tableofcolors

Simple pleasures

Tag: finland

Last rays of Summer

by tableofcolors

Where to start. Life is going by faster than I can write. A few days ago the announcer on the radio said that Wednesday would be the last day of summery-like weather. It wasn’t really summer anymore and hasn’t been so for some time. The air had the chill of autumn. In the sun, the air feels warm but in the shade, it feels like a jacket would be in place. I decided that I would take the day off from work related things and try to catch the last rays of summer sun with the kids. A cold front was arriving.

bella-and-the-september-beachI asked the little ones, that are not at school during the day, if we should make one last trip to the beach. Bella became all excited. She wanted to play mermaid one last time. She took off on her bike without shoes. I asked if she might need shoes. “No, then I don’t have to wait for my feet to dry after swimming.” I had to agree. It is rather uncomfortable to put on shoes when they are covered in partially wet sand.

When we arrived at the beach, it was empty. The sand was filled with rings made with light motorcycles, most likely in the evening time by a group of teenagers. No one had walked on these circles yet, and the wind had not shifted the sand erasing their existence. Perhaps it had been the night before. Bella left her bike under the tree that has become our designated bike park. It is the spot where the hard ground turns into the sandy beach. I continued to push the stroller through the sand to the other side of the reeds. It is the side we always go to and usually spread our blanket under the shade of a group of trees that stand right in the middle of the beach. The sand is smoother on this side of the reeds and there are not as many rocks. But now it was fall and the sun was in a different position and all along the beach there were long shadows. So we sat in the sun this time to warm us up and Bella played Mermaid.

last-rays-of-summer-collage

She was completely immersed in her own world of make-believe play. There is something so satisfactory about playing. I felt like I almost got to participate through the lens of my camera. Perhaps it is my play, photography that is. Completely de-stressing.

baby-and-the-beachMy husband and I have a little goal that we started in the beginning of August. To eat as little refined sugar as possible. The original goal was to have no sugar until Christmas. Five exceptions were allowed. I haven’t quite kept with the goal, having a little taste of something sweet a few times and on special occasions. I see it as a lifestyle and so I don’t dare to lay down too strict rules of what can and cannot be eaten. But in the end I have been pleased that we have had very little refined sugar and if the sweet tooth seems to get the better of me, I have tried making things sweetened with maple syrup or honey. Afterall, I see this as something will continue after Christmas and not just a crash course to try suffer through.

giant-zucchini

One day when I came home, I found a bag by the door with some giant zucchini. At first they sat on our counter as a decoration showing off their vibrant summer greens. We spent almost two weeks eating them. We were having some young people over one evening and I felt like having something sweet, so I searched the web for a recipe that would not contain refined sugar. I found the following recipe for zucchini and applesauce muffins from the Ambitious Kitchen. First I tried the recipe as is, the second batch I gently tweeked by adding in a bit more olive oil to give the muffin a softer crumb. Here is my version.

Zucchini Applesauce muffins without refined sugar

3.5 dl/1.5 c whole wheat flour (I used a half and half mix of white and whole-grain spelt flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
generous 2 dl/1 c shredded zucchini
generous 1 dl/ 1/2 c pure maple syrup or honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
0.7 dl/ 1/3 c olive oil
1dl/1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
1/2 dl/ 1/4 c milk (any milk will work including nondairy options)

Preheat your oven to 175 C/350 C. Spray the muffin tin with a non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl mix all of the dry ingredients including the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a medium sized bowl mix all of the wet ingredients. Start by gently whisking the egg, olive oil, applesauce, milk, vanilla extract and almond extract. Add in the shredded zucchini. Combine with the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Spoon muffin batter in the muffin tin and bake for about 19-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

zucchini-and-applesauce-muffinsIf you have a special occasion and want to take the muffins up a notch. This frosting brings a delightful twist. (It contains just a bit sugar.)

2 dl/1 c whipping cream
250 g/9 oz quark
100 g/3.5 oz cream cheese
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp sugar

Whip the cream until fluffy. Fold in the quark and cream cheese and mix until smooth. Add in the lemon juice and sugar. Spoon into a piping bag and pipe dollops onto eat muffin. In the picture about I have cut the muffins into halves and then garnished with the frosting. Enjoy!

We opened our second Cabana de Empanadas coffee shop this past August in the Iso Omena shopping center in Espoo (15 minutes from downtown Helsinki). It has been busy and delightful! Opening weekend was wonderfully busy!

iso-omena cabana de empanadas

 

All my seven lovelies

by tableofcolors

The last time I posted was just a few days before our little Jasmin Yvonne arrived. She has been the most perfect baby, making eye contact and smiling at us those real baby smiles at day four. A week before she turned two months, she rolled over on her belly and now is trying hard to swim forward on the floor. She has slept perfectly every night. We haven’t had to walk with her at night, retracing our footsteps and hoping for sleep like with some of the others. Really feels like there has been a higher power that has steered the coarse for us. This spring has been so full, I don’t know how we could have managed if the baby would have been collicky.seven lovelies6

seven lovelies4

The traditional pose was just not happening that day…so I decided that a photo of my seven lovelies showing their personalities was perhaps more accurate and maybe even more memorable.

