Simple pleasures

The poor man’s jam

by tableofcolors

picking rowan berriesWe really did have the perfect weekend. It was just two little ones and myself and the house was quite quiet and clean. I do have to mention that it was actually clean because it stayed that way without too much effort  until everyone came home Sunday evening and all of the laundry from the weekend was suddenly in a pile and our three-year old must have decided that the childrens’ room was just too tidy for her liking. I could hear a thunk and then three more as she was looking for the perfect book and the rest of them also ended up on the floor. Sigh. But I shouldn’t let it spoil my relaxing weekend with just the three of us. We had the most perfect weather. If you have ever spent an autumn in Finland you will know that often it is rainy and gray and somewhat dreary. So far we have been really lucky. It was nearly shorts weathers and the sky was almost cloud-less. We went on a casual bike ride everyday. There was no hurry. We stopped at the store and bought a baguette and some brie cheese and mustard harm for an evening snack. Then we walked back and forth in the ice cream isle and picked out the perfect ice cream. If you have ever visited Finland you will know that the ice cream here is wonderful and there are quite a few options and so that is why it took so long to decide.

rowan berriesOn Saturday morning we made a game plan. We had a lazy breakfast and then a bike ride to go pick some Rowan berries as I had plan for these red-orange berries that decorate the landscape during the early fall. Next we were going to finish cleaning the downstairs and then go swimming at the local swimming hall. Our Hugo who is one, thinks he knows how to swim and kept wanting to put his face into the water and was somewhat annoyed when I would not let go and let him swim independently. For the most part he had a jolly time splashing us all and swimming in his little hand-me-down swimsuit that looks like a wrestling suit. And we had fun laughing at him. After our swim I was looking forward to the sauna which is my favorite part. Hugo thought swimming was much more fun than sitting in a hot sauna. I did have him sit on the steps coming into the sauna as it is not very hot there. But he just didn’t like it and so we didn’t stay for very long. It didn’t matter as we had a little jamming project waiting at home.

rowan berry collageIn Finland it is quite common to make a jam that pairs carrots with another ingredient that is very tart such as rhubarb and call it the Poor Man’s Cloudberry jam. Cloudberries are very valued as they require a lot of work to pick and grow in the bogs and marshes and in wet meadows. They are golden in color and look a little bit like a round yellow raspberry. I decided to make my version of the Poor Man’s jam with the Rowan or pihlajanmarja. The rowan is high in vitamin C and because of it’s thick skin I boiled the rinsed berries in water and then strained them by gently mashing them to get some of the pulp as well.

pihlajanmarja hilloPoor Man’s Jam –using the wild Rowan berry


225 g/8 oz rowan berries, rinsed
3 dl/1 and 1/3 c water
225 g/8 oz carrots, peeled and finely chopped
plus 2 dl/1 c of hot water to pour over the strained berries
175 g/6 oz jamming sugar (sugar that has pectin) or regular sugar

Place the berries and water into a pot and allow to simmer on low for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through a strainer. Gently mash the berries with the back of a spoon and pour about 2 dl/1 cup of hot water over the crushed berries. Place the juice of the berries, sugar and finely chopped carrots back into the sauce pan and cook on low for another 20 minutes. Using an immersion wand, mix until the consistency is desired. I did not purée mine completely as I prefer to have a little texture. At this point the carrots will be a little candied in texture.

Serve with popovers or maybe scones.

Since I am still a beginner when it comes to canning, I would recommend the canning instructions by John at Bartolini Kitchens. His posts are always very thorough and enjoyable to read.

rowan berries and bikesunflowers and berriesOn the way home from our little outing we picked sunflowers for our dining room table. It is that time of year again when the sunflowers are in bloom. There is an entire field of them just the down the road from us and there is a sign that says “Pick flowers—pay what you want” I once wandered down their long drive way to see if they might be home, that time nobody answered my knock. I know it is an elderly couple and thought it would be fun to chat for a bit as I’m sure they brighten the days of so many with their yellow sunflowers. I will have to try another time.

End of the birthday season

by tableofcolors

table setting

This month my kitchen has been filled with happy little people all wanting to help and participate in preparation for a birthday party. Cook books have been poured over and together we shopped for the correct color napkins. Our birthday season is coming to a close.

