THE TABLE: ICELAND – Country without an army

Iceland is sparsely populated, giving way to haunting landscapes like this one.
Iceland is sparsely populated, giving way to haunting landscapes like this one.
Iceland is surrounded by the vast North Atlantic Ocean.  It's austere beauty attracts many tourists.
Iceland is surrounded by the vast North Atlantic Ocean. It's austere beauty attracts many tourists.

The country of Iceland is surrounded by the vast North Atlantic Ocean. It is considered a European country – even with a part of it lying in the North American plate. The population is a little over 330,000 in an area of about 40,000 square miles. This makes it the most sparsely populated country in Europe.

It has more than 200 volcanoes which it is believed have created the land mast. Its position makes a hotspot for geologic activity which includes earthquakes, volcanic eruptions as well as geysers. This combination produces an abundant geothermal energy.

In 874 A.D., the first settlers arrived led by Ingolfi Amarson. The original settlers traveled from Norway – followed in a lesser extent by other Scandinavian countries. The culture of Iceland is that of Scandinavian heritage including cuisine, literature and Gaelic traditions. Today, the ethnic make-up is 90.24% Icelandic – 3.63% Polish – 4.33% other.

Iceland is the smallest country that belongs to NATO with no standing army. There is a coast guard in charge of defense. In 1944 Iceland became a republic. At that time, it was one of the poorest of European countries. Since that time, it has prospered and become the most developed nation in the world. Today, it is a multi-party constitutional republic with the head of state being the President - elected by direct popular vote for a four-year term with no term limit.

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The economy is diversified with strong sectors – such as finance, biotechnology and manufacturing. Travel access is becoming somewhat easier to Iceland, so tourism is an up-and-coming industry. There are 1.1 million visitors annually – three times the population of Iceland.

Reykjavik is the capital and largest city in Iceland. It is located in the southwestern part of the country. The city is home to two-thirds of Iceland’s population. It is considered one of the cleanest, greenest and safest cities in the world.

The most common mode of transportation throughout Iceland is motor vehicles – cars and trucks. Statics show that there is one car per 1.5 inhabitants. It has no railroads and the main road runs around the country as most of the interior is uninhabited.

The animals of Iceland are all descendants of animals imported from Europe – such as cattle, sheep, goats, chickens as well as the Icelandic sheep dog. Wild animals found are mice, rabbits, rats and reindeer. Also found are gray & harbor seals and many species of fish. Puffins, skuas and kittiwakes nest on the sea cliffs. On an occasion, there may be a visiting polar bear that has traveled on a passing floating iceberg.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland represents 73.8% of the population. Of the population, 57% consider themselves to be religious and 31% non-religious, with 10% convinced atheists and the remaining 2%, undetermined. Iceland numbers as one of world’s six most atheist countries.

The native language is that of the Germanic tongue – such as Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic. Finnish and several other languages add to the mix. Most Icelandic people speak and understand English quite well. But, appreciate if you are visiting to take the time to learn a few Icelandic words.

Just about a 100 years ago, alcoholic beverages were banned. Red wines were permitted in the 1930s. It took until 1989 before full-strength beer was permitted. Another ban in 1924 was in Reykjavik – that the keeping of dogs for pets was prohibited. There is no longer such a ban – today strict laws governing the ownership of dogs for pets are in place.

Traditional and local foods include fresh and smoked salmon, stewed fish, hearty breads, rich pastries and Skyr. SKYR is made from strained skim milk to make a cheese – more commonly known as yogurt. It is a little sweeter flavor than Greek yogurt and is sold plain and fruit flavored. Because of the process it is made, it is considered to be fat-free and lactose free.

Other favorite Icelandic foods are smoked lamb, all fish, meat soup and “Ein med ollu” (ironic Icelandic hot dogs). Fresh vegetable and fruits are somewhat limited with most being imported or grown in greenhouses. Side dishes are usually potatoes, pickled cabbages, beans and rye bread.

Coffee is an important drink and consumed throughout the day. Rich pastries and cakes top the list.

Asterpungar

Donut Balls – aka “Love Balls”

Considered an everyday pastry made in household kitchens

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

4 tsp. baking powder

2 large eggs

1½ cups milk

raisins to taste - optional

oil for frying

Whisk all dry ingredients together. Add in remaining ingredients; stir until smooth. Batter tends not to be very thick. Heat oil in electric deep-fryer or deep pot to the hottest temperature possible. Drop dollops of dough into hot oil with CARE using 2 teaspoons. Remove with slotted spoon when fried through & dark golden brown. Make a test one. Do not crowd too many in at one time. Drain on paper toweling. You can sprinkle sugar and/or cinnamon while warm. They are good hot or cold – if there are any leftover, they freeze well.

Salmon Loaf

15 oz. can salmon, undrained

½ cup crushed saltine crackers

½ cup milk

1 egg, beaten

salt & pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Press into lightly greased standard loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes. Allow to cool down before slicing.

CELEBRATE LIFE EVERY DAY!

Let me hear from you: banjack303@verizon.net. Search YouTube for Look Who’s Cooking as well as phoenixvillenews.com for this column. Find Bette on Facebook by searching “Bette Banjack’s Downtown Kitchen.”