Monday, January 30, 2012

Recipe: Nick's Cullen Skink

Might find a few Scottish people annoyed that I labelled this under "British recipes"- especially with all of this independance malarky being talked about at the moment, lol! Cullen Skink is a scottish soup, made with smoked haddock, potato, milk and parsley. I was very curious as to why it was called "cullen skink", so i checked it out on wikipedia. It said that first of all, traditionally you should use smoked "Finnan haddie" instead of haddock, secondly that it orginated in the north eastern scottish town "Cullen" (hence the first part of the name), and the word "skink" comes from gaelic and originally meant "shin" or "knuckle"- the cut of beef that they used to cook in soups and stews, so then "skink" eventually became the generic word to describe any type of soup. There you go- theres some education for ya! This is my boyfriend's recipe, and its absolutely delicious- I dont even like fish, but this soup is to die for! Mind you though, hated the smell of the kitchen after it was cooked- stank of fish!! This recipe was published in our local newspaper (The Bath Chronicle), along with Nick's Cranachen recipe, after he organised (and cooked!) a big burns night supper with entertainment, for 60 people a few years back.

Nick’s Cullen Skink (serves 4) £1.67 per serving with bread and butter

400g un-dyed smoked haddock
50g butter
1 white onion, finely chopped
450g potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1/2 inch size)
1.1 litres semi skimmed milk
A little vegetable stock (optional)
Large handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Fry the onion in the butter until soft, for about 10 mins. When the onion is nicely softened, add the milk to the pan, bring to the boil and add the diced potatoes. Simmer until potatoes cooked, approx 15 mins
2. Add the smoked haddock fillet and leave to simmer for 5 or 6 mins, until just cooked. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and put to one side until cooled enough to touch. Flake it roughly into a bowl, removing any skin and bones.
3. Crush some of the potatoes against the side of the saucepan in order to thicken the soup slightly. The soup needs to be fairly thick, like a chowder. At this point you can add a little vegetable stock if you wish, particularly if the milky mixture has thickened a bit too much.
4. Return the fish to the soup, add the chopped parsley and warm through. Season to taste and serve!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Recipe: Chicken, Asparagus and Red Pesto Fusilli

This is such a simple dish, only using a few ingredients, but so packed full of flavour. I am actually drowning in Asparagus now, because there was a deal at Sainsburys for two massive bundles of it for only £3! I know it's out of season and it's from peru, but i dont care- student needs cheap veggies!! The "red pesto" i got from Marks and Spencers, and it seems to be called "red pesto" because it's not just sundried tomato based, its also got red peppers and cashew nuts and things in it. It's absolutely delicious anyway, i could eat it with anything- as a dip, on toast,on a jacket potato, you name it! If you cant find this though, any other sundried tomato pesto will work just as well.

Chicken, Asparagus, and red pesto fusilli (serves 3)

1 chicken breast
2 tsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper
250g dried fusilli
12 asparagus spears, diced
3 rounded tbsp sundried tomato (or “red”) pesto
Knob of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the chicken breast, oil, oregano and seasoning into an ovenproof dish, and bake for 25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the fusilli and cook for 10 minutes (or whatever it says on the packet instructions). 4 minutes before the end of cooking time, add the asparagus to the pan.
3. Drain, and return to the pan. Remove the chicken from the oven and roughly dice. Add the cooked chicken, butter and red pesto to the hot pasta and asparagus, stir well to combine, season to taste and serve!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recipe: Watercress Soup

I know i know, it's all about the soups at the moment- but when it comes to my post Christmas slimming routine, it's really working out! Have lost a little over half a stone since New Years, and have only got a couple more pounds to lose before i'm happy with slimming down again. Apparently there is a whole "watercress soup" diet, that Liz Hurley was rather fond of, which is very similar to "the cabbage soup diet" but obviously with watercress instead. Mind you, i dont think the recipe for her watercress soup would include butter and potatoes, and wouldnt taste half as nice as this! I love the fresh but peppery flavour you get from this soup, very warming.

Watercress Soup (makes 3 bowls) 87p per serving with bread and butter.

1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp butter
1 white onion, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 celery stick, diced
400g potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
500ml chicken stock
500ml semi skimmed milk
100g watercress (plus a few extra sprigs kept for garnish)
Salt and pepper to taste
*Optional extra virgin olive oil for garnish

1. Sautee the onions, celery and garlic in the butter and oil, for 10 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. Add all other ingredients except the watercress, bring to the boil, and cook on a medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the watercress, and cook for a further 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, blend, season to taste and serve- with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprig of watercress.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Recipe: Beef Goulash Soup

This is a delicious traditional hungarian dish, that i've been making a lot at the moment because it's so cold in my new flat! BrrrrRRrrRR! In hungary, and in a lot of other cold countries (saw it in restaurants in Iceland and when i was in Prague) they serve goulash soup as a starter (rather than the traditional thicker goulash casserole served with potato dumplings, which is served as a main course). It is rather filling though! Traditionally you would use pork in this dish, but i used beef because that's just what I happened to have in the fridge. Only thing missing from this dish is parsley on top- forgot to get any from the shops- D'oh!

