Posts Tagged ‘Finland’

Christmas 2011

I hope everybody’s new year is off to a good start! (Here in Estonia, people adhere to the rule that you can no longer say “Happy new year!” after January 6!). I didn’t post over Christmas 2011 since I was in Finland with J’s family for a week. This was my second Christmas at his house and my third together with his family, so I feel like I’m an old pro when it comes to Finnish Christmas traditions! Since they do pretty much the same thing every year, you can check out my recaps of past Finnish Christmases starting here and here.

Please note how the ground outside has some green and brown spots visible– that’s very rare; Finland usually has a thick layer of snow by Christmastime!

Christmas was a bit different this year thanks to a new addition to the guest list– J’s nephew, who was born just four weeks before Christmas :). I’ve never spent so much time around such a tiny human being! At that point he couldn’t even focus his eyes on you or smile, but he was still very very cute. I was thrilled when it was my turn to try holding him.

The fact that he’s asleep doesn’t have anything to do with me having superior baby-soothing skills, I just lucked out and got him when he was full and calm and ready for a nap :).

Christmas was wonderful and restful, but I also realized the last time I got to spend Christmas in my own parents’ living room was five years ago, and I am starting to miss it! 😦 If at all possible we’ll spend Christmas with my family next year, either in Tallinn or in Maryland.

I still need to put some thought into my resolutions for this year (and take a look at how I did with my promises for 2011), so I’ll get back to you on that soon, hopefully tomorrow!


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Meet the parents

In this post, I’m going to hop back to June. Won’t you join me?

In June my mother came to visit, which is awesome in and of itself, but an even more awesome thing happened as well– she met J’s parents for the first time! (Just so you know, J and I have known each other since 2005 and been a couple since 2008). J and I flew up to visit his parents for a week right around the midsummer holiday (June 23-24) and my mother joined us there for the last few days. And everything went wonderfully!

We’d been a little concerned about the language situation, which was as follows: J could communicate easily with everyone, as he speaks Finnish, English and Estonian very well. I, of course, speak Estonian and English and passable Finnish, which I use with his parents. His parents speak Finnish and understand some English, and his mother also speaks German (she used to be a German teacher). My mother does not speak any Finnish but, as it happens, has a master’s degree in German, so the two of them were able to use that to communicate, but when they did then the rest of us couldn’t really understand :). But even with all of that in play, things went remarkably well and the conversation was always flowing, with me translating the Finnish spoken by J’s parents for my mother.  Apparently I earned some points for demonstrating how good my Finnish comprehension actually is, but my accomplishment felt less impressive when my mother, who is naturally gifted at languages, started to pick up Finnish after being there for only a few days (I can only dream that langauges would come that easily to me! Sigh).

As usual, the food J’s parents made for us was amazingly delicious, and remember how I’m always gushing over the beautiful salads his mother makes? My mother gushed over them too! So I’m not a weirdo for being in awe of her incredible food styling skills. Some of the other beautiful and delicious food they made for us included smoked salmon that I could not stop eating…

… skewers of every kind of meat imagineable (seriously, there was chicken, pork, beef, and lamb, all prepared in different marinades, not to mention mushrooms stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon, which, well, there are NO WORDS to describe how good they were)…

… and this charming roll cake we ate around 4 in the afternoon on Midsummer’s Eve (Juhannusaatto), since dinner was going to be late that day. You know I loved it.


J and I introduced my ema to some other fun stuff too. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages in the car while it’s in motion (you can do this in Estonia too, but of course not in the USA! :D).



We also took her to a cafe in the city of Oulu called Bisketti, which is famous (at least in J’s family) for its giant cinnamon rolls (korvapuustit).

The roll, which we split three ways, is about triple the size of that cup of coffee next to it, and irresistibly doughy and soft in the middle. Maybe next time I should try to make mine this big too :).

And, finally, I had to make sure my mother tried salt licorice (salmiakki) ice cream— this particular ice cream bar is actually vanilla ice cream with a soft salmiakki candy center and crunchy salmiakki coating. I love the contrast (both color and flavor) of the black salmiakki against the creamy vanilla! Next time we’ll be in Finland will be in December and I’m already looking forward to eating one of these again. Oh, and my mother liked it too!

Even though she’d been to Finland before, my mother was thrilled to see where J comes from and experience so many of the things I’ve told her about after my past trips there. We got to introduce her to J’s home, which is starting to feel more and more like home for me as well :).

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Little day trip to Helsinki

Like I mentioned the other day, we decided on Friday night that Sunday would be a lovely day to take a day trip to Helsinki. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love living in a place where taking a day trip to another country is so simple? I love Europe!). Sunday morning J, my father and I boarded the Viking XPRS ferry and left Estonia and its hail behind, heading for a nice sunny (but cold) day in Finland’s capital.

