Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Seinäjoen Aaltokeskus - Aalto Center of Seinäjoki

This example of a planned administrative, cultural, and religious city center is by architect Alvar Aalto, who is known for his functionalist architectural stylings, his design items such as the Savoy vase, and for his almost impossible to use lavatory facilities and horribly uncomfortable lecure halls located in C Building at the University of Jyväskylä.

A side note concerning the aforementioned lecture halls - either Aalto forgot to include clocks in his design or perhaps he secretly hated clocks, whatever the reason, the lecture halls do not have clocks. Taking an exam without knowing how much time you have left (if you aren't a watch-wearing person) can be a real pain in the ass. Instructors have been know to bring their own clocks in on exam days. Since Aalto is the holy cow of Finnish architecture his creations are not allowed to be modified, no matter how small and insignifigant and useful that modification might happen to be.

Starting with the construction of the Lakeuden Risti (Cross of the Plain) church in 1960, the construction ended with the completion of the Teatteritalo (City Theater) in 1987. Other buildings in the group include the City Hall, the regional library, the parish center, and Valtion virastotalo (a State Office Building, home to the bureaucratic machinery necessary to keep this part of Finland running smoothly).

From left to right: The Cross of the Plain bell tower, the church itself, the parish center, the library and City Hall

The bell tower, the church, and the parish center. Aalto's original plans called for the church and the tower to be clad in black granite which apparently was too cost-inhibitive at the time of construction.

The front of City Hall.

The church and the parish center

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Finnish Cultural Assimilation Lesson # 23.6 - Decoding Finnish potato bags

If you have recently moved to Finland you will have noticed that most Finnish supermarkets carry a wide variety of potatoes. They are either sold loose or prepackaged in color-coded plastic bags.

If you don't speak Finnish yet you may have a hard time cracking the code which determines which bag of potatoes is most suitable for your purposes. With a bit of work on your part, this lesson will assist you with all of your potato shopping needs.

There is a Finnish standard potato bag color code which is in use by Finnish grocery retailers. The colors used in this system are green, yellow, and red.

Chart describing (In Finnish and Swedish) the 3 basic Finnish potato categories

Potatoes found in a green bag are kiinteä, in other words, they are more firm. This basically means that they have less starch than the potatoes that are packaged in yellow or red bags. Potatoes classified as kiinteä are suitable for salads, boiling, for use in soups where you would like them to keep from breaking down, and also for pan frying. You can also use them in casseroles and they can be grated and fried if you want to make hash browns. Popular varieties of kiinteä potatoes in Finland are Siikli, Hankkijan Timo, and Nicola.

Potatoes found in the red bag are jauhoinen, which means that they are less firm than kiinteä potatoes when cooked. They have a higher starch content, which makes them desirable to use when preparing mashed potatoes,puréed soups, and baked potatoes. They also work well for baking recipes that require potatoes. Popular varieties of jauhoinen potatoes sold in Finland are Pito, Puikula, and Rosamunda.

Potatoes in the yellow bag are described in Finnish as Yleisperuna, meaning that they are a good potato for general use. They have a higher starch content than kiinteä, but not as high as jauhoinen potatoes have. They can be boiled, used in soups, casseroles, and baked as wedges. They can also be used for hashbrowns and baked potatoes. Common yleisperuna varieties in Finland are Van Gogh, Amazone, and Matilda.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Graavisiika ja friteerattu muikku - salt-cured whitefish and fried vendace

In my previous post I was excited about the prospect of a fish market coming to our neighborhood. As of yesterday Kalaliike Mäkinen is open for business at Kauppakatu 6 in Jyväskylä.

To celebrate the occasion I bought some graavisiika. Graavisiika is prepared much in the same way as gravlax, but with whitefish instead of salmon. Eat it by itself or with a nice rye bread, some butter, and a sprig of dill.


I also bought some fried muikku (vendace), a delicious snack served warm or cold.

Fried vendace aka muikku

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kalaliike Mäkinen - Mäkinen's fish market

It doesn't take much for me to get excited. In this case, the excitement is coming from the fact that a new business is moving to our neighborhood.

Kalaliike Mäkinen will be a welcome addition to the Yläkaupunki neighborhood of Jyväskylä. When Divari Kangas closed up shop, a lot of us were afraid that our street would be blessed with yet another beauty shop, real estate agent, or pizza-kebab joint. Luckily, a fish market is moving in, and they promise to be open by Christmas.

Coming soon to Kauppakatu 8 in Jyäskylä - Kalaliike Mäkinen!


There are quite a few different types of pulla (a sweet cardamom bread), but my favorite pulla variety is voisilmäpulla. Voisilmä is quite literally "butter eye". The "eye" in voisilmäpulla is a mixture of butter and sugar which melt into the pulla and caramelize.

Voisilmäpulla and espresso at Cafe Voca, which is located on Vapaudenkatu in the Forum shopping center.