Beef Goulash Soup (serves 2)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 carrots, peeled and diced
250g casserole or stewing steak, finely diced
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp caraway seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1.5 litres beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 yellow pepper, seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

1. In a large pan, fry the onions, garlic and carrots in the oil and butter for 5 minutes. Add the beef and paprika, and cook for a further 5 minutes.
2. Add all other ingredients except the diced pepper and parsley, and cook on a medium high heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
3. 15 minutes before the end of cooking time, add the peppers. Remove the bay leaf, season to taste and serve topped with some chopped fresh parsley!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Competition: Love The Garden's Seasonal Recipe Competition

As I mentioned just before Christmas, I entered the Love The's recipe competition with my delicious Carrot, Maple and Bacon soup. Love the Garden regularly run seasonal recipe competitions for food bloggers, choosing one main focus ingredient, and challenging us to all come up with innovative and delicious recipes using this ingredient. In the past they have chosen ingredients such as cabbage, potatoes, and tomatoes- but this winter it was carrots! I thought my carrot soup had a fair chance- and it turned out it did! Because i won runner up prize, winning a copy of the new cookbook "Comfort and Spice" by Niamh Shields. I love it actually- very pretty photography, and i will defo be trying her "American style pancakes" recipe in the lazy brunch section of the book- sounds lush!

I lost to a recipe for carrot halva, by the guys behind the "Wanton Flavours" foodie blog. The grand prize is always £200 at any restaurant of your choice in the U.K, and each time i become ever more determined to win first prize! I'll get it one of these days, watch this space!!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Recipe: Heinz Pasta Bake

Another recipe with a rather sneaky/ time saving ingredient in- a tin of heinz tomato soup! It's something we always have in our cupboards at home, and so i thought i would use it as a sauce and make a bake (in one of my rather lovely new Le Creuset bake dishes my mum bought me for Christmas). I have now moved out of my parent's house, to live with my boyfriendp- which has been a little bit daunting, but i love it really! But nowadays, now that i actually have a student loan, i'm looking for cheap easy and filling meals, and this really fits the bill. Nick ate this and couldnt even guess the "secret ingredient"- so trust me, it doesnt just end up tasting of soup- Lol!

Heinz Pasta Bake (serves 3) 78p per serving

280g dried penne
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, crushed
120g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
35g chopped/shredded smoked ham
1 tin Heinz cream of tomato soup
100g grated cheddar

1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Cook the penne for 9 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. In the same pan, fry the mushrooms and garlic in the olive oil for 2 minutes. Add all the other ingredients to the pan (except the cheddar) and the cooked pasta, and stir until well combined.
3. Pour into baking dish, top with cheddar, and chuck under the grill for 5 minutes. Serve!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Recipe: Thai Roasted Aubergines

So, first recipe of the new year! Marvellous! This is a recipe i have entered into a competition run by Knorr and Blue Dragon. They have worked together to create a new range of curry pastes, made for the catering environment (it is a competition only for chefs). Theres Thai green, Thai red, char siu and there was another one as well but I can't remember? So i asked for a sample of the red curry paste and made this rather delicious asian side dish! I would point out that i've labelled it as vegetarian, but their curry paste does contain fish sauce, so it's not strictly veggie. This is really tasty, a little bit spicy, and great with noodle dishes, a thai curry, or roasted meats.

Thai Roasted Aubergines (serves 4 as a side dish) 68p per portion

40ml olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 aubergines, diced
½ tsp salt
70g Knorr Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Paste
1 tsp sugar or honey
Fresh Coriander for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. In a large saucepan fry the onions, aubergines and salt in the olive oil for 10 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.
2. Mix in the curry paste and sugar, season to taste, and spread out onto a non-stick roasting tray. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove, transfer to a serving dish, and garnish with plenty of fresh coriander. Serve!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Iceland Day Five

