Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cool Effect

All day on 29 November, 2010, snow came down in the form of glitter. We appreciated the short hours of sunshine and then the street lights that lit the glitter up around us, allowing us to walk in our own pretty snow globes.

That night, Bryan called the girls and I to the living room window. Bright, vertical lines above all strong lights were cast up into the sky, giving an impression very similar to the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis.

This photo is clearer, but the one on top shows the effect better.

Very cool!

Little Star, Terhi

We hosted Terhi (roughly pronounced Tare-hee. Roll the "r" just a bit, if you can) as our exchange daughter for the 2008-2009 school year in Wisconsin. She is from a lovely farming area in western Finland. Luckily, we've kept in touch since she lived with us, and as a birthday present for Analeise, she promised to spend a day with her, doing what Analeise chose. While Analeise knew about the idea of spending the day together, she did not know when it would happen. When Terhi came in late November, it was a fun surprise for both her and Brooke.

This photo shows one of the holiday windows at Stockman's department store. Stockman's is Finland's oldest department store, and like other similar stores here, it has not only clothes and housewares for sale but also a magazine and candy section, a nice cafe, a deli, an ice cream store and a full service grocery store.

For family and friends who know Terhi, she's now in her senior year and is busy taking the final exams that weigh so heavily on her choice of colleges here in Finland. In these photos Bryan took, she's knitting a square that will go into a blanket destined for a charity that helps premature babies in Africa. Who said you can't be silly while doing something good?

Terhi taught Brooke and me to sing part of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in Finnish. The lyrics are below the video:

Tuiki, tuiki, tähtönen, Iltaisin sua katselen.
Korekealla loistat vaan, katsot alas maailmaan. Tuiki, tuiki, tähtönen, Iltaisin sua katselen.
Translated, that means:

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star. I am watching you in the evenings.
You are shining up so high, looking down on the whole world.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star. I am watching you in the evenings."

Terhi also taught me part of a Christmas song. Watch for that in an upcoming blog.

Bonus photos (taken by Bryan):

Bill Cosby is serious business, according to this look from Brooke.

Oh, partially hiding under the laundry - what fun it is! If you come to visit us, you can try this, too.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Our Thanksgiving in Finland

This photo shows Brooke's new knife, made here in Finland.

A Finnish woman I met worked in the U.S. last year and experienced her first Thanksgiving. She was glad to try something new but was not in love with either the turkey or the pumpkin pie. A cousin we have here said that when she was an exchange student in the U.S., Thanksgiving just never made much sense to her. Perhaps it's something that makes more sense if you grow up with the tradition. It's one of our favorite holidays, being that we are usually with family or friends, and we love the food.

Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Finland (usually only in the U.S. and Canada, in case you were wondering). So, it was a regular work day for Bryan and a school day for Analeise and Brooke.

While we do want to participate in Finnish culture while we are here, we also want to keep some of our traditions, so I did make a Thanksgiving meal. Our menu was very similar to what we normally have, with just a few changes:
  • Turkey Fillet, rubbed with a whole head of sliced garlic, fresh rosemary, oregano, salt and pepper
  • Mashed Garlic Potatoes seasoned with rosemary and smoked paprika (more info. below)
  • Green Bean Casserole (click here for the recipe)
  • Lingonberry-Cranberry Sauce. Lingonberries grow in Finland and are a cousin to cranberries, which do not grow here. I bought some sweetened, dried cranberries, chopped a handful and added them, with a scant handful of brown sugar, to a pot of lingonberries. That mixture was cooked, covered on medium heat for over an hour. Some orange rind was added at the end, as was the juice of a whole orange.
  • Candied Sweet Potatoes
  • Lovely breads (whole wheat and rye) Bryan bought at a local bakery
  • Salad with Ranch dressing made from a seasoning packet Aunt Kay sent (Thanks, Aunt Kay!)
The apples, mango and cooked sweet potatoes. We are lucky that these baking pans fit right in our sink. They come in handy during food prep.