A recipe for pulla can be found here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Private Finnish lessons in Jyväskylä

For private Finnish lessons in Jyväskylä with an instructor who is flexible concerning teaching and learning styles, I recommend Suomea kahdestaan. The instructor has been teaching Finnish as a second language since 2001.

I should also add that the instructor and her family would be willing to relocate to a tropical location if enough students were in need of instruction.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A great weekend for music and culture and Vakiopaine

It was a great weekend for music and culture at Vakiopaine. On Friday night Matti Perälä and Kvartetti Q gave a fantastic performance of classic Finnish iskelmä and tango.

Matti handled the vocals and Kvartetti Q provided the strings. Kvartetti Q is: Marjukka Manner -viola, Pauliin Raninen - violin, Iida Hirvola - cello, and Sanna Sandås - violin

Here's a video (sorry for the poor sound quality) of Perälä and Q performing Kolmatta linjaa takaisin, a Finnish version of Beautiful in the Rain by Little Pattie. The Finnish version was originally recorded by 70's pop star Fredi.

Saturday night brought us the traditional La Sega del Canto Christmas concert.

La Sega del Canto is a duo consisting of Joppe Salo and M. Pulkkinen. They always put on a great show, with no shortage of good humor and fun.

Here is a video I recorded during their Christmas concert last year, an excellent version of Hava Nagilah. Sitting in on this session is the legendary 3rd member of the duo, Aleks, who is one of Russia's finest ambient balalaika virtuosos.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

J.V. Snellman

I took this photo a few weeks back in Kuopio. It got to me thinking about J.V. Snellman. I knew he was an important statesman from Finnish history, but I couldn't recall much more. In other words, time for a bit of a refresher.

Johan Vilhelm Snellman was a highly popular lecturer at the University of Helsinki in the 1830s. His ideas ultimately clashed with the agenda of the imperial government and he was removed from his position.

Eventually he took up a post as a headmaster of a school in Kuopio and began to publish fiercely pro-Finnish language periodicals. Among other things he felt that the nobles and upper classes had a duty to use Finnish - the language of 85% of the population.

These opinions once again cost him his job. In 1856 the political climate had relaxed enough for Snellman to be granted a professorship at the University of Helsinki.

In 1863 he became Senator and was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. He helped to establish a language decree that gave the Finnish language a position equal to Swedish in government. He also helped to reestablish the Finnish parliament, and helped to create an official currency for Finland - the now defunct Markka.

Snellman's popularity began to wane. The age gap between himself and the new generation of opposition, his inflexibility, and his reputation as an old agitator didn't help much. He was forced to resign from the Senate in 1868.

Friday, November 27, 2009

vihannes- ja hedelmäpussit - produce bags

Working with an idea picked up from Michele at A House Called Nut, Hanna made some reusable produce bags out of super-light fabric. Some have been given as gifts to friends, the rest have stayed with us in an attempt to reduce our plastic bag usage.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Baby food by Alvar Aalto

Alvar Aalto was a Finnish architect and designer. While he did have his moments of genius, he was far from faultlessness. Anyone who has had to sit through a two hour lecture in one of his torture chamber lecture halls in the C Building of the University of Jyväskylä campus will know what I am talking about. Could one possibly design a more uncomfortable chair?

Don't even get me started on the 100% dysfunctional men's rooms in the same building. Makes me wonder if Aalto was so perfect that he never had to take a crap because I can guarantee that even Mr. Perfect Architect himself couldn't figure out how to use one of those cramped facilities with dignity. And do the sinks really have to be at the height of ones knees?

Don't get me wrong. His buildings look great from the outside and his design items often unite form and function quite satisfactorily. One of his iconic designs was the Aalto (Savoy) vase.

Using the official Aalto vase ice tray as a mold, Hanna froze several baby-sized portions of carrot puree for Reino to enjoy as he is now learning to eat solid foods. Now here is some design we can enjoy even after it has been melted down in the microwave!

carrot puree by Alvar Aalto

Friday, November 20, 2009

Keski-Suomen viides vuodenaika - The fifth season of Central Finland

A little more than a week ago, my adopted hometown looked like this:

There was plenty of snow and the temperatures were comfortably below freezing. The air was crisp and dry. Humidity was virtually nonexistent.

My friends and I discussed how great it would be if the weather would remain as such. After having spent several winters here however, I realized that this was not to be the case. I knew for sure that soon the dreaded fifth season would be upon us.

The fifth season has no name. It is the time of year that comes between fall and winter. Some years the fifth season can last from the end of November to well beyond Christmas.

The fifth season is characterized by lack of sunlight, abundance of rain, and an ever-present dampness that chills to the bone.

There are many ways to cope with the fifth season. Some indulge in hot beverages, with or without a bit of alcohol. A weekly trip to the local swimming hall has been known to help. Sauna offers a temporary respite from the cold.