So! The last day was finally upon me, but my flight wasn’t until around 5pm (if I remember right) so I thought I shouldn’t be overly nervous and get to the airport hours before my flight needlessly, I thought I would at least do a few things before leaving my hotel for good. Checked out of my hotel and left their bag in the storage room thing, and decided today I would check out something called “The Settlement Exhibition”. During my stay at Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, I was always rather confused by this see-through big glass box outside my hotel, looking into something that resembled like a pile of rocks. Eventually at one point when I was waiting outside my hotel for one of my excursions to be pick me up, some guy came along to clean the glass box, and I asked him what this was. I don’t think his English was very good but he said “settlements. Museum. Round corner” and pointed. I returned this with “Vikings??” and he nodded and said “yes”. I looked round the corner and the building right next to my hotel had a big sign saying “Settlement Exhibition”- don’t know how I didn’t notice it before! Now, the settlers weren’t the Vikings in a way, I learnt once going to the museum. “Viking” is an old Norse word meaning “raiding pirates”, but Iceland was pretty much almost completely uninhabited until the beginning of the 9th century- and the people that settled there eventually were Norse, but they weren’t proper raping/pillaging Vikings, they were families and communities that wished to settle and stay in Iceland. Anyway, so this recently built museum/ exhibition has been created, to mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of a man named “Skuli Magnusson”, who was the first treasurer of Iceland, and is known in Icelandic history as the “Father of Reykjavik”- because of the really important role he played in developing Iceland and it’s capital into what it is today. The exhibit was a very large room, with loads of interactive and fascinating pieces on settler history, and lot of archaeological pieces. All of the artefacts and information skirted round the original ruins of a 10th Century dining hall- which is what I could see through the glass box outside my hotel. The ruin was really well preserved and I like the way it had been lit- even with a fake hologram fire in the middle- really realistic looking. There was practically no one down there as well- so whenever I ended up walking past something/ underneath a spotlight and then suddenly noises would happen/ videos would start/ a recording giving historical information would begin, it scared the bejeezus out of me! I loved how interactive this place was though, if historical museums were a bit more like that in the U.K we would have more kids interested in our history. To be fair our science museums are usually quite interactive, but I think we’ve got a lesson or two to learn from this Icelandic museum. They had this cool bit at the end as well- where there would be a 3D projection of what the original hall would have looked like on a screen, and then theres this control panel in front of you, which you move with your finger. Eventually, as you slide the dot round the circle, it rotates the building, adds more layers to the building, and begins a recording telling you about the different layers of the building and how it would have been designed. Was awesome. Also, PS: I liked a sign I saw on the opposite side of the hall from when you come in- when they excavated the settlement, they found the bones of a cow or a horse, actually built into the walls. They believe this is an old Viking religious superstition, that building animal bones into the actual walls of the house would ward off any bad spirits, as they found examples of this practice being described in Viking folklore/poetry. After the settlement exhibition I decided to grab a bit of lunch at Café Paris, a little place I spotted near my hotel (recommended by tripadvisor). I must admit, I wasn’t starving yet because I had eaten a fair bit at breakfast, but I thought I may as well have one nice last meal in Iceland, considering that Indian meal last night was so diabolical. I ordered the Tagliatelli with chicken, olives, feta and a tomato sauce, thinking that would be a light option and it was quite reasonably priced, so I thought it may be a light/small portion. OMG though look what arrived!!! To be fair it was absolutely delicious, but I only managed to eat half of it, it was such a mahoosive amount! The staff in there were really friendly, and the atmosphere in the place was very relaxed, warm, and inviting, so I really recommend this place.

I saved the garlic bread to feed to the LOADS of ducks in the snowy square opposite the café. Infact when I walked through the square to the café, there was this crazy guy with one eye feeding all these ducks with bits of pan au chocolat, and when I walked past laughing (cause there were so many of them) he said “ You must feed zem or zey will eat you!!”. Funny! When you look at the pictures of them, they don’t really look like ducks do they? They look more like geese. But the guy I chatted to on the Northern Lights, who was in to bird watching, told me they were actually a breed of duck. Amazingly bold though, got a funny video of them eating out of my hand! Lol! I didn’t see any pigeons about when I was in Iceland, so I guess these birds may be what they have instead of pigeons.

After this I still had some time left, so I did a bit of shopping. I bought some reindeer pate from the Christmas market outside my hotel for my friend (who eats anything!), I bought some chilli bilberry syrup and a chocolate IPhone for my boyfriend (hilarious!) some rhubarb brittle/ toffee for my dad, and loads more chocolate for my mum/ other mates/ work friends. I noticed something out there about chocolate/desserts/anything sweet- these Icelandic people LOVE liquorice!!! I can’t stand the stuff, but my mum loves it too, so I brought her back loads of chocolate with bits of liquorice in it. Mum says its lovely but I couldn’t think of anything worse! Blegh! Used to like liquorice as a child, but I think Sambuca has ruined anything aniseed flavoured to me now, just makes me feel sick. Oh and I also bought myself a little miniature cuddly puffin toy, and a really nice hand painted mug.

