Monday, July 30, 2012

Iceland: Return of the FISKUR! Pt: 1

I have often wondered if I would ever make it to this little steamy rock in the Atlantic (well, it's actually the 16th largest island in the world - thanks for the trivia Iceland Express quiz). Anyone who visits this place, comes home with so many words like "amazing, indescribable, unbelievable" spewing from their mouth, like a geysir of hyperbole. This would wear thin, if it wasn't for the fact that it's completely justified.

It must be said that so far I've only seen a glimpse of what's actually quite an enormous chunk of land, and in a way, I feel very homesick here. It's bizarre how much this place feels like New Zealand - an island in the middle of fucking nowhere, with a backbone of natural tourism, and a low density population. These wide open landscapes, and raw nature all seem strangely familiar, yet different. I'm currently staying in an apartment in downtown Reykjavik, and on these small undulating streets that roll down to the waterfront, I could almost mistake it for Queenstown, were it not for this bizarre Elvish language on everything. With a national population not even tipping 300,000, it's really special that this language is so well preserved and supported - but being an island always helps quell the influence of the white oppressors. (note to self: people here are very white; must ask mother if I am actually an Icelandic orphan who was abandoned in New Zealand?).

The night of my arrival, I was already wildly salivating for some FISKUR. We wasted no time  in deciding that our first stop would be one of Reykjavik's newest and most successful restaurants, SNAPS (not to be confused with the early 90's hip-house crew SNAP; although they later made a guest stereo appearance during the Saturday night party warm up). I GOT THE POWWWWA!! Um, anyway. 

According to local experience, Snaps Bistro has really changed the face of the dining out crowd in Reykjavik, by shifting the perception of eating out as a rich person's/tourist hobby, to an accessible & affordable experience. It was a simple business model: deflate the usual exorbitant restaurant prices, and offer a simple but excellent quality menu, then build it, and they will come. The atmosphere here is a perfect balance between smart and casual - it's somehow the right place for a dinner with your parents, or just a nice night out with your friends. For example: the waiters are smartly dressed and attentive (usually the sort of thing that the elders will cream their pants for) but without humourless pretension of many other chic restaurants (the kind of thing which makes me want to smash the waitstaff's fingers repeatedly with my pepper grinder).

These amplifier-valve-like lightbulbs were all over the restaurant. #designboner

I had the catch of the day, a delicious panfried cusk that was so very delicious and only lightly seasoned, as it should be.
Birta had the mussels and friends with Aoli. I was pretty happy to see the generous helping of coriander #corianderfiend

Transparency to the kitchen is something I always appreciate in a restaurant, just so I can be SURE nobody is wanking into my caesar salad #irrationalkitchenfear

Later in the day we went out to Birta's home place, Mosfellsdalur. It's not even an exaggeration to say her family basically run this place. I met 6 aunts and uncles in one hour at their local Saturday farmer's market. It's a beautiful and peaceful place, and after taste testing all of their local produce more than was polite to, we bought some trout & home made pesto & trekked up a small mountain.

Left to right: Cream cheese with birch, Icelandic moss, & with angelica.
Chilli jam that was actually this vibrant, no Photoshop, honest!

Tasty, tasty tomato pesto.

Clint Eastwood sells vegetables here in the Summer time.

Heaven, with the flat peaks of Esja on the horizon. Feeling homesick, but feeling at home, all in the same weird little package.
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Sunday, July 22, 2012

La Marzocco: Out of the Box. Latte Art Jam

Drawing with milk. Could there be anything harder than drawing with one semi viscose liquid into another another? Perhaps painting with a bloody stump? Drawing with a pencil held only by your mouth or toes? Yeah ok, all of those are all pretty difficult, but this latte art thing is with a jug! I mean sure, Jackson Pollock painted with a jug, but he had the freedom to drip and splatter like some uncontrollable ejaculation. There's definite credit in the control required for well crafted latte art, which was why I was intrigued to check out the La Marzocco: Out of the Box Latte Art Jam in Tempelhof yesterday. The Italian Espresso machine manufacturer hosted a trade show from the 20th - 21st of July in Berlin which included the World Espresso Tasting Championship (which sadly I couldn't attend) as well as a fun Latte art competition for those baristas with Michelangelican free-pour finesse.
The general method to achieving a nice piece of latte art, is to first make a good canvas, i.e - a well pulled shot of espresso with nice crema (this is the kind of foamy layer of coffee that's in the espresso). 