A side note: Would the reader who sent me an email the other day please send it again? Thanks to my magnificent IT skills I managed to delete it before I was able to read the whole message.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Juustoportin kirnuvoi - Juustoportti churned butter

These days one is confronted with a plethora of butter substitutes in the dairy section of any Finnish grocery store. They promise to lower your cholesterol, make you smarter, thinner, taller, remove unsightly back hair, and so on. These vegetable spreads all have one thing in common - they taste nothing like butter.

I like food. I like food that tastes good. A good meal often starts with good butter. I've finally a butter that exceeds my standards.

Juustoportti kirnuvoi claims to be churned in the traditional manner. I highly doubt that a whiskered old granny is pounding the fat out of the cream in a standing churn, so it isn't what I would call ultra-traditional, but it does have all the qualities that an excellent butter should.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tiinan Tupa

Tiinan Tupa is situated approximately half-way between Jyväskylä and Kuopio. At Hanna's suggestion we stopped for a bit of a break on our way home last Sunday.

I knew right away that this was going to be my kind of place. In addition to the building in this photo there were a few other structures, including a fire-pit shelter where the weary traveller can grill their own picnic snacks. It is always fun to find something different in a country full of ABC behemoths and Shell gas/food stops.

Apparently the view from Tiinan Tupa is spectacular. I am unable to verify this since we visited on a dark and foggy night but I have no reason to doubt the rumors.

The price of a coffee refill hasn't changed since 1974. My refill was free and I'm guessing that this is standard practice at Tiinan Tupa.

Coffee, homemade baked goods, other snacks. Tiina's decor is that of flea-market capitalism. Everything is for sale, even the tables and chairs. I won't even attempt to caption most of the following photos. Sorry about the photo quality, I'm still getting used to my new camera.

I was so busy looking around and snapping photos that I forgot that I was supposed to be eating donuts and drinking coffee.

Tiinan Tupa is home to what was once the world's largest birchbark backpack. I'm not sure where to find the world-record holder. This one was pretty impressive to see.

Taking a break is part of the journey.

Where to find Tiinan Tupa:

Näytä tiinan tupa suuremmalla kartalla

punainen jalapeño - red jalapeño

If you have read this blog before, you may already know that I work a small vegetable garden in the summertime. In October I moved a jalapeño plant from the garden to our kitchen. At that time there was one pepper that was just forming and several flowers in full bloom.

The lonely pepper is now a bright and beautiful red and several of the blossoms have tranformed into fruiting bodies. I'm guessing that they too will be mature enough to eat in a few months. The plant has flowered again and with the aid of a damp watercolor brush pollination was completed.

Now all I have to do is figure out what I want to season with this spicy little friend of mine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kuopion kauppahalli - The Kuopio market hall

We began our long weekend on Wednesday with a quick stop in Kuopio. Kuopio is famous for its kauppahalli (market hall).

The building itself is quite possibly Kuopio's finest example of art deco/jugend architecture. Designed by architect Johan Victor Strömberg, the market hall began operating in 1902.

The market hall is home to about 30 different vendors offering meats, fish, baked goods, hand-made crafts, and of course, the most excellent and delicious kalakukko.

The Kuopio Market Hall homepage can be found here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lake Tuomiojärvi- starting to freeze up

In honor of Antti's 30th birthday last Saturday a few of us got together for a bit of lakeshore sauna time before the festivities officially began.

If you look closely at this photo you can see that a few of us really wanted to go for a post-sauna swim. Luckily the ice wasn't too thick to break through with bare feet.

Looking across Lake Tuomijärvi towards the Laajavuori ski hill

Jussipaita - Jussi shirt

A early father's day present that my little family picked up for me at the Syysmarkkinat a few weeks back:

The jussipaita is symbolic of the region of Etelä-Pohjanmaa, also known as Southern Ostrobothnia. Depending on whom you ask, the Jussipaita symbolizes the sisu, honesty, integrity, and/or craziness, and legendary bravado of the Southern Ostrobothnian people.

I have a bit of Etelä-Pohjanmaa ancestry (by way of the Dakotas and Minnesota) and therefore feel qualified to wear this shirt with pride. If you don't like it, then perhaps we should step out behind the woodshed for a private chat...

This particular sweater is 100% wool and was manufactured by Nuutisen Kutomo.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Älylän ehtoo

If you are planning to be in Jyväskylä on Friday night you should definitely stop by Vakiopaine for Älylän ehtoo.

I'll be in the door, so swing by and say howdy and if you are at all young-looking, bring your ID. You should stop by at about 7 PM to see Ralli-Olga. If you don't know who they are, all the more reason to come and check them out. I can honestly say that they kick ass. They are throwing a record-release party at the same time.

Ralli-olga's myspace here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jolly Jumpers at Vakiopaine - 24.10.2009

The Jolly Jumpers played a show at Vakiopaine last Saturday. This was the second time that they played at Vakkari since I started working there. It was a great show, made even better by the fact that I had the night off.

A few photos from the show:

A Jolly Jumpers video that I found on Youtube: