Chase is a Texan in Iceland. With a baby girl. Who he stays home with. And he cooks really, really good. We should clone him.
Check out his lamb kabobs. This is the beginning of a theme.
I sat down with him over a warm mug of Skype with internet foam and this very intimate convo happened.
M: Iceland. Wow. Bet you never thought you’d live there. Best thing/worst thing?
C: I certainly did not, at least not before meeting Eyrún. When we were still dating (i.e. before we got married–then we got married and had Stella, and then we stopped dating-dating, but I digress…), we came to visit Iceland during the summer solstice. Eyrún had to come back to the country to get her visa renewed and she was a bit nervous about it, so I figured it was a great time to make the trip. I was falling in love with her and had reached a point in my life where I felt that if I wasn’t going to be with whomever I was dating for the long haul, then it was time to move on.
I decided that I would take the opportunity to meet her family and see whether or not–if I decided to eventually pop the question–I would fit in. I had not expected that the outcome of our potential marriage would be a move to Iceland, family has just always been important to me and I’ve always thought that you’re not just gaining a wife… and if it didn’t work out, at least I would have been to Iceland!
M: You think like a girl! I like it.
C: Anyhow, long story short, her (now my!) family was and is fantastic and we really hit it off. I immediately felt welcome. Since then I have met more than 60 family members from Eyrún’s side and, with all of them, I felt we were instant friends. After we got married, we visited again over Christmas and New Years’. We got to spend a lot of time with her siblings and cousins and their kids and I fell in love with being an uncle–my nieces and nephews are the most awesome kids I have ever met–and being surrounded by a big family just seemed like a great place to raise a kid. I was actually the one who initiated the discussion about the possible move. Eyrún would have never asked me to leave the U.S.
Aside from the obvious family aspect, things are much simpler here than in LA, much slower. Iceland is very forward thinking and technologically advanced, there is a greater emphasis on spending time with your family, having time for yourself/life, and being able to take care of yourself. After the Christmas trip, I knew that it was a definite possibility. I must also say that I am blessed with a wonderful family back in the states. We are few in numbers and spread out across the country, but I love them all–and thank God for Skype! My two wonderful parents, Dan and Susan, have been real troopers throughout our move and have been a real help with managing some of our loose ends. Plus Stella loves seeing my mom on Skype. I’ve always told her she had a funny face and for some reason she always though that was a bad thing (I kid).
M: Totes jeal.
C: I would say that the worst thing is definitely the availability of a wide variety of produce, and the quality of some of it. I was quite pampered in southern California, and you have probably guessed that the growing conditions are quite different in Iceland. The variety is better than you might think, though, and the country has actually, quite recently, developed some greenhouse growing techniques using the geothermal heat from the ground to provide some heat that allows the growth of some crops. Plus, there’s a silver lining to global warming, people! The root vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower, various lettuces, and even cherry tomatoes are actually quite good. And of course, they are able to import some additional fruits and veg. They also have some good meats (especially lamb) and seafood. Though good beef can be hard to come by.
M: I love lamb. And I hate people who hate lamb. Vegetarians are exempt from this, just those meat eaters who say it’s too gamey. Get a life, I say. It’s awesome.
C: The best thing about Iceland is harder to put a pin on. Of course, there is being near family; there’s being in Reykjavik and being able to walk to so many city things while also being close to nature; and just being on an adventure and challenging myself (this isn’t always on the pro’s list, but it is most of the time–and it’s a growing experience all of the time).
If I had to pick one thing, I think it’s getting to spend good chunks of each day with my girls and my dog since there is next to no commute–wherever we choose to work–and there is a generous amount of national holidays, especially during the summer when the sun sets around 10pm, and growing later (6 minutes each day until the solstice, when the sun sits on the horizon for several hours and smears out into the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen and then just comes right back up).
M: Did your family freak out when you left? Especially with little Stella?
C: Wow! Way to reopen a fresh wound Mandy!
C: Nah, I would say by the time we moved, they were coming to terms with it and handling it pretty well. Now when we first broke the news that we were thinking about it, and then that we were actually going through with it, it was a bit of a different story. Fortunately, my mom and dad, my older brother Clark (who was just voted as the top dentist in the Dallas area, no big deal!), and my Neenee and her boyfriend Gerald were able to come out and spend some time with us over Christmas and see her face to face. It was really neat to see 4 generations all together. I only wish my Papa had had a chance to meet her, and Eyrún too; I know that they would have enjoyed one another.
M: Is this move permanent (or as permanent as anything can be, which is not very).
C: It’s permanent for today and tomorrow and the next day. I have had a lot of people ask me about this. If I had to pick one or the other, I guess I would say no. We may move down the street, we may move back to the states, heck, we may move to another country. We will stay at Egilsgata/in Iceland as long as we are happy here. And for now, we are happy.