So then after shopping, I waited in the lobby for the coach to pick me up for the airport. Also waiting in the lounge was this young guy, who I recognised from the northern lights tour. We got chatting and he turned out to be THE NICEST guy. His name was Shiraz (I know, literally my first question was “do you have a sister called Chardonnay?” and he sarcastically replied “yeah I’ve never been asked that before!”) and he was from London, he was meeting his girlfriend at the airport because she was spending the morning at The Blue Lagoon Spa (the people at the blue lagoon spa actually do transfers straight from there to the airport, so often The Blue Lagoon is a good thing to do on the last day of your holiday). He had been shopping as well- but he had bought a funny yellow antique dinner tray from a local antique shop near where I went to that tapas place (didn’t go in because it looked too expensive, but he actually said stuff was fairly reasonably priced in there). When he met up with his girlfriend later though she was like “ ruddy hell, what have you bought now??” haha! What I will say, if he ever ends up reading this blog (because I did tell him at the end what it was) I must say, I would apologise about the way I said goodbye. Because I pretty much spoke to him all my way to the airport/ a little in departure lounge, which was nice. But let me just say, my journey back was a little traumatic! Originally I had given plenty of time for when I arrived at Heathrow, to get my coach transfer (1 hour 45 minutes in fact! Landing at Heathrow at 7:30 and catching a 9:15 coach, which would get me into Bath at 11:55pm). However, originally my flight at the airport was delayed by 50 minutes, but I thought, O.K, 55 minutes to get my baggage and get on the coach, that’s still fine. It was then delayed another half an hour, waiting in departures, before we set off, so I though oh dear. Very panicked. What really pissed me off is the way IcelandAir sodded around at the beginning, giving us all the message about Icelandic folklore and telling us all about duty free and asking who wanted to pay extra for a special Icelandic hot meal on the flight, before they got the plane up and running. It’s like FKIN LISTEN- IF YOU ARE A FLIGHT THAT’S BEEN DELAYED ALMOST AN HOUR AND A HALF, YOU DO THAT CRAP WHILST YOU ARE IN THE AIR, NOT WASTING AN EXTRA 20 MINUTES OF OUR TIME WITH THAT BOLLOCKS!!! ……sorry about that, I don’t normally swear too much, but I was so angry, because guess what- I did end up missing that coach- by 4 minutes. So when I got my bag from the conveyer belt, I ran from there, and I was a bit upset/cry-y when I left and said goodbye to Shiraz and his girlfriend, so if either of you read this- I’m sorry I was just really stressed!

So I missed this thing by 4 minutes, meaning I had to spend an extra fiver and wait for the last bus, which means I had to wait in the coach station place for over two hours (had to wait until the 11:30pm bus, which got in at 1 in the morning!). I actually had a mini breakdown crying in Nero’s when I went to buy some water, because I was so upset about not being able to get home, and tired from travelling, that I tried to buy a bottle of water and I was crying a bit and this SUCH nice polish girl (I am actually welling up a bit writing about this, because I remember how upset I was about missing that coach) behind the counter at Nero’s was so nice to me about it. Again, thank you nice pretty polish girl who works at Nero’s Terminal 1 Coach station, you made me feel much better/ stopped me crying for a bit until I had to catch the next coach. When the coach arrived as well, it was 13 minutes late, which I thought was so FKING TYPICAL, that the bus previously I had missed by only 4 minutes. Was so tired on the bus, so figured I would actually be able to sleep on it, but first of all National express, despite having actually very comfy seating on night coaches light up the entire coach with this really bright blue light (maybe to stop people secretly jacking up? I don’t know) so it was impossible to sleep. Plus there were these three Arabic guys in front of me, chatting away to each other constantly, and really loudly. I understand some people need to talk a little bit on the coach, about travel arrangements and things, but they were talking SO loud, and everyone around them was obviously trying to sleep, so I stood up and was like “guys this is a night coach, people are trying to sleep, could you shut up please?”. They didn’t of course, they just spoke quieter, but what a pain in the ass. When I arrived, I felt so sick and tired, but at least my boyfriend was there to pick me up from the bus station, wearing a silly hat.

I missed him and home a bit. You know I think I would struggle going on holiday on my own for more than a week, I would just end up missing human interaction/ my friends/ my boyfriend/ my family too much. Going on holiday on my own was exciting and very empowering for me, because normally I am so disorganised, I have to rely on other people, but I managed to sort out everything myself, so I’m very proud of that. Also, travelling on your own, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, without having to ask what your family/ partner wants to do, which is quite nice as well. However, you end up missing on sharing your experiences with other people, laughing about stuff together, seeing things together- and that’s always nice. Overall I absolutely loved Iceland; it was such a wild, different place for me to go to, compared to all my other holidays, and such an amazing country geographically and historically. Theres still so much I want to do there, that I definitely would want to go back there some day, this time perhaps in September when theres a bit more sunlight, and with my boyfriend. I would love to go whale watching, husky sledding, and go on a helicopter ride as well. Plus you can do day trips to Greenland from Iceland, which sounds fun. Maybe one day when I save up enough money again (I did tell you it was expensive, I will tell you that once I had added EVERYTHING up, I had spent £1400 on this holiday- 1 person, 5 days. Very pricey) I will be back to this wonderful country. But for now, my next trip will be to Rome at the end of June hopefully, will update you of course! From Mel, From Iceland!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Iceland Day Four

So feeling a little tired from the late Northern Lights tour the night before, I woke up to get ready for my next excursion- something that they called “The Lava Tour”! Don’t worry guys, it wasn’t abseiling down into any volcanoes! It was actually going horse riding; they called it the lava tour because you go riding round the volcano, on top of the lava fields (cool sounding ey?). I did have a think about what I wanted to do on this day, but I remember trip advisor had a thing that was like “10 best things to do in Iceland” and the horse riding was the most best rated activity- so I thought I would try this out. On the coach to the stables, instead of a guide there was a CD they played that told us a little about the rules we should follow when at the stables, but mostly about the history of Icelandic horses. Basically they have been a pure breed for over 200 years, as they do not allow import of any horse into Iceland. They say Icelandic horses originate from a mix of the Norwegian and Shetland horses that the Vikings brought over when they settled there, which would definitely explain the thick fur/ short stature of them.