For Dessert:
  • Apple/Mango pie with whipped cream. It turned out that six large apples didn't seem like quite enough, and I didn't want to go to the store. We had a slightly under-ripe mango, so I made a gamble by peeling and chopping that and adding it to the pie. The pie was otherwise made just like a regular apple pie (cinammon, sugar and dots of butter were put inside a double crust). The mango flavor was subtle but noticeable. Just like with the mashed potatoes, my family wants me to make our apple pies like this from now on.
  • Glögi (or Glögg in Swedish), a non-alcoholic one I bought made with fruit juices instead of wine, and sugar, cinanmon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and served with dried cranberries and tangerine slices in the cups. It is served hot and is worth making if you cannot buy it.

Turkey is not commonly sold in grocery stores in Tampere, except for at Christmas-time. Also, raw, whole birds are not the most common purchase here. At the places I regularly buy groceries, one offers raw whole chickens, but they have already been marinated in a curry sauce, which limits what I can prepare. It was lucky for me that with pre-Christmas (Pieni Joulua, literally meaning "Little Christmas") parties already being thrown around Finland, turkey fillet was available.

Also not commonly available here is pumpkin, either fresh or canned. In four shops, I found one pumpkin, but it was too large for pie and in bad shape, which is why we got lucky and had apple/mango pie.

The potatoes were one other thing I changed this year, and these are our new favorite mashed potatoes. Reading online that you can reduce the amount of fat in mashed potatoes by substituting buttermilk for whole-fat milk or cream and butter, I combined a couple of recipes and did the following, with very yummy results:
  • Chicken broth, a large sprig of fresh rosemary and four peeled garlic cloves were added to the water, while cooking the potatoes.
  • When done, the potatoes were drained completely and then mashed using warmed buttermilk mixed with some additional chicken broth and a small amount of smoked, hot paprika (Pimenton "El Angel" - Aunt Kay buys this Spanish paprika in NYC).
We hope that if you celebrate Thanksgiving, that you enjoyed this year's holiday!

Bonus Photo:

Aunt Kay sent a package of goodies from the U.S., which arrived on Thansksgiving, just in time to be included in our meal. Fun!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Friends in Gothenberg

Sofia and Kate

Gothenberg is Sweden's second largest city and sits at the country's southern west coast. In Swedish, it's written "Göteborg" and pronounced (roughly) "YO-te-BOR-ee." For us, it's a special place, as it's where our friends Sofia and Per and their daughters Klara, Anna and Lisa live. We visited the Danielsson-Gellerstam family in October 2010.

Klara, Analeise (her clown nose slipped down to her neck), Lisa, Brooke and Anna.

Leaving from Turku, on the west coast of Finland, we took a ferry to Stockholm, Sweden and then a train to Gothenberg.

Sofia, Per and their girls lived in Rome for two years recently, and this was to our advantage, as Per grew to love Italian espresso and treated us to that as well as to an Italian feast. From friends in Italy, they adopted a nice do-it-yourself bruschetta idea.

Do-It Yourself Bruschetta (Thank you Per and Sofia!):
Put on the table:
  • slices of Italian white bread (or the bread of your choice), toasted
  • several peeled garlic gloves, cut in half
  • a small container of olive oil
  • finely diced tomatoes
  • chopped basil
  • salt
Describe the process to your guests (all steps are optional, to their preference): First, rub the garlic clove on your toast. Then, spread on tomatoes and basil. Finnish by sprinkling olive oil and salt. Enjoy! It's fun to allow your guests to personalize part of the meal, and our girls remember this eating experience fondly. There are many variations to bruschetta, and you can simply add ingredients to the table if you want to give more options.

This photo shows the plates of toast. There were bowls of the bruschetta ingredients on both ends of the long dinner table.

Sofia and Per's youngest daughter, Lisa, enjoys setting the table, and here you see branches and chestnut shells she found on a walk. She also had large lovely maple leaves, sticking out from under each plate.

If you go to Gothenberg and like science museums, don't miss the Universeum. Among the things to do and see, there's a multi-story South American rainforest exhibit in which monkeys, birds and lizards roam through the many tropical plants. There's an aquarium with sharks, jelly fish, tropical tanks and more. There are changing, hands-on exhibits - the current one is about the human brain. For more information, click here.

This fun outdoor elevator is one way to travel to the top floor of the Universeum.

Say hello to Mr. Froggy Pants from me, if you visit the Universeum.

