Thursday, 31 December 2009

Let thy servant depart


So here we are at the end of 2009. I had hoped to finish the year with a post that is half written covering our Christmas adventures and our New Year escapades in the Kitchen. It is a post that also looked forward to the year to come and to the adventures planned and under consideration. As it is unfinished it will have to wait for another day to make its way here. Instead I offer this photo which is of a little bowl of wasabi I made from powder which I added to some Miso, Sake & Mirin and am using as a marinade for some steak which we will cook tonight.

The news of the shooting in a shopping centre in Espoo today has however sombred my thoughts and as I sit here surveying the winter wonderland of snow from the comfort and warmth of my living room I cannot but help feeling saddened by what has happened. 4 people killed for no reason other than shopping for groceries. What were their life stories, who is mourning their loss now? I guess I feel all this so keenly because of the precious gift the boss & I have received this year. They all told me parenthood would change everything. I didn't believe any of them at the time and even before this sad news I had already lost count of the number of times they had been proved right. This is supposed to be a time for hope. I hope my blind faith will be enough.




Sunday, 20 December 2009

The woods are lovely

Outside the snow is falling and the land is dark. I have had a busy day at work and am in a dreamy mood: the kind of mood that comes from the weather - tonight is the kind of night I remember from within myself: it is the kind of night that is made for walking across fields, through woods, beside rivers, canals for just being out, lost in the myriad millions of snow flakes falling falling falling.

I have done such nights many many times in my life and I hope one day soon I will take my daughter Frances out on such a night and introduce her to the beauty of a dark night, a snowy sky, a walk without a destination, the poetry of just being a traveller as a blot on an otherwise quiet world. As a teenager at school I would regularly escape into the snowy nights to wander, into the clear crisp winter nights to wander and see the constellations, into the summer nights to wander yet none of them moved me like the snowy nights when the sky seemed full of wonder falling falling falling. The wind, the dark, the snow, the sound of my feet crunching through fresh snow, the fields luminous and yet indistinct, the woods clear and yet closed and mysterious and the precious moments where the clocks disappeared from the world and the only thing that mattered was how long you wanted to go.



The kitchen will be closing for Christmas and I would like to wish all readers a happy Christmas. I will be back in the new year. I know the year ahead has many many exciting adventures planned. I just hope I will be able to put them all here.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Creeped out in Barkaby

I've been in Sweden with work this last week. On Monday I found myself in Uppsala waiting for a train to Stockholm and found this book in the store at the station. "Let the right one in" is a tale of vampires, murder, mayhem and the less savoury aspects of life in Stockholm's western suburbs during the long dark Swedish winter. Where did I get off the train and start wandering around in the dim light of dusk? Stockholm's western suburbs. Did it freak me out? Hell yes!

The 500 pages of the book only took a few days to read as it was a compelling read. Somehow it took various aspects of the Vampire mythos and turned them on their head in a refreshing way. It then also added to the mix several other normal story lines and characters and let them all begin to converge in a way that moderately predictable. The ending managed to be slightly surprising in the way it unfolded although thinking about it for 10 minutes told me exactly where the clues were. I'm avoiding a precis of the plot as it works on many levels and let us face it and 200year old vampire befriends small boy isn't your average premise for a book. The fact that it jumped into other genres as well; crime, low life, romance only added to the enjoyability of the read.

As I am travelling a lot at the moment I am keen to find books that pass the time away, don't demand too much attention and yet are above average quality. This book fits that criteria and it was better vampire book than twilight.

So now I am kicking around looking for a new book, preferably still in the Vampire genre which seems to be where my head is at right now.


*****

While in Stockholm I was lucky enough to have a traditional Swedish Christmas dinner on a boat cruising the archipelago. While it was a huge meat and drink fest which has all the staples of Scandinavian cooking (I felt like a herring the next morning) this one included some of the less often served dishes which I was keen to try: pigs trotters. I understand the whole mind over matter thing and I almost chickened out before the first mouthful however I can recommend them! Of course they are not as good as other bits of the pig but do not be afraid! They are quite fatty and there isn't so much meat on them but they are like eating ham to all intents and purposes and that isn't so bad is it?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Tabbouleh winter


It is getting colder in Turku, there has been a hard frost and today the first snow has fallen. What does the kitchen do in a week like this? Cook like it is summer time! We started the week well with some tabbouleh and chicken which with it's lovely parsley freshness really seemed to pep me up from the slumbering darkness. It was remarkable simple to make and I cannot for the life of me think why I haven't made it before. I used the recipe in Leith's cookbook as a guide and towards the end let me taste buds guide me as I added salt, pepper and lemon juice.

I think it is an indication of the power of food to evoke memories of times, places and people gone by a long time ago that eating that tabbouleh in a kitchen in Finland put me in mind of a visit to some Lebanese friends of my parents called Sammy & Theresa and how at their house I was given tabbouleh for the first time and eating it again this week was a reminder of how wonderful it was.

The other thing to note is that tabbouleh will be a staple in the BBQs that will be a feature of next summer. So easy to make, so good to eat - can I praise this stuff enough?

Writing of BBQs my day job is about to launch a frying pan designed specifically for a BBQ, this has me very curious as I have only seen a bad photo of it and it looks like it has lots of holes in the bottom of it. I look forward to seeing it closer up!

On Wednesday evening we dabbled with Spanish food - here I used pimenton, sherry vinegar and garlic as a flavour base and added it to onions, pork, tomatoes, mushrooms and chorizo and let them stew. As I served it up with potatoes I realised that if I should have used chickpeas to make it even more authentic.

This is a perfect supper dish that demands minimal attention and any left overs can be turned into soup the following day as we did this afternoon for lunch.

Tonight we will be making a hearty macaroni cheese, I had thought about burying some asparagus in there to make it more summery but that seems to be trying too hard and maybe on this cold and darkening evening the best thing to do is to make the macaroni cheese as thick and as gloopy as I can manage so that it makes your insides so warm the cold will not touch you.



Monday, 30 November 2009

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans


So said John Lennon and in one sense I really agree with him, you need to live each and every day. However the boss & I have been making plans today and I am rather pleased with them. OK maybe plans is too grand but decisions from which plans will spring.

Initially we had decided to have a holiday in the Peak District next year but have today decided that we will be based somewhere in Sussex or Kent.

I am of course sad to be losing out on opportunity to add 3 more mountains to my list but as I was out posting a card to some friends who have just had twins a happy thought occurred to me: With a 9 month old daughter in tow the most arduous thing that will be required of me on this holiday will be to sit in an english pub garden and supervise her. Now just imagine if that pub served Harvey's bitters....

*****

We're also going to be in Gotland with friends in August. Am quite excited about this, there is something about watching the sun set over the Rauks on the northern part of Gotland that captures my imagination. That together with a simple cabin and plenty of BBQ's and time to relax and unwind with friends that makes me feel these last few weeks of increasing darkness will be manageable and the corner of the year is not as far away as it seems.

Moussaka

Last week I did a strange thing: I volunteered to make Moussaka. My wife could be described, without exaggeration, a being something of a moussaka fiend. She loves it. I am somewhat ambivalent about it, mostly because I don't get aubergines. I know people rave about them, and I know in Southern Spain they deep fry them in batter and serve them with honey and they are lovely, but somehow the ones we buy and cook here in Finland seem to be missing something. Or maybe how I am cooking them is wrong? I should qualify further and say I love how they look - they are definately one of the cooler vegetables but somehow there is something lost between the time I begin chopping them and when they arrive on the plate.

However to come back to the moussaka, I was pre baking the aubergines in the oven and I had sliced them in the mandolin but they were too thin when they were finnish cooking. So my tip to myself and to whoever reads this is to be brave when making moussaka and slice thise aubergines thicker than you initally feel is wise.