I truly do enjoy organizing birthday parties for my kids and seeing the anticipation and their eyes shining with excitement makes it all worth it. I do have to admit that I sometimes secretly roll my eyes when a very excited birthday girl or boy comes and explains their plans for party games for the forty-fifth time at 10.32 pm. And I do try remain the adult and remember to say encouraging things like, “Yes honey, I know you are excited but now it is time for bed…let’s continue this discussion tomorrow!” I don’t always succeed in this grown-up effort. Our birthday season starts in March and for six months we have a birthday every month and in June there are two. The easy part about have many parties in consecutive months is that they usually want many of the same things on the menu as the others, making for fairly easy planning. This year the pinãta has been a big hit.

friends collageWe made one little mistake with one of the pinãtas. We started removing the balloon before it was completely dry since our schedule was getting to be a little tight. Simply said, the pinãta became a bowl for serving chips. Fortunately we still had one pinãta left to be filled with candy.

table setting closeupThe birthday girl had requested an ice cream cake to which I gladly agreed. All summer she had been asking me when I would bake brownies. Now was the perfect time to combine the two requests. For the bottome crust I baked a brownie, doubling the recipe from one of my favorite cook books, Elävä valo (orginally published in Norwegian, Levende lys).  The authors, Nina Dreyer Hensley, Jim Hensley and Paul Lowe are Norwegian and have captured the spirit of the Nordic winter light in their photography and recipes so wonderfully. Below is a little sample of their book and also the picture of the brownie crust I made for the birthday cake.

elävä valo collageIce cream is a little bit of a tricky medium as it melts quite quickly. I returned the cake back into the freezer between stages. To make things a bit easier with the ice cream cake, I used a fondant band around the sides to help control the drips and to keep the cake looking intact.

ice cream cakeIf your schedule is a little tight, the naked version of the cake could work just as well as a dessert and the homemade brownies and cookies could be substituted with something picked up from a bakery or grocery store.


Lilja’s Ice Cream Cake

The recipe for the brownie is for a round 25 cm/9-10 inch pan. I doubled the recipe and baked it on a oven sheet pan with small edges and cut out the desired size and froze the extra brownies for future use. The assembly of the cake went as follows. Add a liter/ 2 pints of toffee/caramel icecream on the brownie. Roughly chop up about fifteen  Omar Triangle cookies.  Using two liters /four pints of vanilla ice cream, scoop the ice cream on top of the chopped cookies so that they are covered. Return to the freezer at this point. Whip 1/2 liter/2 cups of heavy cream and ice the top and sides of the cake. Use a band of fondant to help hold the possible drips. Decorate as desired.


Brownie crust

3 dl/1.3 c sugar
1.5 dl/generous 1/2 c flour
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp dark cocoa powder
150 g/5.3 oz butter, melted
2 eggs
roughly chopped walnuts (optional)

Melt the butter and set aside. Mix all the dry ingredients and then add the melted butter and lightly whisked eggs. Bake the brownie for about 20 minutes at 200 C/390 F. Do not overbake!
Allow the brownied to completely cool.

Also needed:

15 Omar Toffee Triangles
1 liter of toffee/caramel ice cream
2 liters of vanilla ice cream
0.5 l/2 c heavy whipping cream
band of rolled fondant

birthday cakeLilja had one request for Dad. She wanted a precision shooting contest with the air rifle. And so the party guests all lined up to try aim at the plastic soda bottles against the garage door.

air riflefriends

little helper

little helper

This post is part of Celia’s In My Kitchen September edition. Visit her blog for a list of bloggers around the world that have opened up their kitchens for visitors to see.

A day full of the surprises

by tableofcolors

A few weeks ago my cousin Jessie sent me an email that she would be coming to Helsinki with her husband, Olivier. It was the beginning to what would become a wonderful day and adventure that did not really go according to plan but turned out so much better. One lesson that I did learn however is that museums in Helsinki are not open on Mondays. My first stop in the morning before meeting up with Jessie and Olivier was to go visit a new coffee roastery called Kluuvikadun kahvipaahtamo, located in the basement level of the Kluuvi shopping center right in the heart of Helsinki. My old friend and colleague Hiski Lapinleimu is the entrepreneur behind the business. All of their coffee is either fair trade or organic and are traced to the source.

kluuvi kadun kahviI don’t think it can get much better than having a cup of coffee that was roasted only an hour ago with beans that you personally have selected.

kluuvikadun kahvipaahtamo4On the other side of the room is Armas Keittiö & Viinitupa. After being introduced to their lunch menu, I promised that we would be back. Our original plan with Jessie and Olivier was to visit Suomenlinna which is the fortress on an island just off the coast of Helsinki. The weather had decided otherwise and so we thought to go Kiasma, the museum of contemporary art and see their Marimekko exhibit. As we made it to the door, we noticed it was closed as did quite a few other tourists that would come and then turn around. And so we decided to have lunch. It was the correct decision.

