great place for tourists to drive though, because if you see something pretty you just pull over and take photos or enjoy the surroundings.

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On Knitting: I’m not a knitter.  I don’t have the patience for it.  My hands are better used in the kitchen, but I respect those who choose to knit. In Iceland, you have to knit or you’re an outcast.  Most girls join a knitting circle at a young age, and maintain some sort of connection with their circle throughout their lifetime.  As someone who has pretty much lost contact with my friends from high school, I think that’s awesome!  But this highlights the difficulty I imagine people face making friends in Iceland.  Everyone has their group, they don’t need to extend it!  So if you’re a knitter be sure to buy yarn in Iceland, and if you’re like me, buy some woollen goods!  Icelandic wool is warm, water resistant and somewhat wind proof.  They have special sheep you see.

On Fast Food: Iceland is the perfect place for bachelors with no desire to cook.  The number of fast food outlets I saw there was staggering.  Ones you’d never expect either. Subway, Taco Bell, KFC and something very puzzling called American Style.  Seriously check out their menu, it’s awesome.  Who doesn’t want a lobster burger!  I guess globalization is the real deal now, but I had thought Iceland would be somewhat immune to it.  Nope.

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I could go on and on about the unique, quirky and fun things about Iceland.  But I’ll stop, because it just makes me want to go back even more.  I almost pulled the trigger on a weeklong road trip for June of this year, but opted for sunshine and the turquoise coast of Turkey instead. But I’ll be back.  Seeing the northern lights over Esja is at the top of my bucket list!

2013 in My Kitchen

As I sit at my desk, counting down the minutes until I can legitimately leave the office on New Years Eve, I can’t help but think back on everything that’s happened in 2013.  It has been a year of change, adventure, and reflection on life; all positive!

At the very end of 2012 I bought a bike.  It changed my life, I love it and it has made my carless world so much bigger.  I’m healthier, more active and so happy I got to start 2013 with new wheels!

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My husband and I started the year off realizing that we could use my mom’s US Netflix account, so we began watching documentaries of all sorts.  After getting depressed about the state of the world from too much Zeitgeist, we started watching food docs…and decided to become vegetarian. The husband has been stricter about this than I have, but since last February I can count the number of times I’ve eaten meat on both hands.  For him it would be meat and fish on one hand.

I’ve learned to cook wonderful new foods and our diet now consists mostly of beans, lentils, kale (and other dark leafy greens), cauliflower, squash and pretty much any veggies that can be oven roasted.  I’m no longer afraid to try new things in my kitchen and I’ve hosted several successful dinner parties with brand new recipes.   I’ve also embraced new flavours to the point where my spice drawer is completely over flowing.  At the suggestion of my mother, who wouldn’t touch a lentil if her life depended on it, we both went to the doctor to confirm that our new diet wasn’t killing us.  I’m happy to report that we are both healthy and getting all the required nutrients from vegetarianism, and our cholesterol is fine, despite a more than modest increase in cheese consumption…HOORAY!

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I spent my birthday this year on a plane to Reykjavik, where upon arrival I was wished a happy birthday by a very nice Icelandic customs official.  I showed my passport to about 20 other people in the Vancouver and Seattle airports and got no love, so Iceland was off to a good start for me!  We spent 2 weeks in Scandinavia having a wonderful adventure. The highlight was the first 3 days in Iceland, which started at the Blue Lagoon, included numerous waterfalls, the cute seaside town of Reykjavik, walking between the continental plates, and a hike on a 1,000 year old glacier.  After that we spent a week in sunny Denmark, fell in love with the beautiful, cyclist friendly island of Bornholm, and experienced the beauty and expense of Norway.  No joke people, $15 for a pint!

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We ate great food throughout the trip, 90% of which was in simple cafe style restaurants where you order at the counter and your food is brought out when it’s ready.  We developed an obsession for Icelandic hot dogs (all bets are off on holiday!), had an amazing roasted celery root veggie burger in Copenhagen, bravely tried pickled herring, and had one of the best Indian meals of our lives in Oslo.

After an amazing trip, I  came  home to a beautiful and long sunny summer in Vancouver that was filled with bike rides, picnics on the beach, and just about every other weekend spent in Whistler with various friends.  I realized the importance of just saying ‘yes’ sometimes, and not over thinking how much something will cost, or what it will involve. Sometimes you have to just do things!  I also was reminded that my backyard is pretty awesome!

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I also discovered a love for all things bitter this year.  Move over IPA, ESB is now my brew of choice.  And although I do dearly love an Aperol spritz on a hot summer day, I have a new appreciation for the broader spectrum of Italian bitters.  My favourite new cocktail of 2013…the negroni!  Who says your palate can’t change!

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After a busy fall, I’m ready to enter 2014 energized and open to new experiences and challenges.  My resolutions for the New Year include reading more (and playing Candy Crush less), continuing to try new recipes and experiment with new flavours in my kitchen, and taking up photography as a new hobby (with my sweet new Canon EOS camera!). So look for great new photos, which I will no longer have to pinch from google for my posts, new recipes as I start to formulate my cookbook, and tales from another adventure that will likely happen mid year (destination TBD at this point).

I hope you all have a Happy New Year, and will leave you with one of my favourite recipes from 2013.

Spaghetti Puttanesca 

  • 1 package spaghetti, spaghettini, or penne (or really any pasta that makes you happy)
  • 1 jar strained Italian tomatoes
  • 2 anchovy fillets, minced (or 1 T anchovy paste)
  • 3 T capers, drained, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 T dried chili flakes (or less if you can’t take the heat)
  • 1/4 cup shredded basil leaves
  • 2-3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • 1 medium onion, diced

Cook the onion in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add the garlic and simmer for 1 minute (don’t burn the garlic).  Then add the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients, except the basil.  Let the sauce simmer for 20-30 minutes over low heat (or longer if you have time).  Add the basil right before you serve it over your cooked pasta. You can finish it with a little Parmesan cheese if you want, but I don’t think this is traditional.

Buon Appetito!

 

The Golden Circle – Self Drive Tour

If you only have a day or two in Iceland, you definitely need to experience The Golden Circle.  It’s about as touristy as you get for Iceland, other than The Blue Lagoon, and that said, we saw 2 tour buses and a handful of other people the entire day we were out.  The Golden Circle is made up 3 sights/stops, that are all accessible via Hwy 36 heading east just north of Reykjavik.  We did a self drive tour because we had rented a car and it was the right choice for us since being on someone else’s predetermined schedule isn’t our thing. The loop took us the better part of the day (6 hours with stops), but the drive was anything but stressful!  

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We slipped out of Reykjavik around 9 am on a misty Sunday morning heading towards our first destination, Þingvellir National Park.  If you’re into wool, consider stopping at the Alafoss outlet on the way. It’s off to the right as you go through the last round-a-bout on Hwy 1, before it cuts off to Hwy 36 in Mosfellsbær.  As I recall it’s the round about after you pass the KFC (yes, they have KFC in Iceland).  Awesome place to pick up reasonably priced handmade woolen goods. 

Once you’re on Hwy 36 look around, drive slowly and enjoy the scenery.  It’s so beautiful I was pretty much in tears as we drove along.  Stop wherever you like to snap photos, because you won’t be holding up traffic out here!

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It took us about an hour to reach Þingvellir from Reykjavik.  We made two stops in the park.  The first at the little pull out above the lake, where people have made little sculptures from stacked rocks.  Apparently these are thought to cover houses where elves live, because yes, in addition to having KFC, the vast majority of Icelandic people believe that elves exist!  

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Our second stop was just up the road (look for the visitor centre).  This is where the North American continental plate meets the Eurasian plate.  You can see the where the plates separate and actually walk down in between them.  It’s also the site of the first Icelandic parliament, which took place in 930 AD and was held onsite until 1798.  Take your walking shoes and make sure to dress in layers (this is good advice for anywhere in Iceland, as the weather changes throughout the day) because you’ll want time to explore this area.

