I recently got to taste something almost too perfect to be true. The sensation this divine treat created in my mouth was out of this world! I couldn’t stop myself from having more and more and more. And here’s where it gets overwhelming. This morning when I opened my eyes, this delicacy was the first thing on my mind. I even arrived late to work because of it; just one more spoon, this one is the last one, maybe one for the road, okay; seriously this is the last one... Hands down, I got hooked and currently I’m a happy but struggling addict.
It came into my life so unexpectedly. It happened last week on a gray and rainy evening in Helsinki. I was on my bike pedaling home as fast as I could. I’m not made of sugar, so it wasn’t the rain that made me want to arrive home with speed of lightning. It was something I had in my bag that made me rush. I couldn’t wait to get acquainted with it.
At home, I was too impatient to wait any longer. Dripping all over my kitchen floor, I unzipped my rucksack to get a closer look at the preciousness I had brought home. It reminded me of my childhood, when food items were still bought directly from producers in the neighborhood. Lovely, already it made me happy and I hadn’t even tasted it yet.
So this big, light yellow honey jar from Marbacka Beefarm in Liljendal, Finland had been preoccupying my thoughts for the whole day and the moment I had been waiting for – the tasting – was at hand. Something told me it’ll be good, but at that point I still had no idea of what I was about to experience.
I sat down at the table in my tiny kitchen and twisted open the jar. The aroma it unleashed was exquisite! It had been a while since the last time I had this type of honey; the hard, sun-colored kind. Like I said, it looked and smelled like the divine nectar that this old nutty village beekeeper living a few houses away from my childhood home used to make and that my Dad kept on the table. After taking the time relishing in the first perception, I badly needed a cup of hot tea to save me from the cold creeping up my spine. Also, I wanted to do something I always used to do when I was a kid. When the kettle was steaming, I poured myself a big cup of tea and placed a spoon in the mug. I used to let the spoon get really hot and then, let it sink into the hard honey. I loved how I needed no force to get a big scoop, as the spoon would sink in without any effort.
I usually don’t like having too big expectations when it comes to experiencing tastes. Not only is there a far bigger risk of getting very disappointed, but you also psychologically deprive yourself from tasting whatever it is you’re about to taste to the fullest. Also, expectations sometimes take away the pleasure of surprise.
I tried my best to distance myself from the taste memories of the honey I ate as a child. I closed my eyes and let the spoon of honey slowly melt in my mouth. The hot spoon burned my lips slightly, but the only thing I could feel was the absolutely gorgeous taste of honey. There was nothing that could’ve distracted me from that sensational tasting.
It was like a roller-coaster ride of deliciousness, with various twist and turns. It was dangerously close to perfection. Not only did this honey have a smooth, vivid, and especially characteristic taste, it had this amazing silky texture. And at no point was it cloying! At least that’s what I thought at that point. After my fifth spoon, I had to hide the jar in my cupboard so I wouldn’t have it in my immediate sight.
The next day at work, I was daydreaming about performing my honey routine all over again as soon as I’d get home. Again, I biked home fast and arrived out of breath. I ran up the stairs and placed my key into the key whole. I turned the key, opened the door, “Honey, I’m home!” Seconds later, the jar was on the table and the spoon burned my lips again, again and again. This is why I absolutely love the simple little pleasures food brings into my life.
Indulge this guilty pleasure yourself. Get it from the closest Anton & Anton!
I’ve written about the amazing karjalanpiirakka – Finnish/Karelian rice pies – before. I even made an attempt to bake some little less than a year ago with rather satisfactory results. On top on that, I actually managed to inspire a young Turkish woman to try making them. That was cool! And she did an excellent job, to say the least.
But now, I can write about this superb Finnish delicacy again, since this time, I can say that I know how to make the traditional pies the way they really should be made. Not only was my teacher an elderly woman from Karelia, but she is, in fact, ranked among the country finest karjalanpiirakka bakers! That is cool!
People have different ideas about how to spend a sunny Saturday night. Parties, dinner parties, dates, cinema, theater, concerts... What is expected out of a Saturday night is for something out of the ordinary to take place. Something intoxicating – literally and figuratively speaking. Usually, the preferred activities involve reaching a euphoric state of mind in one way or another. Expectations are most often sky-high and disappointments are commonplace. Sure, I can recognize the aforementioned in myself too, but still, for me, staying in on a Saturday night making karjanlanpiirakka with a jolly old lady couldn’t be more perfect.