jessie and olivierThe brains behind their locally sourced fast food concept at Armas Keittiö & Viinitupa is Heikki Ahopelto. Off to the side is a giant wood burning stone oven that is used daily for baking breads. Even their salmon is smoked on site using alder chips. Part of their concept is that the menu is not overly long but everything is made with care and quality ingredients. I had the salmon kebab that comes in a traditional Finnish potato flat bread. The coffee served with the lunch is freshly roasted across the room. I will be returning.

armas lohikebabarmas keittiöMy sister had suggested that we visit Hotelli Torni which is an old historical hotel that was long the tallest building in Helsinki in addition to the church towers. The skyline of Helsinki is not filled with skyscrapers rather it is filled with older decorative buildings. We had luck. Just as we started our walk to Torni the rain stopped and we were able to get our photos of the city without getting wet. We could however see how a new rainfall was rolling in from the east and just as we were leaving the rain began again.

Helsinki skyline photo by Olivier Belzile

Helsinki skyline photo by Olivier Belzile

Perhaps we should have learned by now that museums are not open on Mondays, but we were quite persistent. We decided to go see if the National Museum might be open. We walked through Kamppi and decided to peek into the Kamppi Chapel of Silence. Outside there is the sound of constant traffic but inside the atmosphere was peacefully quiet. As we walked in, we noticed music stands and soon found out that because of the Helsinki cultural festival weeks there would be two violinists soon performing pieces by Bach and Bartok. And so we sat down in the silence accompanied by an occasional whisper and waited for a mini mid-day concert. It seemed that the day was full of little unplanned surprises. Aren’t those the best kinds of days?

Kanniston Leipomo established in 1914  photo by Olivier Belzile

Kanniston Leipomo established in 1914 photo by Olivier Belzile

After the performance we continued our stroll to the museum. On the way we spied a bakery, Kanniston Leipomo, with delicious looking korvapuusti which literally means an ear pull in Finnish but is actually a wonderful cinnamon roll. And so with our korvapuusti in a bag to go, we strolled to the National Museum. It was also closed. This was certainly not going to spoil our day! We slowly made our way to the restaurant that we were planning to meet my sister and husband for dinner when I noticed at text message saying that Ravintola Sipuli was not taking reservations for the evenings and so we went to Ravintola Nokka just around the corner on the harbor full of sailboats. I quickly texted my husband as well with the development of plans as he was planning on joining us as well. It was a day of eating locally sourced food. Each menu item at Ravintola Nokka is named after a town or city where they locally source their ingredients.

harborThe buildings are built with red brick and had served as harbor storage in a previous life. The ceilings are high and typical to the era, the windows are arched. It was a combination of old and new. In between the kitchen and dining area is a glass wall. You could see the chefs working in their stainless steel kitchen. I loved the ambience. And I loved our company.

ravintola nokkadoing what I love--photo credit Olivier Belzile

Last Lazy Days of Summer

by tableofcolors

School has been in session for two weeks now. Life has regained its order as now everyone must get up early. Although the weather has changed and nearly everyday there has been a short thunderstorm or rainfall, it still has been fairly warm. We have been madly trying to do all of the summer things one last time as soon the water will be too cold and it will be gray and drizzly. Last Sunday we had one more opportunity to go kayaking with my brother and his girlfriend. We paddled to Verla which is an old historic paper mill that is not in use. I had to admire the details of the building and thought of how many hours of work they all required. I wonder how much the craftsmen were paid and I am quite certain that they did six day weeks instead of the five that are prevalent today. Today it is a local tourist attraction and a place to host cultural events and art exhibitions.

Verla, old paper factory built in 1893

Verla, old paper mill built in 1893

verla collageThe day before school started a couple of school friends were over. The kids organized a circus show and they had at least ten performances, hand-made tickets and money with which to buy the tickets. It brought back memories of my childhood. I loved make-believe games. All of the performers were very sure of themselves and at the end of the show they informed that they would be passing out signatures. A glass jar that had been painted yellow was the microphone and it really worked. I had a grin going from ear to ear. And I definitely asked for signatures on the back of my ticket.

circus ticketsAfter the circus show we decided to head to beach. I had baked a little end-of-the-summer treat for us to take with. This blueberry cake can certainly be made well into the fall as it is not only really quite simple but perfect for those gray days that are sure to come. It also freezes well and is the perfect thing to have on hand to serve with a little vanilla ice cream. I received this recipe from a friend at least eight or nine years ago and I often come back to it, especially if I am in a pinch. All of the ingredients are ones that you most likely have on hand. I’ve made a few slight changes to the original version.

last lazy days of summer collageBlueberry coffee cake–Mustikkapiirakka
Makes a round 23 cm/ 9 inch or square cake or tart pan.

Mix the ingredients below in a large bowl with a spoon.

