I have been doing some traveling. It is one of those weeks that has involved planes, ships and three different countries. But first there was Turku and a visit to one of my favorite cafés, Cafe Art or Art Cafe along the Aura River.
Free wifi, good coffee, lots of space. A wonderful place to work. I had an entire room to myself with a view of the river and cyclists zooming by…
Their only fault is parsimonious hours.
Cafe Art, Turku
Two weeks ago we celbrated Vappu. It is the Finnish May Day, and Vappu Eve is the Finnish Walpurgis Night, something I remember reading about first in Goethe’s Faust. It still exists.
The official beginning of Spring, a sort of labour day and student day rolled into one, marking the half-way between the equinox and the summer solstice, it involves two days of crazyness, and wearing old hats that people get when they graduate from upper secondary school (high school).
A statue in the city centre gets a hat, too:
The crane is so they can put the hat on the statue!
Yellowed hats are supposed to recall many years of successful Vappu celebrations. On Vappu Eve, there is a lot of drinking on the street, particularly sparkling wine and champagne. This is Vappu Eve perfection:
A Vappu master!
The day after this revelry there is a picnic in Kaivopuisto, which was inundated with portable saunas. As per tradition, the weather was cold and rainy– but still beautiful.
Vappu sky over our picnic
After a couple of hours we retreated inside for 9 hours of relaxed revelry with friends. It was extremely fun. A tremendous amount of food was consumed.
The birds were still partying the next day:
After party for the crows
When the storm cleared away, leaving this amazing sky:
Vappu storm clearing
Brussel sprouts have the potential to be exquisite. These were incredibly simple. Hot oil, sprouts chopped in half, add to oil chopped half down. After a bit, put a lid on. Add a bit of water if needed to get the pan juices. Sprinkle with flakes of fine sea salt.
Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Sea Salt
Cooked this way they get a sort of sweetness. Broth could be added instead of water. If you have no objection, I recommend trying this with duck fat, but butter and vegetable oils– including coconut oil– work as well. You can have it going while you cook something else. If only brussel sprouts were not so expensive!
Easy paleo and gluten-free friendly breakfasts full of vegetables:
Eggs and vegetables
For a several weeks,
This last one was served over baby chard– the only sort of chard available outside of high summer in Helsinki. I have been making something like this every morning. The possibilities are infinite.
A wonderful, difficult, and helpful discussion about depression with Jennifer Michael Hecht on On Being.
A visiting friend invited me to Juuri for the first time last fall and it was fun. The food is presented well, but I think they make a wee bit too much of a fuss over their unique concept of Finnish tapas. This time, a group of us were coming in for a late afternoon drink and snack after a tour of galleries nearby. It was four in the afternoon, but the waitress still seemed to be pushing a bit for people to order a main course, or more tapas. That aside, it is a nice place and a favourite of visitors, since they have a lot of traditional flavours on the menu. One of the plates I ordered– the special of the day– was not too special, but the fish was delicious.
Another foray into magical and mythical Finland.
This one included pre-historic rock paintings:
This was in a stunning location; it certainly felt magical there.
And a visit to the Jugendstil villa of Eliel Saarinen:
Eliel Saarinen is well-known for the design of the central railway station in Helsinki. Although I am not a hug fan it is quite famous. Eliel Saarinen also designed plans for the extension of Helsinki towards Munkkiniemi, Munkkivuori and Haaga, but their realization proved to be too expensive.
A day with these sights is fairly amazing, I think. Finland, and Finnish mythology in particular, as an inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkein seems obvious in these magical places. I think any fan of Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit would appreciate the little wonders lying hidden in the Finnish forest.
Spring is officially here. The late spring as the weather struggles towards summer can be rough, the body feeling depleted of nutrients, vitamins, sunshine. A couple weeks ago I got delicious organic fennel from my food co-op. It was Italian. Here are some things that I did with it:
Duck breast and fennel
Duck breast is really easy– pan friend, excess oil scooped out and used to cook the carrots and fennel. Then I put it all in the oven to get it extra crispy. The juices of the duck added to the vegetables when served.
It has also been asparagus season in Europe:
Asparagus and fennel
However, the most spectacular was an easily roasted chicken, using my slapdash interpretation of Marcella Hazan’s famous and foolproof roast chicken with lemons. (Here recipe is all over the interwebs, but that link is to a no-frills posting of it on the New York Times). My lemons were too large, so I had to cut them and only used one. The fennel was cooked beneath the chicken; this must be one of the best ways to cook fennel.