Thursday, April 30, 2009

May Day Eve/Vappuaatto

After a final exam (Finnish to English Translation) I made my way downtown, where the Vappu festivities were already underway. Vendor's booths were already set up selling food as well as the usual carnival crap (counterfeit t-shirts, not-so-cheap cheap sunglasses, etc). As usual, click on pics to enlarge.

The pedestrian street in downtown Jyväskylä at approximately 1 in the afternoon. Please note that Spiderman has had a few too many already.

One of the finer street foods in Finland is the fried vendace aka muikku. The vendors fry them up with butter and salt in big pans, such as the one in the background of this photo.

A few moments later, and this delicious snack was annihilated. The vendace is a relative of the whitefish and is similar to the smelt in flavor.

Another shot of the pedestrian street.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Vappu/May Day

This coming Friday all of Finland will be shut down to celebrate Vappu. Nobody will be at work other than bartenders, pizza makers, and cops. Vappu (or May Day) begins officially on Thursday, which is Vappuaatto. The celebration will continue until the wee hours of Saturday. Vappu promises to be especially festive this year since May Day falls on a Friday. Not terribly festive for me - yours truly will be working on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

One of the culinary traditions of Vappu is that of sima and tippaleipä. Sima is a type of low-alcohol mead flavored with lemon. Tippaleipä is a form of funnelcake. Sima and tippaleipä were originally a Vappu delicacy for the early nobility and well-to-do landowners of Finland. With the advent of affordable sugar, they were adopted by the rest of the people.

Store-bought sima from Vanhan Porvoon Fabriikki. 0.8% alcohol. You can make it yourself quite easily, I just didn't get around to it. Sima recipe here.

Tippaleipä. These were made by Elonen. Tippaleipä recipe here.

Vappu in Finland has its origins in Saint Walpurga, who was an English nun and missionary to what is now Germany, where she eventually became an Abbess. She is credited with, among other things, being the first female writer of England as well as Germany.

It should be noted that before Saint Walpurga, the Germanic pagans had a goddess of fertility named Waldborga whose feast day was the 1st of May, also know as the first day of summer.

Religious tradition in Finland forbade work on the 1st of May. However according to Finnish folk tradition, Vappu was a fortuitous day to begin plowing as well for letting the cows out to pasture. It became a worker's holiday in the late 1890's. It was only in 1944 that the Finnish government passed a law making Vappu a worker's holiday.

Vappu has been a student's celebration in one form or another since the 1700's. Today it appears to belong more to the students than the workers. Anyone who has graduated from Lukio has the right to wear their white graduation cap on Mayday. Students around the country arrange various festivities.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Last of a Dying Bread

Riihiruisleipä (riihi rye bread) is something pretty special. You can't find it just anywhere. It used to be the norm for rye bread in Finland. Sadly, this is no longer the case. This isn't just any rye bread. The secret to the flavor in this bread lies in the riihi.

The riihi was traditionally a windowless log structure, with little ventilation and no chimney. Sheaves of grain would be hung on poles and a small,smoldering fire would be built. The fire would be tended carefully until the grain was dry. The heat and smoke helped to dry the grain evenly preventing spoilage and also eliminated potentially harmful pests. It also gave the grain a wonderful smokey flavor, a flavor that carried through to the bread that was baked from it.

A link to a page about riihi construction (in Finnish).

Luckily, a few small farmers still produce riihi rye and a few bakeries are wise enough to buy the flour produced from said flour. One such bakery is Mannisen Kotileipomo, located in Konnevesi. This is a beautiful rye bread. Dense, heavy, and chewy, with a smokey rye flavor that can't be beat. This bread doesn't even need butter to be enjoyed.

69% riihi rye flour, wheat flour, water, yeast and salt.
Baked in a brick oven.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Gardening Progress

With a germination success rate of 100 percent my vegetable garden is well on its way.

Sweet corn and sunflowers on the 23rd of April

With such a high rate of germination it was necessary to thin the ranks of the seedlings. I took out the small, the slow, the weak. In this photo, a six day old sweet corn seedling and its taproot.

I like to keep records of what is going on with the plants. Here we have, among other things,documentation of rates of growth.



