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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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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My pelargonias

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How I love summer, the lazy, warm, sunny days! And, of course, the blue skies, white clouds and all the greenery and flowers everywhere. A riot of colours!

This year, “the cherry on top” has been my pink pelargonias (or geraniums?) in the balcony boxes. They’ve kept blooming, faithfully through heat and rain. And demand so little care really. I’m not much of a gardener, the balcony boxes and some pot plants are about the only plants I invest in for the summer. First time I tried this type flower, and will definitely do the same next year. Well worth it, don’t you think?

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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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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!


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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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Pure enough

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For me, the first connotation with ‘pure’ is to do with food. Here in Finland many people have never stopped cooking from scratch, preferably with local ingredients. This give our cooking a refreshing seasonal variation, due to our climate, with long, cold winters and very short growing seasons in summer. You get used to having certain ingredients and dishes only at certain times of the year. Also, in recent years, so-called ‘pure’ restaurants have sprung up, which typically serve ‘raw food’, salads or raw cakes, for example. I tend to associate ‘pure food’ with organic, local ingredients and home-cooking, not necessarily raw. The most important thing for me is that I know where the produce comes from, can trust the producer, and cooking it myself, I know exactly what goes into it. This for me equals ‘pure’.

Home-grown summer vegetables would be really nice but in our tiny town patio “garden”, in front of our home, we can’t obviously grow a lot. One thing that thrives there, though, is rhubarb. It’s always reliable and grows beautiful, thick stems every year, no matter what the previous winter was like. And a definite plus is that it is as organic as you can expect, being surrounded by urban air. At least, no pesticides, no fertilisers, nothing chemical is ever added to the soil it grows in.

There is just enough to either bake a few delicious rhubarb pies or crumbles, or as in the last few years, make my own fresh rhubarb juice. Spicing it with a cinnamon and vanilla stick in the boiling water, makes it a delightful early summer drink that won’t stay long in our fridge before it’s all enjoyed by thirsty family and guests.

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Weekly photo challenge – PURE.


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A night in a lighthouse

The sun came up over the sea and shadows and colours began to appear. The island began to take shape and draw in its claws. Everything began to shine, and the chalk-white gulls circled over the point. … But right across the island lay the shadow of the lighthouse like a broad dark ribbon stretching down to the beach where the boat was.

That was an extract from the Finnish children’s book Moominpappa at sea by our beloved author Tove Jansson. It’s a wonderfully emotional story of the Moomin family starting a new life in a lighthouse on a remote island.

In recent years, visiting lighthouses around our coastline has become widely popular. We are lucky to have quite a few that are open to the public, some even with accommodation facilities. It is already three years since I and hubby spent one night at Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse on the western coast of Finland, off the lovely little town of Rauma.

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The lighthouse is easy to reach from the Poroholma camping site in Rauma from where comfortable water buses transport visitors to some of the islands and islets off the coast daily in the summer months. A return ticket only costs around €30 per person for the 1-hour-long crossing. In good weather, the best place to sit is on the sunny upper deck, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the sea, and watching the lighthouse getting closer and closer in the horizon.

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Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse was constructed in 1952, and in its time had as many as 12 pilots working on the islet. Coast guard operations have since been discontinued, and today the whole islet is only for tourism. There are 13 rooms in the actual tower, a restaurant downstairs, a summer café and a souvenir shop, as well as sauna facilities, so no need to bring your own provisions unless you want to. One night in a double room costs around €130.

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In the good Finnish way, it is all perfunctory – simple and rustic but with nice little marine touches in the decor. For example, our room was called ‘Sarastus‘ (meaning ‘first light of dawn‘ in English). The restaurant serves an archipelago style menu, with various fish dishes, of course. I’d recommend sleeping with the room window open, to be soothingly lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves and the sea wind. Another thing worth experiencing is getting up at night to look at the lighthouse light go round in the darkness. Well, this depends on which part of summer you visit. In June, with the almost “nightless night”, it would probably be less spectacular. We went in August when the nights are already getting dark, and thoroughly enjoyed the strangely eerie sight of the rotating light.

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What’s there to do then? Not that much. It’s a quiet place for appreciating the natural environment on one of the outermost islets before the open sea towards Sweden. It’s very sparse, with not a lot growing there. I must say I couldn’t imagine living in a place like this for long. Hats off to the tough, persistent folk who still do! Winters especially must be an ordeal, let alone getting through storms. There must be regular strong winds, judging by the small conifers all bent in one direction – good reminder of the forces of nature.

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There is one plant, however, that seems to thrive in the archipelago: the sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). During our visit, the thorny shrubs were heavy with their orange berries, which have many health benefits. They are used to make juice or jam, rich in vitamin C, in particular. The oil extracted from the seeds is also said to efficiently lower cholesterol levels. Quite a super berry, in fact!

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Once you get tired of soaking in the surrounding views, or admiring the wider panorama from your high-up room window, you can hike around the whole islet. It is quite a challenge on slippery rocks and boulders, without any proper paths, but well worth the effort in the end. During birds’ nesting times you need to be extra careful, though, as the future bird parents tend to defend their eggs and young rather aggressively. We saw quite a lot of seagulls and Canada geese, and even managed catch a brief glimpse of a sea eagle in the evening sky (no luck with a picture of it, unfortunately!). If you are adventurous enough, you can, of course, go swimming. Hubby ventured for a dip between the rocks, I chickened out. Bracing and exhilarating, according to him. I wouldn’t be so sure!

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What surprised me, however, was how quickly the restless, urban mind starts to calm down, and you get the idea of the whole experience: spending some down time in the lap of Mother Nature, in absolute, respectful awe. Your senses wake up, and you start noticing the tiny, miraculous details around you – how centuries, after centuries of waves, winds and all kinds of weather have shaped the environment. It’s as though suddenly time stands still, and there you are, an insignificantly small human being in the midst of natural history.

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During this lighthouse visit, I realised what great inspiration artists can find in such an environment, and why, for example, author Tove Jansson must have loved spending long periods of time in the Finnish archipelago. Sit or stand on the rocks to watch the day become night, the changing light transform all the colours and the scenery around you, eternity and infinity right there in front of your eyes! Breathtakingly beautiful! And then, in the morning, it all starts over again.

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He came to the edge of the water and stood watching the breakers. There was the sea – his sea – going past, wave after wave, foaming recklessly, raging furiously, but, somehow, tranquil at the same time. All Moominpappa’s thoughts and speculations vanished. He felt completely alive from the tips of his ears to the tip of his tail. This was a moment to live to the full.

When he turned to look at the island – his island –  he saw a beam of light shining on the sea, moving out towards the horizon and then coming back towards the shore in long, even waves.

The lighthouse was working.

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For those interested but unable to visit, why not check their live webcam.