Just a few weeks after Jasmin was born we opened the new coffee shop concept store, Cabana de Empanadas, right in the heart of Helsinki in the Forum shopping mall(2nd floor). The original plan was that it would have opened already a couple of months earlier. But life often does not follow our plans and big happenings often are all heaped in a cluster.

cabana de empanadas avajaiset

Grand opening. Guitarist Oliver Palm entertained us with melodies from Spain and South America.

omppu17

Help us reach our goal of 500 followers on our Cabana de Empanadas facebook page! We will be drawing one lucky winner to win an Empanada picnic basket for 4 after we reach the goal and deliver it straight to your picnic blanket (Helsinki area only)

empanadas for sale

cabana de empanadas punajuuri watermelon salad kombucha

All winter we had stayed healthy. Nobody had more than a runny nose. Maybe it was the superfood smoothies I had been feeding them all winter, or just basic hand washing with soap or just good luck. When we arrived home from the hospital with little Jasmin, most of the kids were coughing and some were running temps. Within a few days Jasmin started showing signs that she might have caught something. When she was eleven days old, I noticed that I was following her every move, checking to see if she was breathing fine and debating whether I should take her in to get checked. In the afternoon she took a long nap and seemed to be breathing peacefully. I thought, perhaps we had gotten over the worst of it. In the evening as clock inched closer to midnight and I was trying to get her asleep, she seemed to have a hard time finding a comfortable position. It felt like her breathing was getting more labored and that was when I decided to take her in. Why is it that until the very end, one wonders if a trip to the doctor is a waste and if I’m acting like a Newbie Mom bringing their kid in for every little scratch or scrape.

I was reassured that it was very good that I brought little Jasmin in, as we were whisked away to another hospital that has a children’s ward. On the first day, the doctor informed us that we must be prepared for a stay of an undefinite amount of days. I was supposed to have been baking at the bakery that morning, doing our second run through with the product. In the end, it all went as it was supposed to, as I probably had RSV as well and felt quite crummy. We spent a week in that hospital room getting better together.

hospital stay2

I am by no means complaining. Afterall, I have always wanted to have a business, to work through the challenges and maybe even experience the rewards at some point. I have wanted to be a businesswoman since I was…like five. And this past spring has been life at its best and most challenging. It has been genuine life, with sometimes round the clock work. But fortunately our baby has been the perfect baby.

butternut squash avocado brownies

Avocado Sweet potato Brownies sweetened with maple syrup

Yes, I have been baking all sorts of sweet and savory empanadas and perhaps someday I will be able to share a recipe with you. But here is a recipe to a brownie made with butternut squash and avocado and sweetended with maple syrup. The texture was just what like a brownie should be, moist and rich. The brownie is not very sweet like they traditionally are and so if you are craving a bit of sweetness, they could be served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Avocado Sweet potato brownies (Gluten-free and dairy-free)

The original recipe was found her from the Satokausi kalenteri blogi.

 

For the brownie:

300g/10.5 oz sweet potato
1 large avocado
1.2 dl/1/2 c maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla sugar or vanilla extract or the seeds from a half of a vanilla bean.
4 eggs
1 dl/ 1/2 c coconut flour
1 tbsp almond flour
1.2 dl/ 1/2 c quality cocoa powder
dash of sea salt
1 tsp baking soda

Frosting:

1 avocado
0.5 dl/ 1/4 c maple syrup
0.5 dl/ 1/4 cocoa powder
1 generous tablespoon coconut oil
0.5 tsp vanilla sugar or extract or the seeds from a half of a vanilla bean.

Variety of nuts for garnish

Peel and cut the sweet potato into cubes. Cook in boiling water until tender(about 20 minutes). Remove from water and drain and purée with a fork. Allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 175 C/350 F.

Mix the avocado, maple syrup, sweet potato and vanilla until smooth in a blender or food processor. Blend in the eggs. Mix the dry ingredients and fold into the batter.
Line a 18×25 cm or 7×10 inch pan with parchment paper and pour the batter into the pan. Smooth the surface of the batter and bake for about 20 minutes or so that a toothpick comes out clean and bottom of the brownie is just barely done. Allow to completely cool.

Make the frosting by blending all the ingredients either in a blender or with an imersion wand. Spread over the brownies and allow to chill in the refrigerator. These brownies freeze well and so can be made well in advance.

hugo

summer field finlandThis summer has been filled with family celebration, a baptism and a wedding and family visiting from America. But that all shall wait for another post. Happy Midsummer’s!

The sparkle in the eyes of children

by tableofcolors

Christmas at home

Photo by LAAVU, Kaija E. Wuollet

Can’t you just feel the anticipation in the faces of the children in the photo above? It was finally the day that they had been waiting for months and a mark that spring would arrive after the darkness as the Winter Solstice, which was on December 22nd this year had been passed. I’m not sure if they had actually been called to the table yet, but they couldn’t really help themselves. Afterall, Joulupukki or Santa Claus magically knows when we have eaten our dinner, and will not arrive before that time. Little did they know, that Joulupukki was actually sitting at the table with us, eating dinner.

