Savory Oatmeal with Crispy Shiitakes | Umami GirlLet’s do three little seconds of Halloween recap before we launch full-throttle toward Thanksgiving.

  1. My favorite moment of our own above-average day (shouldn’t Halloween always be on a Saturday?): The doorbell rings, and I open the front door to six or seven middle-school boys in costume. One of them says, “Epic! This is the house where Henry barfed last year!” It’s not directed at me, but I laugh a little too much and ask, “Is that true? We just moved in over the summer.” He switches gears instantly and politely says, “Hope you’re enjoying your new home.” That’s a fun-sized portrait of kids from our town. And for the record, I corroborated the tale of woe with the house’s prior owners. True story.
  2. A friend wears a Robin costume to team up with his young son, who is very excited to dress as Batman. Except the son changes his mind at the last minute, so they go blithely forth into the world as Captain America and Robin. The things we do for our kids.
  3. At the end of the day, scrolling through photos of everyone’s suburban exploits, I encounter a short series of images of Winnie the Pooh trying in vain to restrain a small waterfowl. Fowl’s mom has captioned the series, “Everyone loves an uncooperative duck.”

And now, onward. Let’s get ready for a festive season of face-stuffing by keeping some of our dinners on the delicious but reasonable side in the days leading up to the feast. Let’s eat lots of dark leafy greens, legumes, and whole grains. Today, let’s dine on a palette of savory browns. Let’s turn a hallowed breakfast into a good-weird dinner. Let’s make savory oatmeal. Why not?

Carolyn xx

{Get the recipe for Savory Oatmeal with Crispy Shiitakes.}

Jersey Girl Spaghetti | Umami Girl

So, you guys. It’s World Pasta Day.

My first impression was that pasta is like Frozen or the Kardashians. Pasta’s awareness game is STRONG. Does it really need a day?

But then I saw those six unimpeachable letters on the official website: UNESCO. And that this year’s theme is “Feeding the planet.” And that Jamie Oliver is posting pasta recipes on Instagram. And I says to myself, Gratzer, I says, if you haven’t got pasta, what have you got in this world?

Not dinner for half of last week, that’s for sure.

So here’s a little love from New Jersey for World Pasta Day. 

See you soon.

Carolyn xx{CLICK HERE FOR THE RECIPE.}

Blue Lagoon Inside Iceland | Umami Girl

Hello! It’s still the weekend, yes? I thought I’d post this on Sunday, but the bottle of Chandon I drank from nose to tail on Saturday night (to be an amenable host, naturally) had other plans. Maybe if this post had been a live feed of me dipping into the purifying geothermal waters of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, I could’ve made it happen. Writing about Blue Lagoon from a suddenly frigid New Jersey suburb, though? That could wait. 

This will be a quick little ditty about one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations. A scant hour’s drive from Reykjavik and a mere 20 minutes from the airport, Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the 25 wonders of the world according to National Geographic magazine. Maybe that’s why it was positively teeming with riffraff like us.  

Blue Lagoon Overhead Iceland | Umami Girl

Some answers to questions you may have:

  1. Yes, it’s very touristy. Très touristique. Teeming, I say.
  2. Yes, you should probably go anyway.
  3. Yes, you should definitely book ahead of time here. (Psst…you don’t need to shell out for a Premium visit to get a bathrobe if a bathrobe is the only thing pulling you in the Premium direction. You can rent one à la carte at the front desk when you arrive.)
  4. Yes, bring sunscreen.
  5. Yes, bring your bathing suit. They have rentals, but come on.
  6. No no, it’s definitely man-made. The water is runoff from a neighboring geothermal power plant. They don’t try to hide this fact at all, but somehow after you’ve looked at the marketing material, it’s still surprising.
  7. Yes, that’s a bar in the lagoon. You can use your entry bracelet to get a green smoothie or a glass of something more libationary. 
  8. Yes, there are a variety of dining options, including some meh sandwiches at the cafe and at least one sit-down restaurant that looked pretty good, but we didn’t bother with it.
  9. Yes, there are hotter parts and cooler parts of the lagoon, but it’s all reasonably comfortable, even for kids.
  10. No, you don’t really need to spend the whole day there. A few hours should do it.
  11. Yup, you’re about to see the same photo as the previous one, except with my toes in it. Damn internet.

