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.

December 3, 2012

Kissed by Cachi*

*I believe the proper English name for this fruit is 'persimmon'. I like to call them 'cachi' as that is the name I've learned to call them by living in Italy. 

There’s a certain beauty in tasting something for the first time. You have no clue what to expect, no previous taste records to delude your judgment. Your thoughts are running wild as you’re determining whether the new edible encounter will please you or repulse you. When you’re about to eat something for the first time many circumstantial factors come into play. You'll probably end up having different kinds of reactions, depending on your whereabouts, your mood, your state of mind in the situation. 

I think being a “taste virgin” is extremely arousing. As much as I love eating a delicious dish that is familiar over and over again, it’s far more exciting when the experience is completely new and thus somehow purer.  When faced with an unknown food item, I observe and I assess, I touch, I feel and I smell. Finally, when curiosity meets the acceptance, I have a taste. I find myself performing this ritual, which step by step builds up an energy inside of me that in the end gets released with the first bite. Most delighting is the very first reaction; the very first response to the interaction of the new food and my taste buds. But how do you describe a taste when you’ve never tasted anything like it before? Theoretically, we are unable to describe a taste without a previous encounter with a similar taste. We simply lack the words for it. But what if the physiological feeling derived from a new food item reminds you of something?

A friend and I had been sitting at a café for hours working on a project here in Bra. I felt weary and under the weather and was in desperate need of a little tasty snack to bring me back to life. In Italy, something as easy as having a quick bite can be surprisingly challenging for a gluten intolerant person like myself. The café we were at only served bread based snacks. A quick look out the window didn’t make me feel any better either; bakery after bakery after bakery. Typical. I felt defeated and cranky. Right when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, another friend walked into the café with his hands full of groceries. I couldn’t help my hunger so I suggestively glanced at what he had in his bags. Among all the yummy fresh ingredients, a strange fruit that I didn’t recognize caught my eye. I guess my hunger and my curiosity were rather explicit, “Do you know cachi?”, my friend asked me. Since my answer was negative, I was intrigued. He was kind enough to give me one.

Even though I was prepared to eat just about anything at that point, I took my time to perform my ritual in order to understand what I was about to eat. I had seen the fruit before, but a hard version of it. I learned that there are two types of cachi – the soft one and the hard one. Back home, it’s one of those exotic fruits that sit untouched on a little pedestal on the fruit shelf. All of them seem plastic, misplaced and are ridiculously over priced – a list of reasons that speaks for my disinterest to ever purchase one. In Piedmont though, the cachi season was at its peak a few weeks ago and the fruit looked luscious. I was pretty sure the beautiful fruit and I would be friends. I took a bite.

I got goose bumps, butterflies in my stomach and I blushed. I recognized that feeling, it was one of the loveliest feelings I know. I think the cachi and I became more than friends. I had just been kissed! At least that was exactly what it felt like taking a bite of a cachi. Who knows, maybe it was due to my raging hunger and my gray mood, but that the moist and soft flesh of this vivid reddish orange fruit felt like the lips of the most passionate lover. I lacked better words than ‘sweet’ to describe its taste, but there was no doubt about my feelings for the fruit I held in my hands.

I closed my eyes and stole another kiss.

November 13, 2012

Going in for a Kill

Being a hearty meat eater, I’ve many times pondered over whether I’d actually be capable of hunting down my own prey and doing the necessary “dirty work” in order to savor the end product. A beautiful steak is a beautiful steak, but before it sat on the plate in front of you to satisfy your lust for bloody juiciness, it was an actual living creature that hopefully had a happy life. My intention is not to raise a discussion on the moralities surrounding the issue, but I strongly encourage you all to reflect on it as I did a few days ago, when I found myself hunting wild boar, somewhere on the Piedmontese fields at 5.30 AM.

My excitement gave me no sleep the night before the big day. It was going to be my very first hunt. I flounced around in bed, restless, like a dog chasing a cat in his dreams. When the alarm rang, I was already up. Vincenzo, my hunting mentor, had knocked on my door earlier to tell me that he was waiting for me downstairs. I got dressed for the occasion; proper boots and other hunting gear. I ran down to the garage to help Vincenzo, I didn’t want to miss a single detail. He threw me an apple and gesticulated that I should hop in the truck, “Andiamo al bar”. For a minute I got confused, hunting under the influence of alcohol didn’t sound wise. My brain must have been still asleep at that point, since normally I know that ‘bar’ means a coffee shop here in Italy.

When we pulled over by the bar, it dawned on me. The rest of the hunting gang was already there, eating sweet puff pastry, drinking strong black espressos and talking wild boar talk. The vivid conversation came to an abrupt halt when I stepped in. A girl! A Finn! What? Why? I definitely created confusion in the highest degree. What a comical scene is was. An icebreaker was badly needed, so cracked a few stupid jokes with my mediocre Italian skills. It worked. I felt that most of the elderly men came around and accepted my presence. First test passed. I could enjoy my cappuccino with extra foam with comfort.

In a flash, we were back in the truck, driving on little curvy countryside streets. The air smelled of smoke and the fog characteristic for the region covered the whole landscape in its gauze. Vincenzo lit up his first cigarette of the day. No words were spoken – a moment of soothing tranquility. Just as I sat back relaxed to take a bite of the beautiful red apple that I had tucked in my pocket, Vincenzo made a sudden turn and drove off road onto the field. He had spotted five deer and was ready to get them. Before I knew it, there was a riffle horizontally right across my lap, “Can you shoot?” he asked me. My nervous laugher spoke for itself, “I can try”, I answered pathetically. Vincenzo laughed. He was only pulling my leg.  We had been too slow anyway, I understood, the deer had already lifted their heads. I assure you, I was now wide-awake.

We parked the truck on a field in the middle of nowhere. It was time to inspect the ground, search for paw prints and half eaten corncobs. Not a single trace would pass Vincenzo’s hawk eyes. There were prints everywhere, “only deer, damn it!” he grouched, “where are the fat bastards?”. After a while we spotted the first wild boar prints, “These are from last night though. See, the grass straw in the middle of the print is already standing up again”. Fascinating! Not only could Vincenzo tell how long it had been since the animal had walked there, he could also tell the direction it had taken and approximately how many they were. The city girl was stunned. We kept walking and I kept on learning more and more.

For a while I felt bad, worrying that I had brought bad hunting luck. We had walked around for hours and there were no wild boars insight. Maybe the others had caught them all during the time I was taught the ABCs of hunting. I was about to express my sincerest apologies, as the half time report echoed from the walkie talkie in Vincenzo’s pocket. It was something in Piedmontese, the local dialect with a slight French sound to it, but I understood that it was coffee time.

Again, the whole gang reunited at a roadside bar for a hot energy booster. It seemed that I hadn’t been the only one half asleep earlier on. The magnitude of gestures and volume of conversation had at least tripled. Many were also curious about why there was a Finnish girl tagging along. My reasons were simple, “I’m here because I want to learn everything there is to know about the food here and all details related to it. I love to eat and I’m extremely curious”. For a second, the elderly men looked at each other in silence. And then they all clapped my on the shoulder, “BRAVA!!!”. I believe it was the second test passed.

At 10.30 AM we were back on the hunting track and the sun was embracing us with its warmth. I was picturing in my mind how the wild boar would be dealt with once we’d caught one. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d feel about watching the beast getting killed. I don’t know whether it was the three espressos I had had within four hours or the adrenaline rush of the situation, but my heart was beating hard. I clung on to my camera with both hands ready to document each bloody detail. It was calm and the air stood still. The only sound I could hear were the bells around the dogs’ necks clinging as they ran frenetically back and forth with their noses in the mud.

