Thursday, 26 February 2009

Kathy I'm lost I said though I knew she was sleeping

Thurs 26th February 2009 and it is snowing in Helsinki. A day off and a proper snowy day. Not as cold as the ones we have been having for the last few weeks which is a welcome change. There has been something about sitting in the living room watching the snow come down that has been feeding my obsession with giving my posts a title taken from a song. If you know the song, you can get an insight into the mood of the falling snow.

The year is turning, the days are lengthening and we have had some excitement recently in the back garden when we thought we had some potential Lynx tracks in the snow. On closer inspection it proved to be from another as yet unidentified creature. However as this is the season to see them, and they have been spotted only a few kms further into the city from here, we remain hopeful that we might still see a Lynx in the back garden. I wonder if they like cat food?
Cooking wise the Kitchen has been busy. We made a lovely roast vegetable and cous cous dinner last night. I built it around some fennel I had bought in the supermarket. I used the fennel and other vegetables I had to hand (beetroot, onion, courgette), chopped them all up, drizzled olive oil over them, seasoned them, added a few whole cloves of garlic and then I tried to balance it with some chili. Then I covered in foil and roasted the vegetables for just over an hour at about 180C. To the cous cous I just added some mushrooms and some sun dried tomatoes. It worked well and was simple.

On Monday night I poached some salmon in miso soup. I simply got an ovenproof dish, put the two pieces of salmon in it, covered it with the miso, added a few vegetables like mushrooms and peas, seasoned with a little soy sauce and sesame oil, covered it all in foil and baked it. I served it with some fried rice and it was a very satisfying and easy supper.

In other parts of life I have been busy reading and my current book is The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. I haven't made up my mind about it or him yet. He seems to talk a lot about being different while ticking all the boxes that confirm our cynical perception of modern politicians. I keep asking myself is he for real? It is however good to take a detour from fiction.

The last book I finished was Revolutionary Road. Which I enjoyed despite the bleak terrain it covered. I am going to see the film this evening. Hopefully it will be able to live up to the book and a good film to follow last weeks excellent movie.

Update: The film is a bit of a curate's egg. First the good, the acting is terrific, especially Di Caprio. However the screenplay has sacrificed too much of the book's detail about the characters and who they are and how they got to where they did to really make sense. For casual viewers of this film you will not care about these people. The other sin the screenplay makes is to make the first part of the two part ending obvious which wasn't the case with the book. So all in all I would have to say if you have read the book you will be kinder to this film than if you have not. Either way it will be a depressing night out.

Next week we will receive a visit from the UK: The boss' mother is coming for a week and we're currently planning some nice meals and activities for her. There is some lamb in the freezer that has been waiting to be used up so we will definitely treat her to that, we are also thinking of making some spring rolls for her and a mild Japanese curry. On the activity front there will probably be visits to the Winter Gardens and the Botanical Gardens but hopefully we will also get a tour of the Finnish parliament as well. Should be fun.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Deja Vu

Those of you who have read some of my earlier posts will remember reverie on a theme of skiing in Finland here. Well yesterday was the day of the big race and boy did I get my comeuppance for that posting!
I was up at 6am, having my breakfast, a last banana and waxing my skis. I was collected at 6.45am and after collecting one other competitor we were off up to Lahti. Everything worked smoothly in terms of finding my numbered bib, where to put the stuff I wouldn't be needing until after the race, where was the start etc etc. I even managed to get a little union jack to put on my bib!
Then race time came along and we were off!! I have to say that going to Paloheinä and training is completely different from racing. There were lots of people to compete against yesterday. On top of that the terrain was a lot harder. I had no watch on so had no idea of how I was progressing until the last drink stop 5 km out. I found out then that I was on course to exceed even my hopes for the race and I set off with renewed vigour. However those last 5kms were meant to separate the weak from the strong with endless dips and steep climbs and by the final 3 kilometres I was running on empty and discovering hitherto undiscovered reserves of bloodymindedness. Then finally the last 1km sign came upon me just in front of the towers of the Lahti ski jump and I began the final tuck into the stadium.
And then it happened.
On entering the stadium the Finn in front of me fell over and legs screaming in pain and hanging on for dear life I somehow avoided him and squeezed myself over the finish line.
Poetic justice? I would like to think so.
Then it was done and I swore blind I would never ever do it again. However here I am the following morning thinking "hmm...maybe I could do the longer one next year". As the boss has correctly pointed out: I am crazy.
For the data nerds: In my first Finlandia race I was placed 267 out of a field of 802. My time for 32km was 3 hrs 4 mins and 58 seconds including the wait at the start. The fastest person was 1hr and 19 mins! There's a goal to aim for....

