Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Frozen Prairie Just Got More Frozen

Welcome to Oulu.

That's right. I moved again. Even FURTHER north. Arctic Circle north. Ok, well not quite Arctic Circle, but close enough.

That close.
Some facts. Oulu is the 5th biggest city in all of Finland. It's the biggest city in the north. There's only one well-populated city closer to the Arctic Circle and that's Rovaniemi. Anything north of that is Lapland (about). If you would go north and west from Oulu you would be in Sweden. In fact, our closest IKEA is in Sweden, not Finland.

There are no polar bears here, but yes, there are reindeer. Not roaming around the middle of the city or anything, but they live pretty close by. Actually, they do show up in the middle of the city once a year, where they have a reindeer race during the reindeer festival.

What else is Oulu known for? Tar. While it used to have a million uses a long time ago, nowadays it's used as an ice cream flavor or an oil to make your sauna smell nice.

Ok, how about the daylight situation? Well, it's nearing the summer solstice and right now the sun sets..... never. I think technically the sun sets after midnight and rises around 2am but really, it's never, ever dark. If you would look out the window at 1am, it would look like it's the middle of the afternoon. Winter is the complete reverse. About 2 hours of daylight and dark all the rest of the time. What's nice about it is that the excessive daylight makes Oulu a very nice summer city. There are some events in the city that run all day and all night. You want to go canoeing at midnight? Sure!

Outdoor market. Oulu, like most Finnish cities, has it's own outdoor market. Big city, big market. Here you can buy clothes, jewelry, ice cream, pastries, licorice, or have a meal or snack from a vendor such as salmon, fried vendace or even Indian food. And while you are there you can say hello to the Toripoliisi, the outdoor market policeman.

I like to experience regional food from around the country and world and Oulu has a quite interesting one. Pizza with mayonnaise. Not your white, out of the jar mayo, but the Finnish mayo, which is typically cucumber or bell-pepper or curry flavored and orange in color. Surprisingly delicious. I think all of my pizzas will have mayo on them from now on. The Oulu people even have their own word for pizza - känkky.

Shrimp, pineapple and mayo.

There's a million other interesting things about Oulu - the beaches, the annual air guitar festival, it's one of the most bicycle friendly city in the world and the winter cycling capital of the world, the science museum, it's a city full of developing technology that gets implemented community-wide, and because of it's university and up-and-coming researchers, the average age is 36, the many parks, the dialect, the rivers, the festivals, shopping, athletics, movies, entertainment and so on.

Nyt on aika olla ölövinä.

T. Kati

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Finnish Food: Karelian Pies / Karjalanpiirakat

What is a Karelian Pie?

Let's look at the name.

Karelia refers to the geographic location of what used to be Finland and is now Finland and Russia (for more information, read about the Winter War). Karelia is now divided into two parts in Finland, North and South Karelia. The city where I live, Lappeenranta, is part of South Karlia.  While Karelian pies are available outside of this area, they are more common in the Karelia areas.

(all Finns shed silent tear...)

Now the second part.

Well, it's not a pie.

It's actually a form of "pasty", a food item that has a filling and a pastry or dough shell wrapped around it.

The pasty, or "pie" can be filled with either potato filling or rice filling.

Like this:

Karelian pie with potato filling

Karelian pie with rice filling

The dough wrapped around the filling is rye or rye/wheat.

While there are more modern or inventive fillings, these are the traditional two and the most commonly found.

The pies themselves can be bought in markets in the frozen section, in the refrigerated  section or in the bakery section and they can be bought fresh from bakeries. They come in small, medium and large sizes... you can buy cocktail pies that you can hold with two fingers and eat or large pies that take at least one hand to hold and eat. You can even buy regional varieties like the Imatra (a city northeast from Lappeenranta, also part of South Karelia) variety.

Today, Niko and I bought a frozen bag of Karelian pies.

These have rice filling and are wrapped in rye/wheat dough.

Here's what they look like pre-cooked:

They go in the oven for about 20 minutes. While they are baking, the most essential ingredient is made.


Munavoi is a compound word made up of two words...muna and voi. Muna means egg and voi means butter. It's pretty simple. Boil eggs, melt butter, mix together in a bowl.