We opted to go to the breakfast buffet on the 8 am ferry, which at 10 euros was quite a good deal. There was a pretty decent selection and we all ate as much as we could and drank as much coffee as we wanted, ensuring we wouldn’t need to stop in an expensive Helsinki cafe soon after arriving.

My modest first plate juxtaposed with my father’s overloaded one. He was full after that; I went back two more times :-). That first plate had grapefruit slices, a Karelian pastry with egg butter, slices of salmon and herring, a chunk of blue cheese, and a bit of pancake with jam. I also tried some of the warm foods (eggs, sausage) and finally had a bowl of yogurt and a cookie. Our plan worked– we walked all over the city and didn’t stop for lunch until between 2 and 3 pm. Being the snacker that I am, I ate a banana somewhere in between, but my father and J didn’t have anything. I don’t know how men do that! Our day included a visit to the very cool Temppeliaukion Kirkko (Rock Church), which is a church that’s built right into a giant granite rock.

Inside the Rock Church.

We had planned our lunch stop for when we’d be wandering around the neighborhood of Kallio, which is filled with pizza joints, kebab places, and interesting exotic grocery stores (apparently also cheap bars, though I’ve never been to one). J treated me and my dad to the staple Finnish street food, kebab. I actually ordered a falafel pita since I wasn’t in the mood for a lot of meat.

I was starving, so I enjoyed the pita, but to be honest the falafel were a little too bready and peppery. But it was a good size– it filled my tummy without making me too full.

A little later we stopped in a cafe for coffee and dessert, and after that we hit the Sports Academy pub so that my father could watch the Formula One race (he’s a fan). Once we were on the ferry back to Tallinn we of course hit the shop on the boat, and then the three of us proceeded to consume an entire large bar of Marabou milk chocolate. In my defense, I’m pretty sure I only ate one row. My dad and J like their chocolate :-). It was a sweet ending to a fun day.

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More Finnish food

Day 1 of NaBloPoMo, a full month of posting every day! Here goes nothing.

When we were in Finland 2 weeks ago visiting J’s parents, they made my absolutely favorite meal from past Finland trips— smoked fish with potatoes, creamed spinach, and some other sides. This time the fish was salmon, smoked outside in a special setup constructed by J’s dad. As usual, it was amazingly moist and delicious.

Not every meal we ate in Finland was homemade and wholesome. Some evenings we were in the city or shopping and chose to indulge in some of the finest fast food Finland has to offer. On our first night in Finland, when we were still traveling towards the north, the weather forced us to stop and spend the night at a friend’s place. We went and got dinner from a tiny local pizza joint.

Pizza is huge in Finland, but I’m not sure how to describe it. It has a thin crust and the most popular toppings are ham, pineapple, mushrooms, and blue cheese, but some also have stuff like shrimp or ground meat on them. Pretty much all the small pizza places have the same prices and quality (plus they are EVERYWHERE), so it’s a good reliable way to get a bite to eat.

Another evening, while shopping in Oulu, we stopped for some kebab. Check out how huge my kebabrulla was:

The flatbread filled with kebab meat, salad and sauce was seriously as long as the entire placemat. There was no way I could finish it all myself, but luckily I had J to help me. I don’t eat greasy, meaty things very often, but from time to time it really hits the spot.

Speaking of meaty, another evening J was craving a hamburger from a drive-through burger shack. I went for a chicken sandwich myself.

Rectangular chicken patty on a round bun. Awesome.

I love the top bun in the middle of J’s burger.

They were your typical non-chain fast food burgers, smothered in plenty of mayonnaise-based sauce. I know it’s not “real food”, but I can’t deny that I kinda liked it.

I’d also like to point out that it wasn’t a lazy vacation by any means– we spent a ton of time out in J’s parents’ yard, gathering up leaves and chopping and stacking wood. It’s nice to be able to help them out (since, as stated many times before, they keep us very well fed!) and enjoyable to spend time outside. I know yard work can get really annoying after a while, but for us apartment-dwelling city folks, it was actually quite refreshing and fun.

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Finland in October

We definitely did end up seeing some snow on our week-long trip to Finland. We saw some on our way up to Oulu:

and quite a bit when we drove back this past Saturday:

Interestingly enough, no snow fell where we were actually staying, only in areas that were further south! Pretty much the opposite of what we expected.

When we arrived at J’s parents’ place, his mother had a Finnish classic waiting for us– Janssonin kiusaus (Jansson’s temptation), a casserole of julienned potatoes, onions, and sardines (or sprats). It’s good, simple comfort food. We’ve made it at home a few times, but ours always tastes different from the one his mom made– I think it all depends on what kind of canned fish you use.

It was served with pickled beets and pickle slices, and was good and filling after a day of just snacking in the car.

It’s kind of funny– I’ve been to Finland so many times now that I wondered if I had run out of new things to try. It would be such a bummer not to discover something new on this trip! As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. A few evenings into our trip, J’s mother announced that our first course for dinner would be rössypottu, a dish popular in the Oulu region.

