Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Animals - budget vs. premium

Helsinki provides us with two nice places to watch animals: Haltiala farm and Korkeasaari Zoo. At least 3 years old kids were thrilled about both of the places.

Real animals

Horses, cows, lambs, pigs, chickens, roosters and an ugly gobbler - those are the animals of Haltiala farm (sorry, they don't have English website). Haltiala farm is owned and maintained by Helsinki City. It's located in Northern Helsinki, near Jumbo shopping center. The public transportation is not impossible: bus 650 takes you to few hundred meters from the farm.

In the summer time the animals are out around the clock. The ice cream kiosk and restaurant have more limited opening hours. No entry fee. The farm is growing flowers and peas - and the citizen can pick them for free (whenever they're ready for harvesting). Isn't that nice?

Lazy lions 

Helsinki Zoo is located on an island, Korkeasaari. You can get there by metro (+ couple of kilometers walking), bus or boat. If the weather is good, I recommend the boat - but take it from Hakaniemi instead of Kauppatori. And they sell tickets in the boat too, so you don't need to queue and miss the boat because of pre-sold tickets.

There is quite a variety of animals in Korkeasaari. Not the farm animals, though. And no elephants, polar bears nor giraffes either. But there are lazy lions, a tiger, snow leopards, lynx, bears, baboons, all kinds of deers, camel, owls, otters and small apes and parrots. On a summer day you should be prepared to queue everywhere. If you're not in a hurry, postpone your zoo visit to September - then the animals are much more active.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Finnish baseball

Pesäpallo, Finnish baseball, is probably the finest sports practiced in Finland. It reminds the American baseball, but there are differences too. I don't know the rules of American baseball well enough to make comparison, but here's what I remember about the rules of the Finnish baseball (and you can check the rest from this nice website that was last updated in 1993 - check out the ASCII illustrations too).

There are two teams playing against each other. 9 actual players per team. One of the teams is hitting and the other team is on the field. The team on the hitting turn tries to hit the ball and progress on the field from base to base, eventually back to the home base - and by running home to achieve as many points as possible. There are three hitting attempts for each player. There can be only one runner on each base at the same time.

The number of the player refers to the hitting order - and you can tell something about the personal strengths and weaknesses too:
  • #1 The first hitter doesn't need to be very good in actually hitting the ball, he just needs to make his way to the first base and run fast. 
  • #2 The second hitter needs to be a bit better in hitting than the first one, he needs to be able to hit cleverly enough to ensure the first guy's way from first base to the second one - and to make his own way to the first base. 
  • #3 Semi-strong player without any special talent. 
  • #4 and #5 The best hitters of the team. They need to be able to hit the ball for sure, since theoretically there is ajolähtö, a runner on each base at this point of the game.
  • #6 to #9 The players who don't matter that much.
  • #10, #11 and #12 are called jokers, the wild cards. They don't have position on the field, so they don't need to know how to catch, or pitch, or throw the ball. They need to be good either in running or in hitting (either one will do). You can tell the strength of the joker on the first glance: the fat ones are hitters, the thin ones are runners. 
The team on the field tries to catch the ball and to burn, polttaa, the hitters/runners out: if the ball reaches the base before the runner, then the runner burns and he must return to home base. If the hitting/running team burns three times, the turns are shifted from field to hitting and vice versa.

There are some additional rules too:
  • Hutunkeitto, the cooking of a Hutu (or the cooking of porridge). This is how it's decided which team hits first and which of the teams is on the field.
  • Haavoittua, to get wounded. If the field player catches the ball directly from the hit (i.e. the ball doesn't touch the ground before the catch), all the players who were running must return to home base. They get "wounded" but not burnt.
  • Vapaataival, free way, walking. The pitch must stay within the "pitching plate". If the pitch is out of the range of the plate, the hitter can skip the pitch. Two outbound pitches, and the hitting team member gets a free way to the next base. Note that the pitcher is located at the home base, and he pitches the ball directly upwards, not by throwing towards the hitter as in the American version.
  • Laiton, illegal hit, foul. Right after the hit, if the ball touches the ground outside the borders of the field, the hitting attempt is considered illegal. The hitting team is not allowed to run on illegal hit. If the last of the three hitting attempts gets illegal, then the hitter gets burnt. I've understood that in the American baseball you are allowed to hit the ball as far as you possibly can, even all the way to the audience - and you're rewarded by a home run. But that's not allowed in the Finnish baseball, you need to hold back and stay within the borders of the field. Maybe that crystallizes also the differences of the two societies.
  • Lautaskammo, platephobia. Psychological diagnosis for pitcher who suddenly looses his pitching touch. It's very difficult to recover from this disease. I'd like to see a scientific research about platephobia.
These tips will help you to follow the game. However, you must travel to the provinces to see good pesäpallo, either to Pohjanmaa or Eastern Finland. The pesäpallo of Helsinki just sucks. Hjallis Harkimo tried to build up a team in Helsinki with big money, but he failed miserably. You can put together an ice hockey team if you have too much money - but money can't buy you the pesäpallo spirit of a small town.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gold in the forest