I arrive to the home of the master of karjanlanpiirakka in the late afternoon that Saturday. Seija Raitanen greets me with a big smile and a hug that almost breaks my ribs. It has to be a part of the charm of Karelian women, I thought to myself, and squeeze her back as hard I can. She’s full of energy and all ready and prepared for the occasion, “I woke up at 6 am today, so I’ve already prepared the rice porridge” (the filling for the mouthwatering pies). Damn she’s effective. I need to step it up to stay in her pace and not disappoint her. Even though I have the advantage of age, she would beat me any day in what she has been doing all her life. I simply have to hand it to her, respect!
Before I know it, her fingers are working the dough. It’s beautiful watching her work and soon I find myself utterly dazzled by both the speed and perfection that surrounds her culinary performance. “Earth to Edith! Did you come here to daydream or to work?” she asks. I love this woman! No time for apologies or unnecessary babbling, I have pies to make.
So this is the drill. The dough is rolled into a long slab about the thickness of a big carrot. Then, the slab is cut in small 2cm wide pieces. The pieces are then flattened with a push of a thumb. The stack of flattened round dough pieces optimizes the work. Logical and efficient, it all seems pretty easy and I’m, seemingly, doing a great job. I keep trying to lock eyes with Seija for her approval. She approves with a firm but encouraging “Hyvä!” (good). No need for nonsense and worthless praising. She’s happy with my work and that’s all I need to know.
When the stacks of flattened dough balls are done, we are all set to start rolling the dough pieces thinner than thin pie bases. Seija starts talking, “I used to hate this sound” (the karjanlanpiirakka roll pin makes a pretty distinctive and constant knocking sound as it hits the table when working the dough). “My mother woke up early on Sundays to make karjanlanpiirakka and on purpose made a terrible racket as to wake me up. I usually came home late from a dance on Saturday nights and making karjanlanpiirakka was the last thing I wanted to do. But I had no choice. Newly baked steaming karjanlanpiirakka were an integral and vital part of the Sunday lunch. That’s how it had to be and that’s how it always was”. All the while Seija talks, her hands work. A scoop of rice porridge on the thin dough base, fold the sides and do the “rypytys” (literally “wrinkling”) and voilà! Her reflexes and the technique lie on decades of experience. “I used to do much more beautiful pies and a lot faster. I’m old now and my fingers hurt”. So modest and unpretentious. I can only smile.
Seija made five Karelian pies or so and left the baking duty to me. After a few not so pretty ones, I start getting the right feel to it. Some of the pies were exquisite, if I say so myself. When the first oven plate has about a dozen pies lined up side by side, Seija puts them into the extra hot oven. “Be sure to have the oven as hot as possible”, I nod and register the information. A few minutes later her little kitchen smelled heavenly. My mouth is watering and I suddenly feel very hungry. Seija asks me to prepare the “munavoi” (egg butter – hard boiled eggs mixed with butter) and I obey her command.
When Seija opens the oven, the sight of beautiful, sizzling, golden brown Karelian pies made my legs weak. Psyched out of the feeling of joy, I start jumping around the kitchen like a little kid. “Now we dip them in a mixture of milk and butter and let them cool down”. Oh no, I still have to wait before I can sink my teeth in the most perfect karjanlanpiirakka I had ever seen.
I hate waiting and ten minutes felt like an eternity. When Seija finally told me to eat, I thought I’d explode of happiness. I took a warm and crispy karjanlanpiirakka in my hands and smeared a thick layer of egg butter on it. Orgasmic! Amazingly delicious! One pies, two pies, three pies, four… after that I stopped counting. Seija’s smile when she watched me eat was priceless.
If this didn't make you want to make these delicious Finnish treats, I don't know what will! So run to the nearest Anton & Anton store and get yourself all the needed ingredients! And remember, the best karjanlanpiirakka are made out of best the raw materials!
After a long and busy night at work on Saturday, I slept like a baby to wake up to a marvelous, food-filled first Sunday in September.
Whether it’s the knowledge of the following day being a Monday or whether it’s just the “low-activity-mode” that Sunday tend to imply, Sundays are usually filled with blues and melancholy. Somehow, this morning, contrary to what I expected since I crawled into bed at 5 am, I woke up five hours later to the fresh autumn breeze that blew into my room through the open window. The air smelled of rain and sunrays. Already I knew, this Sunday was going to be a good one.
