Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Drinking coffee in the land of fika and geothermal geysers



When it comes to drinking coffee, Icelanders are over-achievers.  They rank #3 in the world in terms of per capita consumption, with Finland and Norway taking the top 2 spots.  And although this small Nordic island country only has 350,000 people, there are cafes everywhere.  In fact, Iceland’s home-grown café scene is so robust that there is no need for Starbucks in Iceland.

Coffee permeates Iceland’s culture, affecting every aspect of life, from work, to play, to love. Although coffee didn’t come to Iceland until 1703 (very recently given the long, long history of Europe), by the mid-1700’s, virtually every household in Iceland had a coffee grinder and roaster. 



Coffee plays an important part in love rituals in Iceland. In a famous Icelandic novel, published in 1935 by Halldor Laxness, coffee-drinking took center stage.  This novel depicted the hard-scrabble life of Icelandic peasants, oppressed by debt-bondage and an inhospitable landscape. There were moments of sweetness, however, including a wedding scene in which everyone in attendance drank 5 cups of coffee each---what a celebration!

On the rugged shore near the Intercontinential Divide in Iceland.


Traditionally, women were judged by their ability to brew good coffee for their families---and even now, it is expected that if a visitor drops by, a cup of coffee will be forthcoming.  As a visitor to Iceland earlier this month, I experienced that wonderful ‘coffee hospitality.’ Icelandair serves amazing coffee. In our hotel in Keflavik, breakfast (which started at 4 am) was accompanied by unlimited coffee, and beautiful white ceramic cups---which were also highly functional and sufficiently large to limit the number of trips back and forth to the coffee counter.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the term ‘hygge,’ a Danish word that means ‘cozy, charming, and special.’ Well there is another Scandinavian term widely used in Iceland---Fika (fee-ka). Fika means ‘stop whatever you are doing and enjoy your coffee.’  It’s basically the northern European ‘coffee and cake’ tradition on steroids.

As summer wanes and fall approaches, I am prepping for a long season of hygge and fika with friends and family, and although I am not Icelandic, I am a coffee over-achiever and I know how to fika like a pro!

Learn more about the hygge and fika traditions here. https://wowair.us/magazine/hygge-and-fika/



Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Drinking coffee at a British pub


According to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), there are 10,500 pubs in the U.K.  Pubs are an important part of British culture. They are known for their warmth, coziness, and camaraderie, as well as their drink and menu of savory foods, including ‘pies,’ chips, burgers, salads, and rich, deeply satisfying desserts.

 I don’t really go to pubs very often (though I remember going to some nice ones several times when I was a student at Middlebury). However, during a recent trip, I decided that when in London, one must experience British pub life. I simply concluded that while I could happily spend all my time at cafés, I didn’t want to miss out on such an iconic experience. 

I chose Warwick Arms, located at 160 Warwick St. in Kensington, because it was close to my hotel and had an interesting twist (which I will get to later).  It did not disappoint. The interior was welcoming and warm, outfitted with leather tufted chairs, wooden tables, and a fireplace.

Warwick Arms has a menu full of options---traditional British pub food, drink, North Indian curry (who knew?), and COFFEE. That’s right---coffee! I was so excited, and boy was I hungry after a hard day’s work of being a tourist---walking, visiting the British museum, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and contemplating the fact that Stephen Hawking was recently buried at Westminster Abbey between Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Pubs are not for dieters, and when you go, you must be prepared to be tempted by all of the appetizing options. I had a chicken saag dish, a few sips of my friend’s rosé, a heaping portion of naan, and  A LOT of coffee. The entire meal was super-delish and surprisingly affordable. 

I ended up paying roughly $40 for 2 large entrees, a starter dish, and a lot of coffee---an amazing deal found right in the heart of London(!) Pubs are not only a great value, but they are a perfect setting for a nice night out. Wouldn’t have missed this for anything!

Check out my vlog review here:






Sunday, August 5, 2018

Summer Nights at MOMA



In the summer, Thursday nights at MOMA are dedicated to listening to music in the Sculpture Garden. Last Thursday the featured group was OSHUN, two young women, who create Afro-futuristic music that combines hip hop, R&B, acoustic harmonizing, heavy drum and bass, and EDM. (If you listen carefully, you might just hear woven-in samples from 90’s conscious hip hop groups, like Tribe Called Quest).


The garden was abuzz with Afropunk aficionados, the after-work crowd, beautiful people with big afros, MOMA members---and random people like us, who love MOMA and enjoy drinking coffee when we’re there. 


Thandiwe and Niambi Sala are recent NYU graduates, who chose the name OSHUN for its multifaceted meaning. Oshun is a West African deity---a goddess, also known as an orisha, who is the deity of fresh water, luxury, love, destiny, divination, pleasure, and sexuality. She is revered as the goddess of the Osun River in Nigeria. Their goal is to channel “the spirit of their ancestors in order to manifest a sweeter tomorrow for us all.”

Check out “Parts” released earlier this year. 



I don't often come just for music. In fact, when I come to MOMA, I come mainly for art. For me, the Sculpture Garden, with its sculptures and landscaping, is magical. One of my favorites is Picasso’s “She-Goat.” Picasso created She-goat (she may be pregnant) from discarded materials---scraps of metal, palm fronds, ceramic shards, and more. The goat's belly and rib cage were created from a wicker basket, while her udders were fashioned from two ceramic jugs.

There are several compelling exhibits at MOMA now, including one focused on Yugoslavian architecture from 1948 to 1980---a period in which brutalism in architecture was all the rage. Brutalism is derived from the word “raw” which in French translates as “brute.” 




If you’ve ever seen large concrete, multi-storied buildings that at first glance seem artless and oversized, you’ve seen brutalist architecture. Contrary to this reaction, brutalism was used by architects to create transformative housing, with gardens in the back, and functional space for lots of people---a democratizing force.

If you’re interested, you can learn more here.

In the meantime, I’ll be traveling and trying to get in a few more beach days. Keep drinking coffee...and make sure to check out that exhibit you've been wanting to see--summer is almost over.