Iceland 2015: Reykjavik

This is the first post on our trip to Iceland. See Day 2 next.

Day 1, May 30: Reykjavik

Icelandic flag at ThingvellirWe arrived in the early morning in Iceland and took a shuttle to Hotel Fron in Reykjavik. Before our flight, I had heard someone warn that the area around the airport is a bit disappointing compared to the rest of Iceland–that it is like “being on the moon”. That turned out to be pretty accurate. The landscape was rocky and barren, with bulbous outcroppings from the lava flows. A short scrub grass grew in some areas, but there were very few trees.

We reached the city around 7am, so not too surprisingly there was not a room ready for us yet at the hotel. We left our luggage and wandered out in the cool, gray day. The thermometer on the bus had said 8′ C, and with the wind blowing it got quite chilly at times.

Deserted streets before 7AM on a Saturday morning

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We have now completed our move from Massachusetts to Maryland. There are still boxes to be unpacked, but we have a generally livable house and are slowly figuring out our way around the area.

Can you guess which of these is MA and which is MD?


Exhibit A


Exhibit B

I’ll give you a hint: our new house has two malls and at least four large shopping centers within 15 minutes of us.  Our old house had one small shopping center and the mall was a thirty minute drive. On the plus side, we have already found some good restaurants nearby and have both a Trader Joe’s and a farm stand with fresh produce quite close. We also have bike trails close to our house, although we haven’t explored them yet. I think we’ll get used to it in time!

(The pictures above may be a slightly biased comparison. There are in fact some nice green areas nearby and it is not all shopping centers!)

Birthday Dinner

Last weekend we celebrated Megan’s birthday with dinner and some friends out on our porch. We were lucky to have a fairly cool evening and the bugs stayed away at least for the first part of the meal…

I should have been better about taking more pictures of the people and food, but I was busy grilling.  Megan also made a chocolate almond cake topped with cheesecake topped with dark chocolate frosting with raspberries on the side that was every bit as delicious as it sounds!  Here are some of the recipes so that I can repeat them some other day.

Spiced Chicken and Grape Skewers

These were fun because most people haven’t had grilled grapes before. They go really well with the chicken, and their juiciness makes up for the fact that I tend to overcook everything when I grill!  This is pretty much identical to the recipe from the Food Network.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound chicken breast, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups green grapes
8-10 skewers

  1. Whisk together the oil, lemon, garlic, and spices in a small bowl.
  2. Pour over the chicken and let marinate for 30 minutes (I kept it in a plastic bag for easy mixing).
  3. Alternate grapes and chicken pieces on the skewers
  4. Grill for about 3 minutes per side

Veggie Kebabs

A simple vegetable marinade with some middle eastern spice that goes well with the grape chicken above.  This recipe is also similar to one from the Food Network.

2 bell peppers
1 onion (I forgot to do this)
1 zucchini or summer squash
a few handfuls of grape tomatoes
1/2 container of mushrooms (not sure how big the container was…)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

  1. Chop up all vegetables into skewerable shapes, cut mushrooms in half
  2. Place vegetables on skewers
  3. Whisk together all marinade ingredients
  4. Brush marinade over vegetables and sit for 10-15 minutes
  5. Grill for about 3 minutes per side

Deluxe Israeli Couscous

This is basically the recipe you get on the back of the box from Trader Joe’s Israeli Couscous, but it is even better if you use their Harvest Grains mix since it has couscous and a few other colorful grains as well:

1/2 cup chopped onions
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 tbsp butter
1 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1/2 package TJ’s Harvest Grains(or just Israeli Couscous)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
optional: lemon rind, parsley, etc
(Note: this is from memory, and may be wrong… if in doubt, follow the package)

  1. Fry up 1 tbsp butter and the pine nuts until golden (2-3 min), then set aside.
  2. Add remaining 2 tbsp of butter and fry up onions until tender
  3. Add cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and couscous. Fry 5ish minutes, stirring occasionally
  4. Add chicken broth and salt and bring to boil, then reduce to low heat
  5. Wait until liquid is all absorbed (10ish minutes)
  6. Turn off heat, add pine nuts, raisins, cranberries, and any other goodies you can think of

Back Porch Farming

I’ve been farming virtual popcorn on this blog for a while now, but this year Megan and I decided to try our hand at some plants for our back porch.  The term porch is a bit generous, it is more likely an empty concrete swimming pool sticking off the back of our townhouse, but at least it is outside!