She had only made a little bit, I think because she thought I might not like it– it’s a stew with potatoes, bits of pork, and cubes of blood pudding (the brown stuff in the picture). I know that would creep out a lot of people, but since I’m a fan of Estonian blood sausage, it didn’t bother me at all, and I gladly finished off my bowl. Very simple, but very good if you appreciate the taste of that one particular ingredient :-). And I love that J’s mom goes out of her way to make things for me that I haven’t tried before! Even though my conversations with his parents can still be awkward because of my shaky command of Finnish, they definitely understand how much I like food.

For dessert there was lappapuuro, which is also a popular dessert in Estonia (where it’s called mannavaht). It’s made of lingonberries (or juice), sugar, and farina. Once that combination is cooked and cooled, it’s whipped to incorporate air into it and turn it from porridge to fluff. 🙂

Even though I’d had this dessert before, J’s mother’s was so much better because she used actual berries instead of just juice, so the berry flavor was strong and tart. The tartness is mellowed a bit by a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of cream added on top. The smooth, fluffy texture makes it fun to eat.

Viili was something I’d heard J’s family talk about on past trips but I’d never tried it, so I picked up a cup (strawberry flavor) from the grocery store. It’s a yogurt-like dairy product, so I figured I’d like it.

Unfortunately… not so much. The taste was fine– mild, not too sweet or too sour. But I couldn’t get over the texture. For lack of a better word, it was goopy– sort of liquidy and rubbery at the same time. The Wikipedia entry says it better: “It has a ropy, gelatinous consistency.” I only ate a little bit and tossed the rest, but hey, now I know! Luckily there are still tons of other tasty dairy products in Finland for me to enjoy.

Be back with more tomorrow!

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On the road again

One of the best things about living and working in Estonia is, without a doubt, the amount of vacation I get each year. It feels like we just got back from our amazing five weeks in the United States, and today we’re leaving for another week-long trip! Where are we going? I’ll give you a hint:

Karelian pies for breakfast…

and moose crossing signs by the roads.

Yup, we’re going to Finland to visit J’s parents. The trip should be interesting because we’re going to be driving up north towards Oulu (I’ve only ever gone by train or airplane before), and there is snow in the forecast for Finland over the next few days (!). How often do you have to worry about road conditions in October?? Welcome to the north :-).

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Ringing in the new year

Yes, I realize that happened over a month ago. I’ll be caught up soon, promise! I just had to mention New Year’s Eve because I feel like I had a pretty unique one at the end of 2009 in Finland.

We hadn’t made much of an effort to make New Year’s plans, so at the the last minute we decided we’d be content to stay at his parents’ house and spend it with them. While I do like dressing up or going out to celebrate the beginning of a new year, I’m all for low-key celebrations as well. During the day we went out and bought some tiny fireworks, a bottle of bubbly, and the traditional Finnish New Year’s Eve foods, which are wieners (nakit) and potato salad (perunasalaatti) (haha– I didn’t even think about this until now, but it’s like American Fourth of July food :-D). We ate an early dinner (of other stuff, not potato salad!) with his parents and watched “Dinner for One“, an 18-minute comedy sketch that’s shown every year on New Year’s Eve in Finland (and apparently several other countries as well). The sketch is German in origin, but performed in English. It’s rather funny; check it out on YouTube if you’re curious. Then we enjoyed a nice long sauna, and a little while later– around 11– we decided to take our New Year’s snacks and have a picnic. Outside. It was about -12 C that night, not the coldest day of our trip by far, but chilly enough. We had protection against the cold– a special log that’s cut in such a way that it burns from the inside out, and two awesome snowsuits that used to belong to J and his brother.

See the snowsuit? Rockin’. This year maybe I’ll wear a pretty dress for New Year’s Eve, but last year this was my outfit. And the best part is, the two suits are identical, so we even matched. No wait, that’s not the best part– the best part is that while wearing this baby, one is completely impervious to the cold.

We lit our log-thing in J’s backyard, among the snow and the trees, and as soon as the flames picked up we began to roast wieners and strips of bacon. Mmm… bacon gets so crispy over an open flame, if you have enough patience. The wieners were adorned with mild mustard after roasting, a Finnish staple. Potato salad and beer were enjoyed alongside (both of which began to freeze after a while…).

Don’t mind the scary statue. He’s our travel buddy.

We may have also had a little of this.

Ice-cold. Literally.

At midnight, J’s parents called us and we met them in front of the house for some sparkling wine and the exchange of “Hyvää uutta vuotta!” We also lit our fireworks, which were the kind that just shoot straight up with some white sparks and a “pheeeww” sound. In Finnish they’re called kissanpierut (cat farts). It was cold enough outside that as soon as we left the comfort of our picnic fire, my hands started to freeze. After the festivities, we returned to our fire as it burned down, and everything was serene and quiet save the sound of distant fireworks. It may not have been a typical New Year’s Eve, but to us it was pretty perfect.

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