So we got to the stables and I got into my thick jumpsuity thing, and I was introduced to my horse- Vinterhusid (I think that’s what it was? She told me it meant winter in Icelandic). Horse riding was THE BEST thing I did on my holiday, it was truly magical. So your riding your horse through the snow, surrounded by snowy pine trees (it was honestly like Narnia I swear) and then you clear through the trees and ahead of you is a huge snowy mountain (which if you looked at the top of it, you could see a little bit of smoke coming out of it- because it actually wasn’t a mountain it was a volcano). Also, I thought about it suddenly, and figured that before then I had never actually ridden a horse. I mean when I was little, when we used to go to centre parcs, I went horse riding, but I was being led by someone- this was ACTUAL horse riding, with me controlling my horse, and galloping and all that! People were telling me the other day that it was quite brave to do this, since I’d never been horse riding before, but I was fine about it really, the instructors were great. This is a silly video I did, just to prove to people that I actually went horse riding all by myself, it was quite hard to film because I still had to keep cold of the reins, but you get the picture. (wheeee….horse riding….hahaha!!)

Halfway there we stopped, met back up with another riding group (the intermediate ones that wanted to ride faster, lol) and got off our horses. Was so funny- when I leaned down to sort out my laces on my shoes, my horse decided my head look tasty, and literally started eating my hair!! I mean I know theres no grass around here in Iceland but naught winterhusid! Naughty Horsie!!! On the way back it really suddenly started snowing heavily, so we had to gallop our way back to camp- I felt like I was in an old fashioned film set in the wilds of Russia or something, it all felt rather dramatic! Plus after I got off the horse, even though I’d kinda only been riding for 40mins/an hour, my god my thighs/ ass hurt!! I was thinking horse riding must probably be such a good excercize to tone up those muscles, I bet my cousin that trains horses for dressage must have buns of steel by now- haha!

When I got back the horse riding had really built up an appetite, so I hunted around for a nice place to eat. Found a nice place opposite the post office, called “Happ”, which my friend Sif had recommended me. I was freezing by the time I got in there, so I ordered a mocha whilst I had a gander of the menu (which by the way, was massive! And also scrumptious). The place is a very veggie friendly, health eating restaurant (even with a “raw dish of the day” on it!). It still has a couple of meaty options, but most of the menu is vegetarian. I decided to order the Bean burger with cucumber relish, pumpkin chips and salad. Now, what arrived was absolutely delicious, and I ate every last scrap of it, don’t get me wrong, but this was NOT a burger. I get annoyed with all these places that serve posh burgers, and often they are “deconstructed” or served in a bizarre way, but this was essentially a bean patty, on toast, topped with salad. In my opinion, a burger is not a burger unless it is between two slices of forms of bread (ciabatta is fine). The chips as well weren’t really chips, they were just strips of roasted pumpkin, but very yummy nonetheless. Difficult to eat, but very tasty, and actually in the hours after this meal, I felt so energised- so healthy. I think it was probably a good idea to have a healthy veggie meal at some point, considering I had been eating so much meat/ cakes and things so far.

After lunch I decided I would check out the Art museum in the centre of town. Not sure if this is Reykjavik’s main one, as it was rather small, but it was packed full of interesting art work and exhibitions. Also, for people checking the museum out, the café looked quite nice too, so that may be worth a visit as well. I admit I love modern art museums, for two reasons. First of all, because the art tends to be a little weird, with loads of underlying meanings within them, I always leave modern art museums feeling quite clever. Secondly, I love taking photos of crazy artwork/ artwork that you’re not actually sure whether it is artwork or just a smudge on the floor, lol.

First of all there was this really interesting new exhibit of artwork that a load of under 16 year olds had drawn in Reykjavik, they were allowed to send in artwork on any subject they wanted, the only rules is that they had to be drawn- not painted/ sculpted etc. Here are a few examples, can you believe people under 16 years old drew these? I think it’s incredible.

The next large exhibit was on the most famous modern artists “Erro” (except with an accent over the o). His work was very strange and different, he started off drawing colourful, animal based art, then moved onto an almost Mexican skull style type of art, then went rather abstract, and in the last few years he has suddenly started doing art that very much resembles the artwork from manga/ Japanese comic books. Interesting to see artwork from one artist, change and development into so many different genres. I think I preferred his early stuff though.

Then I’ve included a few photos of some of the general modern art lying about the place. 1- I’m pretty sure that’s not Elton John, 2- Art, or random pink block on wall? 3- Art, or missing painting? 4- A modern piece of art, including two things- a human hair and a line of staples: honestly, how do people get away with this crap? 5- some pretty cool body art to be fair. 6- I actually really liked this piece, thought it was rather pretty.

