The Kale in Kalevala

Almost every Wednesday I travel by tram to my organic food co-op, from which in the late summer into this darkening November I was able to get beautiful Finnish kale, both the typical bright green curly kind, but also silky dark green Lacinato kale. Almost every time, a Finnish person asked me “What do you do with that? How do you eat it?”. This happens to me at normal markets, too, about Lacinato kale especially. “What is that? How do you eat it?” And I answer passionately as best I can in my bad and broken Finnish.

Here is why this is so strange, once one starts digging deeper. Up until the middle ages, kale was likely the green that people ate most in Europe. While it is exactly the same species as our quotidian cabbage (as are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts…), kale, and collard greens (and the delicious spring greens that can be found in Britain) are closer to the wild forms of that nourishing vegetable.

You may start to wonder, given that they are all cultivars of the same species, whether there is anything special about Kale. I’m not the first to be skeptical. However, it seems to actually hold up to scrutiny. A comparison using USDA data shows raw kale to have significantly more vitamins A and K than raw savoy cabbage. Perhaps this is because it is closer to the wild form, not bred to last long on the shelf.

In Finland, the lack of acquaintance with kale is all the more curious, given that it rests at the root of the Finnish term for all Brassica oleracea. Observe for example:

Finnish Literal Translation English
Kukkakaali Flower cabbage Cauliflower
Parsakaali Asparagus cabbage Broccoli
Ruusukaali Rose cabbage Brussels sprouts
Lehtikaali Leaf cabbage Kale
Mustakaali Black cabbage Lacinato (dino) Kale*
Kaali Cabbage
*Also known as Tuscan kale. Interestingly, I recently realized that it’s Italian name, Cavolo nero , is identical to the Finnish: black cabbage.

It is neat that in Finnish, these cultivars are named in a way that acknowledges their close relation to each other, something that is obscured in English. And it can be no coincidence that KAALI is so close to KALE . Perhaps it is a forgotten echo of when the the Brassicaceae found it most pots would be something quite different from the pale heads of stiff cabbage most common in stores today. Something foraged and wild. Something closer to kale.

Whatever the cultural, environmental or economic forces, kales were forgotten, although they grow well in this climate, and are even made tastier with a little bight of cold. Now their comeback is tinged with the annoyance of their trendiness. A signifier of a certain lifestyle. An annoying one.

Really, kale is old, old news–part of the unglamorous past of Northern European cuisine. In the south of Sweden, kale is part of a traditional Christmas dish, called långkål , a tradition that allegedly is particularly strong in the free Hanseatic state of Bremen, which resonates with me for familial reasons…

Anyway, långkål involves, kale, butter and cream and I will be inflicting it upon my family this yule. But before that, I wish all four of my readers, who are very dear to me, and from whom I will be separated this Thanksgiving, the best of all days on Thursday and feasts if you have them, filled with love.

Postscript

Yes. I just wrote a long long post about KALE. I didn’t want to; it compelled me. It began when a friend noted that perhaps there was a hidden meaning in Kalevala. It started showing up in fine art:

2014.11 Kale Paulette Tavormina

This by Paulette Tavormina via Glutton for Life

It came in the post.

2014.11 Kale TJ

I began to see it everywhere.

I heard about a new form of kale, kalettes, that was created by a liason with my other favorite cabbage, brussels sprouts.

And then last week I FOUND SOME KALE EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FOREST.

Kale, in the middle of woods near Munkkiniemi

Kale, in the middle of woods near Munkkiniemi

Maybe now it will now let me rest. This is dedicated to L who discovered the title of this post, and whose magic set this in motion and M & Y who were once brave enough to come to a kale party, and R for the kale chips, quickly devoured, and P for making and sharing the first, delicious and beautiful, raw kale salad I ever had.

2014.11 Kale Card

Exquisite September, Beguiling Birgitta

If you are in Helsinki, you should be outside right now. The weather is painfully beautiful. The temperature perfect, the light mellow and golden. The days are at a humane length. It is a Goldilocks moment before the bears of winter return.