Blue Lagoon Overhead with Toes Iceland | Umami Girl

What else? Yes, if you’re under four feet tall, you’re very likely to be bludgeoned in the head with the business end of someone else’s selfie stick while waiting to enter the building. It’s selfie stick HELL out there, people. Protect your eyeballs.

Then go out there and have some fun. Iceland is good-weird, and Blue Lagoon is no exception. Soak it in. See you soon.

Blue Lagoon Sign II Iceland | Umami Girl

Blue Lagoon Skyline Iceland | Umami GirlBlue Lagoon Visitor Iceland | Umami GirlCarolyn xx

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Doors of Reykjavik Iceland | Umami Girl

Hæ again, and welcome back to Iceland week. (That’s Icelandic for “hi,” and it sounds like…”hi.” Very exotic.) This is the second of three posts about our July trip to southwestern Iceland, and today it’s all about Reykjavik. You can find the first post, about the south coast and Golden Circle, here.

With only four full days to explore the island, we opted to base ourselves in Reykjavik for the duration and take day trips, rather than find lodging outside the city. Obviously travel is 93 percent about the meals, so among other benefits, this approach allowed us to eat more of Reykjavik.  

We’ve had uniformly good experiences renting apartments through Airbnb in our family travels. In Reykjavik, we stayed in this lovely two-bedroom home in the embassy district, close but not too close to downtown. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re traveling with kids, the flexibility offered by a place with a kitchen and a little extra space can make all the difference between a relaxed vacation and a hassled one. We also love staying in a city’s residential or semi-residential neighborhoods as opposed to its tourist districts. It really gives you a false and overinflated sense of belonging, in the best of all possible ways.

AirBnb Door Reykjavik Iceland | Umami Girl

Reykjavik Iceland (Photo Courtesy Airbnb)

Photo credit: Airbnb website

Reykjavik is a very manageable city, to the extent that people joke it would be considered a mere town in almost any other country. It reminded us a lot of a smaller Helsinki, which reminded us of a smaller Amsterdam. It always comes back to Amsterdam with me. Amsterdam is my Kevin Bacon. 

Here’s the view from the tower of the iconic Hallgrímskirkja Church. Kinda looks like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, right? (None of this is to minimize the awesomeness of Reykjavik — it’s comfortable but also formidable in its own Nordic way. Hey, it was settled by Vikings and runs on geothermal power. Don’t mess with it, okay?)

Reykjavik Iceland Skyline | Umami Girl

The church itself, visible in the photo below at the end of the street, looks like nothing you’d find in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Ironically, though, it sure does look like it would be right at home in a place called the Land of Make Believe. Hallgrímskirkja is a relatively new addition to the landscape, designed by Guðjón Samuel in 1937 with Iceland’s volcanic basalt columns as inspiration, and not completed until 1986. It boasts a very impressive organ and is totally worth a visit.

Reykjavik Iceland Sisters | Umami Girl

Photo by Cope

Reykjavik is home to some pretty spectacular and whimsical street art.

Reykjavik Iceland Street Art | Umami Girl

Some of this street art is functional, like these bicycle gates that close off the main shopping street to car traffic during the summer.

Reykjavik Iceland Bike | Umami Girl

Photo by Cope

Some is purely Icelandic, like these Huldufolk, or hidden people. Icelanders don’t mess around with the possibility that they share their countryside with giant elves. As recently as 2014, highway construction in a suburb outside Reykjavik was stopped until a 150,000-pound rock that may or may not have been a Huldufolk chapel was moved out of the way. Hey, if I lived in Iceland, where lava can flow by your house on a not-never basis and nature generally does not mess around, I might be among the majority of the population that doesn’t rule out elfin presence. 

Hidden People Statue Reykjavik Iceland | Umami Girl

And some “street art” is not so much art as marketing that makes half the family want to hug it and buy souvenirs and the other half want to break out the lice repellant shampoo. Does anyone know whether Purell comes as a spray tan?