At 12.30, like clockwork, rifles were stacked away. There was only one thing on everyone’s minds. Food. It was lunchtime. I must admit that it was the sweetest part of the whole experience. All the big, tough, manly men had a little cooling bag filled with nicely wrapped food items. Before I knew it, I was enjoying a full-scale picnic composed of leftover from the night before, cheese, bread, salami and other cold cuts. Everyone had something in their Tupperware that they wanted me to taste. Did I mind? Guess! I was having the time of my life, sharing food and talking about the wild. My hunger was satisfied and I was good to continue. I stood up so as to make a gesture suggesting I was ready to rock, but I was stopped by Vincenzo who handed me a plastic bottle, “Have some wine, my friend here made it”. Without hesitation I took a sip and handed the bottle to the man standing next to me, “No, no, it’s just for you. We’ll have some later”. With gratitude, I took another sip. “Brava Edith!”. A third test passed. Life was sweet.

A few hour later, still no wild boars. I could feel the hunters’ disappointment. Honestly, I was pretty bummed out too. I had prepared myself for a kill, physically and mentally. Nevertheless, I felt content. I had experienced something very special. It became clear to me that these Saturday early morning hunts were much more than just that. Being the inquisitive observer I am, in the end, I didn’t really mind just taking the experience as an anthropological inquiry. To perceive the different moods, roles, phases and routines within the group were utterly fascinating. Unfortunately, most of the dialogues didn’t open up to me as they were spoken in the dialect, but somehow I still understood. It wasn’t about what was said, it was the atmosphere and the experience as a whole that moved me.

As we hopped in the truck and drove toward Bra again, Vincenzo looked at me at asked “same thing next week?”. My response was positive. He smiled, I smiled. I got home, dozed off on the couch and dreamt of killing wild boars.

November 4, 2012

Food is Love

What a week! I’ve tried to grasp it, understand it and realize what transpired but I remain utterly amazed. Ever since I set foot on Italian soil I’ve been overwhelmed by the people, the food and the energy that surrounds me. Even though I spent months daydreaming about how it would be here before I actually arrived, I never imagined it to be like this. Officially, class hasn’t even begun yet but I’ve already been hunting wild boar for the first time in my life! (Stay tuned for more on that adventure)

Sure, I picked an exceptional time to start my year here. To be honest, I might not be fully sane nor sober writing this. Getting sucked in to the preparatory madness of one of the biggest gastronomic events in Europe (Salone del Gusto & Terra Madre) immediately on arrival certainly had its impact on me. Nevertheless, I’m fully convinced that I’ve found a place where my heart, my soul and my appetite will dance and laugh in delight, even when the “Salone reveling” will set.

In a nutshell, the Salone del Gusto & Terra Madre -fair was an absolutely dazzling experience. I couldn’t have wished for a better welcoming party. Actually, it’s better to call it a five-day long food orgy because that’s what it was: five days of joyous food-loving people, mind-blowing flavors and unforgettable taste experiences. Where ever I’d look there were smiling faces from all over the world, all reunited to eat well and enjoy the pure and simple things in life.  Half of the time I thought that I had died and gone to foodie heaven. I’m sure I’m not the only one still feeling a bit dizzy.

After day two, I expected the fatigue to slow people down at some point, myself included, but I was totally wrong. Sleeping was the last thing on everyone’s mind. Turns out, when you eat the best produce this world has to offer, you hardly need any sleep. Each time I was a little low or was lacking energy, one of my many new friends I had the privilege to encounter at the fair would come up to me with a bite of something so delicious that I was back in the game in a flash. A friendly tip: start your day by filling your belly with beautiful fresh mozzarella and topping it off with the most exquisite olive oil. You’ll be on cloud nine, I can guarantee that!

During the five days I was really racking my brain to understand what exactly made the event, in particular the atmosphere and the energy, so special. It turned out to be very simple. Food is love. And once you surround yourself with it and people who experience it as you do, you reach a state of divinity. What more do you need?

October 22, 2012

Living Bra:
  Towards the Gastronomic Year of a Lifetime

Yes! It’s finally getting closer. Only less than 24 hours to go until I’ll board a plane taking me away from the darkening and cooling Helsinki towards Bra – a little town in the Northwest region of Italy, Piedmont to be more precise. Ever since July 3rd, when I received the official “Dear Miss Salminen, We are delighted to inform you that You have been accepted to the University of Gastronomic Sciences” –mail, something inside of me has been bubbling, burning and tingling. Mildly put, I’ve been extremely restless in anticipation and excitement for the year ahead.

Most of the autumn I’ve already been there in my thoughts and in my heart. I’ve certainly grown a grandiose appetite for new culinary adventures and a tremendous hunger for Italian cuisine. I’ve been picturing my life in Bra; the people I’ll meet, the knowledge I’ll gain, and the food, mamma mia, the food I’ll eat…Each time, I’ve gotten utterly lost in the world of my daydreams where everything edible could be a potential new flavor, a bite of something amazing that I’ve never had before.

Bra, Bra, Bra. I’ve laughed and made all the silly wordplays over and over again: it’s going to so ‘bra’ in Bra. The food can only be ‘bra’ in Bra. (Bra means ‘good’ in Swedish, by the way). I’ll be in Bra without a bra… I think I can stop with the examples, you’ve surely got the point. Jokes aside, Bra is in fact located in a marvelous culinary region and is only a stone’s throw away from the well-known Langhe area famous for wine, cheese and truffles. Even though Bra and the neighboring gastronomic haven Alba are somewhat rivals, Bra too has claimed a strong identity as nucleus of fine wines and food. After all, none other than the Slow Food Association was first founded in Bra in 1989. Bra is also the home of rising culinary genius and unconditional love for food, as most of the students of the University of Gastronomic Sciences pilgrim here from all over the world.

As if there wouldn’t be enough excitement for this autumn as it is, two days after my arrival to Bra, the biennial world class gastronomic fair Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto in Turin opens its doors. Not a total coincidence I must admit, but still, the food event of the year just happens to conveniently take place the same week that I set my foot in the little town only an hour’s car ride away. Perfect!

When I realized this fact, it was some time this summer, I couldn’t see myself there as just another visitor. Oh no, I knew I’d need to get my hands dirty straight away. After dozens of emails, calls, visits and puppy eyed pleads, I finally managed to get deeper into the game. I’m honored and thrilled to get to participate hands-on in various preparations and represent Finland. I’ll barely have time to sit down and order a Spritz for aperitivo and indulge myself with a (gluten free) pizza before I’ll already be busy as a bee heading full speed ahead towards the delicious event.

So, boys and girl, if you wonder why my post for the next year or so will most certainly be very Italy-related, now you know the reason. I also have to warn you and maybe even excuse myself for the future posts. Something tells me that their content will be even more extravagant and foodgasmic than ever before. Let’s face it, what else can I except from a year studying and living in Italy, side-by-side with a hundred other food loving young adults, drinking amazing wines and stuffing my face with sensational Parmiggiano, than mind-blowing finger-licking culinary moments.

Bra here I come!

October 8, 2012

Purest Indulgence

Ever since last winter when I dove into the flourishing restaurant scene of Helsinki for the purpose of my Master's thesis, I’ve been licking my chops in anticipation of actually tasting the food that I analyzed and wrote about for all those months.

During a time period that seemed like an eternity, I was kept in suspense. In my thoughts, I had relished the new Finnish cuisine a thousand times. In reality though, it wasn’t as simple as walking in to one of these restaurants to just sit down and eat. There was a reservation to be made, money to be saved and the ideal season that would tingle my taste buds to the maximum to be selected.

At first, summer seemed like the most obvious choice. But I wanted to try something different and more special by not choosing the season that is in many ways the easiest for chefs, as the raw material availability is at its peak. Even though I have no doubt about these chefs’ skills in their ability to prepare “something out of nothing” amazing dishes even during wintertime, I still didn’t want to go that far. Neither was I prepare to wait that long.

Spring turned into summer and summer into autumn and I started feeling like it was time. Autumn in Finland is a fantastic food season with game, apples and mushrooms just to mention a few seasonal delicacies. It sounded just about right. Autumn it would be. I had also made it through the worst of my personal economical crisis and was ready to invest in myself – literally.