I've always had a bit sarcastic attitude towards mushroom praise. You know, when people post the outcome of their mushroom hunting to Facebook. But I guess I've just been envy for not knowing good mushroom places here in Helsinki region.

However, now the tables have turned and I'm joining the praising team: I've been picking chanterelles and I loved it! It's unbelievable how rewarding it is to spot the shiny yellow gold in the moss and gently pick them up into basket. I believe this year will be a good mushroom year, thanks to the rainy summer weather - It must be, since even I was able to find mushrooms on my own.

In Finland you don't need anyone's permission for picking berries or mushrooms for your own needs. You can simply walk into forest and start picking them. But of course you should know what to pick and where to pick, since some of the mushrooms are poisonous suckers. The mushroom season starts with the chanterelles, most likely you can spot them for about a month and a half from now on. Chanterelles tend to grow in semi-sunny places, in the very same hoods with birches, moss and wild strawberries.

What do you do with chanterelles? Pick them, clean them and fry them on a pan (without oil or butter) - until the mushroom juice has been evaporated (and the mushrooms have shrank into half). Then just freeze them for the winter. And if you want to eat them right away, then use some butter in frying, chop some onion along, a bit of salt and black pepper. Voilá.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beer for middle management

Finns have probably always liked beer, but in the past 10 years the small individual microbreweries have started to raise their head. And they surely are warmly welcomed to boost the flat offering of Lapin Kulta, Karjala, Olvi and Koff. The latest newcomer in the Finnish microbrewery scene is Ruosniemen Panimo, Ruosniemi Brewery. The past couple of weeks have been historic for Ruosniemi guys, since their debut beer has just become available in couple of pubs in Helsinki and Pori.

Pikkupomo. As you can see from the receipt, I paid the beer myself, 
so this is not one of those "blogger-gets-goodies" sponsorships.

The first publicly available beer of Ruosniemi Brewery is called Pikkupomo - the name refers to a boss working in the lower middle management. I ordered a glass of Pikkupomo at Pub Black Door in Helsinki city center. And boy oh boy, that Pikkupomo was my kind of boss: brownish, somewhat bittersweet and chunky on the body. A very tasty summer ale. I could take assignments from this kind of Pikkupomo.

The guys behind the brewery have their background mostly in chemistry. They have academic degrees in chemical engineering, process technology, foam formation and all kind of master stuff in the field of chemistry. The brewery thing is not exactly a profession or main job for any of the Ruosniemi guys, even though the brewery itself is very professional - they have even purchased old professional dairy equipment and pimped the hardware to meet the needs of their brewing process.

Ok, so it's not a full-time profession, but then how do you categorize or describe this kind of microbrewery activity? For sure you can't call it amateur activity - amateurs would never get a reliable process in place. Even though the brewery is not the main job of the Ruosniemi guys, I feel 'hobby' is a misleading term too: making miniature aeroplanes or knitting socks can be a hobby, but entering the beer market with a commercial product is totally above the hobby level. 'Brewery as a lifestyle' sounds like it's directly from a shiny design magazine. Maybe 'a lifeline for real-life pikkupomos' would be describing enough?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The dessert of my childhood

Maitokiisseli, milk kissel, or more describingly, milk pudding was one of the top desserts of my childhood. Maybe because it's very simple and affordable - all you need is milk, potato starch and sugar. I guess this is poor nations' version of creme brulee, crema catalana, pannacotta or whichever white vanilla stuff. I had almost full jar of milk with threatening due date, so I decided to upgrade the recipe a bit:

8,5 dl milk
1,5 dl cream
1 pod of vanilla, cut into half
6 tbs cornstarch
4 tbs sugar
A hint of salt

Mix all the ingredients in a non-sticky kettle. Cook the mixture until it's boiling - you need to mix it all the time. After 2 minutes of boiling, take off the kettle and remove the vanilla pod. Put the kettle into sink with cold water and let it cool down. Mix every now and then. This way you can prevent the "skin formation" on top of the pudding. Dose the pudding into small bowls or cups - there's enough stuff for six if you want bigger portions, or for eight if you prefer normal size. Let it rest in the fridge over night. Serve cold with berries.

