For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

September 23, 2011

    Why Eat Together

I'm sure that especially all of you Mediterranean Taste This! -readers can relate to what I'll talk about in this piece. Sorry for generalizing and categorizing, I usually try to avoid falling in stereotypical traps, but sometimes it's fun, especially when they are highlighting positive features of a country or culture.

To state the obvious: Cultures differ in their culinary habits. These uplifting differences are very often the source of my inspiration and excitement when cooking. Just to make it clear, I'm not in any way referring to those Erasmus “Let's all get together, bring a dish representing your country, get wasted and hook up with the warmblooded Spaniard getting friendlier and friendlier as the Calimocho goes down his throat” - types of events the European youth of 2000s are very familiar with. No. I'm talking culture kitchen – a concept constantly occupying my thoughts when cooking.

Going back to the essential I wanted to talk about this time. In the Nordic countries in general families aren't as tightly bound together by food and shared time around the table as the Mediterraneans for instance (from a Finnish perspective, Frenchmen are considered Mediterranean by the way). I actually regret being that awful teen who took her microwave pizza back to the darkness of her room, affronting her Mum's efforts of spending quality time around the table. If I had been a French or an Italian teen, I would've probably been as troubled and fucked-up as I was as a Finnish teen, but maybe I still would've dragged my ass downstairs and valued the family gathering in the dining room. Come to think of it, some people's homes didn't even have a dining room, let alone a proper dining table... What a pity. I'm guessing the situation today isn't any better (?) Luckily, at some point chewing on the same nasty microwave pizza, I saw the light and finally understood the value of cooking with heaps of love and sharing a real homemade meal with the ones you care for the most. In an effort of turning things around and catching up with lost times, after getting acquainted with other countries' eating habits, I started pulling my family together by organizing frequently recurring gatherings in No Man's Land, nowadays also known as the Dining Room.

This might the most banal thing for You coming from one of the Mediterranean countries or You who has plenty of food related family gatherings all the time, but for me it's very special. In my family we never really had any food related traditions, so as soon as I got a taste of the French and the Italian everyday eating habits, I was sold! The ones of You dear readers whom I've made acquaintance with in post-adolescent times, who know how I'm all the time twisting people's arms to get them to take part in the many food related occasions I host, might have trouble believing that I once upon a time couldn't have cared less about dinners and time spent together eating and drinking. Yet, these are the facts. Traditions are important in many aspects, but when it comes to cooking, they certainly are priceless.

At this point You're probably asking Yourself what Sunday Yam Yam is. I'm hoping the title of this piece caught Your attention. Sunday Yam Yam is one of my newest projects that I've started up since moving to Malmö (Sweden) in the beginning of September. Nothing new, nothing mind blowing, but oh so important and wonderful. It was about time that I started creating my own culinary traditions. So I did. What I've done now, four Sundays in a row is inviting friends over for a Mediterranean style Sunday lunch, the ones that start a bit later and go on for three hours or so. I'm kind of known for being a bit of a dictator in the kitchen, so Sunday Yam Yam is a way for me to relax more by diving tasks. So far no one has left our flat unhappy on a Sunday. It has been a fantastic way of getting together, having some quality time. Lazy Sundays suddenly get a special content, something I hope that everyone invited can look forward to during the week. It's a ridiculously small step for humanity, but a huge step for my “family” – the circle of precious people I've had the privilege to share my life with. No photos or clips yet, I'm afraid, but I'm on it.

P.S. While doing some research for this piece, I got absorbed by the variety of advice, concern and information related to this topic. I'm very lucky to be able to read in many languages and in this way be able to get an insight on what the different countries(and also the different nutrition corporations) want to highlight in their articles on the need of more shared time in the kitchen. If You're bored, try googling “eat together” in all languages you know. It's pretty fun comparing. Not all of the links are of high quality or something I fully agree with, but anyway bellow You can find some examples.