Because it has been a while since I’ve given in to pure hedonism, I decided that on this very Sunday, I’d do exactly that, and reward myself to the fullest. In my book this means taking the day as it comes, smiling a lot, laughing a lot and delighting my appetite with little treats all day long. But also, it means moving, biking, running, hiking – anything. Plus, writing about it all in the end – especially the food part. This, for me, equals a perfect self-indulgent day.
Still unwilling to test how my legs would carry my weight, I started teasing my hunger with thoughts of a scrumptious breakfast. Beautiful velvety biological yoghurt served with toasted almonds and apple mash that I made myself the other day. Top that with fresh coffee spices with cardamom and cinnamon… My smile was almost painful, that’s how big it was. Rise and shine! I was hungry.
Not long after I had thoroughly enjoyed my heavenly breakfast, I already started planning for the next meal. Very typical of me, I have to say. But before I would get too tangled up in daydreaming about more food, I decided to enjoy the sunny Sunday outside and go for a bike ride by the sea. The nice thing about Sunday early afternoons in Helsinki is that there’s hardly anyone around and the city feels all yours. And there was the huge smile again.
On my way back home, I stopped at the better food store close to my home. I decided to not count pennies this time and help myself to delicious raw materials without limits. The total sum of my groceries almost gave me a heart attack, but as I got home and unloaded my prey onto the kitchen table, I had already forgotten its painful price. Also, the smile was there again and that was what was crucial.
Since breakfast, I had had cravings for juicy meatballs in tomato sauce. My cravings were about to be satisfied: Chopped caramelized onions, fresh biological minced meat, rosemary, salt, pepper and a little twist for taste, fresh mint. My love for raw meat took over me for a second and I couldn’t resist eating the first meatball raw. Delicious! And they weren’t even done yet. I obviously need to exercise self-control more, by the way.
I managed to prepare the meatballs, brown them in butter and pour mashed tomatoes over them. My little one-room-apartment got filled with the luring smell of a perfect home-cooked meal. I just couldn’t feel happier. Or at least that’s what I thought.
With the meatballs still simmering on the stove, my mind was already racing to yet another cooking endeavor. I had invited my parents over for a little Sunday afternoon tea party. And even though I had promised to “keep it simple and brief”, I just couldn’t resist trying out a recipe that came to my mind the other day when peeling apples for my mash. Since one of the treats I bought at the store was a whole Camembert, I really wanted to try to replace the raspberries in my Raspberry-Camembert Tart with apples. I also wanted to try something new with the tart bottom: Toasted oat flakes and almond flour would do the trick, I thought. And it sure did, the tart was exquisite, even if I say so myself. The fresh rosemary I sprinkled on top fit the sour apples and the smooth Camembert divinely! I’m sure my parents left my home happy.
It’s almost midnight and my lovely September Sunday is coming to an end. But my smile remains. I’m sitting on my bed typing – the final part of my perfect day. My fingers smell of garlic and my room of baked apples. My belly is full and I’m ready to start a new week.
In the end, I don’t really know what made this Sunday so perfect. I guess it’s the simple little pleasures that make it all worthwhile. I can guarantee that Mondays won’t feel half as dull when you prepare yourself for them with an enchanting Sunday filled with good food, big smiles and simple pleasures.
Once upon a time in Finland, which now seems long ago, bread was sold in bakeries and cheese in cheese shops, meat was bought from the butchers and fish directly from the fishermen… I’m 26 years old and I only recall grocery shopping everything from one big supermarket. Thanks to the growing awareness and demands of the average consumer regarding food, there are signs of positive going-back-in-time as far as food is concerned. Instead of choosing to shop at super and hypermarkets, people are beginning to opt for small producers and choose to shop at smaller stores in search of better quality, locality, seasonality and more responsible consumerism.
Still a rather small-scale food store chain, but growing and gaining customers, Anton & Anton has a different perspective on trade. It’s not just about good food; the family started business also stands for more responsible consumerism. Obviously, the aim is not to please everyone. All the three stores are located in the heart of central living areas in Helsinki city and the best way to reach them is by bike. “We want to be where people actually live,” states founder Niina Hietalahti. The aim is to be the number one food store that comes in mind when the goal is to find good quality food.
The target customers are not just any customers “Our customers are demanding, if not the most demanding ones. We get no charity points, whatsoever”. (Was this said by a person, or on their website?) However, the point that is emphasized is that Anton & Anton is not a gourmet deli contrary to what many people perceive it as. In fact, it’s a rather normal food store. What’s different compared to other supermarkets, is that at Anton & Anton the product selection is already done for you – only the best and the tastiest products, both in quality and ethics, are available on the shelves of the cozy little stores. The fact that the variety is smaller is meant to help and ease the customers’ choices, not turning them off and disappointing them.