On October 2nd, I woke up like a kid on Christmas Eve. The day I had been waiting for had finally arrived. I often spend my days fantasizing about food and flavor combinations, but on this specific day, there were no limits to my imagination that was running far ahead of me.

I had made a reservation at Chef & Sommelier – a Finnish culinary oasis located in the picturesque part of Helsinki called Eira. Previously, I had been to this lovely little restaurant just to talk with Executive Chef Sasu Laukkonen. Smelling the beautiful odors coming out of the tiny kitchen that afternoon, as the team was preparing for yet another fully booked dinner was the closest I had come to eating the exquisite food they serve. Those smells made a huge impact on me and already then I knew that the days I’d return there I’d certainly do a lot more tasting than talking.

When I made the reservation, Sasu informed me of their upcoming game theme. Perfect! I love game.  Not only for the fabulous aromas, but also because, apart from reindeer, it’s something that I rarely cook myself. Besides, restaurant experiences should be something out of the ordinary and not comparable to home cooking in any way. To order something that you cannot make yourself is the best.

On that chilly October evening I was welcomed by a smiling team of positive and energetic culinary professionals, “How nice of you to come here for dinner tonight!” (As if dragging my ass to one of the city’s absolutely finest restaurants had been the most disgustingly horrible effort). “The pleasure will be all mine, I assure you”, I answered and sat down at my table. I felt overwhelmingly happy and I hadn’t eaten anything yet! I had to cover my mouth with both hands so that I wouldn’t accidentally scream out of immense joy.

A few minutes later, Sasu welcomed me like I’d be the only guest there. He handed me the menu for the evening and I swear I almost fell off the chair. It was beyond belief. Here’s what it said:

Pheasant and cabbage
Reindeer and lingonberry
Roe deer and hay
Sea buckthorn and fir
Elk and onion
Wild duck and porcini
Pike-perch and mushrooms
Cranberry and apple
Finnish cheese

Two hands covering my mouth didn’t help at this point. Sasu explained the process and content of each masterpiece and I was drooling like a dog. I think the elderly couple next were slightly uncomfortable due to my “ooohs” and “aaahs”… never mind them. I was ecstatic. Luckily, I didn’t have to choose one over another. Besides, I never do anything half hearted any way. “Bring it on, all nine of them!” I said. Sasu seemed pleased, “Okay, let’s get stated, it’s going to be a long night”. Boy did I love the sound of that.

Right when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, the second half – the sommelier –approached me with his wine recommendation. To my surprise, two out of three wines were natural wines. Fabulous. It would be a first for me.

When the first dish arrived in front of me, I wanted to relish that moment forever. I took a look at the kitchen, the dish,  I glanced at the people around me, then the dish, again, the wine, and then, the dish, the gluten-free bread baked just for me (!), and finally, I only had eyes for the pheasant that was about to melt in my mouth. And I can tell you boys and girls, it sure did! It was perfection!

As the dishes started rolling in, one by one, perfection after perfection after perfection, not only did I feel like the luckiest and happiest girl in the world, I knew I was the luckiest and happiest girl in the world. No doubt about it.

The game tasting at Chef & Sommelier was something I had never experienced before. Not only was the food amazingly delicious, it was the first time I knew for a fact that the smiling man dressed in white standing right there, a few meter away in his kitchen where I could see him, had personally selected only the most exquisite raw materials and prepared each dish with utmost love and care. His food philosophy shone through and surely created one of my most memorable dining experiences.  The words I wrote in my thesis made absolute sense to me now. Boosting the purest raw material in a righteous way and trusting in their naturally characteristic flavors absolutely pays off. And there’s nothing bland about it!

I can but only salute Sasu and his team for staying true and trusting both in their incredible know-how and the finest fruits of nature.

Thank you Chef & Sommelier!

September 27, 2012

Honey I’m home!

I recently got to taste something almost too perfect to be true. The sensation this divine treat created in my mouth was out of this world! I couldn’t stop myself from having more and more and more. And here’s where it gets overwhelming. This morning when I opened my eyes, this delicacy was the first thing on my mind. I even arrived late to work because of it; just one more spoon, this one is the last one, maybe one for the road, okay; seriously this is the last one... Hands down, I got hooked and currently I’m a happy but struggling addict.

It came into my life so unexpectedly. It happened last week on a gray and rainy evening in Helsinki. I was on my bike pedaling home as fast as I could. I’m not made of sugar, so it wasn’t the rain that made me want to arrive home with speed of lightning. It was something I had in my bag that made me rush. I couldn’t wait to get acquainted with it.

At home, I was too impatient to wait any longer. Dripping all over my kitchen floor, I unzipped my rucksack to get a closer look at the preciousness I had brought home.  It reminded me of my childhood, when food items were still bought directly from producers in the neighborhood. Lovely, already it made me happy and I hadn’t even tasted it yet.

So this big, light yellow honey jar from Marbacka Beefarm in Liljendal, Finland had been preoccupying my thoughts for the whole day and the moment I had been waiting for – the tasting – was at hand. Something told me it’ll be good, but at that point I still had no idea of what I was about to experience.

I sat down at the table in my tiny kitchen and twisted open the jar. The aroma it unleashed was exquisite! It had been a while since the last time I had this type of honey; the hard, sun-colored kind. Like I said, it looked and smelled like the divine nectar that this old nutty village beekeeper living a few houses away from my childhood home used to make and that my Dad kept on the table. After taking the time relishing in the first perception, I badly needed a cup of hot tea to save me from the cold creeping up my spine. Also, I wanted to do something I always used to do when I was a kid. When the kettle was steaming, I poured myself a big cup of tea and placed a spoon in the mug. I used to let the spoon get really hot and then, let it sink into the hard honey. I loved how I needed no force to get a big scoop, as the spoon would sink in without any effort.

I usually don’t like having too big expectations when it comes to experiencing tastes. Not only is there a far bigger risk of getting very disappointed, but you also psychologically deprive yourself from tasting whatever it is you’re about to taste to the fullest. Also, expectations sometimes take away the pleasure of surprise.

I tried my best to distance myself from the  taste memories of the honey I ate as a child. I closed my eyes and let the spoon of honey slowly melt in my mouth. The hot spoon burned my lips slightly, but the only thing I could feel was the absolutely gorgeous taste of honey. There was nothing that could’ve distracted me from that sensational tasting.

It was like a roller-coaster ride of deliciousness, with various twist and turns. It was dangerously close to perfection. Not only did this honey have a smooth, vivid, and especially characteristic taste, it had this amazing silky texture. And at no point was it cloying! At least that’s what I thought at that point. After my fifth spoon, I had to hide the jar in my cupboard so I wouldn’t have it in my immediate sight.

The next day at work, I was daydreaming about performing my honey routine all over again as soon as I’d get home. Again, I biked home fast and arrived out of breath. I ran up the stairs and placed my key into the key whole. I turned the key, opened the door, “Honey, I’m home!” Seconds later, the jar was on the table and the spoon burned my lips again, again and again. This is why I absolutely love the simple little pleasures food brings into my life.

September 19, 2012

Massive Goodness

So I went to London last week for a four-day-long mini holiday to meet a dear friend, a new friend to be and to eat as much as my belly, appetite and wallet would allow me. Prior to my trip, my only experience of England foodwise had been a week at youth camp in Kent and a very hectic afternoon on Oxford Street when I was a teenager. Safe to say, neither youth camp in Kent nor Oxford Street had much to offer in that domain.

My intention isn’t to insult anyone or anything, but England, a lot like Finland, even though for different reasons, isn’t one of the countries that come in mind when thinking about amazing gastronomy. Because I’m a Finn and I know for a fact that my country has been underestimated and undervalued over and over and over again when it comes to food, I didn’t want to get caught up in the cliché of English food only being bad, heavy and greasy. On the other hand, London can’t really be sided with the rest of the country, as in this transcultural metropolis with just under 8 million inhabitants, you really can find whatever food you could possibly imagine eating. I can’t say for certain, but at first sight it sure seemed that the actual English food was rather underrepresented.

The most British food I tried.

