tableofcolors

Simple pleasures

Tag: finnish summer

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

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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