My Scandinavian summer holiday on a plate


My wonderful annual two weeks summer break back in Finland is over and I want to recall all the lovely food related and some other memories.

Three Smoked vend ace on a plate

The holiday was a bit of a chilly affair this year. They've had the coldest summer since 1962. I was excited to be part of this extreme climatic event. Everyone we visited kept mentioning (eyes welling up) the two days in early July when the weather had been lovely.

Holiday is still holiday and I am not made of sugar, husband will testify. I had a lovely, relaxing time. We got a couple of decent days and a fair bit of sunshine even if the temperatures didn't soar exactly. But the nature looked just unbelievably lush and gorgeous because of all the rain. The downside (apart from the fact that it was bloody cold) was that nothing was ready for picking yet. We managed to find some chanterelles, but they were just starting to appear. Bilberries weren't sweet yet, wild raspberries were nowhere near ripe and lingonberry season is a bit later anyway. So, no foraging for me this time. That's usually my and dad's special thing. That and chopping wood. Dad operates the chainsaw and I haul the tree trunks around. Father-daughter quality time.

Freshly picked wild girlies
Chanterelle - the best
mushroom ever IMO
Foodwise these holidays never disappoint, there is always lots and it's all good. I usually take my running gear with me and try to sneak in at least a couple of runs in order to still fit into my jeans by the end of the holiday. And it's no mean feat, the maximum time between meals in my mum's household (unless you want to go running in the middle of the night)  is 3 hours, so to allow for the food to go down a bit before the run and to be showered and ready for the next meal after your run you have to plan this stuff.

The other problem is it's really hilly there - I was swearing aloud in front of one particularly steep hill just having climbed a few when a grey haired guy in disturbingly short shorts potentially from the 1970s twinkletoed past me wishing me a good morning. Son of a bitch.

We arrived in Helsinki late on Monday night and had arranged to stay at my sister's. She had made us a cheesy smoked moose and mushroom tart on rye pastry which was the perfect late night snack before bed. Although I did stay up way too late chatting with my sister over several glasses of red wine. Once quite a few years ago after such an evening of a late night chat and a few too many drinks we woke up in the morning to find out all the pictures had fallen off the walls and neither of us had any idea how that happened. Poltergeist, I suspect.

Smoked moose and mushroom tart
Smoked moose and
mushroom tart
On the following day she cooked us a lunch of honey chicken noodles in her outdoor wok. Finns love their outdoor cooking.

Tomato and herb focaccia
My sister's focaccia. Why does
that sound rude for some reason 
Cooking the chicken noodles

Cruising to Stockholm, Sweden

Silja Symphony cruise ship

Tuesday afternoon we headed for our cruise ship to Sweden. This is quite a common thing to do in Finland. There are lots of ferries, catamarans and cruise ships crossing the Bay of Finland to Estonia and the Baltic Sea to Sweden. We had decided to do a trip to Sweden, the ships on that route are impressive and the trip takes longer, so more time for fun and mischief. And we got to spend a day in the lovely Stockholm.

Wouldn't you want to live in the little red house?
We met my younger brother and his wife in the Helsinki harbour and boarded our ship Silja Symphony, one of the biggest ones even housing a shopping street called Promenade running through the ship lined by shops, bars and restaurants. We had booked the Sea Buffet Dinner both ways as well as the breakfast buffet both mornings. The kids can eat a lot, so this probably was the most cost efficient attempt to fill their bottomless bellies.

Shopping street Promanade on Silja Symphony
I didn't get good pictures of the whole buffet, there were too many people milling around. They were also of the not-compliantly-queueing kind that usually raises our hackles, particularly my feisty brother's and mine. But we remained remarkably calm and above it, although we did point out the starting point of the queue and explained the general philosophy of waiting for one's turn to some of the worst culprits.

I remember once reorganising the whole queueing system at the taxi rank at Paris Gard du Nord. It was a disaster. You know what French people are like, not very organised, are they. Husband funnily always disappears at these moments. My zeal for order somehow seems to embarrass him.

The dinner buffet on these boats is always amazing. There is endless choice of salads, starters, meat and fish mains, different cuisines, cheeses and a mouth watering dessert table for anyone with a sweet tooth. I actually skipped the desserts and a lot of other stuff including all meat dishes and focused on the salads and seafood. They had whitefish roe which me and my brother had massive mounds of with onion, sour cream, new potatoes and dark rye bread after my brother had had the inevitable argument with the waiter on whether the roe actually was whitefish or some kind of fake imitation. I also had a good go at the gravadlax, smoked salmon, mussels and different types of pickled Atlantic and Baltic Herrings.