Already on the three-hour flight from Helsinki to London, I learned that the word to use in London is ‘massive’ and the food to eat is curry. I wanted to arrive a.s.a.p.! I was curious, impatient and hungry for my first London experience (the previous one doesn’t count). As soon as the plane landed and I had barely made it through passport control, an older Englishman already came up to me and wanted to buy me a fish and chips and a G&T. It must’ve been written on my forehead that I was both hungry and thirsty and I almost accepted his kind offer, but I was in hurry to get to my friend’s house, so I politely declined.

Actually, it was my friend’s friend’s house, to be precise. Such details are unnecessary, the only thing you need to know is that I was hosted by two very lovely Bulgarian women, Plamena – an ex-colleague and a dear friend and Yana – Plamena’s old friend, who has been living in England for a while now and who also, to my contentment, turned out to be quite a foodie and a living London encyclopedia. What I know about Bulgarian food isn’t nearly enough, but let’s say that I had already been convinced by the country’s culinary potential, and thus had certain food-related expectations. When the girls greeted me at the train station, their hair smelled of oven-baked peppers. Very Bulgarian and very delicious, I couldn’t wait to dine! However, a part of me wanted to know British food.  But something that I almost immediately understood about the culinary scene in London was that it’s all about multiculturality at its finest. Suddenly, having a Bulgarian dinner didn’t feel that off track at all. It in fact, it fit like a glove and I ate with great pleasure.

Beigles and 'fika' – world's apart but next door neighbors on Brick Lane.

And then, an hour later, Lao/Thai street food.

It’s funny when people who love food meet. It’s like nothing else has any importance and everything revolves around food. After dinner, very full and very content, Yana took me through London’s divers districts on the map, “This place is great, there’s … Oh and there’s this amazing café that has massive pie that are just too good to be true”. I’m absolutely awful with maps and directions, but somehow, I managed to follow. It was easy; there was always some ‘you have to try it’ food-related twist to each place. I’d just have to follow my strongest inner drive – my appetite and I’d stay on track for sure. I hadn’t seen anything yet, but London already seemed like my kind of city.

The next day, I got up inhumanly early. Must have food! On the double decker bus with The Smiths singing in my ears, I had made sure to have a travel snack in my rucksack. The little organic deli at Herne Hill had delighted me with home-made flapjacks, fresh plums (from Kent!) and aubergine and tahini salad.  With a fork in my pocket, a map with plenty of yummy destinations pointed out all over London in my hands, I was good to go. I know I often tell you how excited and psyched I am when I’m living life through my many culinary adventures, but what else can I say?! I guess food simply has that intoxicatingly exuberant effect on me. And to describe it another way would be a lie. And I love it! So there I was, in London, the sun was shining, I had a map and good food in my immediate reach, good music that I had downloaded for the occasion (80’s hits) on my iPod, I could only be excited, psyched, high on life, ecstatic and beyond! Even though I’ve traveled a lot since I was a child, this was my very first time to be discovering a huge city solo. Plamena and Yana both had work to do, so I promised I’d eat for all three of us.

I'm not a beer drinker at all, but this was divine and as local as it gets. The brewery was located next door.

One of the sexiest fruits. Also one of my favorites. 

Pop-up street food in Shoreditch.

During the four days I spend eating my way through London, like any good Finn, I firmly kept my promise to the girls: Pop-up street food, grilled burgers, vegan burgers, Jamaican chicken jerk, Brixton Market, Dalston Market, Brick Lane Market, Borough Market (where I cried happy tears when I found a young and charming baker who sold gluten free and sugar free banana loaf cake), countless cafés and bars, pubs, deli stores, China town, meat pies, cheese, fruit, fish and chips… I don’t think I’d exaggerate if I told you that there wasn’t a moment where I didn’t eat, wasn’t on my way to eat or wasn’t planning on going somewhere to eat. How I managed all that eating? I walked. You must think I’m crazy, which I probably am, but seriously, London is totally doable on foot. Sometimes I had to cheat and hop on one of those massive red busses, but it was like a joy ride. I always, except once, got the first row seat with the big window on the second floor. Nice and touristy.

Meet my beloved...

...baked in this bakery.

I must say, the city offered my appetite and I an unforgettable culinary stimulation. Not only will London make you feel like you’re in about twenty countries at once, but you’ll be able to eat in all of them too! What’s amazing is that the many immigrant communities are so well established foodwise that you’ll really get that authentic and genuine feel of the countries’ food cultures.

Very tasty. Brits make good cheese.

A favorite? I don’t know if I could pick favorites out of my many yummy London discoveries, but there was one I’ve never done before. A very well-informed and well-eating Londoner called this place the best Pakistani restaurant in town, “You know how people tell you to have curry here, well this is even better!” How could I resist? This place called Tayyabs, located on 83-89 Fieldgate Street London E1 1JU, is a stone’s throw away from Brick Lane. Tayyabs serve amazingly delicious food, but no alcohol. Bringing your own is allowed though. Not that you need alcohol, but for a Finn to be told to bring your own booze to a nice restaurant felt so impossible, illegal even. When in Rome…

An absolutely gorgeous plate of grilled meat.

I made my way to the restaurant from Brick Lane together with Plamena on my last evening in London. The map we had didn’t show further East from Whitechapel, so the rest of the way we had to follow the delicious smell of grilled tandoori. With a plastic bag containing two big ice cold Magners we entered foodie heaven. We ate. We ate again. And we ate more. The waiter couldn’t believe his ears when we ordered a second round.  I really don’t need to praise the food further. It honestly speaks for itself. Go and try it!

Ready for more!

In the end, I didn’t have curry, but I damn sure can say London offers massive goodness!

September 17, 2012

I Learned From the Best

I’ve written about the amazing karjalanpiirakka – Finnish/Karelian rice pies – before.  I even made an attempt to bake some little less than a year ago with rather satisfactory results. On top on that, I actually managed to inspire a young Turkish woman to try making them. That was cool! And she did an excellent job, to say the least.

But now, I can write about this superb Finnish delicacy again, since this time, I can say that I know how to make the traditional pies the way they really should be made. Not only was my teacher an elderly woman from Karelia, but she is, in fact, ranked among the country finest karjalanpiirakka bakers! That is cool!

People have different ideas about how to spend a sunny Saturday night.  Parties, dinner parties, dates, cinema, theater, concerts... What is expected out of a Saturday night is for something out of the ordinary to take place. Something intoxicating – literally and figuratively speaking. Usually, the preferred activities involve reaching a euphoric state of mind in one way or another. Expectations are most often sky-high and disappointments are commonplace. Sure, I can recognize the aforementioned in myself too, but still, for me, staying in on a Saturday night making karjanlanpiirakka with a jolly old lady couldn’t be more perfect.

I arrive to the home of the master of karjanlanpiirakka in the late afternoon that Saturday. Seija Raitanen greets me with a big smile and a hug that almost breaks my ribs. It has to be a part of the charm of Karelian women, I thought to myself, and squeeze her back as hard I can. She’s full of energy and all ready and prepared for the occasion, “I woke up at 6 am today, so I’ve already prepared the rice porridge” (the filling for the mouthwatering pies). Damn she’s effective. I need to step it up to stay in her pace and not disappoint her. Even though I have the advantage of age, she would beat me any day in what she has been doing all her life. I simply have to hand it to her, respect!

Before I know it, her fingers are working the dough. It’s beautiful watching her work and soon I find myself utterly dazzled by both the speed and perfection that surrounds her culinary performance. “Earth to Edith! Did you come here to daydream or to work?” she asks. I love this woman! No time for apologies or unnecessary babbling, I have pies to make.

So this is the drill. The dough is rolled into a long slab about the thickness of a big carrot. Then, the slab is cut in small 2cm wide pieces. The pieces are then flattened with a push of a thumb. The stack of flattened round dough pieces optimizes the work. Logical and efficient, it all seems pretty easy and I’m, seemingly, doing a great job. I keep trying to lock eyes with Seija for her approval. She approves with a firm but encouraging “Hyvä!” (good). No need for nonsense and worthless praising. She’s happy with my work and that’s all I need to know.