******

Today is a day off and I have some serious menu planning to do. There is, of course, this week and as an extra I have to organise next week as well because I will be in Stockholm with work. She will have her hands full with the baby but will still need to eat while the chef is away! I cannot let her eat her standard Pasta Surprise for 4 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So I will use this week to make some good food that can be used next week. I suppose that one advantage of not speaking the language of the country you live in is that is makes her ordering take away pizza by phone nearly impossible...

*****

We have some cracked wheat sitting in the cupboard so I think I am going to have a crack at some tabbouleh as hopefully it's Mediterranean flavours will freshen up the dark days we have as we wait for the shortest day. I think that will be the theme of the menu: sunshine and warmth.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

Thursday musings

I have a bottle of Hoisin sauce my father bought when he came to visit a few weeks ago and it is calling to me, wanting to be used. Life has been busy and opportunities to use it have come and gone. Other things needed eating up, I fancied making other dishes, you know how it is. The balance between work and life have been muddled (what else is to be expected with a 10 week old baby in the house?) so the bottle has been left alone.

The thing is I don't know what hoisin sauce is, what it is used for and why you might want to use it. As someone who loves to scratch cook I even enjoy making my own sauces and stocks so am innately suspicious of shop bought sauces like this. I even bought and used, in extremis, some minced garlic made by the same company and found it to be disgusting and lacking in any kind of garlic taste. And yet. And yet the hoisin calls to me still.

So we have a situation where I don't know what to do with it and I'm not sure I like it anyway. It's going to be a great meal when it comes out! This is the essence of the kitchen, getting the best out of what you have around you to feed body and soul.

Wish me luck!


Sunday, 22 November 2009

Bacchus and the meal

Finally a story. When we lived in Helsinki a neighbor of ours told us about how the people who work in the Alko are trained to give recommendations about which wines can go with which foods but most of the time they only get to point people to the Korsenkorva. He then went on to relate how he went into his local Alko and the sales assistant's eyes lit up when asked to advise on wine. So I decided to put this to the test.

I had sketched out doing something with chicken and chili and inspired by my neighbours tale I went into the alko and got my recommendation despite delivering one of my worst performances ever in the mangling the Finnish language. The recommendation was this Allora pictured above.

Needless to say I never cooked anything with chili and chicken and the bottle was just enjoyed at some other time that seemed right.

*****

Two months later I decided to see if this wine really went with chili and chicken, did the lady in the Helsinki alko get it right?

*****


Serves 2
1 bottle of allora negroamaro (Alko product code 409797)

1 chicken breast cubed
3 dried red chillies crushed, flaked or otherwise made small and bitty
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp green peppercorns
Sesame oil
1 dash of sake

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and marinade for the whole day. When ready stir fry in a hot wok and serve immediately.

To serve I decided to cook some sticky rice and peas and a little side of yellow peppers and mushrooms with chopped ginger stir fried. You can increase or decrease the amount of ginger used to taste but I decided to do this because ginger does have a heat that compliments the chili. The only other thing to note is I served this side in a little dish separate from the main to make sure the flavours had some integrity.

The result? Excellent, the wine held it's own against the strong chili flavours. It was just a shame that our daughter decided to cry her way through the whole experience meaning that we ate with more of a hurry than such a simple and straightforward yet pleasing meal deserved.

So if you are ever in the alko looking for a bottle of wine you should be confident that the staff will be able to recommend a bottle to go with your ingredients.


Monday, 16 November 2009

Across the universe

Cycling home from work tonight was like tumbling effortlessly through time. The rain and the wind pushed against me and yet the bike moved almost by itself as my mind allowed itself to wander. The weather was the catalyst for the strange place I ended up in. Although I actually managed to be on my way home before 4.30pm the dark and dank nature of the world made it seem like much later and by the time I got home one hour later I felt like I was awake in the middle of the night.

The original plan for tea revolved around a squash, some lemon grass and coriander and none of these were available in the supermarket today when the boss reported the results of her foraging expedition. So cycling home I decided to drop into the swankiest department store in town (Stockmann's for any Finns reading this) and while I found all three the recipe called for 250g of pumpkin and all they had was a 5kg pumpkin costing 18€! Next I tried the Kauppahalli but there was nothing and finally the eco shop which was just as fruitless. So I got home feeling like I had travelled much further across space and time than was usual.

However
a little baby and her mother helped me back to normality but we still had the challenge of dinner, so here is a simple way to save a Monday night supper using one pan. It is based on the gypsy eggs idea.

400g tomatoes
400g large white beans (this is cooked weight)
1 small red onion chopped
1 small red chili deseeded
Half an aubergine
1 carrot chopped
1 potato chopped
200g chorizo
Water
Thyme
2 eggs
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Warm the olive oil in the pan and gently fry the onion, carrot, chorizo and chili.
Add the beans and the tomatoes
Add water to take the liquid in the dish up to where you want it (less more a meal, more it's closer to a soup - it is your choice)
Add the aubergine and potato, herbs and salt & pepper.
Put the lid on and let it simmer for 20-30 mins
Break 2 eggs into it and let them cook in the juices
Serve

I sprinkled a little pimenton over it when I served it up which was a nice little touch. I recommend a lovely apple crumble with thick custard as dessert as well.


Sunday, 8 November 2009

Vampires, Danes & Grandparents


I'm just back from a long long long wait at Copenhagen airport that stretched interminably. It got so bad that I bought Twilight and have been addicted to it ever since. The last time I checked I am not the target group for this book - 17yrs old, nope, female, nope....and yet and yet. I have to say it is for the most part poorly written but there are odd flashes of a well turned phrase and it did its job of keeping me amused as the hours rolled by as the story was well paced. The concept is also a good one. The question now is whether I go on and read the rest....as I have several encounters with Copenhagen airport coming up I fear I already know the answer.

Update:
This morning I have decided not to bother with the rest of the books but my curiosity did get the better of me and I read the precis of the rest of the saga on the internet. I have to say that what I learnt only confirmed to me that I made the right decision.

I have been thinking about this some more so this is kind of a second update here and I have to reflect back to when I read Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice many years ago and then went on to read other books in the series which were increasingly batty and bad. The law of diminishing returns applies. I think the same will be true of the Twilight saga.

*****

My parents have been staying with us, spending time with their new grand daughter and as today is Fathers Day in Finland we made a lovely dinner of

Lamb shanks cooked in vermouth and cream with leek and mushrooms
Mashed potatoes
Honey glazed carrots and an onion sauce

This was followed by

Bread and butter pudding which with the addition of Baileys was quite magnificent.

It sounds kind of a simple Sunday dinner and in many ways it was but it was rich, and filling and the perfect thing to eat on a grey Sunday. We hadn't done much at all, enjoyed the baby's company, I had raked all the leaves up in the garden and we had all walked to the local cemetery to look at the graves in the late autumn light. Somehow the quietness of the day was balanced by the full, rich food as we all sat around the table. It was a meal as a moment, a meal as a celebration and a meal as an everyday happening. 3 generations, one table, one meal, one moment. How good is that?

Monday, 2 November 2009

Annotations

Generally I am dead against writing in recipe books. Whenever I follow a recipe I only pay the minimal amount of attention to it, using it as a guide and not as something that must be adhered to at all costs.

However last week we dipped in Harumi Kurihara's Japanese Home Cooking to make her Tofu and Aubergine gratin. The six tablespoons of Miso paste left an incredibly salty taste on the final dish that I am moved to change my mind on writing in books and making a note so that I will enjoy the dish next time I make it.

However that is the point about cooking isn't it, especially when you use a recipe as a guide, trial and error. That may also be the strongest argument for making notes. Time to get out the pen.