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Walk down through the rift and then take a right up the stairs.  Although most tourists will snap a few photos here and head back down to the paved path, continue down the other side of the hill towards the church on the dirt path.  Go over the little bridge, and then venture down the road a bit and over to the right where you will find the Silfra fissure.  Silfra is used as a diving hole (you’ll notice the stairs), and the water around it is crystal clear and super deep.  Getting away from the masses lets you really appreciate this beautiful and historic site.  And you’ll get amazing photos out over the marshy lava fields!

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Once you’ve had a good wander around Þingvellir get back in your car (although there are washrooms at Þingvellir there isn’t anywhere to get food), and head on to Strokkur/Geysir. It’s about 40 min. east, and is well signed.  You’ll see little towns, churches in the middle of nowhere, and tons and tons of sheep just roaming around.  Watch your driving, they do venture into the road from time to time.  You’ll also notice fields of little Icelandic ponies, that are a specialty breed brought over by the Mongols from Norway. These little guys are designed for tough winters with their wide bodies and short stumpy legs.  We met some pretty friendly ones, ready to strike a pose for us on our way home!

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Geysir is home to the geyser that all others in the world are named after.  It erupts about every 5-7 minutes, but is unfortunately much less spectacular than it once was, asbecause people stoked it with soap in the 70’s, all but ruining it.  There’s a couple other little geysers around the park and you can wander pretty close to them, so be careful!  They seem to be much more trusting of tourists in Iceland than they are in North America.  Soak in the smell of sulfur and let the warmth from the earth’s core heat you up on a cool Icelandic day. There’s a visitor centre, large shop, washrooms and cafe across the road.  The food here is expensive and not great.  We packed some snacks from home and shared a vegetarian sandwich, a juice and I discovered Koko Mjolk (Icelandic chocolate milk with a stripped cat playing soccer on the box, absolutely amazing!) and that rang through to about $15 CDN. Expensive, but par for the course in Iceland.

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From Geysir, a quick 10 minutes up the road is one of the most spectacular natural sights I’ve ever seen; Gullfoss.  The waterfall is incredibly wild and stepped in two levels.  When you see it from afar, it looks like the water drops right off into the centre of the Earth, but as you walk out to the falls, and then look back, you can see the deep canyon that it flows down into.  Over the years there was talk of utilizing Gullfoss to generate hydroelectric power, but now property of the government the falls are protected.

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There are multiple areas to view the falls from, but by far the most spectacular is from the viewing area directly out on the falls.  Walk down the steep stairs and along the muddy misty path to the rocky area that is fenced off (with a little rope, again they’re very trusting here).  Climb up on the rocks and get right in there. Feel the force of the water and know what it feels like to be alive! This is one of the most visited sights in Iceland, and we were there mid-day on a Sunday in June with only a handful of other people.  It was so peaceful and uncrowded, I would have lingered there all afternoon if I hadn’t been freezing.

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On our way home we wanted to see more of the landscape so we took a slightly longer route back to Reykjavik.  This would be convenient if you planned to make a detour to The Blue Lagoon.  From Gullfoss we took Hwy 30 south towards Sellfoss and then Hwy 1 back to Reykjavik.  You pass through lush farmland, more fields of ponies, and will see a very different landscape than along Hwy 36.  I’d recommend it if you’re not in a hurry!

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I’ve traveled a lot and the day we did the Golden Circle easily makes my top 5 travel days, full stop.  We saw so much, enjoyed our time in our little micro car (a Citroen), and fell in love with a country I know we will return to over and over again.

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3 Days in Iceland

I’d heard the words magical, ethereal, and enigmatic used to describe Iceland and thought it sounded a bit airy fairy, until I experienced the incredible feeling of being there myself. After 3 days on the ground as part of a larger Scandinavian vacation my husband and I were hooked and are already planning a longer trip.  Italy may have my heart, but Iceland has captured my soul.