This month is also the last call for Cafe Birgitta, which will purportedly close for the winter at the end of September. The terrace looks out over one of my favorite swimming spots, but the inside is equally beautiful. Really, they could be serving anything, the setting is so perfect, and the fact they are actually offering interesting, well-presented food (towering burgers, chia seed parfaits, tempeh salads) explains the growing crowds that encompass everyone from what look to be exquisitely dressed business people to joggers in disreputable footwear who appear to have been seduced into taking a respite from their seaside rambles.

But it is the placement and construction of this summer cafe that is most wonderful; it creates a little sanctuary in a spot on the border of an old industrial area with one of the best and most open views of the water available in Helsinki. The building itself was constructed with oiled timber, reminiscent of old piers and lights inside are made from old fashioned glass buoys. A beach shack with a wood stove in modern Scandinavian design: just enough protection and warmth to shield from approaching autumn. The spot inspired this lament for the end of summer:

A low fire lips its iron cage
August hails the end of summer
Sun bounces back from shining waves
The Earth is flush from lengthened days
The city turns towards winter.

Rushing autumn now bundles limbs
once warmed by fleeting summer.
Shaking sand, bodies rise again
and fold themselves in shells
of wood and metal.

Footnote: Just noticed that in the picture above of pastries and korvapuusti (those delicious chewy not gooey cinnamon rolls spiked with cardamom) the words Honolulu and Valhalla are juxtaposed in a single frame. This seems a rare event… Yet, there is a strange consonant resonance between the two place names, pointing to something fantastical!

Nils Dardel at Moderna Museet

Head Hunters by Nils Dardel

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Another great thing about Helsinki is that it is possible to walk from here to Stockholm, by simply hopping on one of the ridiculous ferries that run daily between the two cities. I went to have a look at two exhibitions at Moderna Museet. The first that caught my eye… Click to continue reading

Uncovering local brews

At first, I didn’t realize there was any interesting beer in Helsinki. Then some appeared, expensively , when visiting Juuri or Valimo on Suomenlinna.

Pils (Souomenlinna Painimo), Mufloni Aamupala Stout (Beer Hunter's), Nokkospils (Ruokapuoti lumo)

Pils (Souomenlinna Painimo), Mufloni Aamupala Stout (Beer Hunter’s), Nokkospils (Ruokapuoti lumo)

Maybe it is just my obsession with nokka (nettles), but I thought that one was particularly wonderful. An interesting alternative to a green smoothie. These all came from the K-Market that is near the entrance to the underground in Kamppi, at reasonable prices.

Hot as Helsinki

Helsinki is actually hot. Hotter than it looks.
People crowding Eiran Ranta Helsinki

Escape the heat:

  1. Jump into the sea. Repeat as necessary. Unless you are in Espoo and there is toxic algae bloom because the Baltic is massively polluted.
  2. Visit Cafe Kokko on the north side of Katajanokka and enjoy a breeze over the water and some shade.

Green Smoothie Cafe Kokko

Kanavaranta North SIde with Wooden Sailboats Helsinki

Cafe Kokko Sign

Get thee to Forum Box!

This is the last weekend for a fun show at gallery Forum Box in Hietalahti!!! It features two artists, but the show is cohesive, playful and beautiful. Read more about it here.

 mobile sculpture of birds made of recycled materials-- Purhonen and Korhonen

Jesus sculpture made of cardboard-- Purhonen and Korhonen

Sculpture made of metal lids-- Purhonen and Korhonen

The artists are Kalle Turakka Purhonen ja Mauri Korhonen. I have been twice!. And while you are in Hietalahti, not only is there the water and the lovely market hall, tomorrow there is a special brunch at the boat cafe Nikolai II, featuring fresh produce from the gardens of Siippoo. I am excited by what they are doing with that boat– local organic when they can + live music. Let’s enjoy the ephemera of summer while we can.

Paradise: Rosendals Trädgård, Stockholm

It has been a while since I posted. I was having too much fun, it was Midsummer with enthusiastic sauna-ing and swimming in icy water… and then I got sick. Completely worth it, however : )

So this draft has been sitting here for a long time. Rosendals Trädgård is one of my favorite places in Stockholm. It is on Djurgården, an island that can be reached with regular public transportation, as well as the public ferries that run to the island. So, you can walk there from Helsinki.

