Journey through the Lands of Sand, Rain, and Ice

statue of viking Leif Eriksson in Iceland which was a gift from the United States in 1930
Leif Eriksson standing proud in front of Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík, Iceland

When you have to go north to Iceland to warm up, you must be in England... 

Big Ben in London on a rainy June day

One of the wettest June's on record in England seemed welcoming after a day in the sandbox of Doha, but a week of slogging around in soaked shoes in the biting wind of London and Devon had us ready for whatever weather Iceland could challenge us with.

That challenge was three days of warm sunshine in the 24 hour daylight of an Icelandic summer.

midnight sunset in iceland summerOur latest journey was actually a move to the other side of the world.

Since we launched Season with Spice over a year ago, we have been based on the tropical island of Penang, introducing Malaysian dishes and many locally grown spices like nutmeg, clove, torch ginger flower, pandan leaves, and lemongrass.  While we will continue giving Season with Spice that tropical touch, you will begin to notice a more Western flavor now that we are based in Minnesota.

But before we go that far, let's take a quick look on how spices are currently playing a role in a few fascinating places along the way.

islamic museum of art in qatar

Museum of Islamic Art in Doha

From Penang, we made our first stop in Doha, Qatar - where the sand coats your hair, face, and clothes, and there's hardly a tree around to take cover from the intense, desert sun.  The old part of town is empty until the sun fades, and the shops open at Souq Waqif.

restaurants and shisha places at the spice market in doha

Souq Waqif is a famous market in Doha where you can wander through alleyways to find all sorts of traditional goods, and then take a break at a cafe to snack on croissants coated with a Za'atar spice blend, or to smoke shisha next to Middle Easterners from around the region.

zaatar spice blend on bread

But the market is probably most well known for its spices.  A walk in any direction in the market will lead you to a spice shop with spices piled up in colorful pyramids, or layered like a cake.

curry blend for sale at spice market souq waqif in doha qatar

From the desert, we headed straight to rainy London, amidst a million people celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee (60 year reign).

huge diamond jubilee poster of queen elizabeth along the river thames in downtown london

The crowds prevented us from spotting the Queen, but we were pleased to find a food revolution in the city.  Fast food chains have been pushed aside by British chains that pride themselves on serving simple, healthy, natural foods which have been freshly prepared with responsibly sourced ingredients.

natural foods grocery store in england

After a whirlwind visit to London, we took a three hour train to Devon county.  Devon is a picturesque farming area in Southwest England known for its wide variety of produce and locally made food products.

Devon is also the home to a spice related business called Little Pod, which specializes in vanilla.  Out to prove that real vanilla enhances the flavor of a myriad of foods and drinks, Little Pod launched a new vanilla beer at an event held at an amazing 540 year old building in Exeter called Tuckers Hall.

tuckers hall event in exeter, england

What country in Europe produces the most bananas?

Upon arriving in Reykjavik, Iceland - which by the way is just south of the Arctic Circle - we were surprised to find so many bananas for sale at the airport shops.  Because of the abundance of geothermal energy in Iceland, greenhouses are found throughout the island, and oddly enough, are producing the most bananas in Europe.

Without the greenhouses, it would be almost impossible to produce any vegetables or fruits in Iceland (with the exception of growing some local spices & herbs such as wild thyme, birch leaves, bog bilberry, and juniper).  The landscape is mainly barren, more closely resembling Mars than Earth in many areas.  But its rugged land of active volcanoes, glaciers the size of small countries, raging waterfalls, and steaming geysers, make Iceland one of the most stunning places on the planet.

waterfalls in iceland

sunny june day along the old harbor in reykjavik iceland

geothermal plant near blue lagoon in iceland
One of many geothermal plants powering Iceland
gullfoss waterfalls in iceland
Gullfoss Falls

No where is this incongruity of barrenness and beauty more apparent than at the Blue Lagoon - a natural pool of geothermal seawater. 

swimming and relaxing in the therapeutic pool of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

We visited Iceland in June - a month where you stare in awe at the orange sky of midnight and try to remember if you are watching the sun set or rise.  We could close the curtains and pretend it was dark at night to sleep, but the birds would sleep for maybe 30 minutes until they began their morning chirping around 1am. 

Hours later in our artificial morning, we enjoyed a cup of coffee with a popular fried donut called Kleina.  The first bite immediately revealed a familiar spice - cardamom.  Because of Iceland's close trading and cultural ties to Scandanavia, where cardamom is commonly used in baking, the warming spice quickly became an essential ingredient in Icelandic kitchens. 

cardamom donut called kleina in iceland

Are you headed abroad this summer, or have you already traveled this year?  Did you notice any interesting way spices & herbs have been incorporated into the foods you've tasted during your trip? 

fresh cardamom donut kleina in reykjavik