Our flight arrived at Keflavik airport at 7am. We picked up our rental car, grabbed a couple of skyr yogurts for breakfast and headed towards the Blue Lagoon, about a 20 minute drive from the airport.  Along the road we saw a little area to pull over, so we ate our yogurts and tried to sleep, killing time until 9am when the lagoon opened.  As I sat in the car with the wind whipping across the lava fields I had this surreal feeling that I was on another planet.  Iceland isn’t really European, and it’s certainly not North American.  Rather it’s this culturally rich, stunningly beautiful island hovering just south of the Arctic Circle.

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We were some of the first people to enter the Blue Lagoon that day.  Because it was early in the day the tour busses hadn’t arrived yet, and we had about an hour of feeling like we had the place to ourselves.  We paddeled around, did the requisite silica mud mask, and treated ourselves to a couple of delicious smoothies.  It was hands down the most relaxing and soothing experience I’ve ever had.  Well worth the pricey entrance fee; if you’re only going to do one thing in Iceland, this should be it!  The combination of the bright blue milky water, lava fields and the gigantic geothermal power plant steaming away in the background truly do make you feel like you’ve left the Earth.

It was a long 40 minute drive into Reykjavik after being warm, relaxed and jet lagged, but we made it to our airbnb apartment just fine.  We stayed in a basement suite on a quiet residential street about a 5 minute walk to Laugavegur, which is the main street through town with all the shops, cafes and bars.  Travel tip: basement suites in Iceland are great in the summer because with fewer windows you can actually sleep at night when the sun is still up at 23:00.

After a quick nap we wandered around Reykjavik and found ourselves at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, the famous hotdog stand down on the harbour.  Despite trying not to eat meat we both hopped on the bandwagon, because according to multiple sources, this hot dog stand is really the most popular restaurant in the country.  You have to order one ‘eina með öllu’ (with everything). There is no other way so don’t even consider it!  You end up with what I suspect is just a normal dog, covered with amazing condiments on a very light and delicious bun.  Ketchup, crispy onions, regular raw onions, sweet mustard and a mayonaise remoulade are what make it the best hotdog you will ever have.  We liked them so much that we went by again the next night instead of getting dessert.  It was funny seeing locals drive up and make the designated person hop out to get dogs for everyone in the car.

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The next day we were up early and hit the road heading east out of Reykjavik to complete the tourist circuit that is the Golden Circle.  I was very happy with our choice to rent a car and do a self drive tour (longer post to follow on the Golden Circle) since I despise tour busses and the thought of being on one makes me cringe.  The great thing about having our own car was that we could stop whenever we wanted to take pictures.  You don’t even need to pull off the road, because once you get about 20 minutes out of the city there isn’t a soul in site.  We saw tons of sheep, interesting rock formations, high mountains with flat tops, and really interesting looking modern churches in the middle of nowhere.  But the most amazing thing we saw was hundreds of little Icelandic ponies just waiting for pets by the side of the road.  Once you get past the lava fields there is actually quite a lot of farmland.  There is nothing stressful about driving in Iceland.

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We were pretty tired after the Golden Circle route and it being a Sunday night we decided to take it easy.  We ventured down along the water, past the Sun Voyager sculpture and Harpa (the concert hall) on down to where all the big fishing rigs dock.  On a recommendation from a friend we found ourselves at Sægreifinn (or Seabaron).  It’s a little hole in the wall where you order at the counter and find a seat at communal tables.  We had the lobster soup (for $12 it was a steal in Reykjavik) and tried the Gull beer, which is a nothing special, totally fine, Icelandic pilsner.  The soup was amazing, and just what we wanted after a chilly day out in the elements.  It’s a must try when in Reykjavik!

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By the third morning the weather had turned completely terrible.  It was cold and rainy and windy.  But we set off down south to meet our Arctic Adventures group for a day of hiking on the Solheimajokull (glacier).  There is nothing like the prospect of climbing around on a 1,000 year old ice formation to get you out into the rain.  Thankfully by the time we got to the end of the dirt road to the base of the glacier the rain and wind had slowed and conditions weren’t too bad.  We spent the better part of the afternoon with our guide Laurent and 6 other people about our age and fitness level hiking up and down the crystal blue ice and learning about what makes Solheimajokull unique.  Because of the active volcanoes in Iceland these cones of volcanic sand and ash form on the glacier that are seen nowhere else in the world.  Hands down this was the most incredible experience of my life!  We all got to take our turns ice climbing too, which is not easy.  Just as it was my turn to go the weather turned particularly nasty and it was hard to get my footing, but I kept on throwing one axe up in front of the other, slowly pulling myself up out of the cravasse. We went down first, so we were forced to climb back out which was awesome; no giving up.

