Sinikka's snippets

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


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A grocery store to die for

I fell in love with ‘Whole Foods Market’ during our holiday in Hawaii. We first learned about this ingenious grocery store chain from our friends that we stayed with. As we were getting ready to go to Kailua beach on our second morning there, our friends told us not to miss a visit to ‘Whole Foods’ in the centre of the town. Thank you for the recommendation! It became one of our favourite hang-outs – after the breathtakingly beautiful beaches, of course. wholefoods1 Here is, in a nutshell, what the company is all about, from the company website.

Who are we? Well, we seek out the finest natural and organic foods available, maintain the strictest quality standards in the industry, and have an unshakeable commitment to sustainable agriculture. Add to that the excitement and fun we bring to shopping for groceries, and you start to get a sense of what we’re all about. Oh yeah, we’re a mission-driven company too.

Started in Austin, Texas, in 1980, this flagship of fresh, pure, organic, ecologically and ethically sound, and as far as possible local food and products has since spread, by acquisitions and mergers, all over the US, and also to Canada and  the London area in the UK, too. The company ethos is being “buying agents” for shoppers, to ensure that they can shop with a peace of mind that strict standards, and the store’s own “Responsibly grown ratings”, are always followed. There are several stories about farmer partners and suppliers on the company website, all testifying to the care and attention paid not only to the quality of the produce but also to sustainability, conserving the environment and animal welfare, for example. wholefoods4 I really can’t praise this store enough! Coming from winter in Finland, when fresh produce is always imported from thousands of miles away, and where the grocery selection, on the whole, is quite limited, this place was paradise. Everything was beautifully displayed, the selection was out of this world, and so much to choose from, I didn’t know where to start! In addition to all the mouthwatering food, there were also organically produced soaps and other cosmetics, as well as some lovely clothes. (Unfortunately, I didn’t dare to take photos inside the store. From our 1-year stay in the US in the 1990s, we remembered having been forbidden to take pictures inside stores so often that I didn’t even sneakily try!) wholefoods3Finally, the real icing on the cake, to make this shopping experience so convenient and “civilised”, if you like, was their prepared foods section. In fact, ‘Whole Foods Markets’ are also restaurants. You can select your food from their salad bar (all fresh and super tasty), or warm dishes section (lots of vegetarian dishes, too, and nice, surprisingly exotic ones), and to finish with a lovely selection of fruit and desserts, too. You either stack your choice on a plate or in a cardboard box, which are then weighed at the check out, to get the price. How delightfully easy and simple! There was also a bar, with a nice selection of wines and draught beers (hubby was very pleased!). And best of all, you can take all the food and drinks outside, and enjoy it on the terrace straight away! IMG_2324 The terrace in Kailua was great, with people of all ages mixing together quite happily – families with small children and pets, big groups of women, probably spending their lunch hour from work together, with glasses of wine and chirpy chat and laughter, couples for coffee and cakes, young people immersed in their smartphone worlds, and then tourists like us. We are missing so much in our country of strict regulations and closed and limited areas for different age groups and functions!

The only disadvantage, if you can call it that, were of course their high prices. But hey, it’s a choice, and if I can afford it, I gladly pay extra to enjoy the great tastes and healthy alternatives while being environmentally-friendly at the same time. Sadly, the consumer markets for anything here in Finland are very small, so I can’t see stores like this catching on here any time soon, especially in the present gloomy economic climate. Still, hopefully one day a Finn will come up with a similar business concept. Can’t wait! In the meantime, I will have to just be happy with our memories from Hawaii, and keep checking out the recipes of the ‘Whole Foods Market’ website. wholefoods5


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Pop-up “Restaurant Day” in November

November 15, a grey and windy Saturday morning. The temperature here in southern Finland barely above zero celsius, but no sight of snow or ice, thank goodness! The beginning of another pop-up restaurant experience in my town, and around the world. Following the online map, with venues popping up all through the week, I finally found 20+ to choose from, noticeably fewer, though, than on the lovely late summer day in August, which I blogged about earlier. Not surprising, given the season and weather, but enough, however, to plan an interesting tour. According to the event Facebook page, there were still all together 1698 pop-up places opened in 35 countries, which is quite an achievement!

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Our rather colourless riverside scenery in November

Two major differences to our previous experience: this time, we drove around in our car, at times parking and walking from place to place. Still got some fresh air and exercise although, I must say, I did miss my bike, but the distances along our planned route just were too long, unfortunately. Secondly, most of the November events took place indoors, which nicely added an extra interest in actually being invited into people’s homes. Very un-Finnish and brave! Compared to the open-air garden events in August, the indoor cafés and restaurants were far more intimate, and sparked even more impromptu conversations and interaction between the strangers whose paths crossed by chance, around coffee and dinner tables for fleeting moments . Great for us private, and often sullen, Finns! And what a way, for anyone, to “seize the day”, and make each unexpected encounter count.

I and hubby started by the riverside, at ‘Curry in a Hurry’. A simple canopy-covered place, offering 3 different curries with naan bread. Just the right hot treat, temperature and spice-wise, on a nippy winter day! Turned out that the friendly and welcoming curry chefs were also a mixed Finnish-British couple, just like us, so we felt right at home.