200 g/7 oz melted butter
1.5 dl/ 2/3 c flour
3 dl/1 and 1/3 c rolled oats
2 dl/ just under 1 cup sugar
1 dl/ 1/2 c brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
dash of salt

Remove 1.5 dl/ 2/3 c of the crumble and set aside. This will be your crumble to be sprinkled on the cake later. To the rest of the batter add the following ingredients.

2 eggs, gently whisked
1 dl/ 1/2 c flour
1 dl/ 1/2 c rolled oats

Pat the batter into a greased cake or tart tin.

3 dl/ 1 and 1/3 c berries of your choice (may be frozen)

Sprinkle with berries of your choice and sprinkle with the crumble. Place into the oven for about 30 minutes at 200 C/390 F. Use a tooth pick or test skewer to check if it is done. Enjoy by itself or with ice cream.

For an extra large cake, double the recipe and bake in an oven sheet pan with slight edges.

Katariina's Park, Kotka

Katariina’s Park, Kotka

Enjoying Omar Toffee Triangles at 2am

by tableofcolors

We have had 38 days of hot weather and like usual, it always comes to an abrupt end. Last Sunday at the country fair it was still hot and on Tuesday morning as the kids left for their first day of school it was raining. The hot days are gone. It will still be warm but the breeze is a bit cooler and holds the slight chill of autumn; foretelling what is to come. But we’ll enjoy these cooler beautiful days and remember the warm summer beach days. On our trip this summer we visited some very dear friends and family up in Rovaniemi. My husband’s grandmother lives in this northern artic city. She has a cabin on the Kemi River. There is something quite rustically beautiful about the region. The gently sloping nordic fells, the gnarled and stunted trees and the summer so short. This year they also had a warm summer, but some summers it never really becomes truly shorts weather.

kemijokiAt the cabin, on the same lot is a little tiny white cottage not in use anymore. It is hidden among the birches and is right at the top of the river bank as a remnant of days gone passed. Right at the bank of the river, the water is shallow making it perfect for wading and for telling the best fishing tales.

empty cottageSeveral days we spent with our friends Elisa and Mikko. Elisa is an artist and I loved their home full of little details. Mikko is an artist in his own right. He is a very skilled carpenter and built their house. I tried to take some of the inspiration home with me. As soon the darkness will be here and it is then a perfect time to work on little projects around the house.


art work by Elisa Ahonen

art work by Elisa Ahonen

Before we came, their daughter had baked the most delicious little triangles that just melt in your mouth. I think we had a couple each morning with our coffee and tea then again in the evenings after the house had quieted down. We have a tradition with them that during the days we do things as a family with an occasional short outing for the just the ladies or men. In the evening we stay up late savoring the quietness, adult companionship and delicious food. And since we were in the artic, the sun would slightly dip around 1am but by 2am the sun was coming up again. We saw the sun rise every evening. Tara's triangle cookiesTara’s Triangle Cookies
250 g/8.8 oz butter, softened
3 dl/ 1 and 1/3 c sugar
2.5 dl/1 c brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
5.5 dl/2 and 1/3 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 bag of Omar toffee candies (220 g/7.8 oz)
slivered almonds

Beat the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Cut the Omar toffees into small chunks and mix with the dry ingredients. Fold the dry ingredients with the batter. Pat onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet with small sides. Sprinkle with almonds and place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake at 175 C/350 F for about 18-25 minutes. Do not let them become too dark or else they will be difficult to cut. Let cool before cutting into triangles.

summer fun rovaniemiI thought the Triangle cookies would the perfect thing to bring to a virtual blogging get-together that Angie at The Novice Gardener hosts on Friday. If you are looking for inspiration for the weekend menu, click on the Fiesta Friday badge.
Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @


There are bees in my kitchen

by tableofcolors

It is a clear sign of August when the bees take over. In July, they leave us alone and mind their own business but it seems as if they know the calendar. As soon as the August arrives they come in if the patio door is left open and I end up chasing after them with my vacuum cleaner. It is the most efficient way to dispose of them. When I went to go pick a few sprigs of mint for the photos this morning, the mint flowers were covered with bees. They had decided that the mint belonged to them and so I, ever so cautiously waited for a bit of a flower to free up and slipped in my scissors to claim a sprig. The other day I made a mint pesto for a potato salad inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi. He uses mint often and I find his cooking to be quite ingenius. So I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try a new flavor combination. It really worked out quite nicely and the mix of mint and peppermint from my patio planting boxes brought the perfect amount of freshness. I actually got enough of the mint pesto to freeze some of it in a penguin shaped ice cube tray for later use.


mint pesto CollageI just recently had a birthday and the potatoes were from my neighbor next door from their own potato patch. Another friend had brought over some the fresh produce from their garden as a gift. In my kitchen is trayful of fresh, organic treats waiting to be used. Both gifts were perfect for a foodie like me.

