sunnudagur, febrúar 26, 2006

puffin feast

Last night my pal Dr. D and his wife threw their annual lundaveisla, or puffin feast. This one was partially in honor of their dope new home, in a new part of Reykjavík just in the shadow of the looming Esja. Every time I have gone to an Icelandic dinner party the food and atmosphere have been stellar, and this was no exception. For one thing, Icelandic guests take their guest obligations seriously, and in addition to bringing gifts for the host and hostess, they bring themselves clad in excellent clothes. Even our host Dr. D was in a shirt and tie, even though he was still manning the stoves, and his wife A looked fabulous in her dress. Having the hosts and guests all dolled up, which seems to happen here even for family-only occasions, really adds something to a get-together that is new for me and my Merrimack Valley roots. It sets a tone for the evening that sets it apart as a special time, a space away from the regular clothes of daily life. I felt underdressed in a jacket-and-jeans combo. A guy can never be overdressed at an Icelandic social event, a lesson I am still learning.

The new house was spectacular in a spare Scandinavian sort of way, with sliding doors between rooms, a ceiling that curved upwards to maybe 15 feet at the back of the house, kids' rooms with built-in bunk-bed lofts, and an open living area that took up one end of the house and felt spacious under the gentle curve of the ceiling.

We all had pre-dinner drinks in this space, chit-chatting in Icelandic, and then were ushered into the dining area. The Dr. D Puffin Co. had set up the open space next to the kitchen with a long dining table and the 12 of us took our places around it. There was an appetizer of toast and a fresh pile o' shrimp, brie, and grapes with homemade mustard sauce, and then I got up and watched as Dr. D, lundameistarinn (the Master of Puffins), fried up the puffin breasts. He flavored them only with God's seasonings (salt and pepper) and fried them in a small amount of red wine. They are small and fry for only a short time on each side. When cooked, they are very dark, almost black on the outsides.

Alongside the puffin meat, they served a fresh tomato salad and a potato casserole. The puffin meat itself was like nothing I have ever tried. It was red meat, almost the color of beef, but very tender with a gamey taste that was slightly fishy. The little clown-faced guys do eat a lot of fish. I ate a bunch of puffin breasts, drenched in homemade gravy, and got thoroughly stuffed.

The time I spent at the lundaveisla set a new personal record: 5 hours or so of nothing but Icelandic. And while I was quiet most of the time, listening and trying to understand as best I could, I did struggle through a half hour or so of being grilled by some other guests about my work here in the Land and what kinds of cultural differences I noticed here. Well, gentle readers, you know that cultural differences are perhaps the whole reason I write this blog, but trying to explain them in Icelandic, to a tableful of Icelanders is another matter entirely. I lack anything resembling sophistication in my Icelandic speech, but I think I got my points across nonetheless. It's a thrill to be able to express myself in a whole new way, and in the dignified language of the old Norsemen to boot. Eating puffin at the same time helps the feeling of Viking transformation.

After dinner it was back to the living room to talk some more, and then our hosts stuffed us yet again with homemade ice cream and Dr. D's sinful Mars Bar, Toblerone, and Icelandic cream sauce. At midnight I left with my head full of Icelandic language and my belly full of Iceland's best food, and drove home happy in the clear night air.


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Hey J-
Its Angel here- E's college friend and roommate from way back in the day at Wellesley- Anyway I read your blog all the time, and I just wanted to say, its totally amazing how you and E both have that ability to be able to evoke all kinds of images through your writings. I'm sitting here in sunny North Carolina, salivating over the idea of puffin with gravy. What a thought.... and E has me dreaming of the crooked streets of Amsterdam.

Anyway, I love your blog and enjoy reading it. Hopefully one day (like when I get a real job and am no longer a starving grad student) I'll be able to get on one of those Icelandair flights and visit (and I will remember to bring the Capt'n Crunch among other things).

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Have you ever tried Ptarmigans? Those are delicious too. I used to eat them before becoming a vegetarian and a pacifist :D
Now, as they are becoming more extinct, I say we can enjoy other things. But J, if you ever get to nibble on that bird, you won't be disappointed.
I thought I had mentioned to you that the Icelanders are always really well dressed when going out. Dinner party is sort of the same thing, even nicer outfits. That's the thing I missed here in the states for a while. There was a time when I could have screamed beeing at another get to gether where everyone was wearing just jeans and a t-shirt. Man I can't stand the j & t, to me it's like not having any imagination at all.
I miss the well dressed Icelander

Have you ever tried a cheese that is Koniak and appelsinu ostur? I can't remember exactly what it's called but it's orange/cognac cheese from ostabudin. Try god that one is to die for

Blogger JB said...

Hey Angel, thanks for writing in. As Mark Twain once said, "Comments are the blogger's only reward." So keep 'em coming, and I hope you'll be able to come one day and experience the puffins, the pools, and the pure air.

Sirrý, nope, never had rjúpa. They are becoming less common at Xmas here because I don't think they're allowed to be sold anymore in stores. You have to hunt them yourself, and then can only take one or two birds. (Someone correct me if I'm off here.)

But man, yeah, now that I have experienced how social gatherings are with nice clothes, it's really hard to imagine doing it any other way.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

It's funny because I grew up in a household that still clung to its European traditions even though my parents/family spoke English, and I resented *deeply* having to get all dressed up just to go to dinner at my aunt's house. That expectation still exists in my family, but as an adult it's great fun to put on the party clothes.

As for your Icelandic language experience, do you ever dream in Icelandic? Like where you're totally fluent and impressing even yourself and then you wake up and wonder if you were just spewing gibberish in your dream or if your subconscious really is fluent? Yeah, me too (though in German).


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