Hugo waiting for dinnerSitting on santa's lap joulupukkiThe days before Christmas are often so full of things to do that it seems to me, that the Mother’s Christmas begins after the presents are unwrapped and everyone is playing or admiring their new things. But without the waiting and the anticipation, the pleasure of Christmas or the relaxation that can be almost felt in the air, be so great.

ruispipareitaBefore Christmas I promised a recipe for rye gingerbread cookies that I tried for the first time this year. Their flavor was delicious, and the cookie was a bit softer than the traditional gingerbread and chewy. The dough is bit more tricky than the traditional version and it needed quite a bit of flour when rolling out. This year I also made a traditional batch of dough, as gingerbread cookie baking is something that the children always enjoy, and the regular version of the dough is easier for little hands to handle.

gingerbread cookie baking
Rye Gingerbread Cookies

200 g/ 7 oz butter
2 dl/ 1 c molasses or cane sugar syrup
3 dl/ 1 and 1/3 c brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tbsp cloves
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp allspice
1/2 tbsp nutmeg
2 eggs
3 1/2 dl/ 1 and 1/2 c rye flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 dl/1 c almond flour/meal
5 dl/just over 2 c flour
dash salt

This recipe is originally from the Finnish food blog Kaikki äitini reseptit. I have changed it a bit to make it easier on the baker.

Put the molasses, sugar and spices into a pot and bring to a boil. Allow to bubble for a few minutes so that the sugar begins to melt. Remove from heat and add in the cold butter, stirring it every once in while until completely melted and combined. Add in the eggs one by one and stir until incorporated. Add the baking soda and salt to the rye flour and combine with the molasses mixture. Next add in the almond meal and finally the flour. Mix until it forms an even cookie dough. It will be very sticky at this time. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

When rolling out the cookie dough, I recommend that the dough is rolled out twice. It allows for more wheat flour to be absorbed into the dough and that way the cookies do not spread too much on the cookie sheet. These cookies will spread a bit more than traditional gingerbread, but only a bit more if rolled out twice.

Bake for about 4-6 minutes at 200 C/390 F.

rye gingerbread

Hoping your Christmas season was peaceful and a Happy New Year 2016!

Little Angel

by tableofcolors

little angel

This weekend Halloween is here, but in many cultures in different areas of the world, All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Dead is celebrated. It is a day of remembrance of our loved ones who have passed before us. Even in Finland, traditional Halloween as known in the United States, has made its way into mainstream culture. Schools host Halloween parties and yesterday I had meeting in Helsinki and I had to quick come up with a costume plan for the party-goers, long-distance. We happened to have some cheap, white curtain fabric from Ikea that had sat in my cupboard for about 11 years, never serving the purpose they had been intended for. And so my husband used it to make the kids into mummies. Cheap, effiencient and I got another space in my cupboard cleaned out.

 

syysusva

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

excerpt from the poem, For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

Tomorrow the stores will all be closed and so I just returned home from a quick last minute run to the grocery. The lines were long. I suppose everyone else had the same idea as well. As I drove to the grocery store that is close by, I drove by the large white church surrounded by cemetary. It was already dark and so the whole church yard twinkled with the lights of hundreds of candles. Such a calming sight.

As I was driving, the news was playing on the radio. We have had a very different October weather-wise. Traditionally in Finland, October and November are quite dreary and it might rain and the sky might be gray for weeks on end. Or that is how it feels. We have had more sunshine this month than ever has been previously recorded. Of course in between the sunny days there have been a few misty ones as well. Along with the coming of fall, it has felt good to eat and drink things that hold a bit of sunshine and are full of vitamins to help make it through the darkest time of year.

green smoothiesGreen smoothies for two

juice of two oranges
juice of one lemon
3 cm/1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into smaller pieces
1 or 2 leaves of kale, with the stems removed and ripped into bunches
1 banana
ice

(for a change in color, add some blueberries (frozen or fresh) to the mix above)

Place all of the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy immediately.
kale smoothieenjoying green smoothies

little angel 2May your weekend be peaceful and may the angels accompany you.

I Heard your Voice in the Wind today -unkown

I heard your voice in the wind today
and I turned to see your face;
The warmth of the wind caressed me
as I stood silently in place.

I felt your touch in the sun today
as its warmth filled the sky;
I closed my eyes for your embrace
and my spirit soared high.

I saw your eyes in the window pane
as I watched the falling rain;
It seemed as each raindrop fell
it quietly said your name.

I held you close in my heart today
it made me feel complete;
You may have died…but you are not gone
you will always be a part of me.

As long as the sun shines…
the wind blows…
the rain falls…
You will live on inside of me forever
for that is all my heart knows.

little angels 3

Sand sculptures and picnic lunches

by tableofcolors

School was about to begin and we decided with another Mom friend of mine to take the kids on one last outing before they would need to go to school. Just about an hour away is Lappeenranta, which is right next to the Russian border and is has been built on the shores of the great lake area, the Saimaa. Every year the city opens a park full of sand sculptures. This year the theme was heroes. There were all sorts of heroes featured, superheroes from the comic books, athletes and everyday heroes such as doctors. Since the beginning of the summer had been so rainy, some of the sculptures had suffered a bit and were being fixed up.

lappenranta hiekkalinna

It was not long after we arrived and it was almost noon, so we decided to give the kids a little snack of watermelon, as we would have our picnic lunch later in the afternoon. My four year old was sitting on the bench eating her watermelon when a reporter for the local YLE (Finnish national public radio) radio station stopped by and asked if she interview one of the children. Bella just happened to be right there.