This topping is almost always served on top of Karelian pies and is supposedly a Finnish invention. Karelian pies are also the only (traditional) way to use it or eat it.

Once the Karelian pies are done baking, they are taken out of the oven and glazed with some butter.

After that, let cool, add toppings of your choice and enjoy.

Karelian Pie in a cafe with munavoi, tomato and cucumber (large size)

Karelian pies from oven (above) with munavoi and roasted pepper topping (medium size)
Profile view of a Karelian pie

Karelian pies are traditionally served at many holidays, when guests visit, as appetizer, as snack with coffee or milk, or can even be made into a small lunch.

Hope you enjoyed the culture lesson for today, see you next time!

T. Kati

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How much snow does Finland really have?

This blog is officially 1 year old! Which means, I've been in Finland for over a year now!

So the question is, how much snow does Finland really have? The first thing to know is that it can't really be measured. I live in Lappeenranta, which means it is colder and there is more snow here than in Helsinki, but still not as cold or as much snow as Lapland The first snow happened in 2011 in November, although it can happen as early as October or even earlier. The first few snows stay for a day or three and melt. This continues through December, snowing regularly, if not everyday, until the temperatures continue to drop and drop and then one day it snows and it doesn't go away. It stays and keeps building and building. The snow plows come out and make giant piles of snow. Walking paths are shoveled or simply created by being walked on over and over. Ski tracks are made and are so essential, they are never walked upon. And it continues to snow and piles just keep getting higher and higher. In February there is even a holiday (Laskiainen) where little kids slide down giant hills made by the snow plows (they do this every other day too, of course, now it's just official). Some days the snow covers the trees completely, some days the ice is so thick the trees sparkle. And the ground, when it has frozen and then thawed just a bit, glitters like diamonds. But now it is February and spring is in the air. Don't get me wrong, the snow will still be here in April, I promise. Now the winds come more and blow snow off trees and the sun is out just enough to melt a bit and the temperatures rise from -22C to -12C some days. So I wanted to share some photos before it, how much snow does Finland really have?

What was once a soccer field is now an ice skating rink. But first the snow had to be removed. 

Even the lakes are covered with snow 

Sometimes you have to cross knee-high snow in order to get where you want to go

Finnish Flag Day    

Here is a snow pile by the bus stop. These are everywhere.

The Saimaa is Finland's biggest lake.

Walking path to home, more snow piles and snow on houses

Cross-country skiing is as popular here as walking.

Skiing starts from very young

No playground here. Underneath that giant pile of snow somewhere is a sandbox...

...and don't even try to open the door to the balcony. The snow is so heavy, it even makes garlands. 

With all the snow, a nice Finnish mid-day meal is ideal...

Karelian pie with munavoi, raspberry juice box, coffee and smoked salmon and red onion sandwich. Nam.

T. Kati

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Building of an Ice Rink

Winter has come, Finland is literally covered in snow and temperatures are almost constantly below 0 (celsius). And as soon as the days become below freezing for enough days in a row, man-made ice rinks are built and made all over the cities. This is one huge benefit of being a Finn, because they are provided by the city, they are maintained by the city and there are so many of them all over the city, it's a great and easy form of fun and fitness right outside everyone's door. And for me, it literally is right outside the door.

Our local ice rink can be seen from our apartment windows and every time I look out, there is always someone on the ice. Maybe it's some adults playing an impromptu game of ice hockey, maybe it's some kids hitting pucks against the walls practicing, maybe it's some very small kids barely able to walk skating and falling, skating and falling. But since there are so many rinks all over the city, they are never crowded. There are two 'huts/shacks/boxes/houses' where you can walk inside, sit on benches, take off your shoes, put on your skates and leave your shoes and blade protectors while you skate. The rink can be used at anytime in the day, it's completely public, and at night the entire place is lit up so you can skate even when it's dark. Which, at the time of writing this post, is 3:30pm.

An explanation for non-Finns. Ice rinks are not built on lakes. People do not skate on lakes (that I know of or have seen, anyway). Despite the fact that Finland has more lakes than any country in the world besides Norway, all the rinks are built on fields. In the summer people play soccer, basketball, tennis or just play, in the winter it's all ice. To show this, I have made a series of photographs so you can see the ,building of an ice rink.' Enjoy!