*****

Last weekend we went to the Herring Market in Turku. It was nice to wander along the banks of the river, eating freshly cooked herring and buying 3 day baked black bread from the Åland islands. There is something about food and travel that stir the mind in the right way, especially when the air is cold and the food is warm.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Our daughter is asleep upstairs and I am taking the opportunity to post a short update. We have moved house, town and job(s). Acquired a beautiful daughter who sleeps sometimes and life is slowly getting back to normal.

Our cooking has, by necessity, been basic and fast. Our daughter seems to specialise in being extremely awake between 7pm and 10pm and so we have been eating in shifts and with varying degrees of simplicity. However we are still cooking but between home life and the new day job there is just not enough hours in the day to blog as well.

However my enthusiasm to blog is increasing again and I am tempted to try a more vignette style approach for a while.

*****

Elizabeth David, doyenne of postwar British culinary writers and still relevant today. Her Moussaka which was free of the all smothering bechemel sauce, was a case study in simplified excellence: aubergines, mince, tomatoes and a tomato garlic sauce. Baked slowly. Eaten hungrily amid the babies cries. Sometimes she watches us from her high chair. Either way, we are not alone.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

The end of the beginning

It is a lovely late summer's Saturday morning here in Finland as I start to write this. Quiet and still. The blue sky is almost cloudless and the garden in bathed in dappled sunlight. The house is quiet as well. The boss is upstairs busying herself with some task or other before our friend from Norway arrives tomorrow and I've just finished the hoovering.

Last night was a landmark in the kitchen as we reached the end of the third bag of charcoal consumed in one summer. In the end it was a close run thing, there was just enough heat from the coals to roast a foil wrapped loin of pork that had been rubbed with salt, pepper, fennel seeds, sesame oil and soy sauce. You can't really go wrong with this kind of cooking - put it in the coals, put in on the grill it doesn't matter, 15 minutes or 45 minutes it doesn't matter either so long as that foil is tightly wrapped so none of the juices can escape! However there wasn't enough heat to boil a pot of coffee in the embers. Maybe next summer I will manage to enjoy that little pleasure.

We served the pork with a huge bowl of sticky rice and a spicy aubergine and noodle salad that I took directly from Harumi Kurihara's Japanese Home Cooking. It was simple to make and very tasty, not to mention surprisingly spicy for the use of one chili that has been hiding in a bag with a load of other chilis in the freezer for a few months. Maybe freezing intensifies the zing a chili brings? I feel an experiment coming on! Our neighbours came and joined us with their little boy and we had an excellent evening.

However it is now time to put the blog on hold for a little while. There are two reasons for this: the first is that when the blog started I had hoped it would be a medium for food and life related musings. In a sense it has been and in a sense it hasn't. There are better food blogs out there and there are better musing blogs out there. I feel that I am falling between the two stools and my conclusion is that I need to be clearer about how this blog will go forward. I took a decision early on to exclude politics from my blog and I don't intend to change that. Now it is a question of refreshing my frame of references for myself. With the above mentioned score for the summer this post feels like the perfect point to take a breather. The second, and more practical, reason is the imminent arrival of a "mini me" or a "mini boss" into my life. I've never been a dad before and while I dream of carrying on more or less as before I am not so daft as to believe there isn't going to be a major realignment in the rthymn of my life. In fact I am looking forward to it tremendously. I cannot wait to get to know the little person. Although indications so far seem to suggest he or she has inhereted the currently complimentary stubborn streaks the boss & I possess.

Finaly as it is such a lovely day & I have nothing to do I am going to enjoy it by listening to Test Match Special from the Oval on the BBC. Might I recommend the same to you?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Hornets and Rum


I was cycling home from work this afternoon in time to watch some of the fast jets of the Finnish air force strut their funky stuff as part of the Helsinki Air Show. Despite a small run in with the police relating to where I was choosing to ride my bicycle I somehow managed to end up at a point just outside the airfield perimeter fence next to a rather unassuming lampost that the fighter jets seemed to be using as their fulcrum point. Consequently I can tell exactly what it feels like to be standing in the middle of an open space while a rather fast jet fighter bears down on you. While this was happening to me I was merrily watching a pigeon and wondering what Blowers would say. I have to say the planes were very impressive and the Finnish disregard for health and safety meant rather expensive military hardware was pulling rather interesting manouevers at insanely low heights over a built up area at speeds approaching stalling point!

*****

Last night we met some friends at Pikkulintu for a beer or two. I started the evening on the Caribbean Rum Stout which was blacker than night and a mind bending 11% alcohol. It was lovely. Deep, complex, tasty, sweet, coffee, rum, tar, coal, smoke flavours all colliding. It took me ages to drink my 33cl and actually made for a civilised evening as opposed to a session which is always a good thing. I did notice in their current beer list that they have an IPA at 21%. The mind can only boggle...

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Come into my parlour


The kitchen has been in Turku for a few days house hunting and is now back in Helsinki. It was a very successful trip and we found a house to move to once the autumn begins. We spent a few days driving all over the city and saw big places, small places, odd places, far away places, some places we didn't find, and some places we found by accident. At the end of it all though we did find a nice new place, in a great location and have signed the contract and have the keys!


The kitchen is a good size with three fridges and a chest freezer. We couldn't work out why this would be needed until we walked out into the garden and saw the mature apple trees laden with fruit, the two large clumps of rhubarb and all sorts of berries and currants growing. The final bit of good fortune is that there seems to be a fruiting cherry tree in the garden as well. We're also lucky that the garden will get afternoon sun which in the warm Finnish summer will be wonderful and the BBQ opportunities it gives makes me a happy chef!

Location wise it is perfect for cycling to work and also easy and convenient to meet friends off the train from Helsinki and farther afield! It is a short stroll into town and there is a lovely park only 5 minutes away. Couldn't be better really.

The final thing is that the sauna is a firewood sauna which the Finns prize very highly. I am looking forward to a winter of warm warm saunas as the year becomes dark and cold.

*****

I thought I would put up this link as we made this for lunch and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sometimes it is nice to follow a recipe and not think too much.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

BBQ summer

There has been a lot of noise in the newspapers back home about how the Met Office got their forecast for the summer so wrong. The promised BBQ summer has been drowned by the wettest July on record. It seems odd that this year in Finland the weather has consistently allowed me to set up the kitchen outdoors on an almost weekly basis after the washout of last year.

Yesterday the Boss and I had a fairly quiet day at home. We've got things to do but decided not to do them. Instead there was the very serious job of sitting in the chair in the garden doing very little. I am sure that once the baby arrives moments like that will seem strange and remote, but who knows?

As the day was a lovely one we planned to BBQ, we knew that we would be having potato salad as the Boss has dropped hints to me this week that I have been letting her down in the provision of potatoes!

Our challenge in Finland is mayonnaise. The shop bought stuff is shockingly bad. I would ordinarily make my own but with the Boss building us a baby in her laboratory I need to cook all the eggs in the kitchen. So we cheated and mixed in some mustard which meant that neither really tasted bad. We then added hard boiled eggs, broad beans and some bacon lardons to give it flavour.

For the main we put some cubed pork in a marinade of soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil for a few hours and then put it on skewers with leek. The idea was to make it dead simple, look attractive and taste good! They only took a few minutes to cook and so afterwards we put a bit of wood on the BBQ to make a fire and sat out into the evening chatting about nothing in particular.





Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Aggers

House hunting is a current obsession in the Kitchen. I think I have personally sent oikotie.fi's stat counter through the roof this month. While this has the pleasing effect of ensuring their marketing department is thoroughly perplexed by the data it has not as yet provided me with a new base for the kitchen and somewhere to house the boss and the baby.

With trying to make sure the loose ends in Helsinki are tied up before the move it seems the day job has been intruding on the important work in the Kitchen. So rather than offering up some tasty tips I might just mention some ideas that have worked and one we're going to try tomorrow night on a friend.