Djurgården is home to great museums as well as the famed amusement park, Göna Lund. Rosendals is deeper into the island, an organic, biodynamic farm with a cafe and bakery in a greenhouse, tables in the orchards, and the most amazing bread . Absolutely idyllic.

A vineyard at Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

Along with edibles, beautiful flowers.

Blue, deep violet flowers in the gardens of organic biodynamic Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

A dramatic pink and black poppy in the gardens of Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

But they are probably best known for their food. The farm has a cafe that serves lunch, sandwiches and pastries along with teas, coffee, and a wonderful assortment of local and organic juices. These can be enjoyed in the greenhouse cafe or in the gardens, orchards and lawns.

Salad at Rosendals Trädgård in Stockholm

The salad was a little bit heavier than we would have liked. The blue cheese dressing was intense. But the fresh pea soup was a fantastic take on a Scandinavian classic, and the bottle of apple cider was arguably the best we had ever had. It was from Linas och Binas. Important note: Those people also run Bee Safaries!

Picnic Benches in the Orchard of Rosendals Trädgård Stockholm

The bread is haunting. Fermented, baked in a wood fired oven. You can see the fermentation in the air pockets and chewiness of it.

Levain bread from Rosendals Stockholm

We took some with us for later. The expensive nut seed and berry mix we picked up at the shop next to the cafe was also very very good. Simple, humble food that is absolutely sublime.

David Lebowitz has a nice post about the place here. He got a special tour of the bakery. The butter he mentions is also incredible: creamy, fresh, irresistible. Barring deathly reaction to wheat and dairy, this is worth the indulgence.

Bright green fresh pea soup and buttered organic bread
Yes, that amount of fresh whipped butter was perfect!

Yards and outbuildings of Rosendals Trägård Stockholm

On the road: Klaus Cafe

We recently had a great meeting at the Klaus Cafe in Tallinn. Outside of the Old Town, a trip there will take you to another view of the city.

The cafe itself is almost too adorable, nestled as it is in the same building as the Estonian Design House and shop, which exerted a siren like call on me.

2014.5TallinnBirdWindow

Everything in the cafe was presented with care, from water:

2014.5KlausBerryWater

To a cheese plate:

2014.5KlausCheese

To tea and coffee (here served in Iittala Taika dishes). I like the choice of pure black with it.

2014.5KlausCoffee

The front of their menu, the prices seem fantastic from the perspective of Helsinki.

KlausTallinnMenu2014spring

On offer: duck, a very good salmon soup that can be ordered clear or creamy, good tea served well, and two of the most amazing smoothies I have had in recent memory. I am looking forward to going back. Klaus is also a walkable distance from both Old Town Tallinn and the ships coming in from Helsinki, Stockholm and St. Petersburg. It also gets one out into an interesting part of town.

2014.5TallinOtherSide

2014.5TallinPaint

A side of the city I thought was interesting and visually rewarding. I would love to hear about other hidden treasures of Tallinn!

Got Greens

Sometimes simple vegetables can be so beautiful. This was just lightly cooked broccoli, bean sprouts, edamame and cucumber with a little brown rice vinegar, oil and sea salt:

2014.5GotGreens

Helsinki Vetus: Meri Makasiini

A straight-up classic fish restaurant with a great water-side location. A definite marina feel, with some view of big cruise ships and working cranes. At the end of Bulevardi. Our party was very happy and the service was great. They have shaded outside seating.

They were having an asparagus week:

Asparagus plate

That is most definitely a Hollandaise sauce.

The Crabber’s Salad. Good, with crayfish and shrimp:

Crabber's Salad

A pike steak dish:

Pike

A salmon dish, reported to be better than most:

Salmon

Lovers of water, ships, working ports and good seafood will love this old-school place. I was impressed by their decent wine list and local brews, like cider from the Suomenlinna Brewery. So, while some people are scared-off by the sign, which you can’t miss:

2014.5MeriMakasiiniSign

This is classic Helsinki– and a place that does what it does extremely well.