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We got back to the car around 3:30 and drove to the stunning Skógarfoss waterfall, about 5 minutes back down the road.  We reenergized with some sandwiches and traditional Icelandic fried donuts (and changed into dry clothes), and then headed back towards Reykjavik, stoping again at Seljalandsfoss waterfall.  Both are beautiful and worth a stop if you’re on the southern part of route 1.

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Being completely exhausted after our day on the glacier we weren’t up for much our last night in Reykjavik unfortunately so we went to Kryddlegin Hjörtu for dinner, which is a nice little soup and salad bar down on the water.  For $18 you get all you can eat salad (which was good and interesting) and the choice of 4 soups, 2 of which are always vegetarian.  It seemed expensive at the time, but after seeing what things cost throughout Scandinavia this placed seemed reasonable in hindsight.

We got back to our apartment, tucked ourselves into bed after waving goodnight to the midnight sun, and woke up the next morning, heading the the airport for our flight to Copenhagen, wishing we could stay longer.  On the way back to Keflavik we detoured down the road to Grindavik and the Blue Lagoon and stopped at the same pull out we visited our first morning to take some photos of the lava fields.  To our surprise, just across the road, there were a bunch of what look to be former settlements or houses made of rock. It’s not marked, but is very cool to check out.  On the other side, where the parking lot is, look towards the airport and you’ll see a set of rickety looking stairs going down into a lava tube that you can walk into.  These are the kinds of amazing things you discover in this stunningly beautiful country without even looking for them.

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I cannot wait to go back and spend a week driving around the entire country and exploring further what makes this little island of 350,000 people, stuck way up in the north Atlantic the most amazing place on earth.  It was those moss covered rocks, they hooked me the minute I saw them.  Go to Iceland, and you’ll see what I mean.

Iceland and Hotdogs

I’m heading off to the land of Vikings, Bjork, and exorbitantly priced alcohol in a couple of weeks.  First stop is Iceland, then on to Denmark and last stop Norway.  I know what you’re thinking.  It’s cold, rainy and expensive in those countries, so why the heck would you want to spend your holidays there?  But I knew what I was getting into before I booked my ticket.  I love the idea of traveling somewhere most people would never consider going. Mexico certainly isn’t for me (no judging, I’m sure it’s great), and after a sunny holiday in Italy last year we decided to branch out.

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As a foodie I was initially very excited about the prospect of eating amazing Scandinavian food.  After all the world’s best restaurant, Noma, is in Copenhagen.  They’re doing a lot of interesting things in terms of the local food movement which is really cool.  And in the back of my mind, I couldn’t resist thinking about Swedish meatballs, even though I’m not going to Sweden.

But on closer inspection, it seems that Scandinavians, Icelanders in particular, eat a lot of hotdogs.  I figured they must be extra fancy ones with a Japadog like angle, but nope.  All the guidebooks I’ve read say in Iceland it’s all about straight up normal ketchup and mustard style hotdogs.  Apparently the place I’m supposed to go is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur and ask for one with ‘the works’.  Supposedly these are the best hotdogs in Europe.  A bold statement, which I will be sure to report back on.

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I haven’t eaten a boring old hotdog in a very long time.  I’m a .99 pizza kind of girl late on a Friday night, so it’s probably been at least 10 years since my last dog.  Am I excited now that I know what’s in store for me?  As a ‘mostly vegetarian’ these days I’ve decided to really let loose and try anything once while I’m on my trip.  And if hotdogs are truly the national food of Iceland I’ll gladly go there.  As for puffin, I’m undecided as to whether or not I’ll experience that.

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