This year I've decided to try out this "peiteharso" or "protective veil". Made of uv resistant poly fibre it allows 92% of light through its weave,as well as air, nutrients,and water. It creates a microenvironment around the plants, creating greenhouse-like conditions while protecting them from frost,hail,pests and vermin. A few euros worth should be enough to cover my small garden. Last summer was pretty cold here in Finland and I'm hoping that this will give me a bit of an edge. I'll report on its effectiveness once that is determined.

A few of the seeds I intend to start outdoors a few weeks from now:

A mix of Lactuca, Brassica, and Diplotaxis better known as a Baby Leaf salad blend.

A low-bush variety of sugar-snap peas (variety De Grace).

Beets. (variety Bull's Blood). I like to eat borscht in the fall. The young leaves also go quite well in a salad.

The weather has been pretty warm and sunny. I'm personally hoping for a bit of rain. Being that this is Finland, I'm sure that there will be some in the near future.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Something to think about on Sunday,April 26 - the anniversary of the bombing of Guernica.

Perhaps best remembered today as the inspiration for the painting of the same name by Picasso, this little city in Republican Spain was the subject for a test of Luftwaffe strategy and equipment. These bombing tactics would later be adopted by Axis and Allies alike and have remained in use ever since.

"Guernica" by Picasso

"Guernica" by Franco and Hitler

Thursday, April 23, 2009


We decided to build an outhouse (in modern lingo perhaps one could describe it as an super-green ecotoilet) at our dad's place. My brother Jed is an architect, so this provided with him an opportunity to create the type of structure that most architects never get a chance to even dream of designing. We knew that we didn't want our new outhouse to be "traditional" in appearance. Jed drew up the plans, we raided the old man's lumber and junk piles, rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

Framing in progress.

The finished structure, after being moved to its permanent location.
When seated inside, you get a great view of the edge of the spruce swamp located across the field. We have speculated that our super-green ecotoilet would make an excellent and comfortable blind during deer season.

From another angle.

Finnish Cultural Assimilation Lesson # 39

Yet another installment in my series of lessons for those who wish to be assimilated into Finnish culture, or merely wish to try and understand the modern Finnish soul.

Viidestoista yö (the 15th night)

Juice Leskinen, often described as the "Bob Dylan of Finland" was a prolific poet and songwriter. As the result of a poll in 2004 he was ranked 38th of the 100 Greatest Finns. Fifteenth Night is but one of his many great songs, apparently written after a 14 day drinking binge. Juice passed away in 2006.

My unpoetic translation of a bit of Viidestoista Yö:

1st verse
In my eyes, the look of a lost orphan-a child that's lost its way
The remnants of your love make my chest ache
The darkness hits me like a squadron of bombers
And I don't even ask at what price.

I watch the world with you
and I see the same dream
Like a madman I cry out after your love.
I curl up in your arms
and if you let me I'll spend the night
and when morning comes I won't know where I am.

Vanhojapoikia Viiksekkäitä (old bachelors with whiskers)
(don't let the unfortunate wardrobe choices made by the background singers affect your enjoyment of this song...)

Juha Vainio composed over 100 songs, as well as wrote and or translated lyrics for nearly 2000 more which have been recorded by various Finnish artists.
Old Bachelors with whiskers is one of his very own. It tells the story of Nestori Miikulainen, an old bachelor destined to live his life alone on a windblown island on Lake Saimaa. An old Saimaa seal sympathizes with Nestori, they are both a dying breed.

Again, an unpoetic translation on my part.

On an island on Lake Saimaa is a tenant farmer's plot
Nestori Miikulainen sits on the steps
playing a harmonica and a Saimaa seal
rises to the surface splashing
Below the waves it heads towards the musician
because the melody is really familiar.
The song tells of how it feels to be alone
and the seal understands that well.

Nestori never had a wedding
the world lured away his bride.
Old bachelors with whiskers
is what they both are.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

signs of life

I like gardening and caring for plants in general. It probably dates back to when my dad ran a greenhouse. Some of my earliest memories are of going to work with him.
I've pretty much always managed to raise plants of one kind or another throughout my adult life. Now that I'm an apartment dweller my only outdoor gardening opportunity is at my in-laws summer place.

