Recipe for marital bliss.

Posted on 25. Sep, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Want to bake something really, really Icelandic? Hjónabandssæla, “marital bliss”, is a perfect autumn treat!

Before we go on I want to warn you that although “marital bliss” is something so deeply Icelandic that every Icelander will immediately recognize it, no two families actually bake it alike. You’ll be hard at work if you try to find two identical recipes for this pie because even when people use the same recipe they’ll still make little changes to make it “just right”, and just like in marriages in general what’s “just right” for some won’t necessarily work for others. Some people swear by margarine, some insist on using butter, some scoff at both and mix butter or margarine with vegetable oil. The amount of sugar varies and although most use brown sugar you’ll easily find recipes that use white only, or a mix like I do. One egg, two eggs – or no eggs at all? I have not yet found a rule. Therefore I’ll present you… er… one version of hjónabandssæla!

(Apologies for the confusing measurements, Icelandic recipes often go by the metric system but I’ll try to convert the measures as well as I can.)


Innihald (= ingredients)

200g smjör, mjúkt (= 7 oz butter, let soften a little)
1,5 dl púðursykur (= 0,7 cup brown sugar)
0,5 dl sykur (= 0,2 cup white sugar)
1 dl hveiti (= 0,4 cup wheat flour, all purpose)
3 dl haframjöl (= 1,3 cup oatmeal)
1 tsk sóðaduft/natron (= 1 tsp baking soda)
1 tsk kanill (= 1 tsp cinnamon)
1-2 egg (= egg/s)
Rabarbarasulta (= rhubarb jam)

hbs0031. Hrærið saman sykri og smjöri.

hbs0052. Blandið saman öllum þurrefnunum í skál, bætið saman við deigið.

3. Bætið í eggi/eggjum og hrærið vel.

hbs0094. Hluta af deginu er þrýst í kökuform, sultunni smurt yfir og að lokum er restinni af deginu dreift yfir.

hbs0125. Bakist við 180°C , í um það bil 35-40 mín eða þar til bakan er orðin brún ofan á.



1. Mix together sugar and butter.

2. Mix together all dry ingredients in a bowl, add to the mix.

3. Add egg/eggs and mix well.

hbs010I leave about one fifth of the dough for sprinkling on top, also depends on how much I need for making the bottom of the pie. You can also use this part to make a pie lattice or other decorations but traditional hjónabandssæla has a very irregular top. 

4. Part of the dough is pressed to a cake form, jam spread over and in the end the rest of the dough is sprinkled over the pie.

5. Baked in 180°C (= 356°F) for about 35-40 minutes or until the pie has turned brown on top.

hbs017Serving ideas: hjónabandssæla is a coffee table treat but it goes just as well with black tea. You can eat the pie as it is or add whipped cream and/or ice cream. “Nammigott” means something like “om nom nom”, it’s what it should taste like! :)


– I haven’t found an explanation on why this pie is called “marital bliss”, but it’s suggested that this pie is the nicest thing a wife can bake her husband OR that it’s sweet just like a blissful marriage should be. Another possibility is that since a lot of Icelandic cuisine originates in Denmark there may be something lost in translation.

– Be careful writing the name! If you accidentally forget an s in the middle you’ll be baking “marital vomit” (hjónabandsæla) instead. Only Icelanders seem able to pronounce the difference properly and even they occasionally get it wrong. :D

– Making marital bliss is surprisingly easy but it still takes some hard work! Contrary to popular belief there’s no “correct” way of achieving marital bliss, but every family will still firmly state that theirs is the best. The only things that should always be there are oatmeal base dough and rhubarb jam… and some people even use strawberry jam instead if they don’t like the taste of rhubarb. Personally I think rhubarb belongs to hjónabandssæla.

– You can bake the pie even shorter time, f.ex. just 20min if you prefer it softer. If you’d rather eat it dryer you can bake it up to a whole hour, just watch that it doesn’t burn.

