Saturday, September 1, 2012

Íslensk kjötsúpa - Icelandic Meat Soup!

         In addition to the family I live with, another family has warmly and graciously shared their home, their country, and their Icelandic ways with me. Known as "the sisters," Katrín and Anna María, are largely responsible for the continued warm welcome I have received since arriving in Iceland. I have enjoyed countless meals around their dining room table ranging from gourmet breakfasts to homemade dessert crepes, and everything in between. One of our very first visits to their home left a lasting impression on both parties, but not because of the actual visit. Before I go into detail, keep in mind that the entire town of Selfoss covers less than one square mile, and that the sisters live about 800 meters (or a ten minute walk) from my house. Nicole and I departed on foot for breakfast, only to be picked up 45 minutes later on the other side of the town. We definitely provided the entertainment for that meal and continue to be the source of laughter for getting "lost" in Selfoss.  

Katrín, Nicole, Anna María, and I at the Icelandic national soccer team game

         Anyways, back to the sisters. I'm convinced they have dedicated themselves to making sure Nicole, Melanie, and I experience everything that we can about Iceland. This includes things to do, places to see, and foods to eat. One of my favorite dishes they made sure we tasted was the Icelandic meat soup. Because it's a traditional Icelandic meal,  I was eager not only to taste it, but I wanted to learn how to make it, too! So, with my mental notepad and camera ready, I came over before practice and helped prepare the dish! Post practice, we headed back to the house where the sisters' mom had finished preparing the meal complete with fresh potatoes and mushroom sauce!  The smell alone told me it was fantastic, but the mix of spices, rich lamb flavor, and the texture combination of the potatoes and sauce made for an unbelievably delicious meal! I not only want to make it again, but I think everyone should try it!  Thanks to the sisters and their mom, they have shared their recipe for us all to enjoy! Lucky for us, the ingredients aren't hard to find back home. Although it won't have the true Icelandic quality, I'm still looking forward to sharing and enjoying a bit of Iceland when I get back to Florida!

Icelandic Meat Soup
2 pkgs of lamb chops 
2 turnips peeled and chopped
4 carrots peeled and chopped
2 medium sized onions chopped
1 pkg (120 g) of Súpujurtir (soup herbs)
2 cups of white rice
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring the lamb chops to a boil.
2. Use a spoon or cup to remove the fat that surfaces.
3. Add the rice and onion. Boil for 30 min.

4. Add the vegetables and soup herbs.
5. Boil for 15-20 minutes. 

       The recipe was started and completed by the sisters' mother, Árný. She is pictured above and is the real chef behind the meal! After the soup finished boiling, she removed the lamp chops from the liquid like shown below and prepared the potatoes and mushroom sauce. 

       To learn the proper procedure, I watched the Icelandic meat soup regulars assemble their bowls before making mine. First, remove the meat from the lamb chop and discard the bones. Cut up the potatoes and add that to the bowl with the lamb. Lastly, spoon plenty of soup "broth" onto the meat and potatoes, and ENJOY! And I know, you will enjoy!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The O'Briens Invade Iceland!

         For those of you who don't know, my parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this month. Did you catch that? 40 years of marriage!! Whoa, what an accomplishment! My sisters and I knew that such a monumental occasion called for an extraordinary celebration. And after a bit of brainstorming and family teamwork, we decided a trip to Iceland was the perfect way to commemorate their big milestone! For me, it was a win-win situation. I get to see them earlier than expected, and I have the pleasure of showing them around the country that I've come to love! 

        Tickets were booked. The itinerary was planned. Bags were packed and, before I knew it, their seven day trip to Iceland had begun! I could hardly believe they were actually here, in Iceland, with me! Their arrival brought an array of emotions, dominated by happiness and an eagerness to share everything about this place that I could! They no longer had to use my pictures and Skype conversations to imagine where life has brought me. It was theirs to experience!

      The unforgettable scenic phenomena, the excitement of new adventures, and the time shared with lovely people made for the perfect celebration we were looking for. Thank you to everyone who helped make the trip a success! I've gathered my favorite photos to help share my parents' Icelandic adventure, and hopefully you, too, will someday be able to take your own pictures of this beautiful country! 

The invasion adventure begins!
Day 1: After arriving in Keflavik, we headed straight for downtown Reykjavik. Our first stop, Viðey Island. The island is mostly known for its peaceful atmosphere and collection of artwork including the Imagine Peace Tower designed and built by Yoko Ono, the widow of Beatle John Lennon.

I told you the place was known for its peaceful nature! 

      We headed home to Selfoss for a bite to eat at a local cafe. From there I went to soccer practice while my parents settled into their apartment. Torfi and Svava invited us to a delicious home cooked dinner where we spent the evening chatting, laughing, and enjoying each other's company. Spending the evening with both my parents and my Icelandic family was an indescribable joy! I pray there are many more to come!