Then, it's steaming the milk to a good microfoam consistency (I've been told it should look quite glossy, and have no big bubbles - this is why you'll often see baristas bang the milk jug a few times before they begin pouring). 

Then begins the pouring, often with cup in one hand, jug in the other. The pour begins with the cup on an angle and the jug close to the surface. The milk goes in steadily and goes initially slips under the crema, until you have a solid base and the milk breaks through the crema to the top as pure white, this is the point where you can start drawing. It's mainly squiggly shapes like rosettas, ferns and hearts that are achievable with the free pour technique. If you want to get super-anal you can get in there with a pointy object and start drawings, but meh, whatever.

The competition was to try and draw two identical drinks with points awarded for symmetry, contrast of coffee to milk, style and likeness.

It was nice to be at a venue with people passionate and excited about coffee, there was a competitive but friendly atmosphere, I spotted baristas from Gothenburg, Nürnburg, Bern, as well as native Berliners. At the end of the day, I wasn't there to publish results, just to enjoy the fruits of labour, and enjoy some good coffee.

Two very focused judges.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

København - Copenhagen - hej hej - bye bye

This city feels like a port to me, well IT IS, but in the sense that I only ever visit it to farewell people. It's a place that in my mind is tangled in the ticker tape of hello and goodbye festivities. This is actually purely coincidental, it's not a transient city at all, and the people who leave are escaping after loooong periods of living here, it's all in my head - still, it does nothing to break the impression. 

This weekend, I made the visit to celebrate/mourn/party with several legendary people, a few of who are leaving to far away lands. In alphabetical order:

Birta Fróðadóttir:

An Icelandic polar bear hunter* by trade, Birta is soon heading to Canada to focus her attention on hand to hand combat with wild Kodiak bears, so we celebrated her pending  departure in style, with the finest brut €5 can buy.
*Before you call PETA, she's actually an Icelandic stArchitect who is moving to Toronto to embark on an interdisciplinary masters degree at OCAD university. Smart AND good looking I hear you say? Yes, some people are complete jerks like that.

Erich Gerlach:

The sweaty, strawberry-blonde American architectural giant who infamously coined the popular phrase "I like you more than 2 litres of cumshots" (true story).
An absolute demon on the dancefloor, and a stalwart in the underground crap-rap scene, he is departing to New York since his bloody VISA has bloody expired. Bloody hell, I know how that one goes. I have a feeling some of us will see him again soon though :)

Johanna Goodlife:

Last but not least I was there for the birthday of Johanna; the cute-as-buttons curator of Copenhagen's mini-Roskilde Festival. While most of Copenhagen's residents were at the actual Roskilde festival (which probably sucked walrus cock in comparison), Johanna organised her own under a shelter in a public park. 

The line-up included one damned good violinist & two complete strangers who were very-decent (although very stoned) blues guitarists. She found them getting high and practising songs down the other end of the park, and although the individual components perhaps sound a little shady, the outcome was mind-blowingly good!

Anyway, what follows is a blow by blow account of my holiday with the people who matter, and more photos than is decent for a blog post.

Firstly, I was welcomed into Copenhagen with open arms (and an open fridge) for breakfast by this dear girl, who served up a banquet of fresh fruit, and the most delicious (and also expensive) bread I've ever eaten. At 60 Kr per loaf, this would convert to about $12NZD - maybe this is why the danes are all so thin...

On top of this, we had home brewed lattes and a freshly juiced fruit/vege combo, with apples, carrot and mango (i think). I actually felt like I was drinking liquid energy, so good!

I also think I'm probably going to hell for finding this spastic logo kind of hilarious. Handicup!? OH COME ON.

Today was Johanna's birthday party, and she asked everyone to bring a dish to eat. Birta decided a focaccia bread and a watermelon, parsley, feta & sunflower seed salad would be welcome dishes; I couldn't have have agreed more. After mixing together the focaccia dough, we covered it up and made a trip to Torvehallerne market at Norreport Station to pick up some Rosemary and olives which we'd use to flavour our bread. It's a very slick indoor market with stores selling everything from fresh vegetables and herbs to high end chocolates & truffles, & many other things in between.

