Sinikka's snippets

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


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Cherry jam with Amaretto

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Here, by popular demand, is my cherry jam recipe, extremely simple to make. What makes it so simple, is the Finnish ‘jam sugar’, which has natural pectin in it, to get the right consistency, plus added calium sorbate, to help the jam keep longer. I don’t know if a similar sugar – a jelly sugar or something similar maybe – is available in other countries.

Last year, I used cherries from our own trees, which are very bitter and quite unsuitable for eating on their their own, but they worked well with this recipe. And a year on, the jam is still as delicious as ever! Just had some for breakfast this morning.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 kg pitted cherries
  • 1/2 dl of cherry juice (water boiled with the removed pits)
  • 500 g jam/jelly sugar
  • 1/2 dl Amaretto (almond) liqueur

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THIS IS WHAT YOU DO

  • pit the cherries (you will need about 2 kg of unpitted cherries)
  • put the removed pits into a saucepan with c. 2-3 dl of water and cook for 5-10 minutes, then sieve the juice
  • put the cherries and 1/2 dl of the juice into a saucepan, and bring to a boil
  • add the sugar and let it boil at medium heat for around 15 minutes, peeling off any foam that forms on the surface
  • add the liqueur (if you a child-friendly version, add the liqueur with the sugar, to make sure that all the alcohol evaporates)
  • pour the jam into clean, warmed up jars and close them carefully
  • store the cooled down jars in a cold place

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YUMMY ON BREAD OR TOAST FOR BREAKFAST!


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New potato salad

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New potatoes are a big thing in Finland. It’s usually around the end of May that the first ones from Sweden arrive in the supermarkets. You’ll have to wait till June for the Finnish ones. After eating old ones, which tend to get more and more tasteless and floury in consistency plus ugly with all sorts of blemishes and dark spots, all through the winter, the first small, fresh, new ones look and taste out of this world. The best place to get them is, of course, the market place where you often find local farmers selling their produce. Mind you, you can also get very decent new potatoes in most supermarkets.

Don't you just love the old-fashioned measuring tins at Finnish market places?

Don’t you just love the old-fashioned measuring tins at Finnish market places?

The simple way is the best to enjoy these delights. Just boil them, and then savour them with some fresh dill and a knob of butter. In terms of food, there is not much that can beat that in summer! It’s curious with the Finnish tradition to use dill. My late English mother-in-law found it very strange at first, as over there mint is the go-to herb with potatoes, but she got to like it in the end. And I, in turn, learned to appreciate potatoes with mint.

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A forkful of summer goodness!

Whenever I prepare new potatoes, I always get a double amount at least, as they will soon be eaten as cold snacks during the day. Hot or cold, they are good with anything – other summer vegetables, fish, grilled meat, in soup, you name it!

Here is a family favourite summer recipe of a mustardy new potato salad that I prepare several times every summer, to accompany grilled sausages, for example. The most common potato salad with grilled food is one with small cubes of potatoes, with gherkins and onions and a thick mayonnaise dressing. This recipe brings you some change to the ordinary summer fare.

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INGREDIENTS

  • c. 1 kg boiled new potatoes (quite small, round ones work best)
  • 2-3 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp strong mustard (or more if you like the taste)
  • 4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • some freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 dl oil (I usually use milder rapeseed oil for this, but I’m sure olive goes as well)
  • fresh chives
  • rucola (plus optional iceberg lettuce)

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THIS IS WHAT YOU DO

  • Prepare the potatoes. (I am usually very picky with potato peels but, for some reason, this salad doesn’t taste right if you peel the potatoes. Just carefully brush and wash them before boiling.)
  • While the potatoes boil, prepare the dressing.
  • Toast the mustard seeds on a clean, dry frying pan. Let them cool down.
  • In a bowl, mix the toasted mustard seeds, mustard, lemon juice, salt, sugar and black pepper.
  • Gradually stir in the oil to get an even consistency.
  • Halve the still warm potatoes into the dressing and mix them together. (The warm potatoes nicely soak in some of the dressing and spices.)
  • Serve layers of rucola and potatoes on a plate, or in a bowl. (Sometimes I prefer more greenery, and put leaves of iceberg lettuce on the bottom.)
  • Cut lots of chives on top.
  • If there are any left-overs, keep in the fridge, and it will taste just as good the next day!

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ENJOY WITH YOUR CHOICE OF GRILLED TREATS!


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Le temps des cerises

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Through the kitchen window, I saw a cheeky squirrel feeding on the first ripe fruit of our cherry trees today. The other day, some blackbirds were at them, too. Looking more closely, I could already see many of them devoured by our animal friends. Familiar story. Before the cherries get ready for picking, it’s usually the birds that come in great flocks and peck the lot! Interestingly, the cherries seem to be well ahead of time this year. Last year, it wasn’t until the middle of August that the trees were heavy with the red fruit. Must be the effect of a much warmer June.

Last year was exceptional, though. There were considerably more cherries than usual. In addition, it was a very good wild blueberry year in the forests, and they were ripe at the same time. There were speculations then that the birds were happy with the forest berries and left people’s gardens alone. And I was happy, managing to make several jars of Amaretto-spiced cherry jam. Looks like this year I should be pleased to get one or two, if that! Oh well, such is life. Nice sight, against the sun-lit blue sky in any case.

Weekly photo challenge – LOOK UP.


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Trendy breakfast in London

During my April visit in London, I decided to skip the traditional fry-up breakfast included in my hotel deal, and head for a different experience instead on a Sunday morning. For a small-town girl from Finland, who knows more of less every café, eatery and restaurant in her hometown, the endless choice in London is quite overwhelming. That’s why I’d done my homework online before leaving, and found just the place for me. For a long time, I’d wanted to try an acai bowl for breakfast. Acai, you know, the hailed “super berry” from Brazil, which surprisingly grows in palm trees and not in bushes or on the ground as other berries. The Huffington Post even called these bowls “The World’s Best Healthy Breakfast” a couple of years back. As these berries are not easily available in Finland, I decided London would introduce me to this wonder food.

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THE GOOD LIFE EATERY, 59 Sloane Ave, London SW3 3DH

I chose this café for the location – I love the area around Sloane Square! – and for the good online reviews, but, most of all, for having acai bowls on their breakfast menu. On a sunny Sunday morning, I took the tube from Pimlico to Sloane Square, and then walked leisurely along the very quiet streets, admiring the blooming spring trees along the way.

A rare sight for us Finns - gorgeous magnolia trees!

A rare sight for us Finns – gorgeous magnolia trees!

In a side street from the Kings Road, I found The Good Life Eatery, small and cosy, with a welcoming smell of freshly baked scones and rolls wafting to the pavement through the open door. Mmmm, spelt croissants! I knew I’d chosen the right place.

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Inside, the café was furnished in the typical, rather minimalist, modern style. The brick walls, old-looking wooden tables, lines of hanging metal light fitments and colourful, patinated metal stools pleased my eye. Service was efficient and very friendly and all in all, I can warmly recommend this eatery to anyone who is after a slightly different breakfast experience. The clientele seemed to be mainly young women in their 20s-30s, having breakfast in twosomes. Most of them seemed to go for bread topped with lots of pureed avocado and either salmon or a poached egg. Interestingly for a Finn, the bread seemed to be dark rye, just like at home! Even though all this looked really tempting and delicious, I had made up my mind, and ordered a cappuccino with an acai bowl, as planned.

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Being an English teacher, I can’t help eavesdropping on people’s conversations whenever in an English-speaking environment, to pick up all the latest catch phrases and popular sayings. Sipping my coffee, waiting for my breakfast, I quickly noticed that the male waiters’ favourite seemed to be ‘cool’, which can apparently apply to anything positive, and also mean the same as ‘OK’. The young ladies, on the other hand, gossiping about their Saturday night events, kept repeating “… and then he was like…”, “… and then I was like…”(I gather meaning ‘he said’/’then I said’), with a fashionable, Ozzie-like upwards tilt in their accent. Aren’t languages just so intriguing!

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And then my long-awaited treat arrived. A big bowl full of cold, velvety, thick smoothie-like, purple acai puree, decorated with strawberries, chopped banana, whole acai berries and some bee pollen. It was heavenly, and definitely lived up to my expectations! The taste reminded me of a mix of blueberries and maybe blackcurrants (mind you, I think the colour affected my tastebuds a little bit, too) but I didn’t get the hint of dark chocolate often associated with these berries. After slowly savouring every last bit, I felt well nourished, energised and ready for a day of London sight-seeing. I probably looked a bit younger, too, as, apart from many other health benefits, acai berries are also claimed to have an anti-aging effect. I wish I could find frozen acai in Finland to prepare this at home!

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Ferries across the Baltic Sea

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We are lucky to live on the south-western coast of Finland, in the ex-capital city of Turku, with bi-daily ferry connections across the Baltic Sea to Stockholm, Sweden. Indeed, a popular get-away for many Finns is just to go on a cruise to Stockholm and back on one of the huge ferries. And when I say ferry, I’m not talking about anything like, for example, the ones crossing the English Channel. These are more like floating hotels, with many restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops, even whole spas these days! And, of course, they don’t only take passengers across but also their cars, and huge transport lorries, too.

There are two competing ferry companies: the red Viking Line boats, and the originally white Silja Line boats, although latterly Silja Line has started painting all kinds of patterns of different colours on theirs. Traditionally, Silja Line used to be the slightly dearer, more sophisticated folks’, if you like, option while the ordinary folk travelled on Viking. At some point, though, Viking considerably revamped their restaurant menus, and has recently added new, ultra-modern ships on some routes, making the old distinction gradually disappear.

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For me, the absolutely best part of this voyage is looking at the views. Flying is fast but you’d only get a short, distant glimpse of this unique archipelago. It’s amazing how these giant ships can meander their way along the narrow passageways between all the thousands of islands. Naturally, the scenery really dazzles you on beautiful, sunny summer days but sometimes a cruise in arctic winter weather, with a frozen sea, can be quite dramatic, too.

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Sunrise and sunset from the ferry deck in January 2016

Sunrise and sunset from the ferry deck in January 2016

You can either take the morning or evening ferry, the one-way voyage taking around 12 hours. Both ways the ferry stops half way at Mariehamn, on the Åland islands, to let passengers and cars in and out. If you only have limited time in Finland, you could try a one-day “picnic cruise”, meaning you leave Turku in the morning, change ferries in Mariehamn, and return back to Turku by the evening. If you are on a full cruise, you travel all the way to Stockholm but don’t get out at all , just wait for the ferry to start the return in just over an hour. Then you’ll get to experience both night and day at sea. Another option is to spend a day in Stockholm, arrive in the morning and leave on another ferry at 8pm in the evening. This will leave you a nice 13 hours to explore the charming Swedish capital. Viking Line docks close enough to city Centre in Södermalm for you to walk to town. The Silja Line terminal is further away, and you’ll need a bus or the underground to get downtown.

Stockholm's Old Town in the early morning light

Stockholm’s Old Town in the early morning light

When it comes to cabin choice, I would definitely recommend one with a window. Since the Estonia catastrophe in the 90s, I’ve been too scared to sleep in the windowless cabins below the car decks even though they would be much cheaper! The cabins are small but practical, accommodate a maximum of 4 people in bunk beds, have their own bathroom, some also a TV. They are for sleeping in, and storing your luggage during the crossing. You wouldn’t want to spend much time in them, unless you had bad luck with the weather, and chose to just relax in peace and quiet with a good book or the view through the cabin window.

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Otherwise you ‘d probably be showing your moves on one of the dance floors, belting it out at the karaoke bar, having a sumptuous buffet meal or a special à la carte creation, checking the best bargains in the shops, or just admiring the views while sipping an exotic cocktail.

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I know many Finns who wouldn’t be seen dead on one of these ferries as they think they are totally untrendy and not classy enough. I wouldn’t snub them, though. How else would you get to enjoy the constantly changing panoramas, one more beautiful than the other, and decent food, for less than 200 euros for two people? An easy weekend mini-break, right at our doorstep!

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All is quiet on the opposite bank

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Summer is cottage season in Finland, and we are lucky to have friends and family whose cottages we can visit since we don’t have one of our own. The best Finnish cottages are close to some body of water, big or small it doesn’t matter.

Our friends’ cottage is by a tiny lake, almost like a pond. My favourite spot there is on the wooden jetty, looking across the water to the opposite side. The jetties are popular places for just sitting on, to listen to the sounds of nature – or often the almost complete silence around you. They are also used for easy swimming access as the bottoms of many Finnish lakes tend to be murky and muddy, and not so pleasant to step on.

Whenever the people from the cottage opposite have their sauna and swimming moment, you’d politely leave the jetty to respect their privacy and peace. For these pictures, nobody was around on the other side, so I felt comfortable snapping away. It’s lovely to observe the light and colours change during a summer’s day. Above a morning view, underneath the warm evening light. Only a cuckoo could be heard in the distance in the evening. Morning and evening – other opposites, sort of.

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Weekly photo challenge – OPPOSITES.

 


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Mum’s summer soup

I just love going to our market place (or any farmers’ market) in summer. It’s beautifully colourful with all the fresh, local vegetables, berries, flowers and other goodies. One of my favourite summer morning activities is to cycle there, have a little breakfast at one of the outdoor kiosks there, and then do my shopping. Just got to remember to have plenty of cash as most of the stalls (often run by individual farmers) don’t accept any plastic cards!

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One of our family’s recent favourite summer dishes is a traditional Finnish “summer soup”. Funny enough, I used to hate it as a child, and so did our daughter, as it took both of us quite some time to get the taste of any cooked vegetables. We only ate cold, raw vegetables as children! In fact, once going through some old photographs, I noticed that in very many of them our daughter had a raw carrot in her hands! It was only later that I decided to prepare this soup that used to be one of my mum’s summer favourites. And since then, we’ve got to love its mild, summery taste, too.

The secret is in choosing all fresh ingredients and prepare it from scratch. No tinned peas or ready-cut frozen bags of vegetables for this one! Carrots will be “Bugs Bunny”-style with their green stalks on, and the peas will be individually shelled. Preparing the vegetables takes some time but I find it really relaxing, especially as you get to eat some of them raw while doing it.

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INGREDIENTS (for 4 portions)

  • about 400-500 g of small NEW potatoes
  • 1 fresh cauliflower (c. 400 g)
  • 1 fresh onion
  • 3-4 carrots
  • about 3 dl of fresh peas
  • a handful of fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 l vegetable stock
  • 4 dl milk
  • 2 tbsp regular wheat flour
  • 1 knob of butter
  • pinch of salt if needed
  • herbs (eg. parsley or dill)

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THIS IS WHAT YOU DO

  • Peel and slice the carrots, chop the cauliflower into small florets, peel the potatoes and cut them in half, chop the onion (you can also use some of the stalk). I always prefer to use the very small round new potatoes for this soup. Although normally, I would just brush them before boiling, leaving some of the goodness of the peels on, for a soup I prefer peeling them.
  • Cook the vegetables in the vegetable stock for about 15 minutes.
  • Add the peas and the rinsed spinach leaves.
  • Mix the flour and the milk and add into the soup. Cook until all the vegetables are done (not too soft, though, as you’d want a nice mouthfeel!).
  • Add the herbs of your choice. I seem to always go for dill as that’s our traditional herb with new potatoes here in Finland.
  • To finish with, add the knob of butter, which really rounds up the taste nicely.

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Enjoy the summer soup with a cheese sandwich. Here in Finland, it would, of course, be dark, rye bread and some emmental or gouda-style cheese.

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A BOWLFUL OF SUMMER!