Last night the boss made a quite superb roast red pepper tart which I am afraid to say was actually even better today as my lunch at work. We bought the peppers from the grocery stand from Malmi railway station and while they weren't the prettiest they were very cheap at 1€ for a bag.

Tonight was my turn to offer pan fried salmon with lentils and vegetables. This was mostly good weekday evening food, the vegetables, once drained were given a little bit of butter and a smattering of fennel seeds which just elevated them above the humdrum.

Tomorrow we will doing something that is along the lines of black pudding and pork paella. I am not sure in my own head how this work but the boss assures me from her extensive googling that the Spanish make morcilla paellas so I can't be too far off the mark!

The other thing that has dragged me away from the kitchen was listening to Test Match Special on the BBC. I must admit that I've been quite ambivalent about the cricket for a while now however when I stumbled across the TMS commentary on the Internet I was happy to be sucked back in. I am looking forward to the 4th Test from Headingly at the weekend especially as I have the weekend off and can sit and listen to both days. All I have to do now is to convince the boss to sit still so I can play TMS to her belly so that the foetus can start its conditioning process before birth!!

Monday, 27 July 2009

Into the fire

It is at times like these you wish you had an organised food/life blog. On Saturday night some friends came around and we BBQ'd again. If I had been organised there would have been photos. As it is you will have to use your imagination.

This summer is definitely turning into a personal best for getting into the garden and cooking stuff over the coals. It has also been a summer virtually devoid of burgers and sausages. It seems the more we BBQ the more we work with normal everyday food and all that is different is the heat source.

Anyway this time we took about 300g of boneless pork loin, marinated all day in olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary and thyme. When we ready we simply seared the outside on the hot coals, them we put the meat in some foil, poured over the remaining marinade, wrapped it all up tightly and popped it right in the coals. Carried on cooking all the other stuff and about 20 minutes later is was perfect. Still wonderfully moist. So easy, so good.

It's almost getting to the stage where I'm about to dispense with the grill part of the BBQ and start popping pots into the coals to boil something away and sticking vegetables onto stakes and letting them cook that way. I can see that the next challenge will be to do this while out camping. Bring it on!

Today the sun is shining and I think it might be time to make the first gazpacho of the season for lunch!


****

Update: the gazpacho was lovely if I say so myself! Best of all it was easy. However no recipe this time because I didn't follow one and just went with a bit of this and a bit of that attitude.


After lunch we were feeling rather full so we went for a walk and we found the pea field.
Now before I go further I should explain this. The taxes we pay to the city of Helsinki are in part spent on farming and one example is the fields of peas the city grow and you can just go and pick them. For free. As a Brit living in Helsinki I laugh every time I imagine this being done in the UK. People would think the council were mental.
So anyway, we came home with a bag full of peas and well they needed to be eaten so I put them in with some cooked rice and served it with some nice pork chops cooked in a ratouille of vegetables. My secret ingredient was to fry the onions in some sherry vinegar and olive oil and they kept their sweetness all the way through. Even better it was a two pan supper so washing up was easy!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Kalakukko

We were away at the weekend on a much-anticipated Finnish odyssey. Our grand plan was to take the train from Helsinki to Kuopio, the boat from Kuopio to Savonlinna and then the train back to Helsinki. The flaw in the grand plan was that it required early mornings but this is summertime in Finland so at least they are light! So with a pregnant wife in tow I set off on an adventure that was suited to her tastes and pace.

This was our first trip to Kuopio and I have to say we liked the town, my only gripe is the quality of beer was appalling. It is a Carlsberg town! On the other hand it is the home of Kalakukko. This is a traditional finnish food which is essentially a loaf of rye bread with fish baked inside it. While it may sound odd and even unappetising I can assure you that tasting it is another matter. It was a revelation. Ours was made with Perch and was beautiful.

As the weather was beautiful we did skip some of Kuopio’s indoor attractions and instead concentrated on walking our way up to Puijo and the famous tower. The views from the top, were excellent. It is to be recommended. The only thing to note is the lifts have limited capacity so time your trip to miss a busload of tourists!

The following morning we headed off early on the boat to Savonlinna. The journey takes 10 ½ hrs and travels through some of the loveliest and quintessentially Finnish Lakeland scenery to be had. Luckily for us the day was divine. The sun shone from journey’s start to journey’s end. We sat on deck and just let the world pass us by. It was a slightly strange trip insofar as we seemed to be the only non-Finns on board so we encountered some of their stranger cultural quirks. The most obvious was the family boat trip where dad starts on the beer before 9.30am in the morning and nobody blinks an eyelid. I have been known to enjoy a beer now and then but even I remember quite clearly my lessons on knowing when the sun had crossed the yardarm!!

Our arrival into Savonlinna was dramatic as we raced past the castle in the fast flowing narrow channel as the sun turned the stone walls red. We were unfortunately too late to get to the opera festival so consoled ourselves with a trip to the excellent Gastropub.

Sunday morning dawned early again and we headed off to the train station. Our train whisked us along the famous Punkkuharja esker towards a small village of Parikkala (population seemed to be no more than ½ goat!) but is bizarrely has a railway station that serves as a major jumping off point in the Finnish railway system.

Safely back in Helsinki on a hot day we wandered down to Pikkukoski swimming beach and I enjoyed a refreshing dip in the river Vantaa while the Boss (aka pregnant wife in tow) watched my madness from the side. The water temperature was described, as 21C and I have to say it was lovely. There was a much colder current running through the mid stream but if this is swimming outside in the Nordic countries in summer then I want to do it again.

The other thing we learnt on our return to Helsinki was that our washing machine had died while we were away. All our efforts to revive it were in vain so on Monday we headed off to get a new one. In this we were successful so we headed off to the Savoy restaurant to celebrate! OK this is not true as anyone with even the smallest knowledge of restaurants in Helsinki will know that this one is just in the toppest most top top tier. We were there on a special value menu and were trying to enjoy the high life for a normal price. If money is no object we recommend this place. The sommelier is excellent and his wine list will turn a humble cook like myself green with envy. Such is life. We did finally come to an agreement that did not involve me paying 250 euros plus for a bottle of wine and I very much enjoyed washing their dishes for them!


We enjoyed our dinner very much and headed home, tired but exhilarated by our trip around Finland. The thing about a list of adventures is it is never done and as this was probably our last trip before the baby arrives I look forward to making sure the adventures don’t stop here, rather that the fun increases! Right off to see if I can convince the boss about another one of my bright ideas…..

Monday, 13 July 2009

Summer salad


Yesterday evening we had a lovely salad in the back garden. After a day of rain it brightened up and we were able to escape before the rain resumed again.
I had found an unusual salad in a Finnish home interior magazine which blended leaf, basil leaf, cucumber, melon, strawberries and brie topped off with peanuts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We accompanied it with some Spanish style new potatoes which means adding fried chorizo and bacon and plenty of rosemary.

The salad was excellent and the potatoes were also very good. I was also told that the potatoes were even better the day after as lunch.

Today it has rained and rained again which scuppered any idea of eating out so instead we raided Nigel Slaters' Kitchen Diaries and made his excellent Courgette Fritters. He uses dill but as we didn't have any we used coriander. Although I was initially sceptical about mixing feta and coriander I have to say that it wasn't a bad combination after all.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

It is official



It is official. On October 1st the Kitchen will be moving to Turku in western Finland. It has all been quietly going on in the background but now it is in the public domain. So for all of you who never made it to the Kitchen in Helsinki, now you have a chance to come to the Kitchen in Turku. I am looking forward to being based on the west coast if Finland, there are a lot of places to see and explore and having the sea nearby will be a good thing. I am planning on learning how to sail as this is going to be a golden opportunity for that.