– Cinnamon is a little bit unusual (though not unheard of) but it compliments the pie perfectly. Some people would use coconut flakes instead, which is also delicious.

Reykjavík ravens.

Posted on 18. Sep, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Autumn, nothing makes its arrival clearer than seeing a familiar shape fly over Reykjavík, perch on lamp posts and sing – er, cronk – from the rooftops. Ravens are back in town after spending the long summer in the countryside, during which time their place in the city is claimed by seagulls. Now its their turn to make way and so the season changes from white wings to black ones almost overnight.

Known as hrafn or by a playful nickname krummi, ravens are considered a very lucky, handsome and clever bird by the Icelanders. Yet at the same time the old Pagan view of them as Óðinn’s pets lives on, making some interesting contrasts; these well-loved birds are also found in old poetic words such as hrafnfæðir, which means soldier/warrior but translates as “raven’s food”. Similarly hrafnvín (= raven’s wine) actually means blood. Their seasonal nature has also lent itself into Icelandic vocabulary such as in the words hrafnagusa and hrafnahret which both mean a sudden cold period during the summer.

baby074Late autumn and a young raven. Getting this close to it was a big mistake though, the adults didn’t like it… next time I’ll just use the zoom.

Naturally such an important animal will also be found in sayings. Sjaldséðir hvítir hrafnar (= rarely seen are white ravens) is said to someone that the speaker hasn’t seen for a long time. Að vera eins og úfinn hrafnsungi (= to be like a tousled raven chick) is used to describe someone whose hair is a mess. Guð borgar fyrir hrafninn (= God pays the raven’s dues) means that giving food to ravens brings good luck. Að vekja hrafnana (= to wake up the ravens) comes from the fact that ravens are usually the first birds to sing in the morning, therefore someone who actually wakes them up has risen from bed quite early!

Where we live we tend to see the same raven couple every year, or at least so I assume. One of them is huge and fat even for a raven which makes him rather obvious, but this is really all I base my assumptions on. On occasion there may be a small raven that comes along with them in the autumn, which I’ve taken to be their chicks. The smaller one usually disappears at some point but before it does the adults are quite protective about it! Once I managed to sneak near enough to take a photo but I wasn’t allowed many – one huge WHOOOMP of wings from right above my head sent me running. Even a small raven is still a huge bird and I’m taking no chances with one as bold and large as we’re talking here.

korp010Our resident ravens having couple time. Get a room!

We’ve met before that, in fact. During my first year here I once made the mistake of leaving a garbage bag outside, unattended for  two minutes, and when I came back the big one had already dragged it across the front yard with what I can only describe as a hopeful gleam in his beady eyes. He didn’t even have to do that – the neighbourhood feeds him anyway, as Icelanders often do.

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Here’s a traditional song about the ravens. Somehow the joyful melody and the translation of the lyrics don’t seem to quite match! :D


Krummi krunkar úti,
kallar á nafna sinn:
“Ég fann höfuð af hrúti
hrygg og gæruskinn.
:,:Komdu nú og kroppaðu með mér,
krummi nafni minn.”:,:

Raven song

The raven sings outside
calling its namesake:
“I found the head of a ram,
a rib cage and skin.
Come now and pick it with me
raven my namesake.”

korp006Early spring, children and a raven.

Að krunka: to make the sound a raven makes – yes, there’s a specific verb for it in Icelandic. :D

Að kalla á nafna sinn: this one confused me at first because I read it too quickly and thought the word was nafn (= name). What gave it out was the gender of the pronoun that follows it, because while nafn is a neuter, nafni (= namesake) is a masculine. A neuter form for sinn would have been sitt.

Gæruskinn: sheep skin that still has wool on it.

Að kroppa: to pick, or possibly also to peck.

Also whenever the raven is singing to its namesake it’s simply singing to another raven. They’re all called the same. :)


By a curious coincidence I wrote about ravens here almost exactly two years ago, so if you want to know more about them and the effect they’ve had on Icelandic culture and daily life go check Autumn is here and so are the ravens.