August. The tennis courts are open. The basketball courts are behind the tree. A tall wire fence surrounds and borders the next door soccer field where goals are set up. People play tennis often, kids play on the soccer field daily and now and then team matches are held.

November. Fall. Temperatures are now below 0 though sometimes jump up to 5 or 6 some days. The wire fence is taken down. The basketball hoops are taken away. The pieces of the fence are brought out. Anticipation begins.

Later in November. The border to the hockey rink is built.

December. The rink has been built and is ready for ice to be made but the temperatures hover around 0 and the city is covered in snow. If ice were to be made now, it would not be frozen enough. The city waits for it to get colder.

Christmas Day. Still not cold enough to have built an ice rink yet, this doesn't stop the native Finns from having a game of hockey on the snow. The snow shovel to the left is a common sight in almost every apartment complex and ice rink; anyone can clear away snow from around their car, clear pathways or make a better hockey game.

January. Temperatures stay below 0. One day hoses are brought out and sprayed all day onto the ground, forming a thin layer of ice. The ice is not yet able to be skated on; it is too thin. This process is repeated for a few days and every night, the rink stays empty, waiting for the ice to harden and the Finns to take a first tentative skate on the ice.

Then one night some hockey players try to start a game out on the ice. They play for a couple of hours. Niko and I go out that night after work. They hockey players are leaving the ice as we get ready to get on; they have been kicked off-their skates are too rough and some of the ice has patches and holes. We go out and skate and some kids come in with their hockey sticks and pucks and slam pucks against the walls. Niko and I skate around for about half and hour and then leave, so that the ice patches can be repaired. It was a great time skating and we will definitely be out there often.

The ice rink needs constant maintenance. It snows often, so the snow plow goes out almost hourly to clean the snow off the ice. The ice is maintained by more water from the hoses and scraping and smoothing with tools and machines. The funny thing is, the ice rink seems to be maintained more often than the roads. Interesting priorities.

Sometimes the snow doesn't even stop the Finns. They pull out shovels and make space enough for them and their family to skate. Or sometimes they just skate through the snow.

Hope you enjoyed the post, it's time for me to go skating now!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Me olimme Helsingissä / Vi var i Helsingfors / We were in Helsinki

Finland only has flags out during certain flag days, otherwise the pole is empty. Most of the flag days are in spring and summer but there were two this month so I managed to catch a photo!

Also I thought I'd post a photo of a Finnish crow. Black AND white.:)

I went to Helsinki this past week to take care of some paperwork at the US Embassy. Here's what Helsinki looks like:

Driving in Helsinki is not fun. Which is why I wasn't driving. Most of the roads in the city are two way but then there are giant train tracks in the middle separating them. So in most places it's impossible to turn left and absolutely impossible to turn around if you miss a turn. Plus, some of the lanes on some of the roads are actually on top of the train tracks so you always wonder if there is a train behind or in front of you to watch out for.

Fall weather is almost over and winter weather approaches, snow has been in Lapland for over a month now, Finland is lowering the speed limits all over the country to ,winter speeds, and soon drivers will have to switch to their winter tires. It's already  below 0 C most nights and not much warmer during the day. Novita magazine already came out with their winter issue, while I'm sure in the US winter knitting magazines won't be out for some time. Fall colors here start out orange and then switch to yellow and then that's it. Occasionally there is a red or brown but those are quite rare. The birch leaves have already turned and then fallen to the ground, so now all around are bare bark birch trees.

After Helsinki we stopped by IKEA in Vantaa to pick up a few things while we were in the area.

I am always amused by the IKEA in Finland because everything is in Finnish and Swedish. But it's not exotic because those are the two national languages so everything is in Finnish and Swedish anyway, from street signs to food and drink, etc. I do enjoy the Finnish accent when they try to pronounce the names of items in Swedish. Also interesting is that Helsinki has it's own dialect and words that it uses so I enjoyed walking through the store and hearing those.

The first thing when we walked into the showroom that we saw was an IKEA sewing machine.

Don't get excited, it's not real, IKEA does not make or sell sewing machines. I got a kick out of it anyway.

Thanks for reading!

Helsinki/Helsingfors (finnish/swedish)
ruska - autumn colors
isä/faija (finnish/finnish dialect)