M: I love this answer! Way to be rootless, or not. Way to swing your roots.
M: Now tell me, why the cooking? Where does the love for it come from, and what do you want to do with that love?
C: When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I went with my friend, Colt Hardy, and his mom and stepdad to their lake house for a weekend. The first night, we went to the boat club for dinner; it was a classy joint, Hookers’ Yacht Club and Marina (you know, because of fishing…get your mind out of the gutter Mandy; you’re a mother, for Pete’s sake!). I hadn’t thought of this story until just now, so I don’t know if it was a turning point or not, but it’s a good illustration and a nice anecdote, so let’s go with it.
I had escargot in garlic butter under a puff pastry, I likely wore my finest banded collar shirt and silk vest combo, and we were serenaded by the stylings of a salty piano man. It was a magical evening. I can’t remember if they told me before or after that they were snails, but either way, I knew they were delicious. Since then, I’ve always been willing to try anything and everything at least once, though it took me a while to warm up to eggplant.
M: Eggplant’s a tough nut. I feel you. I just learned to love beets, and I don’t think I’ll ever life sushi.
C: In high school, I got deep into food porno…ahem…the food network. And in college, I hung out with my brother a lot, who is quite a good cook himself. I think it’s mostly because of Clark that I decided to start actively learning to cook. That and the fact that good food was a luxury that I couldn’t live without, and restaurants were a luxury that I couldn’t afford (what with all the bar tabs). After college, I just got more and more into it: Reading, watching TV, DVR’ing and hitting the FWD and REW buttons when Bobby Flay needed to slow his roll, and just trying out new things all the time. There are very few recipes that we repeat at home because I’m always wanting to try something new.
As far as what I want to do with my love for food, I want to share it. Feeding others, having them gather around a table together–especially the extra long table that sits in our dining room, our home–and seeing the food stimulating smiles and conversation and laughs is what I love more than anything in the world.
For a short time before we left California, Eyrún and I hosted a few supper club meetings, and those were probably the greatest dining experiences of my life–and this probably goes back to Hookers’ as well. Our friends would show up at the house, various beers and wines on hand, to the sound of music coming from the vinyl player or a docked ipod. They would be greeted with a hug and an appetizer.
Some of us would eat standing up, some of us may sit at the dining table or head out back to the patio, the kitchen was always a popular place, and we would take our time and enjoy it–the food the company. After about 30-45 minutes, the main course would be coming off the grill or out of the oven and everyone would sit down together at the table. We would pass all of the dishes around, the volume and quantity of laughs would gradually increase as did the volume of wine in our bellies, and we would take our time.
With our group of friends, hugs weren’t just for hellos and good byes, so there would probably be a couple of those peppered between bites and laughs. After that, we would sit around the table, the smokers might head out back, some of us might take the dogs for a walk, and we would take our time. It wasn’t about ‘let’s get this eating business out of the way so we can start our evening,’ the “eating business” was our evening.
M: That’s my kind of business. You need to talk to my husband. He’s done eating in 6 minutes.
C: Finally, we would all move to the couch for dessert and coffee, and the guitars and the djembe would inevitably show their faces. Everyone would stick around late into the night, lending a hand with the dishes and sometimes picking through the fridge for one last bite (or two). I think that was the happiest I ever saw our group of friends, or at least the most contented, if you know what I mean. There was also Thanksgiving, of course.
At any rate, I know that dinners can’t be like this every night–We’d all be fat and we’d probably get nothing done. But it is fun to imagine–but I’ve made it my goal to inspire the essence of these nights when it comes to eating. Even weekday lunches don’t have to be complicated to be good, and inspired, and fulfilling (not just filling). I know it may sound impossible, but it’s not, I promise. And dinner, is can be a cinch. It’s not just about putting something fancy on the table; it’s about the experience. It’s about enjoying what you’re eating–not just eating what you’re eating–and who you are eating it with. So without going on a tangent, I’m not yet sure exactly what it is that I want to be doing, at least professionally, with my love for cooking, I just hope that whatever it is helps to bring back sharing meals, in place of simply eating food.
M: Fabulous. I’m feeling hungry and lonely now. Are you currently a stay-at-home-dad? Do you love it/hate it?
C: I am a stay-at-home-dad and I am proud of it. I love being a stay-at-home dad. Stella is an amazing baby. She’s very good at it. And as far as babies, based on my limited experience, she’s very easy. Being with her all day is certainly physically tiring, but it is rarely emotionally or mentally tiring. She’s not much of a crier, and when she is, I (and Eyrún, for that matter) can usually figure it out and remedy it quickly. She’s also a big time smiler and laugher, which makes it all worth it.
