When I was a kid, the cousins and aunts and uncles and of course the grandparents would get together at Thanksgiving and Christmas and sometimes on Mother’s day and Easter. I think we all have special memories from those times at Gramma’s house. We would always eat well, create music and have old-fashioned quality time together without mobiles phones, iPads or even the internet. I’m not necessarily criticizing todays instagram world since I admit that I am an avid user of social media. In fact, today “the cousins” are spread around in different parts of the globe and facebook, whatsapp and instagram offer the best way to keep up with their lives and their interests. Last Sunday had a some of the same feel as we got together at my sister’s house to celebrate our nephew’s birthday. We had a total of ten cousins together.

pinata2They live in the Puu-Käpylä area of Helsinki which is a fairly quiet and quaint neighborhood tucked in amongst busy roads. The houses have been built in 1920-1925 and are designed by Martti Välikangas. I love the cozy neighborhood with its red orche houses and small gardens. Originally they were built for the working class but today all types of people live there. But more important than the houses are the special people inside. Happy birthday to our Godson!

birthday boyWe were treated to a delicious lunch with homemade potato salad, vegetable sticks and dip and hot dogs. Perhaps my sister will share the recipe to her salad. Her cupcakes were decorated with a marzipan hockey stick and candy puck. The buttercream on the cupcakes had less sugar than normally and it had a rich flavor that both children and adults liked. It was a good way to start the day. The temperatures had warmed up and outside there were puddles and wet snow, but a five minutes walk away was the Käpylä rink with synthetic ice. It was the perfect outing for the cousins…and aunts and uncles after all of the treats.

hockey player Collagekids on the iceThe breeze did not have a sting since it was quite balmy for our circumstances (+2 C). Really where ever you might reside, there usually are those little hidden gems and treasures to be found nearby that make everyday life that much more enjoyable. We had an ice rink just down the block when I was a kid. It was one of the hidden gems of my childhood neighborhood in Golden Valley.

mexican lasagne2This recipe is for the balmy winter days. It has has enough heat in it to remind of warmer temperatures. The name, Tortilla or Mexican lasagne, might cause shudders in true Italian or Mexican connoisseurs. In reality it is a Tex-Mex style dish that has taken a bit of inspiration from the layered form of lasagne. It was quite tasty and tasted even better the next day. So even if it is not a genuine original of any cuisine I give it my recommendation.

Mexican Lasagne

400 g/14 oz ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 stalks of celery
1/4 leek, chopped
2 large handfuls of spinach, chopped (I used frozen spinach, from last summers bounty)
1 paprika, chopped
1 can crushed tomatoes (I used the last of my tomatoes from last summer, blanched, peeled and frozen)
400 g/14 oz refried beans
1/2 dl/1/4 c salsa
200 g mozzarella
3 large whole wheat tortillas
sea salt
black pepper
smoked paprika powder

Brown the ground beef and add vegetables except for the spinach and crushed tomatoes. Cook until the onion is opaque. Add the refried beans and stir until combined. Next add the tomatoes and spinach and seasonings. Allow to simmer so that the excess moisture evaporates. Take a tart pan the size of the tortillas and lightly spray with oil. Lay the first tortilla on the bottom and spoon one third of the filling on top and sprinkle with one third of the cheese. Continue alternating with the rest of the tortillas, filling and cheese. Bake in the oven at 200 C/390 F for about 15 minutes or so that the cheese has some color. Serve with a spicy chipotle salsa.

mexican lasagne


    1. Our kids really look forward to spending time with their cousins from both sides…as do the parents. 🙂 The lasagne was quite filling and was enough for two dinners with a salad side.

  1. I love hearing about your wonderful family gatherings. I think its so good that you have such a close knit circle of family and friends that are not too far from you. Love the sound of your Mexican Lasagna!

    1. Yes, we are lucky to have some of the family close by since so many live so far away that in all reality I make it over the ocean about every other year. But thank goodness for the internet, the distance does not seem as great…life was quite different fifty years ago in the age of snail mail.

  2. I think your Mexican Lasagna sounds like another meal to try. The family get-togather sounds like such a great day…a bit jealous:)

  3. What a wonderful outing. My mother had a lot of cousins and they met regularly throughout their lives. The few remaining cousins still meet from time to time. I always felt a bit sad that I didn’t have those large cousinly gatherings to go to.

    1. There is something special about cousins and am sorry that you have not been able to have the experience…but I’m sure you have had lovely gatherings with friends that feel like family since you are such a friendly person.

  4. Cousin get togethers are a wonderful thing and you captured this so nicely in your post. My 5 little grandchildren from two families love each other so much, and they look like siblings. Providing the venue for these happy occasions will give them life time memories and connections.

  5. What a nice way to celebrate a child’s birthday, surrounded by family. How fortunate that so many of you love close enough together to make gatherings like this possible. Better yet, it’s good that you all value being with each other and make the time to be together. These times are priceless.

    1. You are right indeed, John. Perhaps we feel that the time spent together cannot be taken for granted since so many of our family lives so far away, and therefore more of an effort is made than if we all lived close together…since it is so easy to think that there is always a tomorrow.

    1. Often times the friendships formed as children carry into adulthood even if life’s paths have carried into completely different geographical locations. So glad that your children are still enjoying their friendships with their cousins as adults. That is what I hope my children will experience as well.

  6. Looks delicious! I love the way you mix recipes with writings about your everyday life. It puts everything in a context and makes it so much more interesting to read:)

  7. I have a picture (taken in 1986) of a whole Wuollet family sitting on the steps at Morgan avenue south. It was a little smaller family then. I remember you having pink pants and a white shirt…

    1. I have special memories of Morgan avenue. Loved the neighborhood, the house, the large trees, the creek and the special people inside. It was were I started kindergarten and waited for the bus for the first time. It would be fun to see the photo sometime. A little bit of nostalgia…

  8. Wonderful images and stories in this post, capped off by those very fun looking cupcakes and the Mexican lasagna, which I love! Thanks for a window into your countryside…it does look like the land of elves. 🙂

  9. Lovely post, as always Laila. Aaaah, there is nothing more fun than getting all the cousins together for a day of merriment! I said goodbye to 11 cousins in Holland when we moved to Australia, and as you said, social media is a great way to learn about what they’ve all been up to. We love a Mex lasagna too, and I sometimes scatter corn chips on top for scooping! Refried beans sound like a good addition, nice and creamy.
    Puu-Käpylä area looks gorgeous. Definitely going to read more about that, but my kids are awake now, so will save that for another morning!

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