finland and all its beauty

I took hundreds of photos while in Finland, most of which were not of food. The architecture and color schemes are so different than what we find in most neighborhoods in the states that I couldn’t stop snapping pics. I particularly loved the colorful houses trimmed with woodwork. And even the smallest homes had meticulously maintained yards and beautiful gardens. Maybe it’s the short season that inspires people there to diligently work the land. Whatever the reason, the landscape and even the towns were a feast for the eyes.

 

The interior of a local church. There are small radiators under each pew for warmth in the winter.

 

A graveyard tucked away off a country road.

 

An example of the colorful buildings and tidy lawns

 

Beautiful fences blended in with the landscape.

 

Small sheds in each field stored the hay harvest.

The cafe at a community garden

 

Our little friend at the community garden

Charming shingled cupola

 

An old neighborhood that used to house a community of workers

 

Love this color and the window detail.

 

Lovely and playful blue door

 

Again, fantastic woodwork and vibrant colors

 

Sunset around 11p.m.

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finnish finds part 2: the pastries

One day, Cyndi decided I needed to taste all the delectable Finnish pastries I’ve been missing. In one sitting. We kept it small and only ordered four treats with our coffee. But we did get a few stares as we sat down to our dessert (it was lunch time).

Cakes that look perfect usually lack in flavor and freshness in the States. Not so in Finland. Not only were these little darlings dressed to impress, the tender crispness of the meringue and the creamy goodness of the filling were equally beautiful to my tastebuds.

Princess cake (with green marzipan)
Kinuski/tjinuski (caramel cake)
Budapest (chocolate hazelnut meringue with mandarin orange creme filling)

Just recalling this next one is making my mouth water. It was my favorite.

Märäng-banan rulltårta (banana white-chocolate meringue swiss roll)

And if I remember correctly, we prepared for this outing by wearing clothing with elastic waistbands. It was worth it.

finnish finds part 1

This summer I took a trip that was about 15 years overdue. I went to Finland to visit my best friend. When she married her Finnish sweetheart more than 15 years ago, I promised to visit. And after years of child bearing and procrastinating, I finally splurged and traveled to the Scandinavia for a week. By myself. Ahhhhhhhh.

I probably would have not visited Finland were it not my friend’s home, but I learned several things on the trip and tasted some beautiful food.

First, my friend Cyndi and I spent a few nights in Helsinki, staying at a fabulous and reasonable hotel. Helsinki is a small city, by New York standards, and is extremely pedestrian friendly. Within the first day, I noticed that all the women were tall and blonde, and to smile or speak to strangers on the street is considered weird. Some of the city highlights were the open air market, the shopping (pricey but beautiful clothing and home goods) and the museum. Here are some pics:

We also ate at several bistro-like places for lunch where you go through a cafeteria-style line and order already prepared salads and sandwiches. Prices for these meals are much more reasonable than the sit-down restaurants, which we discovered when we dined at Grotesk (I know, weird name) one night.

The starters at Grotesk were stunning – I think one was a fish terrine salad and mine was a soup with a towering crouton covered with chorizo foam. Sadly, the entrees failed to impress us. But our wine, the beautiful outdoor patio and our incredibly witty conversation buoyed the evening.

After a 4.5-hour train ride north, we stumbled off the train (very clean and comfortable) to find Cyndi’s husband waiting for us with a much-needed drink. Love him.

My first meal in the countryside was smoked fish. Anyone who knows me understands that I’m not crazy about fish, particularly the smoked or raw kind. However, this fish was caught and smoked the day we ate it. Cyndi’s husband Sixten told us as he prepped for dinner that the fish was still warm when he purchased it from the local smokehouse. And it was delicious. I even had seconds. The delicate fish had a salty and obviously smokey flavor with a tender texture.

These experiences were just the beginning of my Finnish adventures. Our culinary wanderings extended to pastries the next day, which opened up a whole new world of tasty possibilities. Too many for this post.

nordic jammin’

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My best friend Cyndi lives way too far away and has for the past 15 (is that right, Cyn?) years.  This South Carolinian married her Finnish love and followed him to chilly Finland.  And while you may be thinking, “Oh, Finland.  I’ve always wanted to go to Helsinki,” that’s not quite where Cyndi lives.  If you travel approximately 6 hours NORTH of Helsinki, you’d be close to their home.  And although I’ve never been there (I know, I need to go), I have seen many photos and have concluded that it is absolutely beautiful.  When there’s sunlight.  Which is only part of the year.

Cyndi grows beautiful strawberries, so when I asked her to write something for the blog, she took some lovely photos of her fruits and jams.  And while we are battling flu AND strep this week, it’s a perfect time for a guest post.  Thanks, Cyndi!

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One of the benefits of living at 64 degrees north is that I can walk outside and pick a variety of fresh berries and mushrooms straight from my garden and the surrounding woods: red and black currants, black chokeberries, wild blueberries, and raspberries. Because my husband cannot live without strawberries, we have a very large patch, approximately 40 plants! While this year I left the mushrooms alone in the hope that next year I will be more motivated, I was somewhat industrious and managed to pick and make strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, and lingonberry-raspberry jams.

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For those of you who don’t know, lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) is a shrub in the flowering plant family Ericaceae, and the berries are served in a variety of forms here: as jam, mixed raw with sugar and served as a condiment with elk or game, and cooked into a delicious juice concentrate which is mixed with water and eagerly drunk with (almost) every meal. If you don’t have any lingonberry bushes right outside your backdoor, head to an Ikea and look around their food section.

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The jam recipe I use is taken from my grandmother’s church cookbook from the 1960s.  It’s simple and universal and any type of “juicy” berry will work. Excellent instructions (and video) regarding canning your jam can be found here.  Also, I like to play around with the recipe somewhat, reducing the amount of sugar or adding grated ginger or orange peel for variety.

Basic Jam

from foodie friend Cyndi

[click for printable recipe]

  • 4 cups of berries
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine berries and sugar. Let stand until berries start to render their juices.
  2. Bring the saucepan of berries to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. The mixture will bubble up, rising high up the sides of the saucepan. Skim off any foam.
  3. When the jam has boiled down (you will see smaller, thicker bubbles), test the consistency by dipping a spoon into the mixture and letting it cool. When jam has cooked to consistency you want, stir in lemon juice.
  4. Turn off the heat, and ladle or spoon jam into prepared canning jars, leaving a bit of space before putting the lid on.