Simple pleasures

Tag: places to go

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.

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.

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


A bankrupt city


It was a relaxed whirlwind of a trip, if a whirlwind could be considered relaxed. So many new and old experiences re-experienced. Yet the pace was not hectic. Sometimes the moments best remembered are ones that are hardest to record. A hug or the feeling that your heart might burst when you see loved ones after such a long time or the bitterweet feeling of leaving them once again; Wishing that the distance was only a car-ride away. It really was a wonderful trip full of emotions in addition to the experiences. Really, I can’t just sum it all up in one post, and so I have decided to string bits and pieces of Detroit and Minneapolis into my posts during the next few weeks and months.

Visiting Detroit was a first for me. My sister showed me the different faces of the city. In three and a half days we covered more ground than I could have ever done with just a city guide and my baby for company. The thing is, she has lived in the city for about eight years. First she studied to become an architect and now she is living her dream and is part of the effort of rebuilding the bankrupt city. It might sound romantic on paper but in real life it is anything but romantic. It is an effort that requires for the sleeves to be rolled up as your hands will get literally dirty.

Beach volleyball court in Roosevelt Park Design: Kaija E. Wuollet

Beach volleyball court in Roosevelt Park Design: Kaija E. Wuollet

As the city is bankrupt there is no sponsorship available from that direction and so it requires the time and effort of private citizens and the resources of private donations to clean-up and rebuild parks, trim and plant trees or acquire abandoned buildings to create spaces for business, community or homes. Some of the abandoned buildings are owned by millionaires playing the waiting game and for years they are empty. As is the case with the Michigan Central Train Station and Book Tower below. Efforts as large as these always involve some politics and differing interests but what I do think this whole effort brings at the grass-roots level is the sense of community. I often heard locals say, Detroit has a bad rap but they love it there. There is an energetic vibe in the city.

abondoned buildings detroit

Abandoned buildings top to bottom: Michigan Central Station opened originally in 1913, Book Tower 38-story sky-scraper opened in 1926. Both have been abandoned for years.

We explored and saw some beautiful homes and just a few streets aways and sometimes even next door were some homes that the scrappers had gorged, extracting anything of value. The windows were broken and and everything of value removed: water pipes, porclein sinks, siding, hot water heaters and furnaces. Anything that could be sold for money was gone.

detroit contrasts

2014-04-14 23.58.12detroit neighborhoodsAnd so after our long flight across the Atlantic we had  a bit of jet-lag as the time difference between Finland and Detroit is seven hours. The first two mornings my Hugo and I were up at around five or six o’clock. After trying to slumber for a bit a longer we eventually would get up and find our way to the kitchen for some breakfast.

happy boy

One evening in the upper floor of an old house in the historic district of Corktown, we made an apple-date-pistachio crumble and the next morning it was a perfect companion with Greek yoghurt as it was sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar and was not overly sweet in any way.

Apple crumble with dates and pistachios

to be served with ice cream or Greek yoghurt

1 kg/2.2 lbs apples, chopped (see this chart for the best baking apple varieties)
100 g/3.5 oz dates, roughly chopped
80 g/2.8 g pistachios, roughly chopped
120 g/4.2 oz butter
4.7 dl/ 2 c rolled oats
1 dl/ 1/2 c almond flour
1 dl/ 1/2 c maple syrup for the crumble + 1/4 c to mix in with the apples and dates
1/2 – 1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
juice of 1/2 lemon

Grease the pan. We used a loaf pan and a popover tin of six. Chop the apples, dates and pistachios. If preferred the skins of the apples may be left on. Mix the apples and dates together along with half of the cinnamon, cardamom, lemon juice and maple syrup and set aside. Melt the butter and mix with the rolled oats, almond flour, pistachios, maple syrup and the rest of the cinnamon. Spoon the apple mixture in the pans and tins and cover with the oat crumble. Bake at 175 C/350 F for about an 30-40 minutes so that the apples have softened. Remove from the oven an allow to cool so that the crumble is warm. Serve with ice cream or Greek yoghurt.

apple date pistachio crumble

Goexpo Helsinki

by tableofcolors

Last weekend we visited the Helsinki Goexpo Fair at the Helsinki Messukeskus or Convention Center. It is Finland’s largest sport and outdoor event and there was something for everyone. There was bikes to try, volleyball, soccer, golf, hunting, fishing, photography, horses, rock climbing, fitness, running, nordic walking, and sailing amongst others. On the day we visited it was open from 10 am to 5 pm. We were there the whole time and probably would have been even a bit longer if it would have been possible.