The pudding was ok. Maybe a bit lame with strawberries, though. With huge amount of blueberries or some raspberries this would have been perfect, but the flavor of the strawberries was simply not rich enough. Maybe a hint of orange peel would have done it. Have to try that next time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Freeze the summer

Now it's time. To store the strawberries for the long and dark winter. I bought 5 kilos of sunny summer energy in the form of Polka strawberries. Cleaned them, cut into half, put into small plastic bags, 2 table spoons of sugar and off to the freezer. My mom's generation says there are certain strawberry sorts that are more suitable for freezing than others, but I've noticed you should simply freeze the ones you think are the sweetest (Polka for me, please) and not care whether it's optimal for freezing. Just freeze them early enough when they're still tasty and stiff, that's the best way to avoid mushy and watery harvest.

And of course I had to taste a few. With Ekberg baguette, Schönberg's brie and some thai basil leaves from my very own balcony.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The joy of dance

If you happen to spot the Wannabe Ballerinas somewhere in the Finnish summer, go and check them out. Wannabe Ballerinas are a ballet group of adults who are having ballet as a hobby. It's not professional, it's not flawless, but definitely joyful. I spotted them in Berlin, and went to see them. Maybe it's stupid to go and see a Finnish dance group abroad, but it was fun.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The best vegetables

Vegetables are absolutely delicious right now. In my opinion the top three vegetables of the season are:

1. Potato. I already wrote about new potatoes. Siikli is my favorite type.

2. Cucumber. Especially the ones that are grown on open field, avomaa, not in green house. The ones grown on open field are shorter and fatter, and you may want to peel them.

3. Onion. You don't need to peel them and you can eat the whole thing, also the green part.

Why these three? They just taste so different compared to the winter version of the very same vegetable.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Karelian rice pies

May I introduce a laborious, challenging and delicious classic: Karelian rice pies - traditional food that everybody likes.

This is how to make them:

First you need to cook the porridge. This may sound easy, but to me it's the hardest part. Cooking milk is just not my cup of tea.

For the porridge you need

3 dl porridge rice
3 dl water
1,5 l milk
1,5 tsp salt

The milk should be fatty milk, not skimmed. And the rice should be porridge rice, not basmati or jasmin rice.

Cook the water and rice for couple of minutes, the rice should suck all the water.

Add milk and salt. Cook for about 40 minutes. All the cook books say that you need to mix the boiling porridge every now and then, but I've noticed that no matter how much I mix, always at some point those brown burnt flakes start flowing in the porridge.

This is something the cook books don't teach you: just pick the largest burnt sucker flakes up from the kettle and don't tell anyone.

Once the porridge is done, let it cool. Or the next phase is so slow that the porridge probably cools down nicely on its own.

For the shell dough you need

4 dl rye flour
1 dl wheat flour
2 dl water
1 tsp salt

Mix the ingredients.

Roll a bar out of the dough. Cut the bar into 30 pieces.

Roll each of the dough piece into ball.

Roll the dough ball into flat, thin, round or oval flake having about 1 mm thickness. Use wheat flours if needed.

Pile up the dough shells on top of each other, about 10 for each pile.

Once all the shells are rolled, you can start filling the pies. Spread a nice junk of porridge on top of the shell.

Wrap the sides to the center of the pie.

Start pinching the dough into wrinkles.

First the other end, then flip it around...

...and continue with the rest of the pie, from center to the tip of the pie.

Put the pie on baking plate. You can lay the pies quite close to each other, they won't expand in the oven.

250 degrees celsius for 15 to 20 minutes, and they're done. But not ready yet.

Melt some butter and water.

Brush the pies with butter-water.

Let the pies cool slowly under a cloth (you might want to have a piece of paper between the pies and the cloth, you just brushed them with butter, remember).