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Warmed by the nice and tasty curry, we then walked to a 1920s block of flats up the road, and entered the enchanting ambience of “The Yellow Salon Café”. This was a family endeavour, put together for the third time already by a father, keen on antiques and design, an enthusiastically baking mother and a daughter enjoying the customer service. The whole front room had been totally reorganised for the day, with a lot of effort and care to create just the right atmosphere for a Christmassy coffee break, down to the finest detail. I was especially impressed with the oldie-worldie outfits of the two ladies, not to mention all the scrumptious pies, cakes and goodies, which literally melted in your mouth. I would definitely go again, and can recommend this venue, both for culinary and aesthetic enjoyment. I’m still wondering, though, about the elegant and enigmatic young lady, quietly having chocolate cake while reading Molière in the corner. Just one of those intriguing stories of this great day!

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We finally ended our tour with another Christmassy experience. A summer hut in a garden, aptly named “Café Charm” for the day, with a view of a small, local lake. On offer was our traditional Christmas delicacy: rice porridge, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar on top. Here, too, Christmas carols were played in the background, and flickering candles added to the warm feeling in the darkening afternoon. I can understand people wanting to tap into the Christmas theme as there is no Restaurant Day closer to the holidays, but for me, maybe it was a little early for all the jingle bells, santa figures and decorating gingerbread cookies, lovely ideas and activities as they were. Next this café, there was also a quirky little boutique, boasting the world’s smallest cinema (in a toilet!) showing a 1920s documentary about the area, in the times when the adjacent broadcloth factory was still working. So, not only food and meeting people but learning about local history at the same time!

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The above mentioned “cinema” on the left

Hats off to all the hard-working and creative volunteers for organising this great day for the rest of us! Looking forward to the next edition on February 15, 2015!


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A great Finnish food carnival

Restaurantday1 Are you keen on cooking or baking? So much so that you would even like to sell some of your culinary creations to others? But, obtaining the required licences and going through all the red tape has prevented you so far, plus the fact that you really couldn’t imagine this as your full-time career. Or would you just like to have a fun, novel experience sharing food with people for one day? Well, wait no longer – there is a way: THE POP-UP RESTAURANT DAY. In the words of the inventors, this is what it is:

Restaurant Day is a worldwide food carnival when anyone can set up a restaurant, café or a bar for a day. It can happen anywhere: at your home, at the office, on a street corner, in your garden or inner courtyard, at a park, or on the beach – only your imagination is the limit.

For your pop-up restaurant, café or food stall, you won’t need to apply for any permits, nor do you need to let the taxman know what you’ve earned, for as long as you only charge enough to cover your costs. The first ever “Restaurant Day” was organised in Finland in May 2011, and since then the concept has spread to over 50 countries worldwide. Quite an achievement! If you got interested, here is one of the three men behind the concept, Timo Santala, explaining to you in English what it’s all about. It’s well worth sparing 17 minutes to watch the video as it’s is full of heart-warming and funny stories about interaction, participation, open cities, active citizenship and, above all, the creative madness of people who are given the freedom and trust to organise something extraordinary for a day.

I couldn’t agree with Timo more when he asks:

Is there a better way of meeting new people, experiencing a country as a tourist or integrating to a new place as an immigrant than around a shared dinner table?

Yet, it still amazes me that this phenomenon was actually invented and given the green light in Finland, the promised land of rules and regulations! In fact, the inventors have revealed that it was exactly their frustration with all the Finnish restrictions for setting up restaurants that gave them this idea. What adds to my amazement is that, in general, we Finns are quite private people. Many of us are not particularly keen to open our homes to strangers even though we often do invite friends over for dinner or coffee. What’s more, we very much tend to keep ourselves to ourselves, and shy away from socialising with people we don’t know. I believe this is partly due to our culture of politeness, according to which it is good manners to basically leave people alone, and not bother them with unnecessary small talk. This cultural background makes the concept of the Restaurant Day, where you suddenly expose yourself to dealing with strangers, often in your own home, even more incredible. Maybe it is a positive sign of people longing for a change, and a new sense of community spirit in these highly individualised times. This great day takes place four times a year – in February, May, August and November. Obviously, here in the north, our seasons affect the organisation a lot, with May and August being much easier and more convenient for outdoor venues. I and hubby had a wonderful day last August, cycling around all Sunday to a few places we had picked from the list beforehand. Even the weather couldn’t have been better that day! Our picks then were a Polish-Finnish couple’s pierogi restaurant in their yard, raw cakes by the riverside, a garden do with several main courses and desserts, and with live music, too (in fact, two well-known Finnish musicians, which was an interesting bonus) and another garden café with traditional Finnish coffee and cakes. Not only was the food highly affordable and interesting to sample, but the tour also introduced us to lovely, new neighbourhoods of our hometown that we had never been to before, not to mention the healthy exercise and fresh air and meeting and talking with lots of people. There’s hardly a better way to spend an autumn Sunday!

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My “red lightning transport” for the day

Restaurantday2Restaurantday3Restaurantday3Restaurantday4 If you have never heard of this idea, why not jump on the bandwagon in your village / town? You can find all the information you need on this webpage (and in several languages, too). I can’t wait for the next experience on November 15. I’m even toying with the idea of having my own little café in May next year. Let’s see what happens!