Day Two began with a bike tour around downtown Reykjavik. It lasted almost four hours and was filled with lots of interesting bits of Icelandic historical and cultural information. 


         After the thorough journey around Reykjavik, we headed downtown to one of my favorite places for lunch - The Laundromat Cafe. With homemade chocolate butter for our bread, a plate full of breakfast foods, and a fun atmosphere, are you surprised it's one of my favorite spots? Special thanks to Torfi and Svava for introducing me to the place!

     The worst rain storm of the summer was forecasted to hit today, but luckily held out until early evening. It gave us just enough time to get in the Blue Lagoon! Like my parents, this was my first trip to the Blue Lagoon despite having lived here for over three months. From the moment I stepped in, I knew I'd be back! The warm, salty water and overall atmosphere made it probably the only outdoor activity still enjoyable during what I termed the Icelandic hurricane! THAT is how awesome the Blue Lagoon is! Our favorite spot was a powerful waterfall that gave perfect shoulder massages. We definitely spent more than our fair share of time enjoying it! Thanks to the poor weather, we almost had the place to ourselves!

        Hamboragarafabrikkan, the Hamburger Factory, marked our next stop. I'd received lots of great reviews, but I had yet to try it. Although my solo rendition of Happy Anniversary just wasn't up to par without the usual gang, we left very pleased after a tasty dinner and a fun filled day exploring Iceland!

Day 3: Off to the waterfalls we go! Our first stop, Seljalandsfoss.

Followed by Skógafoss.


At the top of the waterfall
        It just so happened that both my parents and Nicole's mom booked their trips to Iceland for the same week! So, we met up with Nicole, her mom, and her mom's friend for a group lunch at a restaurant known for their lobster soup. It was a great choice, with great company!

         Ásdís' long awaited 4th birthday party had finally arrived My parents and I made the guest list and before long we were enjoying yet another family dinner! Ásdís is rather shy when it comes to photos, so I had to sneak a picture of her in her birthday dress! Needless to say, my parents and I had a wonderful time sharing the evening and celebrating Ásdís' day with my adoptive family! The fun atmosphere, kind and outgoing company, good food, and all around great time made us feel right at home.

Day 4:  You may remember one of my very first blogs describing my visit to Þingvellir on Easter. It's one of my favorite spots here in Iceland, so you can bet it was on my parents' itinerary! 

       We aimed to go whale watching, but because of poor weather the trip was cancelled. Instead, we enjoyed a picnic in the city center in downtown Reykjavik. 

Day 5:  We finished the Golden Circle route by visiting the powerful Gullfoss and Geysir. Words cannot describe the breathless Icelandic sights!



       To top it off, we played Valur at home. There is nothing like having your biggest fans in the stands!

Sign advertising our game!

Áfram Selfoss!

Day 6 - We traveled along the southern coast of Iceland to take a boat ride to see Jökulsárlón up close and personal. Jökulsárlón is the largest glacier in Iceland, and according to our tour guide, it will be gone in the next 60 years if it continues to melt at its current rate. More unbelievable than that surprising detail were the breathtaking sights of the beautifully blue and white hued icebergs and the incredible surrounding landscape. 

         We made it back in time for my dad to go horseback riding with Torfi's father and his friend. The Icelandic horse is a unique breed that has been compared to "driving a Ferrari." 
My dad following Siggy's lead
            We spent their last night enjoying a magnificent Icelandic meal and a wonderful evening at Torfi and Svava's. Siggy and Dísa (Torfi's parents), Nicole and her group of family and friends (three more arrived a few days prior), along with my parents and I, made for a one-of-a-kind dinner party! I wish I had taken a picture of the decadent table before we dug in, because in my opinion it deserved an award! However, I made certain we got a family photo! 

My families together!

   Following the family dinner, my dad and I took a late night hike up Ingólfsfjell. The nearby mountain offers a challenging climb, but the view from the top overlooking Selfoss is worth every step! 

On our way to sign Ingólfsfjell's Gestabók! 

      I think it's safe to say that my parents had a trip of a lifetime - or at least 40 years of marriage! I'm thankful that I was lucky enough to be a part of their celebration. Being able to share who and what I love about Iceland with my beloved parents is an inexplainable feeling. Perhaps you'll just have to interpret the smiles on our faces! 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Áfram Selfoss! Go Selfoss!

         I’ve documented and shared many of my experiences here in Iceland, but I realize I’ve been skimpy on the details about what actually brought me here – soccer.  Pretty cool, huh? I certainly think so. I’ve been here over three months, and I still find myself in disbelief that I’m living my dream – playing professional soccer.

"See you at the field this summer"
The Selfoss post card we received in the mail!
        So, I think it’s about time to share a little bit about my team and my rookie season as a professional footballer.  I play for the Icelandic club called Ungmennafélag Selfoss, more commonly referred to as UMF Selfoss. The athletic club hosts a multitude of sporting teams including handball, Tae Kwon Do, gymnastics, swimming, Judo, Motocross, weightlifting, and track and field.