In English:
En français:
In italiano:
(I'm not a Nestlé fan at all, but it's interesting to see how these things are formulated)

På svenska:

September 18, 2011

I Found Gold

A scary truth that very often consumes my thoughts while grocery shopping in huge sterile supermarkets is that many people today, especially kids hardly recognize real fruits, real vegetables, real meat or correctly identify their original source any longer. Can you blame them though? I'm saying, that if the only source for tomato sauce for example, is a glass jar with a fancy label on or if one only has seen meat is nicely cut cubes, no wonder people get confused by the real thing and the process behind the end result. Just to mention one of my absolute favorites, the ready pressed frozen garlic that comes in these little plastic moulds! Moving need to get bitter.

Any way, I always thought that I was someone who knows the real, original source of things I put in my mouth, or at least I always try to be as aware of it as possible. Turns out, it's not always like that. Coming from a country like Finland famous for its forests, I'm even a bit ashamed of admitting the following. Regardless of my love for different sorts of mushrooms, it hit me that I've actually never intentionally went to the forest for gathering mushrooms. Of course I more or less know in what type of forests mushrooms grow and what time of year they grow, but never have I got fully equipped for a mushroom hunt. 

A few weeks ago I changed this unfortunate fact. With a little wooden basket on my arm and a little knife with a special brush on the other end, I went into the wild (meaning the forest next door, it's all relative). What an adventure, what a wonderful way of getting in contact with the nature, to not even mention the enormous amount of learning a stroll of a couple of hour can entail. I was completely mesmerized by the unspeakable variety of smells and colors a forest in autumn had to offer. Greens, yellows, reds, browns, the spectrum was breathtaking. After the first stock of nature I managed to concentrate on the essential – the mushrooms. Big ones, small ones, round ones, oval ones, hairy ones, slippery ones, you name it. And to think that some of them could kill a man instantly!  I'm sure my face shifting between confusion and exhilaration must have been an amusing sight! I bet locals would've loved seeing me right there and then, the joke of the week probably with my old school rubber boots, my thick rain coat and my azure blue beanie. I guess I'm a city girl after all.

After half an hour of stumbling and slipping between the trees and the stones, my little wooden basket remained empty. Suddenly the forest didn't feel that amazing at all. I mean there were tons of mushrooms everywhere, but none of them were the right ones. Yes, I was in search of a special kind, the Chanterelles, the gold of the Nordic forest. You know the breathtaking colors I wrote about a few lines earlier? Well these freaking different shades of yellow were making me go mad only an hour after I fell in love with them. Typical. How on earth would I ever distinguish the Chanterelles from the yellow leaves? Impossible, I thought. Challenging my mood even further, the mosquitos got a sudden craving for my blood. Great! Slapping and slipping, I decisively continued my hunt for gold. Must find Chanterelles! Must find Chanterelles! Only to turn the knife in the wound, as we say in Finland, somewhere in the background I could hear my Dad shouting: “I've found so many already!” God damn it! The man is colorblind for Heaven's sake! The funniest family joke is the story of my Dad picking the green leaves instead of red lingonberries on a date with Mum! Now, suddenly he's the master of Chanterelles! I really had to step it up, otherwise I'd forever be the laughing stock of the family.

With the warm sunrays shyly peeking in through the fir trees, I kept on walking. Like a big baby, I was ready to throw myself on the ground and cry. I had zero patience left and I couldn't believe I was admitting defeat. In my state of adolescent anxiety and frustration, I kicked a few poisonous mushrooms off the ground and turned around to walk towards my cheering old man with his basket filled with mushrooms. As soon as I gave up, something caught my eye. I found gold! A yellow, golden yellow, shiny yellow Chanterelle family just sitting there, under fallen Burk branches. I was totally and utterly captivated by their beauty. Never had I seen such golden Chanterelles in my life. It felt almost wrong to pick them out of the ground, but I did. It felt so pure, so true. I found them, I picked them, the way it was meant to be. It was amazing how I immediately appreciated this Nordic delicatess that much more. As I was returning back home holding a Chanterelle in my hand, I really hoped that school kids still today get to go on adventures to the forests with their teachers like I did.