We have nowehere to live yet, but are searching the internet everyday and I am sure we will find something. If we can remain car free I think that will be a positive thing but I do not rule out getting one if we need to! I also want to continue to learn Finnish and my employer in the real world outside the Kitchen is also talking about 2 demanding courses it is interested in me participating in. So with a bit of luck I will have a newborn to look after, a wife to support, a language to learn, a new skill to master (sailing) plus two work related courses! Where will I find the time for all that? Oh did I forget to mention training for the Kuopio Ice Marathon? Still it will be fun I am sure.

Yesterday the boss & I went to the Kalevala exhibition at the Ataneum in Helsinki. It was billed as the most comprehensive Kalevala show in donkeys years and I certainly agree that there was enough mythical art on display to satisfy the most demanding Finnophile. The stars of the genre were all present but the boss & I were particularly taken with the art of Joseph Alanen (unfortunately a quick search round the internet reveals that most of the information on him is in Finnish so I am not offering an English language link). However here is a picture to give you an idea of his style.
Today the weather is not the best and the boss would like entertaining. My cunning plan is to march her up to the supermarket to buy some cranberry juice. Either that or get her to test me on the formation of the imperative in Finnish. Either way I suspect that she may be somewhat dubious about my definition of what entertainment is!
*****
We had a lovely sweet potato risotto on Tuesday evening with our friends and while I have the recipe I am not going to publish it for the moment as I think other blogs are so much better at that kind of thing, for example Vegan Yum Yum. Instead I would like to say that when I was cutting up the celery, onion, carrot and garlic for the soffrito at the start of the risotto I realised I had enough usable offcuts to make a drop (OK about 1l) of vegetable stock. So my tip to you is if you are making a risotto you can be smart and use some of the vegetables to make a drop of stock and even then you can still put the waste vegatbles on the compost heap. Brilliant!






Friday, 3 July 2009

You are cordially invited

When we awoke this morning it was grey and overcast. The first time in what seems like weeks. Then the rain came and cleared the air of it's oppressive heat. It wasn't a hard rain that scours the heat from the world but a gentle patter that wiped away the grime of the hot days we've all being enjoying here.

The boss and I used the change to be busy and to bottle the apple wine. A long overdue job and one that is good to get done. Now we have 15 bottles and one 5 litre container waiting to be enjoyed. At least one bottle needs to go to our neighbour who provided the apples last autumn. The rest? Well who knows.

As the sun is now shining again and the kitchen will be moving outdoors this evening and it will be our pleasure to offer

BBQ'd Entrecote of steak
Sweet potato baked in the coals
Greek style butter beans
& Tomato and feta salad

You know where to find us and there is still space around the table.

*****

Update 8.30pm. We went over to the neighbours to deliver the bottle of apple wine, stayed to help them move their old washing machine out of the cellar and put the new one in place and then we all together decided that we should expand our BBQ and have them over to join us. It was an excellent meal made all the more satisfying by its impromptu nature. I was happy to share the grill and we added corn, courgette, Finnish sausage with barley and grilled sweet potato pieces rather than baking whole ones. The company was excellent and the weather kind.

I had hoped to be able to post a picture of the sweet potatoes nestled in the glowing coals but as it never happened you will have to take my word that it was all good.

By the way I did use an old French trick on the steak: once the meat was cooked I sprinkled it with salt and let it rest before serving it.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Back from the lakes


We're back from an excellent week in the UK. I was lucky enough to climb another 11 of the peaks that make up my little project. So I have now been to the top of 75 out of the 451 mountains in England and Wales. I need to thank my father in law for indulging me, especially on our mental Monday morning stroll that had me crippled for 2 days! We went over Hellvelyn via Striding Edge and it was a glorious windless day that allowed us to take the path right over the edge as opposed to the more conventional path.

I was also treated to what would be (to normal people) an overdose of gooseberries and rhubarb but to me was just catching up! We even brought some gooseberries home to make sure we have enough until our own plants bear fruit.

This evening after work we had an excellent BBQ of Satay skewers, roasted red onion, corn, halumi cheese and new potatoes followed by Norfolk Gooseberry Tarts. The trick I managed this time was to get the portion control right so that we had just enough to enjoy and not so much that we were stuffed and it is amazing how the roast red onions and the halumi can be a great substitute from another damn supermarket bought burger!

Red onions - pop them on a skewer whole and let them BBQ for 15-30 minutes depending on size, then peel when they are cool enough to handle. How easy is that?

****

Being back at work is, of course, a pleasure however the highlight so far has been listening to Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony on my iPod as I cycle back and forwards. It is just brilliant!

Friday, 12 June 2009

Holidays


I have had a good few weeks off, my list of things to do has been a partial success: I have read the Count of Monte Cristo, I have been very good at studying Finnish, I have swum in the Olympic pool we have been to Turku, we went to see the cherry blossom in Hertomiemi park (except there wasn't any but that is another story), we had a day trip to Tampere, we had a fantastic evening cruise with dinner in Helsinki's western archipelago with a friend who came to visit and maybe a few beers have been enjoyed in the sunshine along the way. We didn't make the Kalevala exhibition at the Ateneum or visit the design musem in Helsinki but that we can do at anytime.

Now I am about to start reading the very serious book pictured above, inspired mostly from our visit to the museum of occupation in Riga. Hopefully it will be an interesting and thought provoking read. Especially after the fluff of Mr Dumas' book.

Due to various things I have to do (eating Jam sandwiches being quite high on the list!) there will be no posting for the next two weeks so please come back in early July. Until then have a great summer.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The lemons from Helsinki railway station

Doing nothing can be quite time consuming. I started my holidays last week and find myself surprised to be here a week later with no idea where the time has gone. Please do not feel sympathy for me, especially if you have been at work, and please don't think I have wasted my time at all.

The weather over the weekend was marvelous and we had a BBQ outside in the garden. I have made mention on this blog of how BBQing food does not grant a licence to carbonise. The trick as ever is to be prepared and be patient. We had chicken, halumi and water melon skewers, corn, asparagus and courgette and some pork marinated in what I will call a Mediterranean fashion. The best bit was that for the two of us it was way too much food and the pork made its way onto a very tasty bruschetta with sun dried tomatoes for lunch a few days later.

On Saturday we were in Helsinki and we managed to find a large piece of the magnificently titled Merikrotti (Monkfish) and set about preparing to cook "Rape in Adobo" from the cookbook Big Flavours and Rough Edges. (If you are ever in London I recommend you eat at the Eagle if you can get a table!). The last ingredients we needed was a lemon. As we were walking towards the train the fruit stall in the station was selling bags of Lemons 2 for 1 euro! So we went home with a beautiful piece of fish that would do at least two meals and more lemons than we knew what to do with!
The Adobo was magnificent: it was a dry cooked marinade consisting of onion, carrot, garlic, parsley, thyme, olive oil and white wine vinegar. The fish was marinated for several hours and then rolled in flour and fried. We served it with some home made tortilla and a little salsa. The sun shone and we could have almost been in Spain!

However this left us with many lemons still to use, the boss stepped in with her usual aplomb and offered to make a lemon meringue pie which is delicious and I have made a lemon and asparagus risotto straight from Nigel Slater's excellent Kitchen Diaries. However that still leaves quite a few lemons in the fridge!

If all that is not enough I have also found time to go, explore and swim in the outdoor Olympic swimming complex in Helsinki, visit the Arabia museum of porcelain, the Kiasma museum of contemporary art, the Parliament of Finland, read half of the Count of Monte Cristo and do my Finnish homework!

We are also busy plotting a train tour around Finland in July with some friends and I manged to organise hotel rooms in Kuopio yesterday on the telephone in Finnish - a first - and find some reasonably priced, if still slightly on the expensive side, rooms in Savonlinna during the opera festival which most people tell me is impossible!