Most of the team before our game in Westman Islands

Before my first professional game
        This season marks the men and women’s soccer teams’ first time playing in the Premier Division, called the Pepsi Deildin. Last year, both teams ranked at the top of the second highest league called First Division. This earned their first appearance in Pepsi Deildin – the highest league in the country.  Moving up meant facing more experienced teams, a higher level of play, and ultimately, the greatest players in the country. Thinking of ways to improve their chances of staying in the league, the club decided to recruit international players, another first for the women’s team. Thankfully, I was one of three Americans chosen to play for UMF Selfoss this summer. Nicole McClure, a teammate of mine at USF, also made her professional debut here at Selfoss. Melanie Adelman, a Houston, Texas native, joined us in May after she completed her final collegiate semester. With a season full of firsts, I think it’s safe to say it’s not a rookie season just for us, but the club, too.

My goal celebration :)
        Considering the preseason polls – which predicted we would earn zero points this entire season – I think it’s safe to say we’ve already proved many people wrong.  In our first five games we earned seven points, and I managed to score five goals. Since then we’ve struggled to earn points, but learning experiences have been in abundance.  With only half the season in the books, more points are still to come! Our ultimate goal, remaining in the Premier Division, is still in sight! Áfram Selfoss!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Vestmannaeyjar - Westman Islands!

       My experiences at Vestmannaeyjar couldn't be better described than the title of my blog. Our last game before the early season break took my team and me to what’s translated as Westman Islands. Having visited the island for a preseason match in early May, I anticipated our next trip for two main reasons. Our previous game performance didn’t show our true abilities, so first and foremost, I badly wanted a rematch. Secondly, my first trip and current picture collection didn't cover the uniquely magnificent sights the island has to offer, so I wanted to be the eager American tourist that I am. Needless to say, both my camera and I were fully charged for trip number two to Westman Islands! I have to admit the second game wasn’t the rematch I desired, but the islands’ beauty didn’t fail to impress me yet again.
My teammates and I riding the ferry

The view of the mainland as we entered the Islands

          Vestmannaeyjar is a group of islands located almost 7.5 km off the southern coast of Iceland. The name also refers to the town on the largest island, Heimaey, where about 4,500 people reside. In January of 1973, the Islands received global attention due to the volcanic eruption of Eldfell mountain. All inhabitants of the islands were evacuated during the six-month long eruption. The eruption killed one man, destroyed most of the town, and increased the island's length. Fortunately, they managed to save the harbor from total destruction. In a future visit to Reykjavik, I plan to watch a movie that vividly depicts and describes the eruption in detail. 

Can you tell what the arrow is pointing to in the picture to the left? It's a man in a red kayak; That's how big the islands are!
The view of the town from the harbor.

       Prior to my first visit, many people declared the islands as their favorite place to see and visit in Iceland. Although I was highly anticipating another trip for the previously mentioned reasons, it only took my first glimpse of the islands to realize what made them special. The landscape displayed surreal scenes – landscapes thought to only exist on postcards and movie backdrops. The combination of luscious green grass, the gigantic black boulders, the peaceful blue seawater, and snow-capped mountains made for a view unlike any field I've ever played on. After the preseason loss, all it took was a glimpse of the landscape to replace every negative emotion with a sense of peace and awe as I gazed in amazement and thankfulness at the work of the Lord's hands.

My teammates watching rope swingers as I capture the view of the mountains and glaciers of the mainland.

     After the game my teammates took me to Sprangan, a popular rock for rope swinging. It wasn't until I watched my assistant coach masterfully demonstrate the proper technique before I came close to getting the hang of it (pun intended). Having grown up in Westman Islands, she knew all the tricks and definitely proved it wasn't her first rodeo. For the rookies of the group, myself included, she nervously watched as we took our turn. Fear of broken legs (before the season actually started) kept her heart racing until each of us landed safely on the ground.

Edda, my assistant coach, nervously watching!

Anna María, Me, and Guðmunda before we race! Keep in mind it's below 50 degrees Fahrenheit!

           Following the rock swinging, the majority of the team took a dip at the swimming pool. The two other swimming pools I'd previously visited in Iceland were no comparison to the famous one located in Vestmannaeyjar! Like the others, the water is naturally heated by the hot springs and offers multiple pools (and hot tubs) for comfortably relaxing in the cool air and scenic landscape; but the others can't match the slides! There were two exciting slides, one of which empties you onto a slick and slippery trampoline before you bounce into the pool of water below. After countless attempts, I finally managed to stand up the entire  ride down the trampoline - which isn't as easy as it sounds or looks! Thanks to Nicole's persistent and skillful photography, we managed to get it on tape! If you look closely enough, you can see I even manage a good ole American salute before I hit the water! Needless to say, I had an absolute blast!