This rattlesnake from Texas is one of the animals in the exhibit about venomous animals. No insult intended, but you don't have to say hi to him/her from me if you visit the museum. I wasn't as attached to him as I was to Mr. Froggy Pants, above.

We got to take a nice walk downtown with Sofia and their daughter, Lisa. One of the girls' favorite spots is a very well stocked candy store.

Sofia tells us that it is a fairly common custom among parents here to have "Saturday Sweets." This means that sweets are allowed on Saturdays but not on other days of the week (except for holidays, birthdays, etc.). This seems like a sane way to allow the fun of candy without having an unhealthy diet.

Other sites on our walk:

A nice walkway near an apartment building. The fountains pay tribute to Gothenberg's importance as a sea port.
This funny, well-loved dog was near the fabulous Myrorna thrift store (street address: Järntorgsgatan 10). Bryan got an elegant, cashmere suit jacket there for something like 20 euros.

This house is from the 1700's.

You can visit this fortress on one of Gothenberg's high hills for a great view of the city.

Our first visit to Gothenberg in 2007 introduced us to allotment gardens, which exist in many cities. These gardens and little cabins, initially no more than potting sheds, allow the gardeners not only tool storage but also a place to retreat and to entertain, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city. Click here for a Wikipedia article about allotment gardening.

Lisa, Analeise and Brooke, near a set of allotment gardens.

Bonus Photos:
The building on the left in the distance was recently converted into cool apartments. If you look really (really) closely, you can see a rainbow to it's left.

Riding lessons take up many evenings for the Danielsson-Gellerstam girls (and for Sofia, who drives them to lessons!).

This is a set of apartments near downtown that were built as industrial workers' housing many years ago. They are now quite desirable.

Aren't there some fun people in Gothenberg?!

Street scene.

There are numerous playgrounds in the city.

A lovely thing about both Gothenberg and Stockholm is the way in which city planning incorporates spaces for walking and biking. Put that together with punctual public tram, bus, and ferry services, getting around without owning a car is quite doable.

That said, in Gothenberg, there are many steep hills, areas in which stairs are unavoidable and cobblestone streets, so if you have limited mobility, you might be best off using a taxi. I was once told that there are more ferries than buses in Gothenberg - it's on the edge of the ocean, and there are many waterways. If you ever go to the city, I'd recommend taking a guided boat tour.

Thanks for reading! For more information about visiting Gothenberg, here's a site for the city: http://www.goteborg.com/en/.

Father's Day in Finland, 2010

While this photo doesn't show you their faces, perhaps you can see from Brooke's body language that she's laughing. This is a shot I took of them in October when we were in Stockholm, Sweden. Bryan and the girls were laughing, laughing, which is something they often do together and is one of the reasons I know my girls are lucky to have him as their dad.

Father's Day is Isänpäivä in Finland and has been celebrated on the second Sunday in November since the 1950's. We followed the Finnish timing of this holiday this year, and I'm a fan of the fall date for two reasons:
  1. it has it's own space on the calendar, more removed from Mother's Day than it is the U.S.
  2. it is celebrated during the school year, which means that as with Mother's Day, younger students often make cards and even gifts for their father at school, w.
We started the day with Bryan's requested egg, cheese and ham breakfast casserolle and then had a slow morning and early afternoon, complete with naps and a sauna for Bryan.
Bryan's Father's Day gifts included chocolate, a wooden pen made in Finland, the chance for Brooke to be his servant for the day and a nice towel that everyone else in the family promises not to use (Bryan often has trouble finding a towel when he needs one - now he has one just for himself).

After lunch, I made these pastries that are common at this time of year and are referred to as a type of Christmas pastry:

Made with store-bought pastry, they are simply squares that are shaped into star shapes with jam in the middle. I used a store-bought raspberry jam and a lovely sea buckthorn (tyrrni in Finnish) jam made by our Finnish exchange student's mom, Eija Korpi.

Baked at 175 degrees Celsius, they puff up and are quite delicious. I forgot the egg wash, which would have made them browner and shinier.

We took the finished pastries to the home of one of Bryan's co-workers. Mike is an ex-pat originally from Tennessee who has three kids here in Tampere and seems to love Finland. It was fun to be with another father on Father's Day, and the kids got to watch cartoons for hours while the adults drank coffee and talked. It was a nice day and hopefully a good Father's Day for Bryan.