Here's to doing nothing, but to doing it with Lemons!


Friday, 29 May 2009

Swashbuckling in Finnish

It is official. I am on holiday. For the next 3 weeks there will be no getting up because the 6am alarm demands it or working late on Friday nights or even weekends. At this point I would normally have bags packed and passport ready to head off on the exploration of somewhere out of the way.

However this year the plan is radically different in a unintentionally ironic way. This is because there is no plan. We're just going to be at home chilling out. I hope to read The Count of Monte Cristo, make an odd day trip out from Helsinki, stay on top of my Finnish homework, drag the boss to Bar 9 to meet C and eat some lemon chicken (although neither of them know about that thought of mine yet!) and other stuff as it happens that doesn't revolve around worrying over the question "What are we going to do?" or more pertinently "What are we going to catch to eat tonight?" I know for many people what I've written above is the most natural and normal way to approach any holiday. My usual ideas of exploration and wearing myself out with strange wilderness experiences is akin to hell for many who have perfected the art of the pleasantly lazy holiday. Still it is new for me.

The challenge for the kitchen is now lunches for the boss. If I'm around she will expect to be fed by me. So while posting maybe light for the next few weeks it might also be a bit more lunch focused. However I have thought about using the time to make some more elaborate evening dinners which could provide some nice recipes and thirdly with the current weather in Helsinki I could also be returning to one of my pet themes: BBQing without compromise or carbon! Although in reality how much makes it to the blog remains to be seen.

Although having written all that my first task in a list of jobs provided by the boss is to move a huge pile of wood so that we can sit in a sunnier spot in the garden and then mow the lawn. Lazy summer anyone? Luckily there is a bottle of beer chilling in the fridge and the sun is shining so everything will be alright.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Nainen vailla varjoa

Last night we went to the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki to see the above titled opera. It is more commonly known by it's German name of "Die Frau ohne Schatten" or in English as "The woman without a shadow." We had decided to go firstly because we wanted to see the inside of the opera house (noble I know), then we chose to go last night because today is a Holiday in Finland and therefore nobody would have to get out of bed early. None of us had any knowledge of the opera itself or opera in general.
I am not really sure what to write from here? How do I make any kind of reasonable summary of a 4 hour opera that veered between sublime and ridiculous, homaged Star Wars & Snow White & the 7 dwarfs, had a plot that made Pokeman look understandable, astounded me that opera could be this good and was not at all a difficult art form, let me read Finnish & English surtitles and yet still, finally, make the point that a woman's role in society is to bear children for her husband? Having done a little reading on the Internet it appears that the opera is a nightmare/challenge to stage and to sing and despite the fact the whole production had more than a small dose of weirdness about it I came away quite exhilarated and determined to go to the opera again in the autumn.

This pleases me because when I mentioned to a work colleague who is heavily involved in classical music here in Finland that I was going to see this opera I received a sceptical eyebrow and a forlorn good luck. Yet the experience was anything but one to mourn over. It was an affirmation (as if it were needed) that an open mind will lead to enriching discoveries, that a willingness to explore your home town will throw up unusual experiences and that a Grandmother who plays her uncomprehending grandson opera at an early age will have the last laugh when he goes to the opera house and experiences something of a revelation.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The cave of swimmers

The English Patient is one of my favourite books. It is one of only a handful of books I have read multiple times. It is one of the few books that I like to see on my shelves. It is also a good example of where a film and a book compliment each other. I write this because the night before last we sat down and re watched the film for the first time in a long time and found it to be a rewarding experience.

I know one should be instinctively suspicious of a film with a stellar cast and 9 Oscar wins but this an exception to that rule. With the benefit of having read the book many times and not seen the film in a long time I was able to see subtleties in the performances of Fiennes and Scott Thomas that were not immediately obvious first time around. In adapting the story to the film I also enjoyed the counterweight provided by Hanna & Kip’s story to that of Almasy & Katherine’s. Like the book, the film does stand up to repeated viewing. I must also confess that I liked the circular nature of the film beginning as it does at the end and then setting off around again to reveal the many facets of its story.

It is also good to bring up the merits of this film and the book it derives from as we were at the movies this week to see the franchise reboot of Star Trek. First of all the good news: It is a silly romp through a culturally familiar set up that will entertain if not overly analyzed. It also looks good. However the bad news is that some of the old bugs remain in the system: the plot requires a universe in mortal danger from an unstoppable enemy that can be resolved by our hero where all have been blown to smithereens. Why does the bad guy do it? What is his motivation? It in invariably of the "Milkman ran over my cat by accident and now I will destroy everything and everyone" variety. It just doesn’t warrant the destruction of the known universe. Therefore the actor doomed to play the bad guy is forced to go down the “I must finish my unfinished symphony” brand of absurd madness. This is the problem. We’ve seen it all before and no matter how deft the reboot these fundamental weaknesses remain.

When the movie finished we went and saw the Walt Disney and Western Art exhibition at the Tennispalatsi museum. It was there I found out that Peter Pan says “Second star on the left and straight on till morning.” I thought it was Jean Luc Picard of the star ship Enterprise. In fact it was Captain James Tiberius Kirk “Second star on the right and straight on till morning.” So franchise weaknesses apart it is at least nice to see some deft references to Walt Disney who was himself such a liberal referencer in his own works.

However if there is a choice between Star Trek, Peter Pan & the English Patient I hope you will find me with an old copy of Michael Ondaatje's book.

Something quick for supper



This post was written a few weeks ago but never made it in the correct chronological order. So belatedly here it is. I should say that I am always surprised when artists hold onto pieces of their work for years and years and then suddenly put them out. Thankfully this is only 3 weeks behind schedule but I remember my lack of comprehension when I read on a Bruce Springsteen album sleeve that one song had been around for 11 years. Hopefully I won't be that bad!

I did not wish to infer that I am some sort of artist. I just hope you enjoy making this recipe.

*****

It wasn’t to be like this. The boss & I were going out for dinner tonight with a friend. However they changed plans on us and I found myself hurrying home from Helsinki with a packet of diced pork in my bag and a mission to feed the hungry person at home.

As the “I” train made its way through the sunny afternoon I knew I had time for a quick marinade and to wash the rice. I thought it would be nice to give it a little bite with some chili.

Then I got home and was taken with inspiration. I really only used what I had to hand and didn’t stop to think about it and it was very tasty. So here is Asian influenced pork with rice.

Serves 2
100g diced pork
3 teaspoons of Sambal Olek
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
Chinese 5 spice
Vegetable oil
1 thumb of ginger chopped finely
1 sliced onion
Bamboo – slice it if you need to
Frozen Corn
Frozen Peas
Rice
Salt & Pepper

First of all marinade the pork in a little of the sesame oil, soy sauce, the sambal oelek and the Chinese 5 spices. Cover in cling film and put in the fridge. Depending on the cut of meat you may need to marinade for longer.

Heat some vegetable oil in a wok and cook up the onions and the ginger. Add the pork and the marinade. Then add the peas and the corn. Put on a lid and turn it down and get on with cooking the rice.

On this occasion I had washed the starch out of the rice to make it sticky. Then I cooked in my normal way. This means a 3:1 ratio of water to rice. Once in the pan bring to the boil and let it boil hard for a couple of minutes turn all the way down and put on the lid for about 10 minutes and then remove from the heat for 15 minutes. Serve.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A mother in laws epic



I have just finished reading "Beowulf" for the first time. I found an old copy on our bookshelf and thought I would give it a try on the basis that it is something you should have read. The boss has identified the copy as probably belonging to my mother in law.

It was a surprisingly good read. I had no expectations of what it was about. I had a vague idea that there was a monster called Grendel but that was about it. It is a short read as it only took a couple of days to finish just by dipping in while waiting for the bus. I have to say that I really enjoyed it. However I was left with the feeling that I had just read something special.