Husband had a grievance though. There was no lamb of any kind in the buffet. Lamb is not as popular in Scandinavia as it is in UK.

Kids enjoyed the desserts

The breakfast buffet was also huge and kids were eating so much I actually had to leave the table because I was feeling a bit queasy even without watching them shove everything down their fresh faces. Sister-in-law had persuaded me to have one too many a bubbly the night before.

But we had a lovely day in the beautiful Stockholm, my old home town. I spent my gap year there officially improving my Swedish and working in the renowned Karolinska Institutet hospital (as a cleaner), but really mostly I recided in the number one rock club of the 80s Stockholm called Ritz in a basement at Medborgarplatsen. Linking this little tidbit back to the food theme Ritz was where I first had Quiche Lorraine would you believe. Very civilized for a rock club. That's Sweden for you!

Almost thirty years later epically hungover but pretending to be a good wife and step mum, we took a horse cart sightseeing tour with the kids. It probably was the shittiest sightseeing tour in the history of sightseeing tours because you couldn't actually see out of the bloody wagon because of the stupid roof. Money well spent.

The two horses were quite cute. They were brothers we were told.

Excited teenagers in a wagon with a stupid roof and
a tour guide with lame jokes. Who needs xbox.

But we also walked around. Stockholm really is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. There is a lot of water around, the city is built on 14 islands. They've kind of cowered behind Finland's back for the last centuries, so the city has never been bombed unlike most European capitals like Helsinki, which is why in Helsinki in between the beautiful Jugend houses lurk the post-war concrete atrocities (think Barbican).

We walked around the amazing Gamla Stan (old town), which is one of the biggest and best preserved old town centres in Europe dating back to the 13th century. The buildings are gorgeous, the streets are narrow and cobble stoned and it's so clean and beautiful. We found a cuppa for the husband who can't go on for long without a cup of tea, which sometimes is a hassle in these coffee obsessed countries.

I found a moose bag. I can't believe I haven't had a moose bag before. Where on earth did I carry all my moose meat. Generally I think the world needs more moose bags. I also found a moose candle holder which will improve our dark autumn evenings no end.

We found a little Pizza place near Hötorget (haymarket) market place to share a pepperoni pizza. I still couldn't really manage more than a mouthful. On the market place there were massive stalls of golden yellow chanterelles, berries and fruits. I really wanted to buy some fresh chanterelles but even I could see that wouldn't be very practical.

Back in the boat, we had a dip in the pool area and the jacuzzis, kids had an "oh my god they're naked" moment in the men's sauna and after that things were repeated. Dinner buffet with loads of whitefish roe, too many drinks, blaming sister-in-law for too many drinks, hangover, limited appetite at breakfast and leaving the boat exhausted but happy.

Silverpond in the Tavastia Proper - Brother's holiday home in the historic Häme county

From Helsinki we drove to my brother's summer house a little over an hour's drive from Helsinki. It's a small cabin by a pond in the middle of a forest. It is very beautiful and peaceful. I always love to scare husband and kids with some exaggerated wildlife stories. There are lots of lynx in the forests around and several brown bears have been seen as well as wolves. But wolves usually eat small children so you should be ok, I consoled my step kids.

My brother and his wife are very outdoorsy, I don't know why they bothered with the cabin, they spend all their time sitting around the open fire by the lake or in their "summer kitchen" with is a hut with three walls and a ceiling housing a BBQ and a wood burning stove, dining table, sofa and chairs and some impressive bluetooth audio gear and heaters for those cooler autumn evenings, of for the coldest summers in 50 fucking years.

We had a starter of pan-fried breaded small vendace, this is a super tiny anchovy size version of vendace. If you ever visit Helsinki you must buy these warm and freshly made in the main market place near the seafront. You should really eat the heads and tails not to come across as a pathetic wuss if you are ever offered any. They are delicious. And I have to hand it to the kids, they ate them and even had seconds although there were some leftover heads on their plates.

Main was gorgeous BBQ lamb and chicken. Husband was happy! They also grow their own potatoes, so we had freshly dug-out boiled new Siikli potatoes.

Mum's moose fest in the Finnish Lakeland

From my brother's we headed north towards the Lake Finland where my parents live. My mother's father's family have lived in the village for about 500 years, or who knows how long, but about 500 years ago literacy reached that neck of wood, so there is documentation since then.

The family farm still exists and is in the hands of my mother's cousin's widow and will be inherited by my second cousin. It is a large estate, now with no live cattle, but mainly rented fields and a lot of forest. My grandfather was the oldest son and would have inherited the place but waived his birthright in order to pursue a lucrative career as a top business magnate (manager of the local co-op) and banker (manager of the local co-op bank).