fresh produceMy next day after my birthday turned out to be quite exciting in more ways than one. It had been quite windy all morning and afternoon and the weather forecast was promising thunderstorms. We had been planning a kayak and canoe excursion with some friends. My husband who had made all of the arrangements decided that we are not going to give up and cancel. Afterall, it was my birthday present. Sometimes the thunderstorms pass over and may be quite local. And sometimes the weather forecast may be inaccurate. We loaded up in our van to pick up the trailer with the kayaks.

kayaking and the storm CollageAs we arrived to the rental place, the wind picked up and the storm arrived. A tree right behind the trailer came down and it rained so hard it felt like we were in a car wash. Finland usually does not have very strong storms. This storm was quite strong. I really wasn’t sure what we should do. We had all hire babysitters and made arrangements. My husband was still going kayaking. We waited out the storm and headed to the river a few kilometers aways. Good thing for axes and saws. We had to clear the road. Along the way we saw trampoline that had flown across a field and was bent in an arch. My neighbors trampoline was scooted across the yard and taken a gooseberry bush with it. All over there were trees knocked over and back home the electricity was out. After the storm passed, everything seems calm. And so we went kayaking and the weather was perfect.

kayaking CollageAround the same time I visited the Saturday morning outdoor flea market and found a lady that was selling vintage clothes and accessories. Everything was so well taken care of, clean and pressed. Then she told me that in the local old paper factory area called Taideruukki, is a cluster of creative businesses. Some of them sell local crafts and jewelry, vintage clothes and things, a photography studio and even a little coffee shop. What a find! And to think that I had not realized that it was in operation while it was nearly under my nose. I had to go visit to see for myself. I took with me our Isabella and her friend.

ruukinportti collageFrom there I found a creamer made by Opa. I used it to hold the mint pesto for my potato salad. The reason I was so pleased with my find was that it held a bit more than just 1.5 deciliters. Traditional Finnish coffee cups are very small but we tend to use larger mugs and so a larger creamer had been on the list for a couple of years.

mint pesto potato salad2Fresh potato salad with Mint Pesto
1 kg/2.2 lbs new potatoes, cooked until just tender and then cooled
600 g/21 oz oven roasted or grilled chicken cut into cubes
1 red onion
three handfuls of fresh peas
a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach
a small bunch of fresh chives and parsley

Mint poppy seed pesto
a large handful of fresh mint leaves, stems removed
(I used a mix of mint and peppermint)
generous dl/ 3/4 c olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tbsp sunflower
1/2 dl/ 1/4 c poppy seeds
black pepper

Boil the thoroughly scrubbed potatoes until just tender and allow to cool. Prepare the pesto by placing all the ingredients in a blender or in a tall cup and mix with an immersion wand. Set aside.
Cut the cooled potatoes and chicken into bite size pieces. Chop the onion into thin rings. Finely chop the herbs. Roughly chop the spinach and toss in with the potatoes, chicken, herbs and onions. Dress with the mint pesto and garnish with the fresh peas. Fresh the left over pesto in an ice cube tray for later use.

mint pesto potato saladThis post is a part of Celia’s In My Kitchen series for August. On the side bar of her blog is a list of kitchens from around the world.

Vanha Pappila

by tableofcolors

Hankasalmi Church yard

Hankasalmi Church yard

In nearly every larger town and city  in Finland there is a Lutheran State Church. Somewhere nearby there will be the parsonage. Pappi is the word for minister or pastor and pappila is the parsonage. Vanha means old. These parsonages are not in their current use and have been sold many years ago to private owners. Some of these beauties have been renovated and others are waiting their turn. But once upon a time there was a time of large old manors that also owned large areas of land. The pappila was usually one of the larger manors in the county. They would have hired hands that would live on the land. A male hired hand is called a renki and the female is called a piika. The yard near the main house often formed an open square with housing quarters for the hired hands along one side and a barn and storage sheds along the other side. The town or county pastor was a revered man and could be considered a part of the upper class. In a time before general voting rights the upper classes and pastors had the right to vote.