Reykjavik Iceland Hugs | Umami Girl

Photo by Cope

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Aurum Shop Reykjavik Iceland | Umami GirlReykjavik Iceland Reflection | Umami Girl

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Gulfoss Waterfall Iceland | Umami GirlIt’s Iceland week at Umami Girl! This is the first of three posts highlighting our visit to the southwestern part of this fascinating country. Today it’s the waterfalls, geysers, volcanoes and glaciers of the south coast and “Golden Circle.” Later in the week we’ll tour Reykjavik and stop into Blue Lagoon, a hot-spring spa that’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.

We loved Iceland, so these may seem like sponsored posts, but they aren’t. We traveled independently and received no payments or freebies of any kind. It’s a little embarrassing, really. I should maybe get on that for next time.

How we got there

We took advantage of Icelandair’s Stopover program, through which you can spend up to seven nights in Iceland on your way to any of 20-plus European destinations for no additional airfare. Stopover airfare is often less expensive than flying directly to Europe, though in our case it didn’t work out that way due to the strength of the dollar versus the euro at that time. Iceland itself is on the pricey side, so Icelandair has a good thing going with reasonable airfares, encouraging potential tourists to bite the bullet. They must be doing well, too, because Icelandic tourism is on a dramatic rise. The country’s population is around 300,000, and last year alone they hosted about 1.1 million tourists. It makes me wonder if there’s even anyone left to read this post.

We knew we wanted to spend some time in London early in the summer visiting friends and revisiting old haunts, and we wanted to explore Santorini as well — more on those weeks later this fall. We’d heard so much about Iceland in recent years, from friends both in England and the states, that we couldn’t resist taking a few days (four full days plus two travel days) to explore Iceland on the way. 

Solheimajökull Glacier Family Portrait Iceland | Umami Girl

How we rolled

If you’ve read any of the numerous travel posts on Umami Girl to date, you know we don’t normally hop on a tour bus and surrender our schedule to anyone. Iceland felt different, though. We didn’t think we could do justice to the combination of geology, history, language and culture on offer without some heavyweight local help.

We split the difference: we spent two nonconsecutive days with GeoIceland (touring the Golden Circle and Southern Coast), a great little company that takes small groups of people on tours around southwest Iceland; and we left the other two days to fend for ourselves. 

Our tour guide on both GeoIceland days was an entertaining and knowledgable man named Sigurdur Albert, whose strengths include Icelandic pride, deadpan humor and the ability to drive a Mercedes Sprinter minibus very close to a receding glacier. In addition to seeing and learning about the strange, beautiful landscape and geology (most of which, let’s be honest, is already a bit of a blur), we learned some excellent trivia. I won’t spoil too much, because I want you to go on these tours too. But to name a few:

  • Modern Icelandic people can read Old English without a problem because after thousands of years of divergent evolution, their language is way more similar to Old English than ours is. 
  • Fully 10 percent of adult Icelanders have published a book. 
  • Iceland has a 100 percent literacy rate.
  • (Bonus unspoken — and, honestly, largely uncontested — fact from Sigurdur Albert: all of this means Icelandic culture is generally superior.) 

Along the Road Iceland | Umami Girl

How we rocked

(Get it? This is the geology section. Oh boy.) Now is when I limit myself to photos and anecdotes so as not to butcher too many verifiable facts. As you probably know, from, like, real life or TV or because you were trying to fly somewhere from Europe in 2010 or 2014, Iceland is volcano central. There are 30 active volcanic systems on an island approximately the size of Virginia. All this geologic tumult is due to the fact that Iceland sits on the mid-Atlantic ridge, which is where the North American tectonic plate meets the Eurasian tectonic plate. The plates are separating at about two centimeters per year, and although this activity occurs primarily underwater, there are spots on land where you can see the gap. I MEAN. Right?

Here are a couple of photos that make it look like things get a little intense when the plates separate. Which, let’s be honest, they prolly do.

Techtonic Plates Meet Iceland | Umami Girl

Iceland Fissure | Umami Girl-3

But then, oh hey, here’s a photo that makes the earth prying itself apart seem positively majestic. Which I guess it also is. This is a little bit of the Silfra fissure in Thingvellir National Park, and I hear it’s the only place in the world where you can snorkel between tectonic plates. 