When the stacks of flattened dough balls are done, we are all set to start rolling the dough pieces thinner than thin pie bases. Seija starts talking, “I used to hate this sound” (the karjanlanpiirakka roll pin makes a pretty distinctive and constant knocking sound as it hits the table when working the dough). “My mother woke up early on Sundays to make karjanlanpiirakka and on purpose made a terrible racket as to wake me up. I usually came home late from a dance on Saturday nights and making karjanlanpiirakka was the last thing I wanted to do. But I had no choice. Newly baked steaming karjanlanpiirakka were an integral and vital part of the Sunday lunch. That’s how it had to be and that’s how it always was”. All the while Seija talks, her hands work. A scoop of rice porridge on the thin dough base, fold the sides and do the “rypytys” (literally “wrinkling”) and voilà! Her reflexes and the technique lie on decades of experience. “I used to do much more beautiful pies and a lot faster. I’m old now and my fingers hurt”. So modest and unpretentious. I can only smile.

Seija made five Karelian pies or so and left the baking duty to me. After a few not so pretty ones, I start getting the right feel to it. Some of the pies were exquisite, if I say so myself. When the first oven plate has about a dozen pies lined up side by side, Seija puts them into the extra hot oven. “Be sure to have the oven as hot as possible”, I nod and register the information. A few minutes later her little kitchen smelled heavenly. My mouth is watering and I suddenly feel very hungry. Seija asks me to prepare the “munavoi” (egg butter – hard boiled eggs mixed with butter) and I obey her command.

When Seija opens the oven, the sight of beautiful, sizzling, golden brown Karelian pies made my legs weak. Psyched out of the feeling of joy, I start jumping around the kitchen like a little kid. “Now we dip them in a mixture of milk and butter and let them cool down”. Oh no, I still have to wait before I can sink my teeth in the most perfect karjanlanpiirakka I had ever seen.

I hate waiting and ten minutes felt like an eternity. When Seija finally told me to eat, I thought I’d explode of happiness. I took a warm and crispy karjanlanpiirakka in my hands and smeared a thick layer of egg butter on it. Orgasmic! Amazingly delicious! One pies, two pies, three pies, four… after that I stopped counting. Seija’s smile when she watched me eat was priceless.

Thank you Seija!

September 2, 2012

Sunday Yummy Sunday

After serving about 300 Finns as much booze as their system possibly could tolerate at Restaurant Kellohalli’s opening party and also cleaning after them until 4am last night, I slept like a baby to wake up to a marvelous, food-filled first Sunday in September.

Whether it’s the knowledge of the following day being a Monday or whether it’s just the “low-activity-mode” that Sunday tend to imply, Sundays are usually filled with blues and melancholy. Somehow, this morning, contrary to what I expected since I crawled into bed at 5 am, I woke up five hours later to the fresh autumn breeze that blew into my room through the open window. The air smelled of rain and sunrays. Already I knew, this Sunday was going to be a good one.

Because it has been a while since I’ve given in to pure hedonism, I decided that on this very Sunday, I’d do exactly that, and reward myself to the fullest. In my book this means taking the day as it comes, smiling a lot, laughing a lot and delighting my appetite with little treats all day long. But also, it means moving, biking, running, hiking – anything. Plus, writing about it all in the end – especially the food part. This, for me, equals a perfect self-indulgent day.

Still unwilling to test how my legs would carry my weight after running around non-stop for 12 hours at Kellohalli, I started teasing my hunger with thoughts of a scrumptious breakfast. Beautiful velvety biological yoghurt served with toasted almonds and apple mash that I made myself the other day. Top that with fresh coffee spices with cardamom and cinnamon… My smile was almost painful, that’s how big it was. Rise and shine! I was hungry.

Not long after I had thoroughly enjoyed my heavenly breakfast, I already started planning for the next meal.  Very typical of me, I have to say. But before I would get too tangled up in daydreaming about more food, I decided to enjoy the sunny Sunday outside and go for a bike ride by the sea. The nice thing about Sunday early afternoons in Helsinki is that there’s hardly anyone around and the city feels all yours. And there was the huge smile again. I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought about all those people from last night with a dreadful krapula as we say Finnish, who’ll barely make it out of bed by the time the sun goes down…

On my way back home, I stopped at the better food store close to my home. I decided to not count pennies this time and help myself to delicious raw materials without limits. The total sum of my groceries almost gave me a heart attack, but as I got home and unloaded my prey onto the kitchen table, I had already forgotten its painful price. Also, the smile was there again and that was what was crucial.

Since breakfast, I had had cravings for juicy meatballs in tomato sauce. My cravings were about to be satisfied: Chopped caramelized onions, fresh biological minced meat, rosemary, salt, pepper and a little twist for taste, fresh mint. My love for raw meat took over me for a second and I couldn’t resist eating the first meatball raw. Delicious! And they weren’t even done yet. I obviously need to exercise self-control more, by the way.

I managed to prepare the meatballs, brown them in butter and pour mashed tomatoes over them. My little one-room-apartment got filled with the luring smell of a perfect home-cooked meal. I just couldn’t feel happier. Or at least that’s what I thought.

With the meatballs still simmering on the stove, my mind was already racing to yet another cooking endeavor. I had invited my parents over for a little Sunday afternoon tea party. And even though I had promised to “keep it simple and brief”, I just couldn’t resist trying out a recipe that came to my mind the other day when peeling apples for my mash. Since one of the treats I bought at the store was a whole Camembert, I really wanted to try to replace the raspberries in my Raspberry-Camembert Tart with apples. I also wanted to try something new with the tart bottom: Toasted oat flakes and almond flour would do the trick, I thought. And it sure did, the tart was exquisite, even if I say so myself. The fresh rosemary I sprinkled on top fit the sour apples and the smooth Camembert divinely! I’m sure my parents left my home happy.

It’s almost midnight and my lovely September Sunday is coming to an end. But my smile remains. I’m sitting on my bed typing – the final part of my perfect day. My fingers smell of garlic and my room of baked apples. My belly is full and I’m ready to start a new week.

In the end, I don’t really know what made this Sunday so perfect. I guess it’s the simple little pleasures that make it all worthwhile. I can guarantee that Mondays won’t feel half as dull when you prepare yourself for them with an enchanting Sunday filled with good food, big smiles and simple pleasures.

August 28, 2012

I Demand Real Food!
It’s not the first time I get moved by food to extent that I did two days ago. It’s the kind of feeling you get when the person who you’ve secretly loved for what seems like an eternity, suddenly tells you that he/she loves you back. That’s the most accurate comparison I can think of to describe it properly. Many people ask me how I manage to get so emotional about food. My answer to that question is simple: that’s just how it is when you finds the one true passion in life. That’s also why I usually compare my passion for food with love. Most people, even the ones who haven’t found that one thing they burn for, can still relate to the feeling of being in love. Love, and the passion that love awakes in you, makes you do things you’d otherwise never do in a million years. To not even mention how it makes you act and feel in unimaginable ways. Haven’t we all been there... The next time you find yourself blushing, your hands trembling and your heart racing when faced with the source of your passion, you’ll understand how I feel about food. 

On Sunday, I attended a panel discussion on locally produced food in the little town of Loviisa. I wasn’t lucky enough to actually be one of the speakers invited to the panel, but I did my part sitting in the audience. To my joy, the room was full of people of all ages as I arrived. Like an overly eager little girl on the first day of school, I took a seat in the first row. Wouldn’t want to miss any of the action or information. With my hand sweating from excitement, I applauded the speakers as they took their places behind the desk set up right in front of me.

One man, above the others, made a deep impression on me. Mats-Eric Nilsson, a journalist turned food writer, engaged the audience with a very important and poignant topic – real food.