This was an installation by a young alternative Icelandic artist (called Bjork but it wasn’t the actual Bjork we know). They kinda look like hammocks, but they are all actually kites. In the background there was edgy music , and the projections on the wall were showing videos of people practicing martial artist. It was all about the amount of "control" we have in our life, like how as a kite we can fly freely in the breeze, but we have to be tied down/ controlled by something. And how martial arts is a form of strict control, not just art which is considered to be a creative thing. Looks at the barriers of controlled living, and life vs. art vs. control. Makes you feel clever, lol (:

After the museum I got back to the hotel, and then had a MINI FREAKOUT because I couldn’t find my hat anywhere. I went completely mental, like crying and everything. I don’t know why, I think it’s because it wasn’t just a hat, it was symbolic- I didn’t want to lose anything, or for anything to go wrong with my holiday, because that would be a personal failure. Plus also I love that hat- it takes me hours to find a nice warm hat because of being allergic to wool. Turns out the next morning I retraced my steps and I had left it in a locker at the Art Museum (which I was well proud of myself for retracing my steps properly, because of my poor memory), but I suppose that night I wasn’t in the best of spirits.

I decided, screw it, no use crying over spilt milk, can’t go looking for it until the morning anyway, so I decided to comfort myself by going out for a filling Indian meal. Curry always make me feel better. EXCEPT THIS ONE. This is definitely THE WORST Indian meal I have ever had IN MY LIFE. And you guys know I remember every meal I have eaten since I was two- I don’t forget food. Even worse than a south Indian restaurant I went to with my parents once, and they served me this fermented/mouldy mango curry thing which I couldn’t eat. This place was called Shalimar, and was recommended by Tripadvisor, and I haven’t done this yet, but I really need to log into my account and rate them on tripadvisor, to honestly try and warn people. For starter I ordered chicken pakora, which came on kebabs with pieces of pepper, and served with mango chutney and a yoghurt dip. The mango chutney tastes really weird- very sort of “earthy”, I think they had added far too much turmeric to it. And the chicken was absolutely flavourless- no form of seasoning had ever touched that meat or batter during any of the cooking process. The main, a lamb sagwala, with peshwari naan, was not very nice at all. Granted, the meat was tender, but the curry was in a brown generic sludgy sauce- not like normal sag or sagwala dishes, which are usually green/dark green, and it was SO volcanically hot that it was almost impossible to eat. Sagwala dishes are not supposed to be hot at all, and there was no warning on the menu that this dish was spicy, so this really pissed me off. Plus, the peshwari naan was quite thin, and had to texture of flatbread rather than naan, barely had any coconut filling, and to be honest tasted a little bit of garlic which was quite off-putting.

I was so fed up about this meal that I thought, my god, maybe this place might try and serve me a decent dessert. I was utterly ignored, and my plates of half uneaten food were left on the table for over an hour, despite me trying to glance up at them and grab their attention as often as possible. The horrifically rude waitress paid plenty of attention to the families and couples and people upstairs, but completely ignored me. I don’t care if I’m a lone diner- theres no bloody excuse! Especially since this place is a tiny restaurant, only about 9 tables I reckon? Eventually some guy came up, because the place was full now, and said to me “you can spend as longer time here as you want” and I, stupefied, said “erm, I know I can, will you please take my plates and dirty cutlery away, and may I have a look at a dessert menu please?” the man replied with “ah, we have two desserts, carrot halva and gulab jamun”. I asked whether they had made their own halva, and he replied with “no, we get it in pre-made, it would be far too time consuming to make it from fresh”. I didn’t reply, because to be honest this guy was talking crap- I have made halva before, it barely takes any time at all and it is very easy. I ordered gulab jamun, knowing that it would be pre-packaged in syrup, like you get it all Indian restaurants in the U.K, but I happen to quite like them so that was all right.

What was served to me was beyond disgusting. First of all the gulab jamun was served hot (which I have had served like that once in an Indian restaurant in Bristol, so perhaps that bit wasn’t bizarre) and served covered in whipped cream, and in what can only be described as a thick gloopy chocolate sauce, that tasted like they had just melted a terry’s chocolate orange! I ate two of the gulabs, scraping off the cream and sauce, and then TRIED to get the bill. Again, I waited over half an hour to get my bill, despite trying to grab people’s attention again. Infact at one point the rude waitress almost tripped over me and I said “er, exscuse me, could I have the bill NOW please” and she just gave me a sly bitchy look and went back into the kitchen (which was open so you could see into it). After I heard the chef whisper to her “c’mon, you really ought to give that lady that bill” which she ignored, I almost walked out without paying. I am NOT JOKING. I was so close, to walking out of a restaurant, in a foreign country, because I had had such an appalling meal/service here. But I started getting my coat and stuff on and turned to the door, and it was only then that she plonked a bill on my table (which I think was the most expensive meal I’d actually had in Iceland, which was like rubbing salt into a wound- but at least the woman was so gormless she didn’t realise I had even been served dessert, so I didn’t have to pay for it). I went up to the counter, gave them the notes they needed, and not an isk more- and left”