For those interested in history, mythology, the links between ancient Britons and Scandinavia and Norse Mythology this short epic poem will probably already be familiar. For those who have only read as far as The Lord of the Rings you will find much that is familiar. For me and with the books I have read recently it is the similarities between Beowulf and the Kalevala that strike me most.

I don't wish to suggest that the two works are the same and I am looking beyond the "epic" format of both. I am even trying to go beyond the thematic similarities that bind them together and reaching more into the appreciation that epics in most European cultures, both ancient and modern, show a commonality that has contributed to the world I meet around me everyday.

It is this aspect of History that causes me to think: that where we are today is just the latest in a long line of toppling dominoes and from certain places the line backwards is clear. That is not to say I can thread a path back to great uncle Beowulf, I also appreciate the escapism of the epic itself.

We had some friends over from the UK at the weekend and we had a wonderful time with them. Catching up with people who have been in and out of your life over a number of years is rewarding and I did laugh to myself a little when I remembered our university selves as I watched us all play with their lovely one year old daughter. The thing with dominoes is you can look back and make sense of how it happened. It doesn't work the other way. I laughed precisely because I knew at University I never imagined we would be grown up enough to be parents.
Luckily for us we had a few nice days weather wise and were able to take a boat trip around the harbour and see most of the main sites in Helsinki. However the weekend was over far too quickly and I hope we will see them all again soon. I know that Polar Bear sends his best wished to Catherine!

This afternoon my Finnish classes begin again I must admit to being a little nervous. However I think this is due to the fact that I have had a 5 month lay off from studying the language and it has been progressing organically at work and I am worried that I will have to have my bad habits beaten out of me!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Riga

The Boss & I recently spent and excellent weekend in Riga. For those of you who haven't availed yourselves of the Latvian capital it is to be recommended. However a proviso: 2 days is enough. If you plan on going for longer make sure you have a day trip out of town organised.

We left last Friday from Helsinki and the short flight was blessed with wonderful weather and clear visibility that gave us excellent views of Helsinki, Tallinn & Riga. Getting into town was simple and we found our hotel without any problems. Then we set off on out adventures.

For those of you who know us you will know that we can pound the streets and pound them we did. If it was worth seeing we went there, normally via a strangely circuitous route and then went off in an unexpected direction. It was as if we wanted to see everything Riga had to offer, and the more we got off the beaten track the better. The Jugendstil architecture lived up to the billing. Even more so in my eyes because eye wateringly extravagent buildings were plonked shoulder to shoulder to wrecks and tenements which lent the streets and sometimes shambolic but never boring air. We even managed a boat trip on the river which as anyone who knows me will tell you is a must for me when visiting anywhere. I love boat trips.

We also visited the Latvian Museum of The Occupation which will leave you depressed. One of my golden rules for myself on this blog is that it doesn't do politics. Yet in this museum History and Politics are mixed up in an uncompromising way. The narrative is that Latvia was illegally occupied by both Nazi Germany and the USSR for about 50 years. I have visited concentration camps in Poland and have studied Facism in Western Europe in the 20th century at school and university. I know that the emotions the subject engenders is part of the current political landscape in parts of Europe and this is true of Latvia today. The image its politicians choose to make of the land is a reaction to its recent past and to that end the musuem is a piece of propaganda. However for the casual visitor to Riga it is important to breathe in this sorry tale of a small country and how it has suffered. It is important not to forget that these things happened. It is also important to have a plan ready before you go into the museum on how you will cheer yourself up when you leave.

Many people say Riga is a dodgy town and certainly the Helsinki Sanomat has been coincidentally running stories suggesting the same. However we paid cash for most things and found that if you don't go chasing skirt it is a nice town. We were of course blessed with fabulous weather so were able to sit outside and enjoy a drink in the street rather than venturing into dodgy dark establishments.

We were there for 3 and half days so made a detour to the seaside resort of Jurmala via Latvian railways. All I will say is that if you can find which window to buy a ticket from in Riga central station, find your way to the platform and then find out which station to get off at (due to the lack of station signs) you must be a native Latvian and a railway enthusiast to boot!

We were also enthusiastic in our attempts to try Latvian cuisine which consists of pork and potatoes and dumplings. Yes it was stodgy and yes it seemed to have the same aversion to spices that is prevelant in this part of the world so please don't expect massive things of it but when you are in Riga give it a go. The Riga Balsam on the other hand is something I have no qualms about recommending avoidance.

All in all I can say that Riga is a place I would be happy to suggest others visit and I look forward to visiting Vilnius soon.

Tomorrow our friends arrive from the UK and I am really looking to showing them a little of Finland. The weather forecast is good for Friday so maybe a BBQ picnic on Suomenlinna is in order.

*****





By the way I was reading another blog post and the issue of who owns what on the web came up. Therefore I would like to point out that I found the photo of Riga from a Google search and if the owner would like acknowledgment I would be more than happy to oblige. This also applies retrospectively to most photos on this blog and my apologies for lack of credit, no harm was intended.

Monday, 20 April 2009

An unusual supper

It is funny isn’t it? I was cycling home from work this afternoon and wondering whether it was time to put the blog on hold for a few weeks. I was feeling that I did not have the motivation to write about all the things that are happening around me in a way I would want to publish.

It is of course that time of year: Spring is on the way and that reinforces the inbetween-ness of now. One set of adventures are over and the next set are still coming. Nothing is inherently wrong with the above state of affairs and there are still plenty of things getting me excited on a daily basis but somehow the blog was not one of them. I'm not sure how to convey my pride in putting up the washing line outside in a way I would think was interesting to the world. Maybe it was a sense that the blog had fallen into a routine and I did not and do not want that.

However as is the way with this life this evening’s dinner was a triumph of coincidence and made me want to start typing away this evening.

The seeds of this are to be found in our habit in the kitchen of planning our menus for the following week somewhere around Wednesday or Thursday. Last week for the reasons mentioned above I had used the Potatoes, Pasta. Pulses, Rice formula to get myself going and written in my diary was Salmon & Potatoes without any elaboration. However when I came home and looked through the fridge I found we had half a box of bean sprouts that needed to be used. For some reason inspiration struck and I quickly adapted my plans and decided to do an Asian style Salmon & Potatoes. After all they eat potatoes all the time in Asia right?

I have to admit that I had a degree of trepidation with this Asian inspired fusion as it could easily be a step too far. However I decided to carry on regardless and I am pleased to say that it worked.

So here is a midweek supper of Asian style salmon and potatoes.

Serves 2
2 salmon fillets
1 onion sliced
As many potatoes as you want thickly sliced
Fresh coriander chopped
Soy sauce
Sweet chili sauce
Sesame oil

I used a ridged grill pan for this recipe and if you have one you should use it too.

Pre-heat the oven to 150C
Put a little sesame oil in grill pan and medium heat on the stove top.
Begin to gently fry the salmon and onions. I “basted” the salmon with sweet chili sauce while cooking and seasoned with soy sauce
Meanwhile boil the potatoes in salted water until they are just done. You do not want to overcook them
When the salmon and onions are cooked put in an ovenproof dish and place in the oven to keep warm
Turn up the heat on the grill pan and fry the potatoes until just crisp on the outside
Add the bean sprouts and quickly fry them
Put it altogether on a plate and sprinkle with the coriander
Serve

Sunday, 12 April 2009

On the road again


Who, in this day and age, actually makes New Years Resolutions which do not fall into the narrow vein of I must conform to what society deems is beautiful by eating less x or I must be more sober by a factor of y?

That would be me.

This year I sort of stumbled across a desire to complete my travels to the Baltic capitals somewhere in mid February. This led to the organising of a weekend in Riga in April which I am sure will be as good as the weekend in Tallinn last year. This then left Vilnius unaccounted.