goexpo helsinki 2I’m usually not such a convention or fair person but this time it exceeded my expectations. It was very reasonably priced as everything except for the rock climbing was included. For our family of eight it was 37 euros. Not bad.

goexpo helsinkirock climbing2We had packed lunches and the horse show was the perfect place to sit down and eat.

police horse show speedThe police horse show was quite impressive. They showed how they train the horses for possible protest and demonstration situations.

police horse showAfter the busy day full of noise and activity it was nice to visit some family before heading home. On the drive home, the car was silent. Just about everyone fell asleep. A calming drink was in order. My sister’s recipe was perfect for the occasion.


Tin’s Lemon and Ginger Concoction

for one cup

1/2 lemon, squeezed
1 cm/ 1/3 inch fresh ginger, roughly chopped
1-2 tsp honey or according to taste
boiling water

Place the lemon juice and roughly chopped ginger into the cup. Pour boiling water over and allow to seep for about five minutes. Remove the pieces of ginger and add honey. Stir and enjoy immediately. It is claimed that both lemon and ginger may help with digestion and helps flush out toxins. Those claims are not perhaps scientifically proven, but I did find the drink to be the perfect way to end the day. Tart and calming.
vikellysThis post is a part of Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday series.

Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @


by tableofcolors

When I think of travel, I automatically think of far away places, but sometimes there are unique places to visit close by. We had an opportunity to take a little mini get-away for just a night. Of course we had our little baby with. The kids had a trusted sitter and so with pleasant expectations we packed our overnight bags for a little excursion. Fiskars and Billnäs are only about three hours away. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast, Taika Villa. Really I think hotels are quite boring. This old house had gardens and flower patches circling around the yard. The other house guests that we met at breakfast were so friendly that they really made the visit that much more enjoyable.

Fiskars is an old industrial town located in South-Western Finland. Fiskars Ironworks was founded in 1649 by Dutch businessman Peter Thorwörste. The town slowly was built up and the work of many architects can be seen in the buildings, one being Carl Ludwig Engel. Some of Engel’s works include the buildings surrounding the Senate square in Helsinki including the Helsinki Cathedral. As was typical for these types of industrial towns, they were quite self sufficient. The village had its own school and doctor. Later in the 18902, a hospital was built. Here is a link to the history of Fiskars.


old mill
fire station

In the 1980s, the Fiskars Ironworks was reorganized. Production was moved to more up-to-date facilities in Billnäs which is close by. Today the Fiskars village area is mainly used by artisans, designers and artists.

Amongst the studios are homes. And nestled between some trees, on top of a hill was a little playhouse.


We had dinner at the Kuparipaja, which means copper smithy. The location of the restaurant was an actual copper smithy during a time when the water rushed in large volumes past the mill. Today the river was much more tame.

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We both ordered their menu of the day. I usually order fish when I dine out since I usually only eat quite small amounts of meat at one time and restaurant portions are usually quite large. This time I made an exception since our waitress guaranteed that the portion would not be too large. It was perfect in size. I did not feel like I had to digest it for the rest of night! Our appetizer was egghash with smoked Baltic herring on a rye bread made with malt. It tasted quite similar to the tuna salad that we often make at home. It did not have the wow effect, but it was plenty tasty. Our main course was braised cheek of pork with organic, homemade sausage on celeraic purée and stewed red cabbage and a very strong mustard garnish. I was pleasantly surprised how well everything worked. I am not really a sausage person but this sausage definitely won me over. It was flavored with herbs and we even found a few fennel seeds in the mix. The stewed cabbage was so good that we decided to try out our own version at home. For dessert we had strawberry sorbet, rhubarb compote and yoghurt mousse. Perfect end to a well balanced meal.

Stewed Cabbage using a slow cooker

500 g/17 oz red cabbage sliced into thin strips

3 granny smith apples peeled and sliced

1.5 dl/ 1/2 c apple juice

salt and pepper

Place all of the ingredients into a slow cooker and set on low. Allow to cook for about 4 hours.

I served it with organic sausage that has a meat content of 90%. Garnish with Dijon mustard.


On the way home we stopped in Billnäs, another early industrial town and there I spotted a neat car I wouldn’t mind to have as my summer ride. We took the scenic route, avoiding the freeway and visited the Raasepori fortress.

When we arrived home Saturday afternoon we still had time to take saunas with the whole family and spend all of Sunday together. Just perfect.

2013-08-09 20.33.05