Have you been here before? “Yes, many times.”

Did you think the sculptures are better this year than before? “Yes, much better.”

Which is your favorite sculpture? “That castle over there” (It was the only sculpture that we had had a chance to look at since we had just arrived.)

What is your favorite thing to do here? “Eating” (munching on her watermelon, all through the interview)

I do have to mention, that she had never been to Lappeenranta before nor had we ever visited the sand sculptures before. She just conveniently came up with answers to the questions. After the interview, we had to let the reporter in on this little detail. I’m not sure I would have handled an interview so smoothly at four years old. At least she did give her correct name and age, when asked! And I forgot to take a photo of the whole deal. I was concentrating so hard on listening to her answers that I completely forgot even if I was holding my camera the entire time.

lappeenranta sand sculpturesrakuuna dragonlappenranta finland sand sculptures

It was quite late into the afternoon before we left the sand sculptures and went to find a greener park with shade for our picnic. We found a park that had a pavilion that the kids enjoyed creating their own performances and large trees that brought us a bit of shade after being in the sun all afternoon.

IMG_1745
roasted vegetable salad

I had made a salad bar style salad, with a basic salad base and then different options all in their own containers. This was the most convenient since we had different age eaters and sometimes the little ones haven’t really learned to eat nuts or if there is someone with a dietary restriction everyone is able to build a salad to their taste.

Roasted Vegetable salad

Roasted vegetables

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into sticks
1 generous handful of string beans, washed
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Prepapre the vegetables. Peel and cut the sweet potato into sticks. Wash the string beens and cut the tips off. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and lightly toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Bake in the oven until tender and the vegetables have gained a bit of color at 180 C/ 350 F. Allow to cool and then place into a separate container.

Salad
Mixed greens (Romano, kale, curly endive lettuce, spinach…)
Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Grapes, sliced in half
Cucumber, cubed
A few sliced strawberries (I happened to find a few last strawberries in my patch)
light vinaigrette dressing (lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, handful of parsely, or other gardern herbs, finely chopped)

Toss the salad and place into a larger container.

In separate containers pack with: roasted and shelled peanuts, cashews, dried cranberries, cheese cubed, pumpkin seeds, or anything else that takes your fancy.

picnic lunch

Lappenranta picnic

fixing the sand sculptures

All the King’s Men

by tableofcolors

We told our children that we were planning a little trip while they are on summer vacation. One of them asked immediately, “Are we going abroad?” No, we were not planning to go abroad, but rather somewhere much closer to home and only a couple of hours away. We drove through the beautiful and vast lake country to Savonlinna which is actually situated on an island. The city of Savonlinna was founded in 1475 and along the same time the contruction of Olavinlinna was started.

olavinlinna

June has been really quite rainy, but we were lucky and the past weekend was perfect. I was excited to bring the kids to a medieval castle and see how it would affect their imaginations. We have been borrowing books from the library that tell of life in times past, of knights and castles and of course princesses. We took the tour that brought us through skinny passageways and uneven and steep steps. The castle was originally built to protect Finland which was then under the rule of Sweden from the East. The city of Savonlinna comes to life in the summer as the international Opera Festival is yearly held in the castle in July. Even as we were there, we could sense the buzz. Along the waterfront, there were people dressed in summer dresses and pressed shirts waiting for the evening performances to begin. And inside as I was photographing, delivery boys came in bringing in crates of water bottles and a box of flower bouquets perhaps for the performers.

all the king's men olavinlinna finland

The interesting thing is that Aunt Elma also visited Savonlinna and Olavinlinna as they were building the large stage for the opera festival. The Savonlinna Opera festival was initiated by Aino Ackté, who was an internationally renowned opera star at the turn of the 20th century. When we lived in Helsinki, we lived right by her summer home which I would often run or walk by several times a week.

Elma relates in her texts of her trip in Finland in the 1930s, that she arrived to the island castle of Olavinlinna by boat. Today there is a small bridge that allows for pedestrians to cross. She said that you could hear new times comes with the banging of the hammers as they built a theater to seat a thousand. The opera festival has three different stages. Two are inside the castle and one is outdoors encircled by the walls of the castles creating wonderful acoustics that Aino Ackté originally fell in love with. When we were there, there would have been an opportunity to go on a back stage tour, but as we had our children with, we thought that the day might become too long for them to do both tours, so we opted for just the basic tour of the castle.

opera stage

In the photo above, you can see the tent structure covering the outdoor stage. But Oh, Elma! I had to laugh when I was reading her accounts from her trip. I suppose it was quite exotic in the 1930s for someone to come all the way from America and as I understood she was introduced to the actors and stayed at the same place as well.

