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

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.
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.