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An Ambitious Plan

Red = Day 1. Blue = Day 2.

This is a long overdue post about the canoeing trip Megan and I took along with a group of my old highschool chums: Chris, Matt G. and Mike. The plan was an overnight trip from Dingman’s Ferry down about 28 miles to the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center. We used Kittatinny Canoes to rent our gear, and they equipped us quite well, except for one key item: we were not given a map of the river including the camp sites along the way.

However, most of us had canoed this same trip at least once before, so we were confident we would find ourselves a campsite for the night. So we set off in a pair of canoes and a kayak. The weather the night before had been miserable, but fortunately the skies began to clear as we headed downstream.
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Conference in Montana

I just got back from a conference in Big Sky, Montana. The conference hotel was up in the mountains at a ski resort, and although they were starting to get their first snow of the season, the slopes weren’t quite ready yet. The scenery was quit breathtaking (especially for someone from New Jersey), but unfortunately I only got to walk around and take pictures during one of the cloudy days. The conference itself was quite interesting. It was much busier than any of the others I’ve been to. I met a number of new interesting people, and got to see a few other familiar faces which was nice.

Cape Cod – 4th of July

Megan and I went down to Cape Cod for the 4th of July weekend along with our friends Bobby and Stefan.  It was right after my proposal defense, so I had a wonderful time just relaxing and forgetting about work for a few days. We’ve been having about a month of steady rain and clouds, but amazingly the sun broke through during our first full day there. After that we had beautiful weather, a lot of fun, and good seafood. For the first time it finally felt like summer to me, as I sat outside in the sun, enjoying my fish tacos.

We spent our days relaxing on the beach, and our nights at Sweetwater Forest Campground, which had decent size camp sites that were reasonably separated. One afternoon Bobby fished in the pond near our campsite, and caught us two small sunfish… better than the guy near us who only pulled in weeds. On the Fourth we made our way through the crowds of men in muscle shirts to see the fireworks in Provincetown. Megan and I spent part of our last day biking along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which was a very nice ride. We also zipped through some of the more hilly trails in Nickerson State Park, before returning to the more leisurely CCRT.

Snowshoeing by Cushman Brook

For Christmas, Megan and I got each other snowshoes. We had used them before on a cabining trip up in NH and had a great time, so we both (independently) thought it would be fun to have some of our own. We’ve been having a nice snowy winter the last few weeks, and we finally got a chance to give our new shoes a try last week.  We took a walk down along the Cushman Brook near our house. We’ve had about a foot of snow in the last two weeks, and it has stayed cool, keeping the snow very soft and powdery.

Ahh Jersey

I just moved back to New Jersey for an internship at AT&T Research (more about that another day). As a New Jersey native, I have every right to make fun of my home state. On the other hand, sometimes ol’ jersey can surprise you with some unexpected beauty. I went for a walk early this morning around the Loantaka Brook Park right down the street from my apartment and managed to see some very pretty sights: several deer, some beautiful folliage, millions of geese (more noisy than pretty), a pair of swans, and an amazing great blue heron.

Acadia National Park

Megan and I took a trip to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine last week.

It is a beautiful island with an amazing variety of terrain ranging from rocky coasts to pristine lakes to the highest mountains on the North Atlantic seaboard.

It didn’t rain on us too much, but it was very cloudy and gray. I’ll add some more of the pictures that Megan and I took later.