A few days ago we returned back home from a family trip across Finland. We visited one of our friends that now live in a newer house that is situated next to the vanha pappila built around 1850. As we toured the old house and the quarters of the hired hands we spoke of days gone by. It was not completely impossible for someone born as a renki to move up in society if they for example married the widow of the house. Movement in society was much more difficult than today. What would life have been like? Touring these old buildings it brought back thoughts from the famous Finnish novel, Under the North Star (Täällä Pohjantähden alla) by Väinö Linna. It is a trilogy that tells the story of Finland as it goes through the civil war and gains independence. The father of the main character is a crofter. There is a fierce discussion of the Finnish language in the novel as it has a significant role in the creation of Finnish national identity. The book tells in a very engaging manner the emergence of social movement and the creation of a new type of society and helped me understand some of the political positions that people hold yet still today.  I sincerely recommend the book and as it tells the story from one perspective and once started is difficult to put down.

vanha pappila

vanha pappila

pappilan ovetI suppose the way life unfolds depends quite a bit on the people around you and the family you are born into, but I suppose that is still true to this day. If you were born to a hired hand, your quality of life depended on how fairly you were treated by your superiors. Usually these hired hands had a one year contract with their employers. Then they could in theory move on to try their fortune somewhere else. Many things look good on paper and in theory but when human nature is entered into the picture and the politics that goes with it, even simple things become complicated. On the same land there might have also been renters of the land that would also work a set amount of days for the owner of the land. These crofters were called torppareita. The crofters did have the opportunity to gain a bit of income on their own and were not as dependent of the land owners as the hired hands. Land ownership was quite significant as it meant the right to vote. Finland was one of the first countries to grant equal voting rights to men and women.

rengin tupa--quarters of the hired hands

rengin tupa–quarters of the hired hands

In the rooms of the manor are layers of old wall-paper decorated with decorative roses. In some rooms the strong timber logs are bare. Along the back of the house is a large veranda that was used for entertaining. I can almost imagine the ladies sitting in the shade, sipping their tea and looking out at the peony patch and the lake that is just down the hill.

verrandaThe floors in the house are a bit uneven now, as is the back veranda. This is due to the frost heave and lack of ground frost insulation that is commonly used in construction today in cold climates. Attached to the left side of the main building  next to the kitchen is a pantry. In the hired hands quarters is a large wood burning oven that takes up a one whole corner in the room. It doubled as the bakery for the manor and in the winter provided heat for the hired hands quarters. Similar ovens can be found quite commonly in homes throughout Finland.

mansikka torttuMy friend Sinikka served the most delicious strawberry tart after our tour. I couldn’t help myself and a second slice found its way onto my plate.


Sinikka’s Berry Tart — Gluten-free

150 g/5.3 oz softened butter
1 dl/ 1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1.5 dl/0.6 c potato or corn starch
1.5 dl/0.6 c gluten-free flour (for example: Sunnuntai brand)
1 tsp baking powder

5 dl/2 c puréed strawberrie (or other berries)
1 tbsp potato starch or corn starch
plus a sprinkle of sugar

Beat the softened butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy. Add in the egg and beat well. Mix the dry ingredients and fold into the batter. Pat into a parchment paper lined tart tin. Purée the strawberries and mix in the tablespoon of corn or potato starch plus sugar to taste. Bake in the oven at 200 C/390 F for about 30 minutes. Gluten-free tarts tend remain raw in the middle easily. The parchment paper allows you to easily lift it up slightly from the side to check if it is done. After removing from the oven, sprinkle with sugar. This will prevent the strawberry purée from forming a skin.

playing in the treesplaying on the church yard

Tapas for Brunch

by tableofcolors

Midnight sun

Midnight sun

Brunch has become a habit in our kitchen. It happens every year. And every year I tell myself that maybe this summer we will try hold a schedule. I have been trying to get up on some mornings early to go for a run, a bikeride, a little trip to the flea market or maybe some pilates. I don’t leave the house too early as it is usually already eight o’clock. When I return an hour or two later, as I often have met a friend along the way and ended up chatting for quite some time, the house is still quiet and only a few are at breakfast. June was chilly but July has really warmed up. Maybe it is all the swimming the children do that really tires them out or perhaps it is the light evenings that stretches bedtimes hours later than in the winter.

baking tin

On Saturday morning I slipped out to the outdoor flea market. Sometimes I take some of the children with but as they were all in deep sleep I left by myself. I found this baking tin with very shallow rounded forms and it says, made in England. It was looking quite worn but I think it will still work and it only cost an euro. It is sitting on my counter in my kitchen waiting for me to do a little research. Perhaps there is a traditional pastry that the tin was used for and perhaps someone brought it from England as a souvenir. The gentleman selling it had a whole collection of antiques and old things. I’m quite sure he had not baked with it as he didn’t seem to have answers to my questions. Perhaps one of my dear readers might know the original purpose of the tin?

tapasLast April when I visited my sister in Detroit we visited a tapas restaurant called La Feria. We had grilled portobella with a sauce of parsely, lemon and garlic, mussels in a white wine sauce and a fried eggplant with honey. They were all just perfect in their simplicity with clean and fresh flavors and we both agreed that fried eggplant drizzled with honey tasted similar to French toast. And so in my kitchen this July is fried eggplant.

fried eggplantI would suggest using the graffiti eggplant or Japanese eggplant which are lighter purple in color and have a thinner skin. I used the most common variety, globe eggplant, and the skin was a bit tough chewing. I first cut them into thick sticks, spread them on paper towels and sprinkled them with salt. I let them sit for about fifteen to twenty minutes. The salt help pulls out the excess moisture and will make frying easier.

breading eggplantThe eggplant at La Feria was deep fried but since I don’t have a deep fryer and I didn’t want to have the excess of oil leftover after frying in a sauce pan, I just heavily coated the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil.