Real food is rare. It’s actually amazingly tough to get your hands on real food these days. Now you must think I’m being delirious, but I swear I’m totally lucid. In fact, I haven’t seen things this clear for a while. By real food I mean locally produced, unprocessed food. It’s food without an endless list of additives enhancing taste, texture and color. Real food isn’t posing as food, it is food. Why do I claim it’s rare? Take any product you’ve got in your fridge. Do you know where it’s from, what it truly contains and how it’s produced? Negative, I assume, because isn’t available, accessible or affordable. We have a problem. Also my new hero, Mats-Eric Nilsson, chewed on these facts. Let’s unravel this problem, shall we.


Where I live in Helsinki there are few decent food stores at people’s disposal. Sure, there are probably hundreds of super and hypermarkets, but they all sell the same stuff more or less. And of the I’m thinking a majority of that stuff isn’t real food. One simply needs to take a closer look at the content. Before you’ve reached the end of the ingredient list, the store you’re shopping in will probably close.


Now, there are of course open-air markets that still sell real food produced by real farmers, but most people living in Helsinki for example, don’t have access to these markets. Open-air markets are known to open before the birds even start singing and the stands are stripped out of the best and freshest produce before lunchtime. The average working adult will for this reason never have the chance to even see a glimpse of this food. It’s like an urban legend one hears talk about. Those sweet amazing potatoes sold by the charming old farmer at the market… I still haven’t seen those potatoes, or the charming farmer.


Luckily, both aforementioned dilemmas have been relieved to at least some extent. Small producers who produce real food with the right ethics and food philosophy have been given the chance to reach the consumers through little food boutiques and shops that only sell food with certain quality and level. These shops are as picky as I am when it comes to food, its origins, purity and freshness. However, an additional dilemma arises. Even though I’d rather not eat for a week than buying bad, processed foods, I still can’t afford to exclusively shop at these little shops. Since most Finns haven’t realized that real food simply tastes better than “fake food”, the demand on real food is still rather low, even though it’s growing fast. And since demand isn’t grand, the little food shops can keep their current price levels.

* * *

There’s an important point that Mats-Eric also highlighted. This point needs to be taken into consideration when talking about the price one has to pay for real food these days. It’s about equal comparison. When it comes to food, people seem to be stingier than with other consumer goods. Take mobile phones for instance. I don’t think there’s anyone who thinks they can get a brand new iPhone for the price of an old Nokia phone. Because the person who wants an iPhone knows the quality of the product and thus estimates it higher than an old Nokia, this person makes no objections when typing in the credit card pin code, making him the owner of a brand new super phone. Same goes for cars. Like Mats-Eric argued, “no one would ever argue the remarkable difference between a Skoda and a Jaguar”. Still, for some despicable reason, people can go for hours complaining about the price of a locally produced biological cucumber comparing it to a hard, plastic-like, Spanish one. I rest my case.

This is the point during the panel discussion that I seriously thought I would stand up and scream out of relief that someone says theses things straight out loud. I wanted to jump over the desk that served as a barrier between us and embrace this amazing Swedish man who spoke straight to my heart. There were elderly people and children in the audience, so I had to detain myself.

Not only did this man verbalize the ugly truth about people’s misbeliefs and total ignorance concerning food, he even offered a pretty straightforward solution to this seemingly heavy issue. It’s in fact the answer to most problems: Communication. Since a plastic wrapped, hormonally modified and chemically pampered piece of so-called meat can’t talk, the consumer can’t know the truth of its fate, treatment and life. Not even its origin is to more detail than its country of origin. In worst cases, the only trace of the products origin is stated with two letters, EU. The meat could be from anywhere and gone through all kinds of procedures, as far as I’m concerned.

Obviously, in one way or another, you need a face to communicate. And since packaging hasn’t gone through a 2.0 evolution (yet), there’s only that much information that can still be available on the wrapping of a product. Some producers have certainly tried the impossible and almost managed to write a novel on a 5x5cm label using font size 0,1, but that’s somehow counterproductive, I must say. Trying to read it will surely take me until closing time. So even though we have a solution, we need to find a way to implement the solution. Firstly, we must learn to acknowledge the lack of real food. Secondly, value real food. Thirdly, desire real food over “fake food”. Finally, demand real food, real food with a face!

After the panel discussion and after shaking hands with Mr Nilsson (and no I didn’t force myself on him), I was extremely pleased to find a "local food only" open-air market right outside the auditorium. As I walked from stand to stand with tears of joy in my eyes, there was one stand that I couldn't only look at. What I found at that stand was one of those true urban legend products. I had heard my Granny and Mum talking about it, but had never I encountered it in my life. Ladies and Gentlemen, an urban legend no more! Let me present to you a fine raw material: Ternimaito. In English, the best way to call it is first milk, as it is exactly that – the very first form of milk produced by mammals (including humans) in late pregnancy. In Finland, ternimaito is used among other things to make a delicious dessert-like oven cheese, which it couldn’t be any simpler. You mix ternimaito and normal milk, pour the mix in an oven form and pop it in the oven 175°c for 1 hour. When it’s done you sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar on it (personally, I prefer honey).  To give you and idea of the taste and texture, think about a crème brûlée and I think you’ll get the picture.

The charming (young) cow farmer barely had time to greet me before I was already handing him the money I owed him for half a liter of ternimaito. I was overwhelmed by happiness, had in tears of joy and I told him I loved him. No wonder the poor man blushed… I blushed too, so it was okay I guess. I couldn't help it, I had found real food! The man who most likely had milked the cow with his own hand, stood right in front of me. The farm where the cows live a happy life was only 15 km away.

In the car on my way home, I studied the ternimaito bottle with care. And this is what I read on the label:

Ternimaito from Henrikas Ladugård
Content: protein, fat and carbohydrates. 
Packaging day: 11.05.12 
Instructions: Stored frozen up to six months. To be consumed immediately after defrosting. 

Thank you Henrikas Ladugård! I also love what your product did for me.

August 20, 2012

Laughter, Tears and Deliciousness

A small step for human kind, a big step for little me: Yesterday, after having successfully executed a mini project, the one-day pop-up restaurant gØtt, I went to bed tired but extremely happy.

gØtt what was what my Italian project partner Veronica and I contributed to Restaurant Day. Since its first edition in May 2011 in Helsinki the concept, a Finnish to begin with, has become a global culinary carnival where passionate foodies like myself can test their wings as restaurateurs for one day. How does it work? It’s simple. Anyone can set up any type of restaurant, café or what-have-you anywhere they want, at any time of day. In a country like Finland, where starting any food related business officially and legally is a hand full, this type of occasion is really something special. One of the most fun ideas I’ve encountered is to sell small sweet and salty snacks from the fifth floor window of someone’s kitchen by transporting the goods to the hungry customers via rope and pulley.

Our idea was also original and well thought out. gØtt truly was a child of love for both Veronica and I. I was a Restaurant Day rookie, Veronica had done it once before and knew the drill. gØtt however, was a first for both of us.  Veronica, who has a love for design and fashion, and I who live for food and food culture, made a perfect team for Restaurant Day. Four days prior to D-day, we put our creative heads together in order to make our little dream come true. 

Step by step, starting from the smallest detail, we came up with a whole concept that we christened gØtt. When we first met in Helsinki, Veronica and I were both studying in Sweden. Both of us used the Swedish word for good – gott. Swedes from Gothenburg pronounce it not with o [o] but with a [ö] – a phoneme, which is probably unfamiliar to you who have no experience of a Nordic language… gØtt sounded good, it looked good, it was gött. The Norwegian letter ø gave it aesthetics that pleased our eye ;)

Because both Veronica and I are totally loyal to our ethics and morals when it comes to food and our surroundings, we also wanted gØtt to reflect that as clearly as possible. Not only did the food need to be delicious and all homemade, it also had to be nature friendly and good-looking. I can’t tell you how many told us that we’re going way too far and aiming way too high. For us, it was all or nothing, so we remained firm regardless of critical feedback. 