Yesterday I was searching for flights to Vilnius for 4 people at the end of May. Although the flights cost 200€ the taxes were 571€. This I felt was not OK so it got me thinking of alternative routes to Vilnius and I got carried away by the whiff of adventure. I admit it is an odd phrase in this context. It would sound so much better if I was offering the chance to carouse your way around the Caribbean with Captain Jack Sparrow. However I am holding out the chance to take a bus from Tallinn to Vilnius via Riga. I'm offering the hypnotism of the open road. So we will be setting sail from Helsinki, and will overnight in Tallinn and then busing it down to Vilnius. It will be good to see the countryside of the Baltic states as it is one thing to city hop from the comfort of an airplane at 30,000feet. The best part is that travel for the whole trip should cost less than 120€ per person.

The thing with me is that once one idea is out another usually joins it and here I had a rash in quick succession. Before I had even booked us a seat I was already wondering about camping holidays in the Baltic states, imagining what it would be like to visit and talk with the Livonian people of Lithuania. With their Finno-ugric language would they understand my Finnish (as bad as it is)?

Then I wondered why I was neglecting Finland itself and all the sights this country has to offer that we haven't even begun to explore. Last year we took a boat trip around Savonlinna and I wondered whether there were longer boat trips. Sure enough there is the possibility of a trip from Kuopio to Savonlinna which instantly became a plan in my mind. The wonderful thing here is there might be the chance to do them both (camping will have to wait).

All of these travel plans are now possible because the year has gone far enough along that it is desirable to be outside again. Gone are the days when the purpose of going outside was to get to the next place that was indoors or gather firewood and get back indoors again. I know this because I inaugurated this year's BBQ season on Friday. It was a gathering of good people and good food. Once again in a BBQ setting Moro East provided some sterling inspiration and a couple of recipes were followed to the letter. I was particularly taken with their Syrian Fattoush. It's odd that a cookbook that on first inspection was given such a big thumbs down has proved to being such an enduring winner. I also managed to buy some cheap lamb ribs from the butcher and marinaded them in olive oil, garlic and loads of fresh oregano. Finally we made some pork burgers which gave a Caribbean jerk marinade to and served that with a kidney bean and mango salad.

These plans are also possible because part of my brain has escaped into the fantastical world of Peter Høeg's A History of Danish Dreams. Where the everyday and the mundane somehow becomes something more. Is it escapism? Absolutely. Does that bother me? No. Instead I am struck by the echoes in the world he is constructing that reminds me of the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. How strange to find a Colombian and a Dane sharing the same realm and to have my imagination running riot somewhere in the middle. If that doesn't signal that spring is here I don't know what will.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Into the light


So the Kitchen closed for a week to allow me to go and play in the French Alps. The weather was mostly as per the photo and with the added bonus of plenty of fresh snow when we woke up each mornings. I had rented some Salomon Lord skis and was lucky enough to have more than enough opportunities to ski in deep fresh powder most mornings and relax with a glass or two of red wine in the evenings. We managed to ski in all four valleys during the course of the week. On one safari all the way to the other side of the ski area I noted that Courchevel 1650 looks like the perfect resort for teaching a young family to ski and maybe tempting the boss back onto skis.
Back in Finland spring is definitely on the way, we've seen the first snowdrops and there are signs that the bulbs are coming up in the garden. Best of all though the snow is melting. The temperature has been stable above freezing and the change in the clocks has made a big difference to the light. Our moods have turned towards the possibilities to come rather than the winter behind.
On Friday night I participated in the great Finnish Beer test which was a "scientific" effort to show that Finnish beer isn't all that good. It was organised by Dave and involved 15 of us sampling various beers and trying to find the least bad. It was an experiment in so far as the beers were organised to be comparable, there were rules for drinking, groups were organised randomly and we weren't free to get mullered at our own pace. However despite these restrictions it was a good night and everyone was in good spirits. Despite proving that Finnish beer is not the best in the world I would add my own observation that some of it is miles ahead of the Kronenbourg we were drinking in Val Thorens.
Coming home has also got the Kitchen going again. Maybe it was the break, maybe it is the extra light but I feel we're finding new variations and cooking new things again instead of falling back on old standards. A good example is the simple lunch we had on Friday.
I think this would make a great Saturday/Sunday lunch
A knob of butter
1 slice of brown bread
1 mushroom chopped finely
A few leaves of frisee
Half an avocado sliced
A handful of cashew nuts
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
A handful of fresh thyme chopped
Heat the butter in a frying pan until it melts.
Fry the mushrooms and when they are about 3/4s done add the frisee and the thyme.
Place the avocado on the bread so it covers it, put the frisee on top, sprinkle with the cashew nuts, drizzle a little olive oil and add salt & pepper.
Enjoy!
Then on Friday night we had some roast onions and sweet potatoes served with couscous with chick peas to which we added a few, whole cherry tomatoes, some chopped red pepper and a handful of beansprouts.
Today has been mostly about getting through jobs and we're doing well but it's getting to the point where I want to read my new book, Peter Høeg's "A History of Danish Dreams". Have I ever said on this blog that I love the letter "Ø"? The way it looks, the way you write it. I never ever thought I would have a favourite letter but I do and this is it. I first remember seeing it in Denmark years ago and it caught my imagination then. Now having lived in Norway where I made a point of writing it everyday I have moved to Finland where I have to be content with the equivalent letter "Ö" I can say that I miss it. Now why do I feel like a sesame street character all of a sudden?
Looking ahead to the coming weeks the Boss & I will be hosting the first BBQ of the season next Friday whether there is still snow on the ground or not. Then we will be going to Riga to continue our exploration of the Baltic region and we will be welcoming some friends in early May for a visit. Their weekend did coincide with the Helsinki half marathon weekend and while I have been tempted to take part in it I have no decided not to as they had booked that weekend long before I knew of the race and it's not fair to drag them all this way and then run 21km just to prove my stupidity! Finally it looks as though the trip to St Petersberg in late May will be without my parents all that remains to decide is whether the boss & I will go anyway or explore somewhere just as exciting like Tampere.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Singer sing me a song

Last weekend we had a visitor from the UK and on Sunday we took her out to the Akseli Gallen Kallela museum just out of Helsinki city centre. Gallen Kallela seems to have cornered the market in Kalevala art. The exhibition we saw was sketches for his grand project (& ambition) to be the national Kalevala artist. Something he has arguably achieved even if the project as he imagined it was never completed. The Musuem is housed in his old studio and was built in that period of the late 19th/early 20th century which gives it a suitably garnd scale and then factor in the eccentricities of an artist (he had a monks cell installed in the tower) and you have a wonderful space, full of light and slightly dotty.

The exhibition was really interesting, especially now I have read the Kalevala and know the stories. There was one in particular which was a very geometric version of the defence of the Sampo which really got my attention and although I've been searching for it on the net I haven't found it. However during my searches I found this portrait of old Väinämöinen which I really liked.

Our friend is a vegetarian and we enjoyed cooking proper food without meat. We made a lovely Miso soup and served it with rice on the evening she arrived, then we cooked a Thai red curry with tofu on Saturday night and had a lovely pasta with tomatoes, olives, chili and spinach on Sunday. All very simple to make and easy to do on a evening after work.

This week I have been out a couple of nights and finally last night the boss & I made some fajitas. It was an object lesson in the fact that shop bought stuff is not as good as cooking it by yourself. Yes we were pushed for time and lacked motivation and yes we bought the simple shop ready ingredients. The guacamole was the most disappointing and we have now learnt our lesson anew (the hard way) that good food is home made food.

Tonight we had some home made chips baked in the oven and some steak with red onions and mushrooms. Lovely.

Tomorrow the kitchen closes for one week as I am off skiing in France. Service will resume in early April.