Friday, 13 February 2009

Time I had some time alone

On Wednesday night this week the boss & I did culture. We went to the Finlandia Hall to hear the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The excuse months ago when I bought the tickets was no more sophisticated than to get a chance to get into the building and the tickets were reasonably priced and the programme offered the possibility to hear Sibelius' Symphony #4. However a late change in the programme meant we were actually treated to Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4 in F Minor instead. It is a piece of music I have known for a long time and have loved. Researching it post concert well I read that structurally it is an awkward peice of symphonic composition I have to say that as a piece of live music it was simply wonderful. The Orchestra did a wonderful job and I have slightly more idea what a conductor is for.

Much later that night as I was in bed and not quite asleep and not quite awake the memory of Caspar David Freidrich's "Wanderer above a sea of fog" came to mind as a partner to the symphony. It seemed to encapsulate and speak of the same themes. Given that both works originate from the same time it is not unreasonable to think of them in the same breadth. I cannot begin to describe how that painting has been a direct influence on me and it feels natural to see the wonderful symphony we saw been linked to this painting.

Then on Thursday night I went out to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". In a strange way Brad Pitt's subtle performance (with one or two exceptions which I am generously waving through as a playful nod to David Fincher's advertising past) seemed to mine a similarly forlorn romantic vein that gave the two evenings an unexpected but not altogether unpleasant resonance.

At the end of the movie people applauded which my Finnish colleagues at work told me is unheard of in Finland. Personally I think this movie deserves all of it's 5 Star reviews. It is no flawless masterpiece but that I think in a way adds to its charms. It does however continue the trend of movies which feature the impossibly beautiful Cate Blanchett being, well not as beautiful as she is.

Now I have to figure into all of this the reading of Revolutionary Road which I have found to be surprisingly gripping tale of Suburban Americana. I just hope that it falls off the rails in the way it is always promising to do.

Updating this post a few days later I can assure that this book has fallen off the rails in the most harrowing of ways.

Now amongst this strangely comforting mix and fusion of Romantic late nineteenth century art & music, 1950s America and 21st Century movies the kitchen managed to produce some passable food this week.

Chicken with Taragon and Capers

This is not a French recipe but it does give a generous and respectful nod to their cuisine. We used frozen chicken from the freezer making it even easier to cook on a busy weekday.

Serves 2

Olive Oil

2 cloves of Garlic
4 assorted pieces of chicken thighs and wings
1 tin of tomatoes
2 stalks of celery finely chopped
1 good lug of red wine vinegar
Plenty of tarragon
2 tablespoons of grainy French mustard
1 tablespoon of capers
100g of mushrooms
Salt & Pepper

Heat the oven to 180C.
Put everything in a heavy bottomed pan
Put it in the oven for 3 hours plus
Serve with sweet potato mash

Simple hey?

Monday, 9 February 2009


The boss & I have come back from Tahko after a great weekend. It was another first in terms of our exploration of Finland and we had a great time with good company and excellent skiing conditions. Our bus left Helsinki at 4pm on Friday and we got to Tahko some 6 hours later.

On Saturday morning I went and got my lift pass and my hire skis and met up with the others to begin skiing. We had a great day exploring the mountain. The weather was a rather brisk -15C but it was a dry cold and there was very little wind. Eventually this Englishman was coaxed into taking on the jump park which after my initial worry that I was embarking on a suicide bid turned out to be quite exhilarating. We finally called it a night after darkness had fallen and we had sneaked onto the slalom slopes the resort had prepared for the following days competition.

The final surprise of Saturday night was a visit to a bar on top of the hill. I have now seen Finnish culture in all its glory! It goes something like this. Take several million Finns, give them a ton of beer to drink. Then stuff them into a small shack in the middle of nowhere not quite big enough to swing a cat. Play loud music and let them dance on the table. Preferably in ski boots.

On Sunday it started snowing and we were on the first lift up to enjoy the fresh powder. After a little while we spotted an Atomic test centre & I had a chance to test ski the Atomic SX 12. Oh my dear lord they were quite simply the best skis I have ever put on my feet.

Now only two weeks to the Finlandia ski race and then 4 weeks to the Tiger Ski Tour in France. It looks like the winter isn't over yet!

