Where would you go if you were given a trip anywhere in the world? Do you have a place, sitting right in the very front of your mind, that you have always pined over or lusted after? Or do you need a minute to really chew on the question? For me, it is the former. Or rather, it WAS the former I should say. If you had asked my 18-year-old self that very question, my perhaps not-so-conventional response would have unequivocally been, “The Blue Lagoon.” I’m referring here to the one in Iceland, not the gentleman’s club in Mississauga, Ontario (groans). Anyway, how do I know what my former teenage self would’ve said? Because as a celebration of my graduation from high school, I was gifted the most amazing thing anyone could ever hope to be given: a trip anywhere in the world I wanted to go. By land. By sea. By camel. Whatever means were necessary. Anything was fair game so long as the giver of this gift, my “fairy” godmother Sally, hadn’t been there herself. Seems fair, right?
My trip to Iceland was an unforgettable week of exploration, relaxation, adventure, and eating our way around the country’s famed ring road, and the experience was so profound for me, never having been anywhere remotely similar to this oddly beautiful place. Sally and I rented a car to get us around during our weeklong adventure in Iceland, and this afforded us the opportunity to fall off the beaten path and get a feel for what the country was all about. I will never forget the very first day of our trip. We were driving around middle-of-nowhere Iceland, somewhere outside of Reykjavik, and I was mindlessly fumbling for a radio station. Probably hoping to land on a Bjork song, I wasn’t paying too much attention to our surroundings at first, I’ll admit. However I remember at one point the car hit a very rough patch on the road and it caused me to look up from my radio searching and what I saw was nothing short of breathtaking. The very foreign looking landscape was littered with one jagged, raw and utterly captivating scene after another. I can’t say for certain, but I would imagine that driving around parts of Iceland is somewhat similar to what it would feel like to drive around on the moon. I’m not referring to a lack of gravitational pull here so much as I am the incredibly craggy, desolate and almost eerie terrain with which parts of the small island country is decorated. The smell of sulfur, not unlike rotting eggs, lurks around every turn and there are more geysers, glaciers, and gorges than you can shake a stick at.
As Sally and I drove, my focus now fully devoted to our other worldly surroundings, I sat in awe as cliffs of jagged-edged rocks came into focus, looming overhead like prehistoric gatekeepers to whatever lay ahead. A thick and uneven cover of dark brown rock stretched over the landscape for as far as the eye could see. It looked almost like some sort of giant had scooped up the rocky earth, given it a good shake, and then thrown the crumbled remains back all over the ground. We got out of the little car to take pictures and I distinctly remember what that place sounded like, that no-man’s land in Iceland upon which we had so fortunately stumbled in our wandering. It sounded like nothing. The quiet solace offered up by that landscape was so empty and hollow you could almost feel it. The only thing to break it up was the occasional gust of wind as it came roaring over the rocky landscape. This was the kind of moment that brings people together, causing strangers to share knowing, appreciative glances and a passing back and forth of one another’s cameras to snag a keepsake photo of the occasion. But the thing is – we were the only people there. As far as the eye could see, there were very few signs of life of any sort, human or otherwise. It was more about what wasn’t there – the absence of people, the absence of plant life, the absence of sound – that made it such a a full and substantive experience for me, and one that I will surely never forget.
“The problem with driving around Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five goddamn minutes. It’s totally exhausting.” —Stephen Markley, Tales of Iceland
My food memories of Iceland are basically filled to capacity with various members of the seafood family. Namely, the lovely langoustine. Iceland is known for its lobster and Sally and I ate our fill to be sure. Stopping at a tiny, blink and you’ll miss it seaside town and dining on what was rumored to be the best lobster in the country was a trip highlight for both of us. Swimming in hot butter, the bucket of freshly caught lobster was eaten and appreciated by both of us as we sat in this quaint family-run restaurant with its charming wood paneled walls. There is something to be said about the added enjoyment you get when dining on lobster that was caught within hours of your meal. As for watching the local lobster catchers practice their trade right outside the restaurant window by which you sit, all buttery and bibbed and contented, that is something that you just can’t put a price tag on. Those are the types of experiences that stay with you for a long, long time.
This cake is a play on the traditional Icelandic Blissful Marriage Cake, which is commonly made with rhubarb jam. As an ode to my own love of and intrigue with the Blue Lagoon (which Sally and I did make it to), I’ve swapped in blueberry jam instead. Eating more like a bar than a cake, this dessert is rich and delicious and I may have had to pry the pan away from my husband …
1 cup flour
2 cups old fashioned oatmeal
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 sticks salted butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup blueberry jam
Preheat your oven to 375. Butter and flour a 9” round cake pan.
Mix the dry ingredients together with your fingers or a fork (the flour, oatmeal, almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, and brown sugar).
Add the butter to the dry ingredients and work it with your fingers until it sticks together when you squeeze it in your hand. Add the egg and vanilla to the mix and stir to combine.
Scatter two-thirds of the mix into the pan and press it down into an even base layer. Spoon the jam onto the dough and use a spatula or a knife to spread it out evenly. Add the remaining dough mixture to the top, crumbling it evenly over the jam.
Place the cake pan onto a baking sheet and bake for 23 – 25 minutes or until golden brown on top. This cake will be loose and a little wobbly when you take it out of the oven. It will set as it cools.