I must admit, I wasn’t in the best mood when I got to my hotel, I felt a bit rubbish really. A nice meal would have got me to stop thinking about losing my stuff, and then would have helped me sleep better, but this meal had just given me indigestion and got me in a sad mood. A place like that would not be open in England for more than two seconds, it’s only because they are in Iceland and theres less competition, that this dreadful abortion of a restaurant is still open. I went to bed upset to be honest, and so if any of you guys ever visit Iceland, don’t go here, unless you want to make yourself sick and disappointed. That being my last dinner in Iceland, I went to bed, nervous about travelling home the next day.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Travel: Iceland Day Three

So! Today was to be the Spa day, so I was very excited but also a little nervous, as I was going to get my first massage (ever!) when I arrived there. I booked the “Deluxe Blue Lagoon Massage” which is an indoor massage- NOT an outdoor massage (the outside ones are done actually in the water. Just didn’t fancy that). So when I showed up at the place ( which by the way, even the walk to the place looked magical) the guy at reception was like “go outside and he’ll be ready for you” and I was like “errrr, no, I wanted an indoor massage” and he said “you have to specify that” and I showed him the email when I had specified “indoor” and he was like “…..Oh…..Ooops, sorry, allright we’ll get you a discount on the massage because it will have to be 50 minutes now, not an hour, because he has to set up the room.”

I was fine with that I guess, so I went to get changed. The changing rooms were really confusing actually- they were like a really weird maze. But I tried to get changed as quick as poss to have my massage. I got to the therapy room and the masseuse looked so… normal? I was expecting either A) a woman, or B) a fit Norwegian-y looking guy. I’m not sure why?? Lol! Anyway I lied down and went under a cover thing, with my face in the massage towel hole thing, undid my bikini top, and he got to work. I was really looking forward to this massage but OH MY GOD IT HURT SOOOOOOO MUCH!!!! I mean the guy did say “you are really tense- your calves are like rocks” which I guess might be down to me being a chef, because we spend so much time standing up and all that. But honestly, it was quite painful, and only half an hour of the way through he said “say if I am doing this too hard” and I thought “yeah, you couda told me that 30 minutes ago!” so from that point occasionally if it got too tough I was like “ow” or “ouch” to see if he got the picture. And the when it came to the neck/shoulder massage bit, he kept trying to make my head relax or something, and shaking my head/neck and saying “relax” and it was like- I don’t think I know how!?!? It wasn’t what I was expecting; I just wanted to be rubbed a bit with nice music in the background and oils and things like that. But to be fair, everyone asks me this “but did you feel better the day after your massage?” and the answer to that is a definite yes. Actually when I started going on my holiday, I did feel like my calves had been hurting a lot lately, and then after the massage they didn’t hurt anymore, so that was nice. He must have “unknotted” them or something. So after my massage I got my shower cap on (which loads of people on trip advisor recommended me to do- to stop the sulphur from damaging my hair) but once I got into the pools literally NOWONE was wearing one, so I felt like a bit of a numpty. I mean, c’mon guys, how cool does this look?

The place does smell a bit of sulphur, but you get used to it. And the water wasn’t as hot as I was expecting, but you kinda have to wade around a bit because you tended to get patches of very hot water in various areas, I felt like a cat looking for the warm spot in the house to sit on, haha! I expect the heat is patchy like that because it’s naturally geothermally heated, so the exact heat can’t be regulated. And there are these pots around of this volcanic silica face mask stuff, that is naturally produced there, and you put this on your face and keep it on for 20 minutes. I thought the whole thing was fairly cool, I mean, it looked more breath-taking on the website, but it was still pretty awesome lying in hot water, whilst it’s snowing, whilst looking out at snowy volcanoes/mountains.

They had a sauna and a steam room too- the steam room smelt far too much of sulphur for me, but the sauna was quite nice. However, soon after getting in there, this man with a little boy with armbands came into the sauna. He filled the wooden bucket of water and added some more water to the sauna rocks, which I thought, fair enough, it COULD be hotter in here. But then he just KEPT doing it. Kept throwing ladles and ladles onto the rocks until I had to walk out because it just became too much for me (and I’m quite good with the heat actually). I just kept thinking- that’s just a bit rude really, everyone was leaving because it had got too hot for them, and he hadn’t asked anyone round him whether it was all right to add more, he just kept doing it. I was just thinking- you add any more heat to this place and your son’s armbands will explode, haha! He must have been Swedish or something, used to higher temperatures.

After about an hour I reckon, I came out and went to have lunch at the Spa restaurant. They had a few little cafes dotted about, but this was the “Lava” restaurant, which was supposedly the “posh” one. I ordered a Blue Lagoon cocktail- which I was super psyched about, because Blue Lagoons have always been one of my favourite cocktails. The traditional recipe is blue curacao, vodka, and lemonade. I was pretty happy with what they brought me- A proper blue Lagoon cocktail at the Blue Lagoon- Marvellous!