I am so glad that Eyrún is making it possible for me to be able to do this and share this time with Stella. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little bit nervous on Eyrún´s first day of work–for myself–but even that first day went well. I think I was able to find my dad-ing groove with Stella once I didn’t have to worry about being observed.
M: You just said Stella and groove.
C: I’m ignoring you.
Before that first day, there was always, at least, Eyrún. And the first 6 weeks that we were in Iceland, it was also Eyfi and Ása (Eyrún´s mom and dad) and often others. Maybe that sounds silly, but I’ve always felt that people who have had children were, and are, always observing and critiquing first-time parents (especially fathers, and especially foreign fathers) to see how they handle their babies and themselves. It became much easier when I could just worry about Stella. She couldn’t judge me, or at least she couldn’t say anything about it. We’ve been getting along swimmingly ever since!
Now I’m confident with her, and I don’t care what other people think. And I know that having this time with her, early on, is making me a better dad for the long haul. I see dads out and about all the time that are embarrassed to be silly with their kids in public. Many of them almost seem embarrassed or emasculated by being a dad in public. And honestly, I think that’s a bit how I felt about it before. I felt like people thought that I was really just a stand-in for her mother, just there to give Eyrún a break. I know that most people probably didn’t think this, or at least they wouldn’t say so, but I felt it. But being a stay-at-home dad has given me the confidence to not be able to care less what people think. I act like a fool for Stella in public all the time. And she let’s me know that I’m good at it, and that makes it worth it.
M: Way to go, dad! I can just see you crossing your eyes and sticking out your tongue at the market to get a laugh from Stella.
M: What’s Icelandic food like? Is it very cold? I need to stop soon…
C: Most of the time, it’s like American food, but with more lamb and fish appearances. There are also old traditional foods and products that we don’t eat very often. Some of those are not so appealing, like skate, buried and fermented stingray. But the upside of that is that all the guys get together to eat it and the women go out, because it’s disgusting and they know better, but we drink lots of beer, pretend like we like it, and even get a little wobblier because of it. You eat it on a holiday called Þorláksmessa. Skate (pronounced scot-uh) and other traditional foods like it are generally only eaten on holiday celebrating old traditions. One of the more notorious Icelandic dishes is scorched sheep’s head, which I actually liked. There is some good, tender meat on the head, and when you scorch it, all of the parts basically taste the same, even the eyeball. You just have to get past seeing the eyeball, and the teeth.
M: Yaaaahhhhhh! You lost me with the teeth. Okay, last question: Current favorite go-to meal (besides scorched eyeballs). Go!
C: This one is hard, because, like I said before, we so rarely have the same thing twice. So since we don’t really have a go-to per se, I’ll just give you a few that we come back to more than others. For one, I love to make a big batch of pizza dough whenever I make it. That way, I end up freezing about 3 pizza doughs for later. Then I just move them to the fridge on the morning that we intend to use them, roll them out and throw whatever we’ve got in the fridge on them for dinner. If we’re having tomato sauce on the pizza, I do insist on making it from scratch, but basic tomato sauce is so simple. I would say, make a bunch of that and jar it, if you want to save yourself a bit of future time. I also make a seafood and tomato soup that Eyrún loves and requests from time to time. I guess it’s a bit of a poor man’s cioppino. You basically sauté garlic and onions and maybe some diced carrot, add a bit of wine, add some canned whole tomatoes, then drop in some mixed seafood near the end (most grocery stores sell a mix of scallops, calamari rings, and peeled shrimp, or something similar) and finish with some fresh basil. And there’s always pasta. Pasta can take on any flavor. Like pizza, it’s basically a blank canvas.
Recently, I’ve been doing some variations on a carbonara. It sounds fancier and more difficult than it has to be. Boil some spaghetti. While it’s cooking, brown some pancetta or bacon, add garlic and onions and sauté. I like to add cherry tomatoes and let the skins pop and blacken a bit. In a bowl, combine one fresh egg yolk per person with a big handful of grated Parmesan or pecorino and combine. Drain the pasta, leaving a little bit of water on it. Dump it in with the bacon mixture and toss with the egg mixture. Finish with some chopped parsley if you got it, and, for me, some lemon zest and a pinch of red chili flake and lots of cracked black pepper. Yeah, I noticed all of my “go-to’s” are Italian. I guess it’s my preferred “genre” if I had to pick one. I love the Italian approach to food. It’s not over-complicated and it generally starts with “cook with what you’ve got”. Anyone can cook great Italian food.
M: Chase, you are the best husband/wife/father/mother I know. Talk about wearing many, many hats! Thank you for taking the time to share all of this. Now go kiss that baby for me. I’m sure her cheeks are cold.