Sinikka's snippets

Finland and travelling, a woman's life, cultures, languages, photography plus family recipes


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Countryside charm

I’m originally a country girl, and living in Finland, it’s hardly possible to be a totally urban creature. Especially in summer, cottage life attracts most Finns at some point. We don’t have a cottage of our own but have had the great privilege and pleasure to be invited to celebrate Midsummer at our dear friends’ cottage for ten years already. In the last few years, part of our 3-day celebration has been to visit a quirky café/shop in a small nearby village.

Vähikkälän suvipuoti, Vähikkäläntie 721, JANAKKALA

We usually drive there on Midsummer Day, just to see what’s going on, and how many people are there. Regular village folk usually come on foot or by bike but also random drivers-by stop to check what’s going on. In addition, quite a few summer cottage residents from the surrounding area are keen to have a break in their cottage routines, just like us. It’s a refreshingly eclectic mix, with the odd village fool who has perhaps had a few Midsummer drinks too many. People of all ages, from babies to grannies and granddads, which is otherwise too rare in modern Finland. The atmosphere reminds me of my childhood family gatherings at my grandparents’ place, convivial and relaxed. It’s as though everybody knows each other, and even strangers talk to each other, which we reserved Finns rarely do.

The owner of the place, Ms Sanna Juupaluoma, I’ve heard, is a school teacher, who, like me, has the long summer holiday to invest in this wonderful summertime endeavour. It is a family business with her siblings, and was started after Ms Juupaluoma returned to her home village after years abroad and was sad to see the village shop closed and deserted. The siblings bought the place, and a summer kiosk was set in it. This was 13 summers ago. Since then the business has become more and more popular, and these days it is not only a thriving café but also a shop selling local farm produce (potatoes, vegetables, bread, even meat) and other basic groceries plus a village information office displaying brochures and leaflets for visitors, for example.

Ms Juupaluoma is almost always there in person, serving customers in a happy and friendly manner, always chatty. This picture is from 2015.

The good-humoured banter between the owners and customers, and also among customers is a trademark. If you sit there for a while, you can hear the latest local gossip and news, spiced with plenty of humour and laughter. While being thus entertained, you can enjoy a large variety of home-baked pastries, both savoury and sweet, ice-cream and sweets, tea and coffee, of course, soft drinks and also bottled beers, and as it’s summer and you’re in Finland, lots of ice-cream is on offer, too, naturally.

Enter through the lace-curtained front door, and it really feels like a 1960s village store.

An eternal kid at heart, I always go for a scoop of ice-cream.

The decor of the place is very bohemian, with all sorts of second-hand furniture, and it seems constantly accumulating knick-knacks in every corner. Very attractive in its quirkiness, (possibly too messy for some!). A storeroom in the yard has been converted into an open ” living room”, with a collection of odd, old chairs and sofas. The arrangement of the furniture changes from year to year. There is even a bookshelf, with the books actually meant to be read. You can even borrow them as from a library! What especially pleases my eye, are the colourful, traditional summer flowers in pots all over the place.

Hubby enjoying his beer in the “living room”

The first time we visited in 2o13, we were curious about the British double-decker bus and red telephone box there. We learned that the owner had acquired them as she was keen on British culture, after spending years abroad.

They have since disappeared, and been replaced by annually changing ethnic food providers in the yard. One year there was a Thai kitchen, this year a mobile pizza hut. The pizzas were a real success as we had never seen such a crowd there on Midsummer Day. But unfortunately for us, we came just a little too late to taste the freshly baked pizzas – all sold out.

If you are ever driving anywhere near this place in summer, it’s well worth making a detour for a quick visit.

Here are your coordinates

It is open every day from 10-18, during the three summer months. They also have their own Facebook page, for information on special events. I’ve also read that it is a geo-cache site, and popular with Finnish motorcyclist as a welcome alternative to petrol station chain restaurants. Not only is this place one-of-a-kind curiosity to see, but also the whole village is postcard pretty, and full of old Finnish romantic countryside feel!


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Buy experiences, not things

About time to reopen my blog after almost a whole year’s pause! Terrible really how school work totally absorbs me, leaving little time for other pursuits in life. Luckily, it’s another long – and well-earned – summer holiday now, and I will soon embark on an exciting adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tick off a distant destination in my bucket list.

Hongkong 2015, being a filmstar 🙂

I love travelling, and mostly spend my extra euros on a ticket that will take me somewhere outside Finland. I’ve often wondered what it is that made me this way since my two brothers are very happy to stay safely in their familiar homeland. Funny really! One decisive factor certainly is my passion for learning languages. I am proud and happy to say that hubby and I have also managed to instill the same wanderlust in our only daughter – who, by the way, is currently in Morocco, doing a two-month research project for her Master’s dissertation at the University of Edinburgh.

On a school visit with my girl in rural India, 2006

Of late, our mantra has been: “experiences, not things.” Interestingly, I found scientific proof of spending your money on travelling making most people happier than purchasing possessions. In 2014, Cornell University researchers Thomas Gilovich and Amit Kumar, published some of their findings in a paper titled We’ll always have Paris: The Hedonic Payoff from Experiential and Material Investments. They looked extensively into how purchasing experiences (i.e. spending your money on doing) and purchasing things (i.e. spending on having) affect people’s feelings of well-being and happiness. While, initially, both seemed to have a similar positive effect, it was the experiential purchases, such as travelling, concerts, movies or eating out, that tended to yield a more enduring feeling of satisfaction and happiness.

We will always remember the first time I took my girl to Paris in 2007

Research has found several reasons for this. Firstly, there is the anticipation and planning of an experience, which seemed to be very important. I can definitely relate to this. For weeks now, I have been doing background reading, getting ready to go and  dreaming of my trip ahead. For me, the anticipation is sometimes almost as rewarding as the actual experience!

The thrilling preparations – wonder if you can guess my destination this summer!

Secondly, there is the social aspect of experiences. These sorts of purchases are mostly enjoyed in the company of others, social interaction being an essential part of it all. On the contrary, material purchases, often offer solitary moments of enjoyment. Moreover, there are the memories and stories that will live on long after the experience, sometimes for the rest of your life. I will probably bore everyone with my endless stories of this trip afterwards, as I’ve done after each trip I’ve ever ventured on. People want to share their fascinating memories and learning experiences, and even negative incidents easily turn into hilarious stories afterwards. However, this is not the case with a disappointing material purchases – you’d probably rather forget all about them, get rid of them, or, at least, not talk about them that much.

Merry Christmas from Île de la Réunion 2011

Another finding seems to indicate that material purchases are easier to compare with what others have, often leading to disappointments when you realise that your neighbour, or “the Joneses”, have something better than what you just invested in. This will often result in so-called ‘buyer’s remorse’, and reduce the long-term satisfaction with a material purchase. In the case of experiential consumption, feelings of regret are directed more towards inaction, ie. wishing you hadn’t missed a wonderful opportunity.

All of us are likely to regret the planes we did not get on far more, and for far longer, than the clothing, jewellery, gadgets, or furniture we did not buy. (Gilovich and Kumar)

Finnish poet Pentti Saaritsa has described the excitement of travel beautifully in one of this poems. He writes how nothing warms you up like tomorrow’s travel ticket in your pocket, or how your familiar coat suddenly turns into the fairy tale invisibly cloak. He also urges us to set off on a trip whenever we can. And this is why, I’ll be leaving on that jet plane again in only two days’ time!

Honolulu 2015


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Apple and lingonberry crumble

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I love autumn, with its beautiful, warm colours. It’s also the delicious season of domestic apples and lovely, slightly sour, superfood lingonberries from the Finnish woods. We don’t have apple trees of our own but luckily, family and friends usually offer us goodies from their gardens. Or you can always find them in the farmers’ market or supermarkets. We are not especially keen berry pickers either but in the last few years have spent a weekend at our friends’ cottage picking some lingonberries.

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This crumble has been our family’s autumn favourite dessert for almost three decades. I used to have piles of all sorts of women’s mag recipe cuttings, collected by my mum during her lifetime. Among them, I once spotted a recipe for an oat flake crumble, made with tinned peaches. I remember trying it once in my flat during uni years, but found it far too sweet for my liking. The crumble part was nice and crunchy, though. Later on, I thought it might work with apples. But no, even that was a bit on the sweet side. Finally, as apples and lingonberries are in the same season and as I’ve always loved lingonberries, I thought of combining the two. And there it was: my own autumn crumble recipe! It’s been devoured and enjoyed by both family and friends for hundreds of times over the year – and we never get tired of it. Worth trying!

INGREDIENTS

  • seasonal apples, any variety (I usually use about 10 but this depends on the size of your dish)
  • 3-4 dl fresh lingonberries
  • sugar and cinnamon to taste
  • 8 dl oat flakes
  • 2 dl sugar (caster or brown)
  • 200 g melted butter or margarine

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THIS IS WHAT YOU DO

  • peel and core the apples and cut them into small wedges
  • mix with the lingonberries on the bottom of your oven dish
  • sprinkle with a little bit of sugar and plenty of cinnamon
  • for the crumble, simply mix the oat flakes, sugar and melted butter
  • cover the apples and berries with the crumble
  • bake in c. 175° C for c. 1 h 15 mins (cover with foil if the top starts getting too dark)

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The baked lingonberries give this dessert a wonderful, juicy consistency that goes well with the drier crumble topping. This desserts is best enjoyed warm with with either vanilla ice-cream or cold custard. It works both as a simply, everyday family treat, or a fancier dessert for visiting dinner guests.

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YOU WILL POSSIBLY WANT A SECOND HELPING!


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I love flowers

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I am late again for the weekly photo challenge – RARE. This is what the beginning of the school year does to teachers! You get distracted, only focused on lesson plans, and catering for hundreds of students each day. Everything else goes on a back burner for a while.

Nevertheless, I wanted to post this for last week’s challenge. We witnessed a gorgeous miracle in our garden one rainy morning. At the beginning of summer, my hubby had purchased a hibiscus cheap on a sale, and planted it in a flower plot. It stayed green all summer but showed no signs of doing much else. We more or less forgot all about it. Until, this one morning, one beautiful, beautiful red bloom had opened, and we noticed several other buds on it. It’s been producing one new bloom almost daily now for over a week! Really rare for us.

Can’t resist posting a few hibiscus flowers from our trip to Hawaii in February 2015. Contrary to the cold north here in Finland, they grew naturally in bushes there and were so common that we kept seeing loads in all different colours every day.

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Morning magic

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This just had to be by picture for the weekly photo challenge of ‘morning’! Not my typical morning, definitely the once-in-a-lifetime type.

This was in June this year, just before Midsummer. We spent a few days at my brother’s summer cottage by lake Saimaa in eastern Finland. It was the ‘nightless night’ time in Finland. Something (most likely an irritating mosquito!) woke me up at 4am, and unable to fall back asleep, I decided to take a walk outside. How lucky I did! The sun was rising from behind the trees on the opposite side of the lake, reflecting gorgeously on the mirror-like, calm surface of the water. It was peaceful and calm. Only some fish making plopping noises, while jumping up from the lake, and a few peeps of birds.

I stayed on the wooden jetty for some time taking in all this natural beauty. I would have wanted to stay longer if it wasn’t for the annoying mosquitos disturbing me, and whining in my ears all the time. What a zen moment, though and an indelible picture in my mind from this summer!


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The Finnish obsession of berry picking

I will have start by apologising – this is going to be a rant! Why would I complain about such an honourable activity as picking berries? Nothing wrong with berry picking as such. I, too, believe it’s wonderful that we have this free, fresh goodness at everybody’s disposal in Finnish forests. And yes, even I think that more people should make the effort to collect their own and get the benefit of fresh air and exercise as a bonus.