For lunch I decided to go for the vegetarian option, which sounded quite nice- a chickpea, Icelandic potato, and cauliflower curry. It was ruuuubish! Ok so it wasn’t that bad, but everything in it was just too “crunchy”. The chickpeas were too firm, the potatoes were tasty but could have done with a few more minutes cooking, and also weirdly enough the cauliflower was served cold and pickled. Also when when I needed the bill they completely ignored me even though there weren’t many people in the restaurant. I noticed this soon became a theme in a lot of the restaurants I went to- they would ignore me, someone dining on their own, but they would pay loads of attention to the couples and families. I don’t get why, it was pretty irritating, but whatever- I left there and I didn’t tip (the waitress was an unfriendly thin blonde cold bitch anyway), quickly bought some chocolate from the gift shop, and left on the coach to get back into town.

I went back to café Stofan when I got back, and stayed there for a couple of hours again, had an absolutely scrumptious Butterscotch, apple and cinnamon muffin, with a double espresso- lovely!

A couple of hour later and once I’d showered and refreshed myself at my hotel; I decided I would have dinner at our hotel restaurant, called “Fjalakotturinn” (yeah your guess is as good as mine..). I did my research before I got there, and I knew that on something they called “The Advent Menu”, they were serving Reindeer! So I knew at some point I would have to have a meal there. Unfortunately though, the advent menu was a set 4 course menu, with the two starter courses being langoustine and smoked eel dishes, so I pretty much begged (literally, almost got down on my knees, haha) the waitress if I could JUST have the reindeer. She talked to the chefs and they let me do it, which was nice. She did ask me though “are you sure you do not want some sort of starter??” but the honest answer was “No”, because very disappointingly I couldn’t have had any of the starters, even from their normal menu. There were 6 choices of starters, but all them were fish or seafood dishes! I mean, occasionally in posh restaurants in the U.K there’s no veggie option, but to not have any non-fish starters on their menu seemed absurd to me. They don’t advertise themselves as a seafood restaurant, so I think they really ought to revise the menu.

Anyway, they brought me some bread, I ordered a v expensive glass of cabernet sauvignon (which was excellent) and then they brought me a little amuse bouche thing in a ramekin- lamb tartare. Was absolutely scrumptious, very finely diced raw lamb, mixed with diced celery, fennel and apple, garnished with dill and a little Skyrr- absolutely lovely and refreshing and tasty! I thought a very clever but clean dish. My reindeer main was STUNNING. The reindeer was cooked very rare though, I would say rare, almost bleu. Pretty much raw in the middle. I didn’t mind though, I know good meat shouldn’t be overcooked. The reindeer had a delicious sauce, was served with roasted blue new potatoes, baby carrots, cauliflower and broccoli, and celeriac puree. I don’t have any pictures of the dishes in there, because it was far too dark, but here’s a picture of the kind of quality food they serve there, marvelous.

I then waited in the hotel to be picked up for my evening excursion- to go see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)! Sounds exciting, but honestly, it wasn’t all that amazing. The weather conditions weren’t the best (still a little cloudy) so our tour guide said we might struggle to see it, but basically we went hunting in our coach to find some clear sky and stand underneath it. The guide’s English was amazing, considering he was explaining to us the astro-physics behind how the northern lights work (something to do with the poles, and magnetic stuff, and sun spots- I think I understood the vague principles). He also explained that the lights tend to come in phases, like one month you will get amazing shows every night (which apparently it was like that this September) but other months it can be completely dead. So we found a bit of clear sky and all stood underneath it, whilst the guy pointed out constellations and planets and things like that. It was so very cold that night actually, that we all stood for 30 minutes, and nothing happened, so our tour guide said that we would go back in the coach, and try to drive down to the coast, where apparently it was clearer. Meanwhile I got chatting to this really nice guy, from Hastings. I think his name was Liam, but I can’t remember- you guys know bad I am with names. But he was a really interesting guy actually, he was travelling with his wife, and when he didn’t work as a teacher, he performed as a comedy actor! And I thought, wow, weird, so coincidental with all of Nick’s stuff, so I told him about The Bath Comedy Festival and all that.

We managed to get to the coast, where there were loads of other coaches with different tour groups I guess, and we were all looking into the sky, with waves crashing below us, with a lighthouse to the left of us. Quite scenic I guess. And then “they” happened. One of the guides shouted “Norfen lights! In de skhy! Norfen Lights! In de skhy!” and we all looked up and there they were. The only way I can explain it, is that it kinda looked like a spot light beam, green coloured, with a little wiggle at the end, in the middle of the sky. And it glowed brighter every so often and then went duller again. It wasn’t like how you see on TV or on postcards, it wasn’t the most magnificent show, the beam didn’t really move much or anything, but it did look really weird, and I’m glad to say that I have seen it, if you know what I mean. I don’t have any photos of the whole thing, because you can only take a photo of the northern lights if you have a really decent camera.

The coach got back SOO late (I think 1:30, 2 in the morning!) so I had a midnight snack of some crisps I bought at the coach station earlier (SO glad I bought them actually- because I was hungry, and they were the nicest tasting crisps ever, crinkle cut but not too thick, and sour cream and chive flavoured! Mmmm!). I then dropped off to sleep, because I knew I had a very active day coming up.