Berenjenas Fritas – Fried eggplant

1 eggplant, cut into thick sticks
salt for sprinkling on the egglplants and a dash to mix with the almond meal
1.5 dl/ generous half cup almond meal
olive oil

After the eggplant has been sprinkled with salt and has rested for about fifteen to twenty minutes, gently pat dry with a paper towel. Place the almond meal in a bowl and mix in a dash of salt. Generously pour olive oil into the pan so that coats the whole bottom. Coat each piece of eggplant with the almond meal before placing in the frying pan. Allow to fry to so that it gains a bit color and then turn. You may fry several pieces of eggplant at the same time. In between batches I removed some of the almond meal that was swimming in the oil as it was starting to darken and added a bit of fresh oil. Enjoy for brunch or in the evening after a day of swimming. Serve hot with a drizzle of honey.
swimming in july collageThis post is part of Celia’s In My Kitchen series for July. Check out her blog for a great list of blogs from around the world that all invite you into their kitchens.

Making memories

by tableofcolors

On Sunday we drove to the cabin. In Finland everything stops in July and a pilgrimage to the cottages begins. Bureaus and offices are usually open but temporary personnel fill in and most things happen at a sleepy pace if at all. Most paperwork sits and waits until August and the return of the permanent personnel. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the idea of a nation in which everyone vacations at the same time. Vacation and free time is a significant part of the life style here. Common questions asked upon seeing an acqaintance in the summer is about vacation. Have you been on vacation yet. How long was it this year. And if it was under three weeks, you might hear condolences about how short your vacation was. But I have become used to this land of people that all down-shift at the same time and look forward to a slow-paced month where only the absolutely necessary errands are made. All other time is spent enjoying summer even if the weather has not been quite as summer-like as usual.

boat house collage

Finland has over 180,000 lakes. The shores of these lakes are dotted with summer cabins and cottages. Many are the traditional mummonmökki or a small grandmother’s cottage with just a room or two and often do not have running water or electricity. Cottages often have a history and you might find things that are tens of years old and full of stories to be discovered. The toilet paper holder might have be whittled out of wood at the end of the dock on a breezy day, or the matchbox holder might be a from a wood shop class in the city. In the bedroom there is a chest full of old Donald Ducks, some of them as old as your dad. The beds are covered with heavy and well-made spreads that would probably be considered vintage. Then there are the cabins that are large and contemporary and have all the conveniences of city homes. The blueprints might have been made by a well-known architect and the windows have Marimekko curtains. Both of these cabins dot the shores side by side. Some new and some old. One thing they all have in common is the sauna. The sauna is usually in it’s own small building close to the lake. When we visit the cabin, we take a sauna every evening. The sauna is the place to relax and socialize. Sometimes with a group of women we have been in the sauna for two or three hours. In the soft heat of the large sauna, the world has been made a better place and problems solved. Every once in a while we wrap ourselves in towels and sit outside or go for swim before another round of steam in the sauna.

choosing a boatPappa made sailboats out of thick slabs of pine bark. One for each grandchild. Then he made little wood chips that each had a number. Each grandchild drew one chip and had a turn to choose their boat according to the number they had on the chip. The kids all went on the dock to send their boats off to America. A little while later Pappa took the rowboat and gathered each one. They were brought to the city as souvenirs of times spent at the cottage.

setting the boats off collage

Our Erik decided that fish soup is now his favorite food. It even passed up macaroni and that is quite an accomplishment. Mummo made fish soup on one of the days while we were at the cabin. After returning home our refrigerator was completely empty except for a jar of relish, some eggs and some apricot marmelade. I ventured to the store and decided to indulge Erik and make a soup with rainbow trout. The store was full of fresh local produce. I had a hard time limiting myself. I would have liked to bring it all home.

vegetablesSoup made with salmon or rainbow trout is a very traditional dish in the nordic countries. Many grow their own dill and I really think that the fresh dill is the perfect match with the fish. I tried to keep my version fairly simple, as often at the cabin the selection of seasonings might be not be as large. Many towns have little outdoor markets once or twice a week and larger cities have them daily, and so fresh produce is readily available during the summer.