Friday, 6 February 2009


At work we have the same music going round and round on a loop to such an extent that it can drive you crazy, numb you senseless, provide an excuse not to concentrate or simply be a minor distraction. Shortly after my last post I was walking through the Kitchens before opening and was just under a speaker when Squeeze's "Up the Junction" burst out of it and onto my awareness. I haven't heard this song in ages and with it's masterful opening line "I never thought that it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham" I was suddenly yanked back to the time during the mid 1990s when I lived in Tooting and was regularly up the junction with friends, just passing through, going to work, taking shirty phonecalls from Bob Geldof and getting run over by Julia Ormond (I kid you not on the last two but they're fleeting minor stories and not great ones). I must admit I stood there and listened to the whole song before getting on with my day. It seemed and seems to be some kind of serendipity that I should hear that song so quickly after putting up the picture and title of my last blog post because both songs belong to that era. More than that though I love that songs can pull memories out of your head so that they are so strong you remember things you didn't know you had noticed. Wonderful.
I have just finished reading The Reader by Bernhard Schlink and found it to be a very impressive book. It is sparely written and while it deals with it's subject in a factual tone it never strangles the emotions associated with the subject matters out of existence. Next I will start Revolutionary Road and hopefully finish it before it is the subject of Movie Night.
Today is a day off and the boss & I will shortly be off to Tahko to go skiing for the weekend. Correction I am going skiing and the boss will have to be dragged hissing and clawing out of the warmth of the indoors very much like a cat doing everything possible to avoid being put into a box and taken to the vet. I think I might get a scratch or two. Should be fun.

Monday, 2 February 2009

And the silicon chip inside her head

The home crowd are waiting expectantly for their Hero to enter the stadium to claim a momentous and historical victory, reaffirming national pride in a small Nordic nation's sporting success. Finally the racers come around the corner in the classic ski tuck position.

The stadium is eerily quiet. The champion is not in front. He is in 3rd place. Amazingly the Finnish number 2 skier is in the lead but his lead is being eroded far too quickly by, unbelievably, the Brit.

The stadium is mesmerised as the drama unfolds. Inexorably the Brit is overhauling the leader. Suddenly the Finnish number 2 and race leader catches an edge and wipes out right in front of the Brit, denying him an unlikely victory and the Finnish champion skis into the history books.

That was the scene for me on the final shush last Sunday after 22km. I was into the last 200m, tired and straining to finish when the skier in front decided to commit suicide by throwing herself in front of a speeding Brit!! Somehow I managed to stand up at high speed and step around her and claim that famous victory the Finnish champion behind me didn't deserve!!!

Skiing 22km was quite a milestone for me. When I started training in the new year I could barely manage 1.8km without needing to stop and recover and now I can manage 22km without stopping. Hopefully this means the actual race (32km) should be fun. In any case I can always construct elaborate fantasies of sporting glory to keep me going.

Once I had got home and cleaned up to the point that the Boss would consent to be in the same room as me I was straight into the kitchen. Here are a couple of meals we have cooked this week.
All quantities are for 2 with leftovers.

Pork, chorizo stew with potato and carrot mash
Half an onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
200g stewing pork
100g chorizo
2 carrots chopped
100g broccoli
1 400g tin of tomatoes
A good handful of pearl barley
100ml water
50ml vermouth
Thyme, oregano and sage

Heat the oven to 180C
In a casserole pan add some olive oil and warm through
Gently fry the onions and garlic
Add the pork and chorizo and continue to fry
Add the carrots & broccoli
Add the tomatoes, water and vermouth
Add the pearl barley
Season with the herbs, salt and pepper
Cook in the oven for 2hrs plus
Serve with mashed potatoes and mashed carrots that you mixed together with a big knob of butter

Lemon chili chicken with noodles and oriental cucumber dressing
Vegetable oil
2 chilies
2 chicken breasts sliced
1 small piece of ginger roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Handful of beansprouts

1/3 of a normal sized cucumber grated
1 large piece of ginger really finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
Soy sauce
1 handful of freshly chopped coriander
Sesame oil

In a frying pan heat some vegetable oil and gently fry the chili and ginger
Add the chicken and bean sprouts
Pour over the lemon juice
Cook for 5 minutes
Meanwhile cook the noodles in boiling water and drain when cooked.

To assemble the dressing mix all the ingredients in a bowl, you can be pretty cavalier in terms of how much cucumber and coriander you add but you need to keep the ginger, garlic and soy sauce in balance. Finally less is more with the sesame oil.

To serve
Noodles onto the plate first, then the chicken and finally the dressing.

I have to acknowledge my debt to some strange cooking programme the Boss has found on one of our local TV channels. The basic premise is a bunch of South Africans drive around the countries of southern Africa cooking but more often drinking. The main presenter can clearly cook in all sorts of places, vehicles and contraptions that do not resemble kitchens and furthermore he appears to be able to do so in many varied states of inebriation. However I personally don't like his style. However he was on a boat and he made a version of the dressing I set out above. I remember nothing about it except a proportion of the ingredients. So I just riffed on it.

In other news I went to the supermarket this evening and my card was refused at the checkout. I paid with the credit card and went down to the car park only to discover that the car wouldn't start. My professional opionion is that the car is dead . Consequently I want a new one. C you need to call me when you read this and sell me a car!!!

This week we have the Pub Quiz on Wednesday night, I'm working late on Thursday so will miss the movie which is Tom Cruise's Valykerie which I have to be honest should maybe described as a lucky escape and then Friday we are off (downhill) skiing in Tahko with friends for the weekend. Should be fun.