Aunt Elma's experiences 1930s

The castle walls with windows made for a picturesque theater and the large trees that surrounded gave it a green ceiling and natural curtain, and the midnight sun would give the light. Aino Actké, the prima donna of Finland, and other famous singers were in the program. Our guide, who was able to speak English showed us the armory, the womens’ room, the chapel and confessional and the dungeon that had contained Olaf for fifteen years (as to which Olaf is in question, I am not certain as St. Olaf after which the castle was named lived around the year 1000 and I was not able to find more detail). In the Savonlinna city they presented a play called Matkan pää or roughly translated The end of the Journey that took place during war time. It was too sad. Although it was late, they had to release the curtains in order to make ‘night’. In the morning as I came down the stairs, I met one of the actors. I was surprised and exclaimed, ‘I thought you died!’ ‘No’ He exclaimed, ‘It was only acting’. He then introduced the other actors to us. The director then explained to the others, when I spoke or acted in an unladylike manner according to Finnish standards, so that they would not get the wrong impression, ‘Look, she is American and so free.’ ‘Our Finnish made them laugh.’ I said that I had worn out a pair heels (heel of the foot) climbing in Olavinlinna. ‘My dear friend, not your heel (as in heel of your foot) but heels (as in shoes).

st olaf's castle finland

After our tour of the castle we walked to the local market square to buy a local delicacy called lörtsyt. Basically it is has a fairly thin yeast-raised crust that has meat inside. The version with the reindeer and blue cheese was the best.

savonlinna market square tori

waterfront savonlinna

From Savonlinna we continued on our way to Liperi which is about a half hour drive from Joensuu in Eastern Finland. We had reserved a room through airbnb that would house our whole family. It was a literally a pleasant surprise as the pictures on the airbnb site did not do justice. It was an old school that had been renovated and currently is a yoga and wellness center called Sun Ahonlaita. They offer among other things art and yoga coarses. As it is midsummer here and Finland is known for the amount of cabins that it has per capita, the permanent residents that live at the yoga center were not there and were perhaps visiting a family cabin. That meant that we had the old school to ourselves. The interior was colorful but peaceful at the same time. Our kids really liked the small sinks on the side of the hallway that were remnants of passed days. They were at the perfect height for them to brush their teeth and wash their hands.

Sun ahonlaita airbnb

Our room had four bunk beds with a total of 8 beds. One for each of us. Perfect! The gym turned yoga studio, living room and kitchen is in use for guests. Of course if others are there you will need to remember to be courteous. Since we didn’t have to share this time we were able to let the children run out their evening energy out in the yoga studio. I wouldn’t mind having one at home either!

yoga studio

yoga studio sun ahonlaita

And in the evening light close to 11 pm after the kids had gone to bed we enjoyed a some vendace baked into a rye crust that we had bought from the market square in Savonlinna. Really a perfect end to a perfect day.

muikku kukko vendence

Other posts about Elma: Elma’s travels, Some Mean Coffee, Easter Mummus a Bobcat and our very own Wild Thing, Following Elma’s footsteps, Keepsakes in my Kitchen, Elma, In My Kitchen in the bleak Mid-winter,

The Magic of Midsummers

by tableofcolors

We haven’t had any typical summer weather yet this year. We haven’t gone swimming yet once as the wind has been strong and temperature quite cool and nearly everyday we have had some showers. But the weather has been perfect for the fairies. I doubt they fly if it is too hot and the air still.

keskikesän taika keijujenmaaMidsummers is upon us and since it has rained a bit in the early evening the ground is moist. As the day comes to a close, the sky clears and a magical misty fog rolls in. It moves gently and from far away the top of it curls and then uncurls again. But it is impossible to capture on camera, because as you approach it, the details that can be seen from farther away vanish. Just like the fairies that fly on midsummers and rest occasionally on the flowers that all seem to bloom just in time for this day.

foggy landscape

As you might imagine, the children had been asking what our plans are for St. John’s or midsummers. We really didn’t have any plans and or even the energy to plan a trip somewhere as we had just got our Daddy back. Over the past 11 months, he would be gone during the weeks and sometimes a couple of weeks in a row. Maybe the kids weren’t tired, but the adults were. I thought perhaps we could think of something low-key just at home with our family. The idea originally came from a friend. I had thought many times that it would be fun to do with our family as well and so I presented the idea on Thursday. A hotel breakfast. It would give everyone something to do in spite of the rain and cool weather.

hotelli aamiainen suuret herkkusuut collageThe day before I made the florentine base. I was inspired by this BBC good food recipe but along the way it changed so much that the end product barely represented the original.

Gluten-free florentines with coconut, dried blueberry and apricot

 

120 g/4.2 oz demerara sugar
20 g/just under 1 oz brown sugar
100 g/3.5 oz clear honey
200 g/7 oz butter
150 g/5.3 oz rounghly chopped mixed nuts (some may be chopped finer and others may remain a little larger)
100 g/3.5 oz dessicated coconut
4 tbsp (35 g/1.2 oz) gluten-free flour
25 g/just under 1 oz dried blueberries
45 g/1.5 oz dried apricot finely chopped

Measure the sugars, honey and butter into a medium size sauce pan and melt until the sugar is dissolved. In a separate bowl mix coconut, gluten-free flour and dried blueberries and apricots. The original recipe used sliced glacé cherries and almonds. Mix the dry mixture into the melted sugar and butter mixture stir until combined. Spread the florentine batter on a baking sheet that is lined with grease-proof parchment paper and has small sides.