The Finnish summer is fast approaching, and I decided to get a head start on some of the trickier plants to raise to maturity outdoors in Finland - sweet corn and sunflowers.

My studio gets excellent light in the springtime. I decided to start my plants there, rather in the kitchen at home as I did last year.

The essentials. Jiffy pots, seeds, soil, and a container for the
pots. This year I decided to try one of those low plastic containers
on wheels used for under-bed storage.

Step one. Put the soil in the Jiffy pots.

If your soil is dry, add water.

Plant the seeds according to the instructions on the package.

The seeds that I am starting indoors this year:

A basic tall, yellow sunflower.

Sweet corn "Lumidor"-an early maturing F1 hybrid.

Sunflower variety "Cherry Rose"

Put the pots in a sunny place and wait.

Five days later and germination is well under way.

The sweet corn is between 1-2 centimeters high. The sunflowers
are between 1-4 centimeters high. Yesterday there was no
sign of germination whatsoever.

I'm hoping to be able to get these in the ground outdoors by the end of May. I'm planning on planting carrots, various salad types, peas, sugar-snap peas, as well as tomatoes. the tomatoes I plan on purchasing from a greenhouse. Lots of my herbs are perennial and actually manage to survive the Finnish winter. I started asparagus from seed last year and I am looking forward to the first harvest which should take place next year.

I will make further gardening updates as the summer progresses.

Monday, April 20, 2009


When I'm not painting, writing, or enjoying home time, chances are you'll find me working at Vakiopaine, one of the more interesting Finnish bars that you will find. I consider myself lucky to be working at such an unusual establishment. Vakiopaine aka "Vakkari" provides patrons with a multitude of beverages, both alcoholic and non. We don't serve food, although you can feel free to bring in your own, provided you clean up after yourself. We do serve up a healthy portion of culture and cultural events. A fresh art show every 3 weeks. Live music, spoken word, stand-up comedy are frequently on offer several nights a week. The basement theater is home to our own theater company, and also features productions by several of the other fabulous theater groups from the Jyväskylä area.

Here's a photo tour of Vakiopaine, taken just moments before opening.

A view of Vakkari from the street, looking towards downtown.

If you look up and to the left as soon as you walk in, this is what you will see.

Upstairs, looking towards Kauppakatu.

Another shot of the upstairs seating area.

If you walk down the stairs...

...and turn left you will find the men's room.

The bar. We don't have table service, so head in this direction
when you know what you want to drink.

One of the taps has been modified with Lenin's head.

A view of the bar, looking towards the street.

Turn around if... are looking for the ladies room.

The corner where musical/spoken work/stand-up performances take place.

Head down the basement stairs if you are looking for the theater.

The theater. Between productions, hence the mess.

A few videos of live entertainment at Vakkari.

Matti Perälä and Matti Ekman playing "Tulisuudelma" (Kiss of Fire)

Orkestar Business Class Duo playing "Rosmariini" (Rosemary)

Ville Leinonen and Tuomas Luukkonen performing "Tähtityttö" (Star girl)

Vakiopaine-open 7 days a week from 2 p.m. til 2 a.m.

If you are in Jyväskylä for Vappu (Mayday) make sure to check out our Päivätanssit! We open at 10 a.m. to serve pickled herring sandwiches. The dancing starts in the afternoon.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Clean studio

Did a bit of cleaning at the studio today, getting ready for the open house on Friday and Saturday. Click on images to enlarge.

Some completed and signed paintings as well as works in progress.

Some of the stencils I use when painting backgrounds and borders.

I use a sketchbook for a palette. Occasionally when ideas are lacking, I search through the paint smudges and blots in search for new subject material. The following photos provide a few examples of what I'm talking about.

Bear in a hat

Howling canine

Disapproval and innocence

A shot of my workbench, surface cleared off, first time in a long time.

A few shots from my sketchbooks. I'm not too handy with a pencil. I guess If I want realism, I'll use a camera.

Brown bear aka karhu

Northern pike aka hauki

Eurasian curlew aka kuovi