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.

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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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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.


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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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Over the rainbow

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby

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What serendipity! Last night, soon after I’d read this week’s photo challenge topic – CURVE – I looked out of the window to see a very strange, yellowish light all around. It was around 10.30 pm, and the sun was getting lower to set after 11. Summer solstice won’t be until Tuesday next week, and Midsummer at the end of next week, so we haven’t quite reached the longest day of the year yet. Although we do have almost the “nightless night” phenomenon here in southern Finland, too, you’d still have to travel north to Lapland, to enjoy the midnight sun next week.

Going out on our balcony, I noticed this huge rainbow in the sky. It wasn’t raining at the time but it had rained on and off through the day. Another strange thing, apart from the unusual lighting, was that the rainbow just stayed there for over half an hour, only finally fading away after sunset. Other people posted wonderful pictures of the full arc, seen in different parts of our town, but I only saw one end of it, stretching over the side of the balcony – hence, the slightly wonky angle of this photo.

I wonder if anyone found their pot of gold last night!


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Finnish pancake

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First off, I need to explain that here in Finland ‘pancake‘ (Finnish ‘pannukakku‘ – literally a direct translation of the English word) is prepared as one big square on a baking tray in the oven. This is then cut into small square pieces for serving. The mixture is the same as for ‘crèpes’ that are round, thin and fried individually on a frying pan. We do make crèpes, too, but sometimes it’s easier and quicker to just prepare the whole lot in one go in the oven. This sometimes gets confusing with English speakers who have a very different concept of what ‘a pancake’ should look like. My British husband, for example, would say the Finnish pancake is more like their Yorkshire pudding although, of course, we would not eat our pancake with main course meat. As for the American pancakes, I would rather call them ‘thick crèpes’ – crazy Finns, right? It makes sense, though, when you know that the Finnish words for ‘crèpes’ (‘letut‘, ‘lätyt‘, ‘ohukkaat‘) all somehow refer to their thinness above all.

Both the pancake and crèpes are common summer cottage fare over here. Finnish cottages tend to be rather basic and rustic, often without a lot of mod cons. That’s why, we Finns usually want to keep cooking there as simple as possible. An oven pancake or crèpes are ideal as they require very few ingredients. I’ve sometimes seen crèpes fried on a pan on a small camping gas bottle at a cottage.

A pancake is nice and homely comfort food that everybody usually enjoys, children especially. It is usually served as a dessert after a soup, for example. In fact, the Finnish conscript army has given us the tradition of having pea soup and pancake on the menu on Thursdays (I really don’t know why that weekend was chosen!). This tradition is often followed for in school canteens during the school year. In our family, a pancake used to be an evening snack when our daughter was small. And if there are any leftovers, they taste just as good cold for breakfast the next morning!

We prefer our pancake with strawberry jam but it works just as well with fresh berries, and even added whipped cream if you like. I must say that I much prefer the fancier toppings for crèpes, though. The American favorite, maple syrup, is not commonly used here in Finland. Instead, some Finns just like their piece of pancake with only a bit of sprinkled sugar on top.

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INGREDIENTS (for one baking tray, c. 20 pieces)

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 l milk
  • 5 1/2 – 6 dl ordinary wheat flour (not self-raising)
  • 1/2-1 dl melted butter

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THIS IS WHAT YOU DO

  • in a bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and salt
  • add the milk
  • add the flour little by little
  • to finish with, add the melted butter
  • let the mixture stand for 30 minutes
  • line the baking tray with a grease-proof baking sheet
  • pour the mixture on the tray
  • bake at 225° Celsius for 15 minutes first, then lower the temperature to 200-175° Celsius and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top and bottom are beautifully brown
  • cut into pieces and enjoy with a topping of your choice

SIMPLY DELICIOUS!

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