Bake at 180 C/350 F for about 10 minutes or until a rich golden brown. If I was remake these I would reduce the bake time by a minute as mine got a bit dark, so keep an eye on your batch as every oven is different.

florentine baseAfter the base is baked and cooled, flip unto another pan and remove the paper. Melt about 200 g/7 oz dark chocolate and in a separate bowl melt about 100 g/3.5 oz white chocolate. Spread the dark chocolate over the cooled florentine base. Drop dollops of white chocolate on the dark base and proceed to make a marble pattern of your choice.

strawberry goat cheese florentine collageAllow the chocolate to set. Take a cookie cutter and cut out simple shapes. Cookie cutters with small corners such as stars do not work nearly as well.

Cream and Goat Cheese filling
2 dl/ 1 c heavy whipping cream
50 g/1.8 oz soft spreadable goat cheese (cream cheese style)
sugar to taste

Whip the cream until thick. Mix in the goat cheese and mix until combined. Do not overmix. Add sugar to taste. Spoon a spoonful of goat cheese mixture on each florentine and garnish with fresh strawberries.

juhannus päivän aamiainenrieskanäkkäri ja kananmuna aioli 2Spelt and Barley thin crisps with Egg aioli with mushroom and Kale (I used a local thin bread from a bakery just down the road, Leipomo J Martin)
200 g/7 oz mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
10 free-range eggs
1/2 onion
60 g/2 oz celery, finely chopped (about two thin stalks)
rosemary
oregano
a few leaves of fresh basil and chives chopped
25 g/1 oz roughly chopped kale, fresh or frozen
salt and pepper to taste

100 g/3.5 oz- 150 g/5.3 oz aioli
mushroom egg bake kananmuna sieni paistosChop the vegetables and herbs and set aside for a minute. Whisk the eggs and combine with the vegetables and herbs. Add the salt and pepper.  Bake at 160 C/320 F for about 30-32 minutes. Allow to cool until lukewarm. Break up the baked eggs with a fork and mix in the aioli. Serve with crisp bread of your choices. Garnish with fresh herbs and leaves of baby kale.

breakfast brunch collagesuuret herkkusuut hotel breakfastjuhannus auringlasku sunset on midsummersHappy Midsummers and Happy Father’s day! ❤

All of my favorite places

by tableofcolors

Summer is almost here and perhaps some of you are planning a trip to Helsinki. The city offers many young people summer jobs and so many young adults flock to the city and during their off-hours enjoy the parks and everything that summer has to offer.

Part of my job is to know what others are doing in the coffee shop and café business. So whenever I have a day with meetings in Helsinki, I dive into the city and find the places that people on social media are buzzing about and see if they are as good as they are claimed to be. Here are some of my most recent finds.

Street performers in Helsinki

Street performers in Helsinki

The street performance above took place just across the street from the famous Stockmann’s department store which is like Helsinki’s Selfridge’s and the clock in front is a popular meeting place. In the summer there are many street performers in the downtown area. Sometimes it seems like there is one on every corner. Almost like free little concerts and among them you may choose a performer which best fits your taste.

helsinki street performers

Along the Esplanad, which is a parkway right in the center of town can be found Café Esplanad, known for their gigantic cinnamon rolls that should almost be shared. But less than a ten minute walk away situated at Bulevardi 9 is The Grand Old Dame of Helsinki Cafés, the Ekberg Bakery and Café that has been around since 1852. The bakery and café both have their own entries but are situated right next door. The first time I walked into the door of the bakery, I breathed in a smell from childhood. It smelled just like the Wuollet Bakery.

ekberg collage

Ekberg and their Napoleon

If you were to continue the walk down Bulevardi to the harbor area there are some old brick factory buildings that have gained a new purpose. Moko Market and Kaffa Roastery are treasures of a place that I will certainly be returning to and are located at Perämiehenkatu 10. Moko Market has a café and fresh salads and lunches daily along with a large interior design store. Right next door and sharing a walk-through doorway on the inside is Kaffa Roastery. They pride themselves with their expert knowledge in coffee. Today the old industrial area is part of the trendy design district.

Moko Market

Moko Market

mokomarket cafekaffa roastery

Returning from the scene of the old factories there is another treasure of a place that even won an award for their ambience. Fleuriste is located on Uudenmaankatu 13. It is tiny but so cozy and you may stop and enjoy their French influence in this quiet little niche right in the heart of the city. In addition to their lovely things to eat, the owner makes beautiful flower arrangements to order.

Fleuriste

Fleuriste

Or you could take their Fleuriste’s lovely homemade sandwiches or sweet treats to the Old Church parkway, just a few blocks away right on Bulevardi and neatly tucked away from the main drag, Mannerheimintie.

Vanha Kirkko  or Old Church taken in to use in 1826 and designed by Carl Ludvig Engel, Lönnrotinkatu 6

Vanha Kirkko or Old Church taken in to use in 1826 and designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and can be found at: Lönnrotinkatu 6

Just a stone throw’s away is Hotel Torni at Yrjönkatu 26, which was for years the tallest building in Helsinki. It has a colorful history full of politicians and celebrities. Today there is a sky bar that has a wonderful view over Helsinki. Taking the elevator up and climbing the round staircase to the top is free and on both sides there a large outdoor patios. Definitely a place to go visit. And as you can see from the cityscape, the Old Church is just below.