Planning the menu made up the core our yummy project. What to cook!? It had to be easy, fast, efficient, take-away friendly, just to name a few criteria. And did I mention it had to absolutely delicious? After hours of twisting and turning each idea upside down and inside out, here’s what we came up with:


gØtt Rolls with Finnish Aura Blue Cheese, Pears, Spicy Pork & Sweet Prunes Sauce
(A very special and warm thank you to my beloved friend Tif Audubert a.k.a my recipe bank)

Sesame Cabbage Crunch 
Coconut & Curry Lentil Velouté 
Homemade Focaccia al Rosmarino 

Blueberries, Yoghurt, Toasted Almonds & Oat Flakes 

Elderflower Lemonade & Blackcurrants 
Mint Water with Apples

Everything actually tasted as delicious as it seems, I must say. And I can tell you, we didn’t take the easy way out. We didn’t cheat, nor give up when it got tough. And in the end it was a great success, even if it didn’t seem that way at 7 am on Sunday morning when we woke up to cook and prepare the restaurant for 40 customers.

All in all, after ripping my white sheets into 40 cotton napkins, painting 40 gØtt stencils on them, and sewing nice borders on them, collecting 40 glass jars from neighbors and friends and attaching labels to them, digging in trash containers and the recycle center for pillows and curtains, tieing pallets, huge metal frames, old luggage and other “decorations” onto a bike and transporting it all through Helsinki, I think I speak on behalf of both of us that we did us proud. A lot of tears, but even more laughter came out of this experience. The most important thing is that we did it and that we did it exactly as we wanted.

August 14, 2012

Super Man, Super Jam

If you haven’t already heard of what I’m about to tell you, you better read extra carefully and get both informed and inspired. It’s with great pleasure that I praise this young man who has created an amazingly delicious product line by sharing his Grandmother’s secret jam recipe with the rest of the world.

I have to hand it to him. Which14-year-old boy gets excited over making jam with his granny? I honestly can’t think of many. Anything unrelated to either sex or alcohol or other similar/related activities will probably not even make them get out of bed… Fraser Doherty, however, the super man of this story, seems to have been rather different and special. And boy am I glad about that! Again this morning, as I drank my tea and ate my yoghurt with toasted seeds and oat flakes, I popped open the little glass jar of Super Jam to add a yummy touch to my otherwise routine breakfast. I can only smile and think that FINALLY someone has got it!

What is so special about Super Jam? What made me so happy when discovering it? I’ll tell you. It’s completely sugar free, no sweeteners added – 100% pure fruit jam made out of “Super Fruits” (Super Fruits are fruits and berries that tend to have a high nutritional value and are high on anti-oxidants. Some common Super Fruits are blueberries and cranberries. Others are more exotic).

Let me break it down. Super Jam is the creation of a teenager from Edinburgh, Fraser Doherty, who after being taught by his granny to make jam according to a secret recipes at the age of fourteen, is now one of Britain’s most celebrated young CEOs. Pretty amazing isn’t it! Besides being among the luckiest 23 three-year-olds that I’ve stumbled upon in a while, he also gives lectures on his entrepreneurial adventures, writes a column and makes TV appearances. Fraser's most popular speech, as I’ve understood, is the one called "The Adventures of Jam Boy". It’s a speech revealing the good times and the not-so-good times of his journey from the comfort of his granny's kitchen to the much harsher and competitive real world.

I wonder when he actually has time to enjoy the wonderful jams himself?

Sure I was impressed by the man behind the jam and as a consequence I spent all morning Googling him to find out more. But above all, I’m thrilled to see how small producers, little by little, manage to break into the market with honest and pure products that prove a self-evident fact – there’s no need to add extra sugar when the raw material itself is already sweet by nature.

August 9, 2012

My Blueberry Memories

It’s the little things in life that make me happiest. Blueberries are one of them. Sweet, fresh, handpicked blueberries from not further than 10km away. Pure and simple, yet so exquisite and delicious! Exactly the way I like it. After having told you this, you can probably imagine how delighted I was to find an elderly man with a huge case of beautiful dark blueberries in his hands ringing the doorbell.

I’ve always enjoyed blueberries thoroughly. I remember me being about the size of a fire extinguisher, running around the forest next to our house and eating all the blueberries I could possibly find. I absolutely loved how they made my tongue all black. Cheap fun, good times. What’s better than that! As soon as I had thanked the blueberry-man, paid him for his hard work and shut the door behind him, I couldn’t help savoring a handful, and immediately running to my Mum and sticking my tongue out.  As we laughed and recalled the childhood memories together, another funny blueberry related memory came to my mind.

I must have been about ten years old, going to elementary school. In the beginning of August, when school started again after the summer break, the teachers were still nice, stress-free and keen on doing fun things with the pupils. An activity that was definitely a favorite, was going to the forest to do “field work” instead of staying in the hot classroom, learning the names of countless wild flower by heart. In order to make the kids all excited and motivated about the outdoor alternative to classic learning methods, the teachers promised that they’d give us 30 minutes in the end of the lesson to pick as many blueberries as we possible could and then take the stash to the school kitchen where the cooker would reward us by making blueberry pancakes. I don’t know if that was a good enough a carrot for the others, but for me – a little girl with a big appetite – it worked like a charm. There was a condition though. For the class to enjoy those yummy pancakes in the end, we had to swear we wouldn’t eat any blueberries during the actual lesson, neither while picking.

The first part of the condition I sort of understood, but the second part never made any sense to me whatsoever. Blueberries are so healthy and good for you! I mean sure, there wouldn’t be nearly as many blueberries in the basket if all kids would put every other handful in their mouths… Looking at it that way, I can see point. Regardless of the protests of 25 ten-year-olds, the teachers remained firm on both conditions: “If we see any of you eating any blueberries before we’re back at school, no body will get any pancakes at all!” Harsh, but still not harsh enough. What some little villains didn’t think of was that the teachers were a tad smarter and knew exactly how the control the situation.

I remember having a huge crush on this boy in my class and I also remember trying to impress him the best I possibly could. I guess he knew the power he had on me, so he didn’t hesitant taking advantage of it, the vicious little boy that he was. As I was floating somewhere on a pink cloud, day dreaming of my first kiss with this boy, vaguely listening to the teachers talking about some plants, I suddenly heard him call my name. All blushed and nervous, I asked him what he wanted. He dared me to eat blueberries with him and a couple other boys. I knew it meant trouble, but I kept my poker face and accepted the challenge. When the teacher turned her back we ran off further into the forest to perform the little crime. I was ready to show case my fearlessness, when my sweetheart told me that I should go first. The silly little girl with a crush in me obeyed and I did it without hesitation. As soon as I had chewed and gobbled up the handful of blueberries, the boys ran back to the rest of the class and left me standing in the middle of crime scene. All I could hear was their cruel laughter as they caught up the rest of the group. I felt like a total jackass. I couldn’t believe they managed to trick me. Luckily, I hadn’t been away for long enough for the teacher to notice, so I thought I was safe after all. As the lesson and the blueberry picking were over and we headed back to school, the teacher stopped abruptly stopped the platoon: “Time for a check up boys and girls!”. What!? How was I supposed to get away with this one? I had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. I remember thinking that the teacher was the cruelest woman on the planet when she made each kid open their mouth and stick out their tongue to see if someone had given in to temptation.

My turn was up. I felt like the teacher could smell the shame on me from meter away. “So Edith, will you be the one to blame? You know the whole class will go home without pancakes if you’re tongue is blue.” I stuck out my tongue, looked her straight in her eyes and decided to be honest: “I did it out of love… for blueberries. I just love blueberries too much and I only had one handful. If you want to punish everyone because of me, than fine, but please, just punish me and let the others enjoy the pancakes. I’ll go directly home after school. I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again.” She was speechless. I saw all my classmates holding their breaths. “Fine”, she answered and the class cheered.

I biked home that day with tears in my eyes, but with a clean conscious. When I came home, I told my Mum what had happened. Without a minutes hesitation, my Mum and I ran to the forest, picked some blueberries and made the best pancakes for just the two of us.

