One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
To be a good scientist, you have to be curious, adventurous, and restless. Curious because something must drive you so strongly to demystify nature that you dedicate your life to it. Adventurous because you must try to answer questions that no one else has asked yet. Often there is no playbook for how to proceed. And restless because one answer can never be enough – it can only drive you to the next question.
I am these things. Most of my waking hours are spent writing and running experiments, but sometimes my restlessness can only be kept at bay by art or travel. I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences and created some weird things. But if an idea forms in your mind and you don’t share it, then does it really exist? My answer to that question is “no”. The world becomes a slightly better place if you put strange and beautiful things into. So, I guess that’s the purpose of this blog. I want to share my experiences and creations because doing so is better than not.
I have a huge backlog of art and travel photos. More to follow. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
It says that pinecones are a delicacy because there are only special types that can be eaten. The website doesn’t give a recipe but it says that the pinecone has to be “opened” by heating it in the oven or by setting it on the radiator for a month. The website also says that “opening” pinecones will make the house smell nice.
Slow cooking a pinecone using the radiator? This was even more intriguing, so I tried it.
Mika was also curious.
Exactly 20 days after I set the pinecone on the radiator, I noticed that it was starting to “open”.
An hour later, it’s “pedals” started falling off.
An hour or two after that, it started dropping black pods. In the photo below, you can see many more pods still inside the pinecone.
The next day, nearly all of the black pods had fallen out of the pinecone on their own. I pealed one of the pods open, and guess what’s inside?
A pinenut! What nice surprise!
And the website is right – they do make the house smell good.
I love adventure eating and have a strong drive to taste unusual edibles. My favorite Christmas present is still the time my husband put salted tarantulas in my stocking. They were delicious! The flavor was deep and pleasant. They were dried and had a texture similar to dried cricket. I ate both spiders in the can and would happily do it again. YUM!
In addition to the foods that I previously posted about, I also brought cans of monk fish liver and cod liver back with me. Many brands of fish oil supplements are derived from fish livers, so I was curious to try the unprocessed source.
According to the internets, they’re quite healthy, good for your heart and brain, and high in omegas and vitamins A and D. I was a little worried that the texture might be like beef liver (which I’m picky about) or that the taste might resemble fish oil supplements (which just tastes like fishy oil), and was happy when none of these concerns came true.
Here’s what the packages look like:
The side of the box described them as Icelandic delicacies that are best enjoyed straight from the can.
I decided to start with the monk fish liver, because monk fish meat is among my favorites. In case you’re not familiar with monk fish, they’re super ugly (Google them!) but their meat is sweet and fleshy, kind of like shrimp. It’s sometimes used as faux lobster.
Before opening the can, I imagined the contents might look like a bunch of tiny livers all lined up.
Here’s what it actually looked like inside:
The texture is like a chunky but soft and spreadable paté. I took a bite and it was DELICIOUS! The flavor is sweet like monk fish meat and also buttery. It doesn’t taste like liver. The flavors of fish and oil are present but very mild and take a backseat to the delicate buttery sweetness. I seriously want to eat monk fish liver regularly!
I decided to put the rest of it on some freshly baked Danish white bread (hvedebrød) from the bakery next door.
Monk fish liver is my new favorite thing. Because the taste is sweet, much like monk fish meat, it makes me wonder if the cod liver will taste quite different, since cod meat is it’s own distinct thing.
On a different morning, I opened the can of cod liver. It looks quite different from the monkfish liver – and a lot more like what I imagined fish liver would look like.
I spread the cod liver on the same bakery bread that I used before. The cod liver also tasted a lot more like I expected. It’s fishier and less buttery than the monkfish liver, but still really good. The flavor is stronger than the monkfish, but still not strong per se. It’s moist and the oil has a really pleasant and light taste. Like the monkfish liver, the cod liver had a gentle paté taste that was more flavorful and less pungent compared to a duck paté, for example.
For me, the monkfish liver was a clear winner. It has a really delicate and delicious taste and is easy to eat in larger quantities, like on a slice of bread. I will eat it all the time if I can find it locally. It’s really special.
The cod fish liver is also very delicious. If you served it on a cracker at a party, most of your guests would be delighted. Because the flavor is stronger, it’s less suitable on a full slice of bread or on a daily basis…at least for my palette.
Since I’m a neuroscientist who studies individuality and context, I should probably also acknowledge that flavors will taste differently to you depending on what foods you regularly eat. If you enjoy fish and paté, then I highly recommend trying Icelandic fish liver. See what you think!
Firewalking is the act of walking on hot coals. It has been traced back to 1200 BCE and still serves social or religious functions in many societies today, for example as an initiation ritual or test of faith. Some of my colleagues in anthropology study firewalking rituals, and they sometimes show videos of them at meetings that I attend. I’ve been curious to know what it’s like to walk on coals for a while.