Hotelli Torni, cityscape of Helsinki

Hotelli Torni, cityscape of Helsinki

If you might have a few days of time I would recommend using an afternoon to visit Suomenlinna which is the fortress right off of Helsinki. There is ferry that takes off at the Market Square about every twenty or thirty minutes and the ride takes about 10 minutes to the island.

Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna

A twenty-five minute bus ride (bus 24, leaving from Lasipalatsi) will bring you Seurasaari which is a free outdoor museum on a little island with a bridge connecting it to mainland. It is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic if the weather if fair and learn a little about Finnish history as there are many old dwellings brought from all over Finland that have been reconstructed on site.

Seurasaari

Seurasaari

These are some of my favorite places, and I feel the list could go and on. So I’ll leave you with a couple of newcomers that just opened their doors to customers during the past couple of months.

The Cock

The Cock, Fabianinkatu 17

 The Cock is a high class neighborhood eatery and a place that I would like to revisit. They serve breakfast until 10 am and their lunch menu looks delicious. They are open into the evening so really any time of day will do.

friends & brgrsWhile I normally don’t mention fast-food, I do need to mention Friends & Brgrs, located on Mikonkatu 8 right in downtown Helsinki. They pride themselves on housemade mayo, using never-frozen beef and making each burger to order. Their fries are homemade using a special process and when I stopped by at lunch time the place was hopping. Be prepared to wait twenty minutes for your burger. I thought it was worth the wait.

grass-fed beef burger with onion and aoiliAnd this is my Friends & Brgrs inspired home-made burger made with grass-fed organic (never-frozen-directly-from-the-butcher) beef with aioli, baby kale and carmelized onions. Oh, and a slice of manchego cheese.

 

Welcome to Helsinki!

Elma’s travels

by tableofcolors

Last weekend we escaped for 24 hours. I have come to think that they are almost one of the best kinds of retreats. Certainly it does not offer the opportunity to travel somewhere far, but I have realized that often we don’t really explore all of the neat places that are close to home, not to mention that traveling close to home is often quite budget-friendly and usually organizing a babysitter is a fairly easy task. We drove a little over an hour East to Imatra which is almost right at the border between Finland and Russia. It was a place that Elma* had visited during her travels to Finland as well. She had come with great expectations, as there is a the State Hotel in Imatra that has been built in 1903 to represent a jugend-style castle. There had been two previous wooden hotels in the same location looking over the waterfalls and rapids but both had burned. It was a location favored by the Russian aristocracy and it can be called the oldest tourist attraction of Finland as even Russian Empress Catherine the Great visited in 1772. And so Elma had significant expectations. state hotel imatra salonIn her writings she describes the carvings of the animals that she thought were rather funny and the art that could be found in all of the rooms. She felt that she saw more art in one stay than in a normal year unless one visited art galleries. She described that the interior was rather simple with the crowning element in each room being a round green enamel wood-burning fireplace. The simplicity left room for the artwork, which in her opinion were not always of the highest quality, but were an improvement over the “The Lone wolf” print that could be found in nearly every waiting and sitting room in the USA (1930s) at that time.

state hotel imatraRight below the hotel is a small canyon that used to be full of rushing water. Today it is void of water except on certain days when they run water for show. I guess she had heard of it called the Niagara of Finland and wrote that they had heard too much and had imagined it to much wider and larger. But the nature in the area and in all of Finland found a place in her heart. She said that just five minutes outside of Niagara the spell is broken, but in Finland the enchantment continues all around.

imatra“In Imatra, the forest, roads and villages all give of themselves to afford an befitting view. Indeed, when traveling in any direction in Finland the enchantment does not break. In between there is changes (in landscape) but this natural picture has no gaps and it flows like a poem. The plentifulness of wood and the force of the water are ideal for the factory. Practicality and beauty are combined. The company’s railroad goes through picturesque forest and the factory looks like a large vacation home situated right above the river. The workmens’ wives use a shared laundry room, which they are able to use on certain appointed days along with the laundry machines and wringer. And while children play the talkative tongues of the mothers’ make this difficult work day a day of joy.”

saimaa fallsThe Imatra Falls enjoyed their peak in tourism during the late 1800s and early 1900s. St. Petersburg was only about 40 kilometers away and during that time Finland was an autonomous part of Russia meaning that travel across the border was simple and wealthy Russians came to Finland as it was so much closer than central Europe. But as often happens with the advance of technology and industry, a dam was built in 1929 which dried up the falls except for on certain days.

These two links show the Imatra falls in the old days. The one above is a slide show of old postcards that showcase the landscape of the rushing falls. The link below is series of old photos of people posing at the falls. Perhaps this is the scene that met Elma when she arrived in Imatra.