Tectonic Plates Meeting Iceland | Umami Girl

We didn’t snorkel. Maybe next time, when all family members have graduated from Pollywog 1 at the Y. But just because we didn’t snorkel doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to say about the creatures inhabiting the crevasse. 

Because I do.

In our travels I’ve been noticing that hipsters have ruined my razor-sharp ability to tell Americans and Europeans apart from afar. Slight frames, waxed mustaches, statement glasses — who could know anymore? But at Thingvellir the situation came to a head in the best of all possible ways.

We watched a guy in skinny jeans, hood-up hoodie and berserk facial hair literally crawl into the crack in the earth between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. It was like witnessing a hipster being born again. Half American, half European. What an apt ceremony.

He took a selfie. I took a moment to admire the beauty of my ironic worldview playing out in a literal way in front of my face. 

Not that anything could compare with that, but here’s a little more of our experience at Thingvellir National Park. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and the home of Althing, the world’s oldest existing parliamentary institution, but mostly we just modeled hats and gave piggyback rides. 

Thingvellir National Park Iceland | Umami Girl

Thingvellir National Park Portrait Iceland | Umami Girl

Piggyback at Thingvellir National Park Iceland | Umami Girl

Thingvellir National Park 2 Iceland | Umami Girl

Thingvellir national Park Iceland Family 2 | Umami Girl

Thingvellir National Park Iceland Family | Umami Girl

Thingvellir Naitonal Park Landscape Iceland | Umami Girl

Thingvellir National Park Steps Iceland | Umami Girl

Thingvellir National Park Iceland Sisters Playing | Umami Girl

Waterfalls

Iceland’s waterfall situation is out of control. There’s one you can walk behind and one you can drink from. Come ON. 

The top photo in this post, in case you’ve been wondering, is Gulfoss. And here’s Skógafoss. Foss foss foss, am I right?

Skógafoss Waterfall Iceland | Umami GirlHere’s the waterfall at Faxi, which isn’t huge but has great lines, as nobody says about waterfalls.

Waterfall at Faxi Iceland | Umami GirlAnd then, my favorite and everyone’s favorite, Seljalandsfoss. Look at us standing behind it like a bunch of wet little penguins.

Seljalandsfoss Iceland | Umami Girl-2Under Seljalandsfoss Iceland | Umami Girl

Here’s what a waterfall looks like from behind (and what my family sounds like while they wait for me to show you). 

 

Standing behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall, southern Iceland.

A video posted by Carolyn Cope | Umami Girl (@umamigirl) on

 

Geysers

Okay, let me just say right now that my photographic timing did not work out in the geyser department. This is Geysir, a spouting hot spring, and the reason we call all the rest of them geysers today. It erupts every few minutes, sometimes shooting steamy water 200 feet into the air. You’ll have to trust me. See all those people standing there? They know. 

Geysir Iceland | Umami GirlGeysir Iceland | Umami Girl-2

 

Flora + Fauna 

These beautiful lupines abound in the Icelandic countryside. They look magical, but they’re contentious because they aren’t native. They’re from Alaska, and in the mid 20th century someone dumped a bunch of them here. People worry that they’re choking out biodiversity by killing native plants.

Field of Lupines Iceland | Umami Girl{CLICK TO SEE MORE OF ICELAND}

  • […] Hæ again, and welcome back to Iceland week. (That’s Icelandic for “hi,” and it sounds like…”hi.” Very exotic.) This is the second of three posts about our July trip to southwestern Iceland, and today it’s all about Reykjavik. You can find the first post, about the south coast and Golden Circle, here. […]ReplyCancel

  • Rachel

    “Iceland is volcano central.” You crack me up. :-) Fun meander, thanks for sharing! I’m sure Segurdur Albert had fun things to say about the (used-to-be) fact that Iceland has more sheep than people? Or how the telephone book lists every single individual because surnames are not shared? And that telephone books note one’s profession because the number of Magnus Magnussons gets a little overwhelming? But hey… that might all be 6-year-old-perspective, late 1970s factoids. ;-)ReplyCancel