Imagine my delight when I discovered that a local group called Room to Grow offered firewalking training near my hometown of St. Pete. Naturally I had to try it. Somehow I convinced two of my friends to join me, Kira Barrera and Alita Kane, who are environmental scientists working in the Tampa Bay area.
These are not the best quality images but the story is worthwhile.
Upon arrival, we had to sign a safety waiver. We sat and watched while a fire reduced logs to coals.
The organizers psychologically prepared us for firewalking by first having us walk across a pile of large shards of glass. The glass pieces were too big to actually cut into our feet, but it’s still unnerving at first. You can hear the glass crunching under our weight in these videos.
As the logs reduced to coals, they taught us some chants and had us walk in a circle around the fire, which seemed to help everybody focus. They beat the coals with shovels to pack them tightly together. It looked like there was a deliberate technique behind how they were beating them, which probably helped minimize the risk of injuries.
Once the coals were ready, we were told that we could break the circle and cross the coals whenever we felt ready. At this point, a few people dropped out.
I was simultaneously nervous and determined, so I was among the first to cross. In the initial images, the coals don’t look very hot, but they felt VERY hot! I felt like I could singe my skin if I stepped on the coals at the wrong angle. I could tell that they were much hotter on their sides and bottoms than they were on top. So, my strategy was to put my foot down on them firmly and squarely and to quickly keep walking.
Usually, you won’t burn yourself (or at least not badly) because your feet don’t touch the embers for very long, and coal isn’t a particularly good conductor of heat. But it’s still physically uncomfortable to step on hot coals and it’s not completely risk-free. If the person building the coal bed doesn’t do it correctly or if you’re not walking with care. It’s hard to tell in the pictures, but there was a mound of cool sand at the end of the coals, which had a soothing effect on my feet. They also kept a bucket of water nearby, just in case.
Once everyone was used to walking on the coals, the organizers stoked them and created a perimeter of flames by putting lighter fluid around the edges of the coal bed.
This looks more intense, and it was. The flames sometimes hit my legs and the heat was uncomfortable. Nonetheless, we walked. You can hear the chant in this video. (I’m not usually one for chanting but it was a helpful distraction.)
I didn’t get visibly burned, but one of my big toes and the heel of my other foot felt noticeably warm and uncomfortable the next day. It was a cool (hot?) experience though and I would probably do it again.
I bought a spread during a long layover in Iceland. It included two types of lamb carpaccio (one smoked in dung), liver pate, pickled ram’s testicles, black lava charcoal crackers, “lava” cheese crackers, a white mold cheese, and a little chocolate. I paired it with birch schnapps.
The flavors are really exotic to me. Most are savory and pleasant. The first lamb carpaccio (far left) is encrusted with fresh herbs and has a delicate flavor common to European cuisine. I devoured it. The traditional lamb carpaccio is smoked in dung and has a pungent smoke flavor. My husband loves it and says it reminds him of a fireplace. Although I’ve been known to love the strangest meats, the flavor tastes to me like a cigar shop smells, and I don’t enjoy it. The liver pate (middle) was described as being like haggis by the shop owner where I bought it. It is firm and easy to slice but not spreadable. The flavor is mild and well-balanced. The liver taste isn’t as strong as the pates that I’m used to. The pickled ram’s testicles (far right, middle row) are spongy with a light acidic flavor that’s really difficult to describe. I’m glad I tried them. My husband was resistant at first for anatomical reasons but he also liked the flavor. The white mold cheese is quite excellent. It has the appearance and texture of a firm brie but the taste is somewhere between a mild camembert and blue cheese.
The black lava charcoal crackers might be my new favorite food in the whole. They are notably earthy and basic with a very pleasant and almost woody taste. They drowned out the flavor of the cheese, so I ate them by themselves and it was delicious. They’d probably be great with jam.
The “lava” cheese crackers are described on the package as being like “when melted cheese drips onto the grill “. They taste like hardened cheddar and would likely be addictive for many people. The chocolate was basic dark chocolate made with arctic water and it had an especially fresh taste.
The birch schnapps (not pictured) was the other standout item. It’s flavor is notably woody and very balanced. I’ve never tasted anything like it before but will definitely be purchasing it every chance I get.
Overall, the Icelandic cuisine seems to be earthy and balanced with distinctive meats and woody notes that are totally new to my palette. I am hoping to visit the country properly next autumn and look forward to trying more of the local foods!
Nature creates strange shapes sometimes. These were filmed in my neighborhood using just my iPhone. No filter or modifications aside from removing the sound. I enjoy thinking of them as unsigned moving paintings.