Speaking of sweet treats, I was drawn into trying this Danish specialty from master chocolatiers at Anthon Berg, it's called Flødebolle! It's a sweet chocolate shell with a foamy creamy filling resting on a marzipan base, quite original, and definitely tasty. It's worth mentioning that the Danes are absolute perverts when it comes to marzipan, they would drown their own mother for a block of good quality marzipan chocolate, and the high quality stuff is definitely quite a different experience from the only crap that I'd tried before this trip.

One stall that particularly got my attention was that of ASA; an ethically sourced and socially conscious spice market run by director Julian Amery. After working for over 3 decades in the restaurant industry, in 2008 Julian embarked on a 2 year solo journey traveling east. During his voyage he traversed some truly magical territory, and befriended many expert producers of fine flavours. For his full story, and company vision (accompanied by awe inspiring photography), go here. I also recognized the ASA branding because I'd seen it on Behance by designer Peter Ørntoft.

I also really just loved the display cabinet with all of its asymmetrical lines.

Now, I couldn't very well go on a trip to the markets and not talk about FISK. Yes, they have FISK everywhere in Denmark.

Here's some FISK.

This place definitely sells FISK.

These FISK are having a singalong.

This place only serves boutique FISK. But the guy working there loves FISK, his tshirt says so.

That might be a dead RABBIT hanging there, but these guys are definitely all about the FISK.

This old FISK probably loves a good FISK.

After all the excitement of the market, I was ready to murder a coffee. Thankfully, Birta is a coffee-monster, and is friends with Denmark's 2012 Barista Champion, Torfi Þór Torfason (friends in high places, also a bonus). So we went to his workplace, the world famous Coffee Collective. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I don't know the science or technique for making good coffee, or really what constitutes it, I just sure as hell know when I am, or am not drinking it.

This was definitely a REALLY GOOD coffee.

Caffeine-content aubergine and ham legs.

When we got home, it was time to check on the foccaccia dough. It was starting to resemble something from Aliens, which is always a good sign.

I also don't have the recipe for this foccaccia (sorry), because it was from a Scandanavian cookbook, and I wasn't going to waste my time transcribing, or translating it. It's worth mentioning that it was a really fast recipe, and surprisingly simple. Look one up!

ARGHHHH, god that bread was so good. I want it back in my face, NOW! Next up we have the super tasty watermelon salad, it was simply watermelon, red onion, sliced feta (or similar creamy goats cheese), flat leave parsley chopped, with toasted pumpkin seeds. It is the best salad I've had since the mango soba noodle one a few posts back.

It was time to head to Johanna's birthday party, the weather was juuuust holding it together, only ever so slightly threatening to rain. When we arrived, the dishes were already laid out and looking mighty tempting.

Top Right clockwise: Potato salad with radish, basil and watercress. Watermelon, feta, red onion and parsley salad. Foccaccia with rosemary, unpitted olives, coarse sea salt. Unknown pie. Chick pea salad with harrissa, chilli, coriander and garlic.

Raw food sushi, made with hummus, carrots, cucumber, baby spinach, pickled ginger and sesame seeds. Greek salad.

Mixed nut and chocolate cake, with kiwifruit and strawberry. DAMN,

A big old plate of all things heavenly.

This was a little late arrival, smoked trout from Iceland. Not just smoked, SHIT SMOKED. Yeah, apparently it's smoked in sheep dung, but it was a very mild flavour. I loved it, it sure put a shit-eating grin on my face.

Despite the fact that this was also a goodbye party for loved ones, everybody was in high spirits, and happy to be in the moment with that person. We all drank, played limbo, jumped rope, banged on drums, fiddled with violins, blew on recorders, sang songs & told stories. It was one of the best parties I've ever been to, and I really only captured a glimpse of it. A handful of us ended the night drinking and sweating up a storm on the dance floor of the bar Gefährlich, to a couple of young babes playing a plethora of post punk, it couldn't have ended better really.

The following day, after a good sleep in, we basked in Copenhagen's sun, who wore his Sunday best, a glorious blue robe of sky as far as the eye could see. After a swim in the canal, we were to lounge around until my time came to farewell these Icelandic faerie children. The sadness finally sets in, you remember once again that the love affair you have with a city, is actually with its inhabitants, and that no amount of marzipan or expensive bread can fill the holes that these people leave when they pack their bags. Thank you all for coming together with open hearts, we'll see each other in the next place called home.
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