Icelandic sweater I love you.

Posted on 10. Sep, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs, Icelandic history


There are few items of clothing that could ever take the place of lopapeysa, the Icelandic wool sweater, in my heart. Made of Icelandic wool it quickly felts into an all-weather garment that will keep you warm and dry in almost any possible condition, and wearing two on top of each other will easily get you through the coldest days in Reykjavík and of course the circular collar part suits almost every possible bodytype. It’s one of the most elegant sweater types in my opinion!

For a long time the Icelandic sweater was considered old fashioned and mundane, and it was only worn for its functionality – its unbeatable warmth made it a perfect summer cabin, hiking and fishing sweater. Some years back it suddenly reappeared on the streets of Reykjavík though, becoming a huge hit among youngsters. It was no longer the telltale mark of a tourist downtown, it was now fashionable, and today the round collar with its cheerful decorations is one of the most typical sights you’ll see anywhere in Iceland.

klo132086Rainy day. This is where my sweater reached. :D

It’s no longer just the traditional sweater either, though those are common enough. People have really taken to the knits and are now varying the pattern creating dresses, loose collars, capes and capelettes, and of course even the typical sweater has gone through some improvements. The easiest and most obvious are no doubt the shoulder decorations. The traditional patterns are ever popular but on their side you can now see skulls, puffins, aurora, foliage, elegant Celtic-type knot patterns, Space Invaders, anything at all that the wearer feels as close to their heart. In fact by looking at the sweaters you can already tell something about the person wearing them: are they perhaps a knitter themselves? Then you’ll no doubt see some personal touches. Colour combinations will easily tell you about the wearer’s temperament, especially if the colours are very bright. The subject of the decorations might give you further hints.

If you ever visit Iceland you’ll also no doubt see them in almost every tourist shop around. I don’t usually recommend people to buy tourist-targeted goods because typically the quality is not worth the price, but the sweaters are a clear exception. They’re hand knit which means they’re also quite expensive and there’s no way of haggling the price any lower, since in comparison to the time that it takes to complete one the knitters may actually be somewhat underpaid in the end. However, if you’re after a specific type or would like to request a certain pattern the knitters often do take commissions.

is057Now also for dogs.

If you’d like to go for something less expensive there are a few ways of finding them for cheaper. One is to buy them secondhand. The large fleamarket Kólaportið may have some, and naturally Rauðakrossbúðin, the Red Cross, has some too. The last and by far the cheapest way is to knit one yourself. It’s not difficult, patterns for Icelandic sweaters are readily available for free, and if you’re using thick wool it won’t even take a long time!

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Here’s some knitting vocabulary. You can find more, and a free puffin scarf pattern in my previous post Knit a Puffin.

Here’s some ideas available on Ravelry that you could start with. I’m only linking free patterns, but if you create an account at Ravelry you can easily browse the whole selection.

Traditional patterns:

Stutt rennd lopapeysa (= short zipped-up wool sweater).
Fimma, for children.
Classic Icelandic sweater, men’s size M.
Waves, very traditional looking pattern for children.
Aftur (= again), look at all the colour combinations!
Lopi 120 – sizes range from S to XXL.

In between traditional and new:

0611-1 Pullover – the pattern is so delicate it reminds me of Norwegian sweaters!
Glaður grafa (= the words mean “joyful” and “to dig” but put together this doesn’t mean anything, at least not without a context), a very traditional looking pattern with an elegant addition reaching up from the hem and down from the collar.
Lopi – Peysa 50: also very traditional but with a modern twist.
Greetings from Iceland, a simple and cute pattern for children.

A newer style:

Hestapeysa: still somewhat traditional-looking but hey, horses!
Makrel (= mackerel), men’s XL.
Pink Ribbon, ladies L.
Iðunn – a very unusual way of making an Icelandic sweater!
Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na – BATMAAAAN!
Alda’s Design 14, like aurora!