rainbow trout soup 1

Rainbow Trout Soup

knob of butter
onions, three small spring onions or one large onion finely sliced into rings
3 carrots, peeled and cut into cubes
2 small turnips, peeled and cut into cubes
600 g/21 oz peeled waxy potatoes, (I used new potatoes)
generous 1 liter/ 1 quart of water
black pepper
white pepper
1/2 tsp mustard powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
sea salt
small bunch of chives, finely chopped
handful of fresh dill
1 kg/ 2 lbs filé of Rainbow trout or salmon
3 dl/ 1 and 1/3 c heavy cream

Place the peeled and chopped vegetables, except for the potatoes into a heavy bottomed pot with the knob of butter and turn to medium heat. Allow to sauté until just slightly tender. Add water, potatoes, black and white pepper, mustard powder, lemon juice and salt. Allow to simmer at very low heat until the potatoes are tender. While the soup is cooking, remove the skin from the fish and any pin bones that might be remaining. Cut the fish into small bite-size cubes.
rainbow troutOnce the potatoes are tender, add the salmon, cream, fresh dill and chives. Allow the soup to come to boil. Check the flavor and adjust salt and seasoning if needed. Serve with a dark rye bread.

rainbow trout soup 2

canoeing on the lakerocking the dock

Grampa’s Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins

by tableofcolors

In Finland the winter is supposed to be snowy and cold. Summers are supposed to full of summer scents (mosquitoes) and birch trees swaying in the wind. It may not always be so hot but it usually is warm. It seems as if the weather is a bit confused. Last winter the American Midwest got an abundance of snow and it seemed that it got all of ours as well. Yesterday I had to pull on my wool socks. Last week it rained sleet here and snowed in northern Finland. Although it didn’t quite match the weather, my first peony bloomed last week in the sleet.

jumping hurdles with hobby horses

The good thing when the weather turns sour is that gives an opportunity to do all of the chores waiting around the house. There is one thing I have learned while in Finland. When the sun shines drop everything else and run outside. It might shine for the next day or perhaps for three weeks if we’re lucky, but one can never know ahead of time! But now the sun had decided on my behalf that the house needed to be cleaned. I definitely agreed that it was in dire need of attention. I had been feeling a bit under the weather and it showed. The windows were full of fingerprints and the walls full of smudges. There were dust bunnies in the corners and laundry all over the place. And so I started.

The children would ocassionally complain that there is nothing to do! To which I would reply that it is completely normal that life is boring at times. I had recently read an article of a well-known Finnish psychologist Jari Sinkkonen, who stated that it is healthy that children experience boredom at times. It is those times that induce them to become creative and practice creative and unstructured play. As a result of their boredom, the kids came up with the most interesting obstacle course of hurdles for hobby horses using kitchen string and soft drink bottles.

Grampa's blueberry muffins 3

In the midst of these partially gray days, I found a surprise in my inbox. I received an email from my Grampa and his Blueberry Sourcream Muffins. They were wonderfully delicious and easy. Our Isabella had two and started helping herself to a third while she still had just little bite left of the second. I think she was rather intrigued with the tulip-shaped paper forms. I used a full-fat sour cream, as the batter has no other source of fat. With a little fat, the muffins store really quite well for a couple of days, if you haven’t eaten them before then.

muffin batter

Grampa’s Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins

1 egg, beaten
2.2 dl/1 c (225 g/ 8 oz)sour cream
2 dl/just under 1 c sugar (160 g/5.5 oz)
4 dl/1 and 3/4 c flour (200g /7 oz) flour
1 scant teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2.2 dl/1 c (90 g/ 3 oz) roughly chopped walnuts
4.5 dl/2 c (200 g/7.5 oz)blueberries, fresh or frozen

Combine egg, sour cream and sugar. Mix the dry ingredients and combine with the flour mixture. Fold in the berries and nuts. Drop into well sprayed muffin tin or paper forms. Bakes at 200 C/ 400 F for 20 minutes or until a golden brown and a test skewer comes out clean.

The batter may be stored in the fridge.
making muffins collage Some of the windows have been washed, walls wiped, floors mopped and laundry gathered. Today as I look out the sun came out and warmed the air a bit and the birches are in their summer glory just across the gravel road and the flower seeds and bulbs I planted this spring are coming up.

Perhaps summer is on its way afterall!

Grampa Jim’s other recipes: Almond Braid, Fresh Fruit Tart , Steam Pudding, Gramma Reeni’s Rhubarb Tart, Cranberry Cake, Cranberry Scones and Banana Cream Pie


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