Anton & Anton obviously caters best to LOHAS -people (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability). In fact, a loyal and large customer group is composed of young, well-educated, aware couples that stand for "green" ecological initiatives, among other things. As far as I’m concerned, the three stores are amazing hubs of deliciousness and I’m sure that any real foodie would gladly enter the store and leave happy and very satisfied. Nevertheless, I do think that Anton & Anton is welcoming and open for all people. Sure the products are of certain quality and may not be familiar to the average consumers who're used to the bigger chain markets, but that’s where the staff at Anton & Anton come in. The friendly, smiling and well-informed staff is more than happy to guide the customer and give extraordinary tips and recipe suggestions.
So without further ado, start demanding better and tastier food for the your money. Not only will you make yourself happy, you’ll also support local small producers and thus boost other similar initiatives like Anton & Anton.
A small step for human kind, a big step for little me: Yesterday, after having successfully executed a mini project, the one-day pop-up restaurant gØtt, I went to bed tired but extremely happy.
gØtt what was what my Italian project partner Veronica and I contributed to Restaurant Day. Since its first edition in May 2011 in Helsinki the concept, a Finnish to begin with, has become a global culinary carnival where passionate foodies like myself can test their wings as restaurateurs for one day. How does it work? It’s simple. Anyone can set up any type of restaurant, café or what-have-you anywhere they want, at any time of day. In a country like Finland, where starting any food related business officially and legally is a hand full, this type of occasion is really something special. One of the most fun ideas I’ve encountered is to sell small sweet and salty snacks from the fifth floor window of someone’s kitchen by transporting the goods to the hungry customers via rope and pulley.
Our idea was also original and well thought out. gØtt truly was a child of love for both Veronica and I. I was a Restaurant Day rookie, Veronica had done it once before and knew the drill. gØtt however, was a first for both of us. Veronica, who has a love for design and fashion, and I who live for food and food culture, made a perfect team for Restaurant Day. Four days prior to D-day, we put our creative heads together in order to make our little dream come true.
Step by step, starting from the smallest detail, we came up with a whole concept that we christened gØtt. When we first met in Helsinki, Veronica and I were both studying in Sweden. Both of us used the Swedish word for good – gott. Swedes from Gothenburg pronounce it not with o [o] but with a [ö] – a phoneme, which is probably unfamiliar to you who have no experience of a Nordic language… gØtt sounded good, it looked good, it was gött. The Norwegian letter ø gave it aesthetics that pleased our eye
Because both Veronica and I are totally loyal to our ethics and morals when it comes to food and our surroundings, we also wanted gØtt to reflect that as clearly as possible. Not only did the food need to be delicious and all homemade, it also had to be nature friendly and good-looking. I can’t tell you how many told us that we’re going way too far and aiming way too high. For us, it was all or nothing, so we remained firm regardless of critical feedback.
Planning the menu made up the core our yummy project. What to cook!? It had to be easy, fast, efficient, take-away friendly, just to name a few criteria. And did I mention it had to absolutely delicious? After hours of twisting and turning each idea upside down and inside out, here’s what we came up with:
gøtt Rolls with Finnish Aura blue cheese, pears, spicy pork & sweet prunes sauce
(A very special and warm thank you to my beloved friend Tif Audubert a.k.a my recipe bank)
Sesame Cabbage Crunch
Coconut & Curry Lentil Velouté
Homemade Focaccia al Rosmarino
Blueberries, Yoghurt, Toasted Almonds & Oat Flakes
Elderflower Lemonade & Blackcurrants
Mint Water with Apples
Everything actually tasted as delicious as it seems, I must say. And I can tell you, we didn’t take the easy way out. We didn’t cheat, nor give up when it got tough. And in the end it was a great success, even if it didn’t seem that way at 7 am on Sunday morning when we woke up to cook and prepare the restaurant for 40 customers.
All in all, after ripping my white sheets into 40 cotton napkins, painting 40 gØtt stencils on them, and sewing nice borders on them, collecting 40 glass jars from neighbors and friends and attaching labels to them, digging in trash containers and the recycle center for pillows and curtains, tieing pallets, huge metal frames, old luggage and other “decorations” onto a bike and transporting it all through Helsinki, I think I speak on behalf of both of us that we did us proud. A lot of tears, but even more laughter came out of this experience. The most important thing is that we did it and that we did it exactly as we wanted.