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However, what I have started to object to this summer is people using picking berries – or rather not picking them! – as the weapon to accuse one group after another of being lazy. Actually, it all started last summer when the Finnish media was plastered with headlines about a 14-year-old boy, later dubbed as “bilberry Oscar”, who picked 350 litres of bilberries in the forests and earned quite a sum of money. A commendable achievement, of course! Just google the name Oscar Taipale, and you’ll see loads of articles, all in Finnish unfortunately! He was soon hailed as the perfect role-model for other teenagers who do nothing but sit in their room in front of the computer screen! All youngsters, the praise went on, should be like Oscar, and get the entrepreneurial spirit early on! He was even mentioned in our President’s New Year’s speech to the nation as the model young citizen:

During the late summer and autumn, I followed the big story of young Oscar Taipale about tiny berries. Oscar made good earnings from picking hundreds of litres of forest berries. I too was delighted by the idea of a boy picking berries from bushes and inspiring his friends and many others to do the same.

Please, don’t get me wrong. Naturally, I appreciate and support what Oscar did. I have absolutely nothing against him or his enthusiasm. What I’m against is suddenly saying that everybody should do the same. After all, aren’t we all individuals endowed with our own free will and freedom of choice about what to spend our time on, or direct our interest towards?

Then come this summer and the incredible craze with Pokémon Go. Suddenly all the youngsters (and even people as old as I!) are walking around chasing after these monsters in an augmented reality mobile game. Woohoo, finally something was addictive enough to get everybody up and walking long distances every day. How great is that! We should be nothing but pleased. But no, this won’t do! It wasn’t long before some wise guy expressed his besser-wisser opinion in one of our biggest national daily papers (sorry, only in Finnish again) how young people are totally wasting their time with silly, useless Pokémon, and should be – yes, you guessed right! – picking berries and mushrooms in the forest. SERIOUSLY!

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Finally, yesterday I read another opinion where the writer disagreed with researchers who claimed that poor people can’t afford to eat healthy food, by accusing those less fortunate people of laziness because they didn’t spend their days out in the woods to pick free food for themselves! What on earth next? I guess somebody will come up with the idea that we teachers, who have been blessed with an enviable, and totally unfair if you ask most Finns, free summer should be sent to the woods to save Finnish economy!

Why can’t you just let those who want to voluntarily do it, and really enjoy it, roam the woods and do the picking? I don’t mind spending half an hour to pick enough for one bilberry pie but no more, thank you very much. The mosquitoes like me far too much, and I get too hot and bothered trying to protect every inch of my skin with protective clothing. Anything longer than that would be pure torture for me.

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I’m fortunate and grateful to have friends who happily bring us a bucket of bilberries or lingonberries they have picked every summer. They are delicious, full of important nutrients, and taste heavenly on our breakfast porridge all through winter. I really love all Finnish berries. But honestly, enough of this blame throwing! Berry picking is not the universal solution to every possible problem on earth!

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Road to the summer cottage

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Having a summer cottage is very common in Finland. There are thousands of lakes in our country, and long seaside coasts and countless islands that people have found loads of beautiful spots by water where to build theirs. The best places are in the middle of nowhere, with your own peace and quiet. That’s why, to get there you usually have to travel on smaller and smaller roads, or possibly go by boat for the last stretch. As for the cottage, the more basic and rustic, the better if you ask me. No mod cons, thank you!

This narrow, twisty dirt road through the woods to my grandparents’ cottage by lake Saimaa in eastern Finland is only a couple of kilometres long, but always seems much longer as you really have to drive slowly and carefully. The road is not properly maintained, suffers damage every winter, resulting in holes and exposed stones. Luckily, there are seldom other cars driving in or out, as there is absolutely no space for overtaking!

The best way to do this last bit is to walk, like my daughter in this photo. I have travelled this road all through my life. The woods around are full of juicy bilberries every summer, but unfortunately also elks and sometimes even bears! My older brother owns and looks after the cottage now but I visit when I can find the time for the long journey. So many memories!

Weekly Photo Challenge – NARROW.