We didn’t stay at the old State Hotel, rather we stayed at the Holiday Club Saimaa which is about 16 kilometers outside of Imatra. The scenery is beautiful there and we enjoyed a walk along the shores of the Saimaa, Finland’s largest lake and Europe’s fourth largest lake.

saimaaJust a few weeks back the landscape was quite brown, but with all of the rain, there are buds and sometimes even small leaves on trees. The green is the fresh spring green, that comes and goes just as quick before the deeper greens of summer. Even the hotel restaurant, Le Biff had light greens on it’s menu as it had a separate asparagus menu which I tried.

asparagus tart starter le biff

Asparagus tart and small salad with pesto dressing

As a suprise, all diners that evening received little cups of fresh asparagus and pea soup before their starter. The flavor was fresh and peppery and so I decided to give it a try at home this week.

asparagus and pea soup

Fresh aspargus and pea soup

600 g/21 oz fresh or frozen peas (I used frozen)
One bunch of asparagus, trimmed and washed
enough water to just cover the vegetables (or half and half water/vegetable stock)
juice of one lemon
handful of parsley, chopped
salt
black pepper

Wash and trim the asparagus. I always use a vegetable peeler and peel the woody parts away on the stalk. Chop into bite size pieces and place into a medium size pot. Add the peas and cover with water. Alternatively you may use half water and half vegetable stock. Place on heat and allow to simmer until the asparagus is tender. Add lemon juice, salt and black pepper and a handful of chopped fresh parsley.

Using an immersion wand, mix until fairly smooth. I left a bit of texture. Serve as a starter or as a lunch with fresh crusty bread and garnish with black pepper.

fresh asparagus and pea soupquality time

*Elma is my Great-great Aunt and a colorful persona who lived in the Finnish quarter of Minneapolis and visited Finland in the 1930s.

Previous posts about Elma: Some Mean Coffee, Easter Mummus, a Bobcat and our very own Wild Thing, Following Elma’s footsteps, Keepsakes in my Kitchen, Elma, In my Kitchen in the Bleak mid-winter, Memories of times passed

historical resource: Historical pages of the city of Imatra

May

by tableofcolors

My bucket list of places to see in Stockholm seemed to just grow after visiting there. Three days was clearly enough to whet the appetite. We did have the opportunity visit some restaurants and the old market hall or Saluhall in Östermalm and Rosendals Trädgård, a beautiful garden center with a lovely café and bakery. The bakery has a wood burning oven with which they bake their breads. I could see the smoke rising from the chimney into the blue sky. The bread was perfect. Perfectly moist and chewy on the inside and a crusty crust that crunches a bit when you bite into it. Rosendals, meaning the Rose Valley, has a long history of gardeners going back to the later 1700s. It is located on the island of Djurgården which is situated behind Skansen, a historical outdoor museum and zoo. While we did not have time to visit Skansen, it is a place I will be taking my girls. But I do think they would have liked Rosendals as well, and am very grateful to the lovely Mizz Marzipan for all of her suggestions.rosendals collage

Rosendals has a lovely café and everything they serve is organic. During the growing season they try to serve as much of their own produce as possible.

 

rosendals stockholm collagerosendals  organic roastbeefFor lunch they had three different lunch time options in addition to the sandwiches and sweets on display on a large table. We had their roast beef that was nestled on top of a roasted endive half and a spring onion that still had its roots intact. The roots were actually quite delicious as they had become almost crisp from the grilling. Lunch starts at 11.30 and we arrived a bit before. As soon as lunch service started, the parking lot off to side began filling up and the line became long. It clearly was a popular place to come enjoy the beautiful spring day.

specerietOne evening we had dinner at a restaurant called Speceriet which is located in the Östermalm area of Stockholm. Instead of having separate tables, there were three community tables. Our timing was perfect. Just a bit after we were seated the place began filling up. As they do not take reservations, it all depends on your luck and timing. I think that it is a place that would be easy to come to by yourself or with your friends and family. We had goat kid that rested on a bed of roasted beetroot and goat cheese.

goat kid speceriet stockholmAlso situated in Östermalm is the old Market Hall or Saluhall. We found it slightly by accident as we were wandering about and ended up visiting it twice. Once we had lunch there, and my lunch plate of pickled herring reminded me of our family’s summer go-to fast-food when we are in rush.

old saluhall stockholmplate of pickled herringEvery summer when we have been spending the day outside and there is not the desire to linger in the kitchen longer than necessary, we boil up a batch of new potatoes and open a jar of pickled herring and make a quick salad. I think it could be the perfect lunch for May Day as well since the sun is shining today. This time around I sautéed a bit of asparagus in coconut oil. It turned out delicious and a bit crispy.

sautéing asparagus in coconut oilmay day food

Yesterday I had a meeting in Helsinki and afterwards there was the opportunity to walk around the city and observe the city as it had donned their caps for Vappu or May Day. It is traditional for people to wear their white gradution cap. Some of them are already old and yellow but perhaps even more prized than the clean white ones, as it was not as common for everyone to have graduated from lukio or the Finnish high school back in the 1920s, 30s, or 40s.

helsinki may day vappuhelsinki cityscapeBack at home the kids were just as excited if not more so with their contagious energy.

clown

vappu ballons mayday at homeHappy May Day to all of you my dear readers!

Torpatoffeln shoes made in Sweden

Torpatoffeln shoes made in Sweden

I almost forgot, Lisa! Here is a snapshot of the shoes I bought in Sweden that I promised to post…they are comfortable to wear and I do gain a few inches of height. 🙂