August 3, 2012

"It is rewarding fishing in troubled waters"

This post is specially dedicated to my brother. He's the best fish cook I know! He's suffering from acute leukemia a we speak and therefore won't be able to cook for a while. I'm caring the family banner in his honor.

I love challenges in every aspect of my life, but especially when cooking: the tougher the challenge, the sweeter the price. In fact, I get easily bored if I keep playing it safe, leaning on the same old same-olds. Of course I love to serve food that I know will taste amazing and make my guests happy for a fact, but in that case I won’t learn anything new myself. Also, I get a far better rush when I’m holding my breath to the very last second, without having a clue of how my food will make people react. The satisfaction when their reactions are positive weighs that much more then.

I made myself a promise on my birthday in the beginning of July. I swore I’d learn how to master the art of cooking fish and other seafood at an amateur level. Until now, cooking fish has been like Russian roulette for me. I never know what the result will be; it’s either very good or very bad and half of the time when I’m in the kitchen sweating it, I’m not really in control of the process. Usually, I’m pretty lucky and I end up serving a superb dish, but I can vividly remember times when the whole thing just ended up in tears. I’m also very dramatic when I blow a meal.

I was so dedicated to my promise that I even offered to work for free for my favorite fish salesman at the indoor market where I always buy fish. I thought that in order to discover the intricacies of this slimy creature of the sea, I had to take it from the top, learn it from the very beginning. Regardless of my good will and fierce motivation, it hit me a few days ago that I hadn’t gotten any further in acquiring deeper fish cooking skills. Even the book on the topic that I received as a birthday gift remained as good as unopened on my nightstand. Something had to be done.

An old proverb says, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.” I like the sound of that. As I live nowhere close to decent fishing places, I have no essential equipment, let alone the know-how to use such equipment, I needed a more modern interpretation of that proverb. I decided what I should do instead: study, learn, execute. I took a comfortable position, sat back and dove into Mitch Tonk’s book Fish – The Complete Fish & Sea Food Companion. Something told me Mitch and I would be best friends very soon…

“In the world of professional cooking a chef with good seafood skill and knowledge is highly regarded – the same applies, I think, to the home cook”, says Mitch in the introduction of his book. I fully agree. Maybe it’s the cold fact that ruining fish by cooking it poorly results in something so unpleasant for the palate. So when a cook, professional or amateur, manages to serve you a perfect fish dish, a part of you is always happily surprised and humongously grateful. Like I said, I do have some aces up my sleeve when it comes to fish and seafood, but I can’t rely on them nor my dumb luck, so I continued reading what Mitch had to say.

After internalizing one forth of the book, which had turned into my culinary bible, I felt like my newfound skills where ready to be tested. Ground rule: only buy and cook the freshest fish. If the specific fish type you’re looking for isn’t still jumping before your eyes, leave it. Unfortunately not all people can relish in the luxury of living close to the sea, so one has to apply this rule the best they can. Let’s just say that when fish smells fishy, walk away without hesitation. I got lucky this time. My fish guy offered me a Finnish Sea Salmon caught the very same morning.

Twenty minutes later the creature was staring right at me. I admit I felt intimidated. Failure was not an option, especially when handling such an exquisite raw material. I needed Mitch. Like any true friend, he had my back. After frenetically removing the gills before preparing the fish for cooking (very important by the way), I felt more confident. Another important guideline: keep it simple. Fresh fish needs almost nothing to taste divine. A couple of slices of lemon, fresh dill and small chunks of butter, salt and olive oil. I was good to go. Putting the beauty in the oven would’ve been too easy, so I went for the grill. Double trouble. I was as far out my comfort zone as possible but I had to do it. With my heart racing, I placed the beauty on the hot grill. I heard Mitch’s words in my head: “Fight the urge of wanting to touch it, turn it, flip it…Let it be and only flip it once”. I was being perfectly patient until the poor fish caught fire! All of the dripping butter and the oil ignited the flames and threatened my eyebrows. Panic-stricken, I had to call for back up. After a little help, the situation was once again under control. It was a close call, but precisely the excitement I was looking for.

Fifteen to twenty minutes on each side later, the treat was ready to be served. I’m certain my face was completely white, knowing how nervous I was. I managed to place the fish on the plate without breaking it. Disregarding the minor cosmetic defects, I was pretty proud of the result. Only tasting it would reveal the rest. I called my family to the table and while serving my loved ones I took a little bite. There were no words. I could only cheer and jump up and down of happiness. My reaction almost gave my Mother a heart attack. Safe to say that the fish was a winner. Three more very satisfied mouths can agree to that.

July 29, 2012

Classics Die Hard

The sun is making my eyes squint, the air stands still. I hear people laughing; talking about how we should enjoy the nice weather while it last – very Finnish. I’m about to walk into the marketplace in my little hometown, Porvoo. I can’t remeber the last time I’ve been here. It was probably years ago when I used to sweat my ass of selling ice cream in a tiny kiosk that felt like an over-heated sauna. All that feels light years away now, but everything has remained the same somehow. The same Thai-food tent, the same fisherman, the same jolly old woman selling strawberries, home baked bread and pastry… Some things are better just the way they’ve always been. It’s kind of soothing in a way.

As I make my way through what seems like a crowd on a Finnish-scale, I find myself overwhelmed with nostalgia. In some unexplainable way everything smells and tastes so perfect. I can’t tell whether it’s the sun, the heath or the simple fact of being so close to my roots that make me so utterly sentimental. As I try to interpret and make sense of my emotional roller coaster, I suddenly understand the elderly people’s ritual of sitting at the torikahvila – the market place café – even better .

As a matter of fact, the torikahvila is something special to me too.  The fondest memory related to it is that of me being 19 years old, newly enrolled at Helsinki University and commuting every darn day between Porvoo and Helsinki (1h car ride) with my Dad. My Dad worked in the capital region at that time so it was pretty convenient to ride back and forth with him. The only down side to it was that my Dad is a funny creature, who starts his day even before the birds start singing. He had nothing against dropping me of at the campus, but I was obligated to abide with his daily routine. There are only a few things that I love more than lazy, slow paced mornings, so my Dad and I had to come up with a tempting enough carrot to make me get out of bed in time.

My Dad had a suggestion that suited both parties like a glove. Not horribly off track of his normal route to the office and a reasonably short walk to Helsinki University’s main campus there’s a very nice torikahvila. According to my Dad, this market café offers the best sweet (possumunkki) and savory  (lihapiirakka) Finnish style doughnuts in Helsinki. The coffee itself is nothing to brag about, but it’s more about the ritual, the location and the idea than about the actual quality of the "sock juice" a.k.a Finnish filtered coffee. Sitting there in a cozy tent, having it together with a delicious possumunkki when the majority of the inhabitants of the hectic city are still sound asleep. The possumunkki – literally "pig monk" – is a typically Finnish, slightly pig shaped sweet yeast dough fritter, most often filled with apple jam and topped with sugar. In my opinion, it’s at open-air markets that you get the freshest and the best possumunkki.

At first, seeing the legendary torikahvila or more truthfully, an old bus turned into a torikahvila on Porvoo Market Square made me extremely happy. In a minute though, a deep sadness tore me apart. I realized that there was no way I could relive those sweet memories of going in and buying the best possumunkki I know, eating it like a pig and washing it down with "sock juice". It made me realize that it had been a while since I had been there the last time – I haven’t had wheat or sugar in almost five years now. Luckily, I was accompanied by a loyal friend and my eager doughnut eating Dad, both of whom wouldn’t protest me making them eat a couple for me. Problem solved!

Maybe you think I’m lying, but I’ve seriously learned to enjoy food through others, watching them relish something my intolerances prevent me from eating. So I sat back, relaxed and indulged myself with the Finnish coffee. It actually wasn’t nearly as bad as I had recalled. And with the fresh possumunkki smell softly tingling my appetite, I could – after all – relive the grand torikahvila classics.

Long live "sock juice",possumunkki and Porvoo Market Square's bus café!