My grandfather did inherit some land, a very special island in the beautiful lake Päijänne, which we again visited this time as we do every summer. I spent all my childhood summers there and it is a very important to me.

The Island
The island is only for summer visits. There is no electricity, just some solar panels and no proper heating. My parents don't even stay there overnight anymore. Usually they just go there on a nice day for an afternoon coffee, sauna and swim and a post-sauna sausage before returning to the house in the village in the mainland on top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the lake and the village church.

On arrival my mother served roast chicken and oven fries with lots of side dishes. There always has to be some kind of fish, pickled Baltic Herring, smoked fish or gravadlax and at least a couple of different salads.

Smoked freshwater whitefish
Over the Saturday and Sunday we were celebrating my father's 75th birthday. My sister and all my brothers with their families appeared as well. Mum had prepared an awesome buffet for both days. There were loads of cold fish, salads and side dishes. The main course for Saturday was bacon filled moose steak roulades. For Sunday it was moose steak in a form of a stew. Both were just fantastic, melt in the mouth soft and full of taste.

The couple of traditional Finnish salads that mum often makes for these kinds of occasions are wild mushroom salad and Rosolli beetroot salad. The mushroom salad is a wonderful mix of wild mushroom picked from the local forest and preserved in brine mixed with onion, cream and vinegar. Rosolli is a mix of different chopped cooked vegetables, usually beetroot, carrot, onion, potato and apple (uncooked).  I will make these both at some point and blog the recipes.

Smoked leg of lamb

Wild mushroom salad

There were of course also cinnamon buns, biscuits and a massive strawberry and cream cake with coffee. At the end of the party two of my three brothers (the third had sciatica) decided to clean the roof of dad's garage, always a good ideal after a few glasses of wine.

We left before we could see whether they stayed on the roof or not. One of them has a bit of a history of falling of roofs. Dad drove me, husband and kids to the island for the night. When he waved goodbye driving away with his boat "see you in the morning" I had this kind of a horror film flash thought. He would come in the morning and find one of us hanging from a tree, one gassed dead in the cabin, one drowned in the water and one missing...

So not dwelling on these negative thoughts I made a fire on the rocky shore and created a little camp site around it with chairs and a table. Boys and husband went for a row around the island and it was just lovely and quiet. I found some rose wine from the cabin and sat just looking at the lake. When they were back we cooked sausages in the open fire and afterwards went to sauna jumping to pretty refreshing waters of the lake from the end of the deck.

Through the steamy sauna window we thought we saw two people sitting in our "camp site" around the fire. My three bold men were sitting back in the sauna as I had to go and investigate to find out that the two figures were actually the legs of the swing behind the fire, a packet of crackers and a can of drink.

The menu for the rest of the week consisted of moose meatballs, salmon soup,  a BBQ lunch back at the island featuring chicken, halloumi, peppers, corn and courgette. We ate around the big table under the trees. There was also a very traditional Finnish dessert called "Kiisseli", a thickened soup made of fruits or berries served with sugar and cream. This time is was from homegrown rhubarb. My oldest brother used to call it hair soup because of the strands of rhubarb. There's nothing wrong with the hair soup, it's delish. After sauna we barbecued sausages in the little hut on the beach.

Other noteworthy meals were Chanterelle and Smoked Moose Soup and Summer Vegetable Soup that we did together with mum and mum's Pan-fried Whitefish with Chanterelles and her Ground Moose Linguine.

Pan-fried Whitefish with wild chanterelles
Whitefish with chanterelles

Bessie mate's table of delicacies in my old university town Tampere  and Bye-bye  Finland

I can't believe it is 28 years ago we met in university with this special friend I visited for the last night of my holidays. There's a third one that we used to hang out with in university and have stayed great friends with over the years (decades), we call ourselves the three musketeers. The third musketeer lives in the US so she wasn't able to join us time, but it was great to catch up properly.

My friend had prepared a lovely spread of yammy things, knowing that my mum tends to overfeed and also respecting my old vegetarian, now long forgotten ways. There was a big bowl of herby feta salad, a beautiful zingy new potato salad, olives, hummous, cheeses, marinated roast peppers, a special spicy pesto from the sides of Etna, close to where her cat is from as she would tell you if you would listen - her name is Pain, the cat's not my friend's, and there is a story of course. She had been abandoned by her mum or maybe just lost. She was on her own, an itty bitty kitty, climbing the hills around my friend's aunt's house in Sicily (near the Etna!) crying out as if in pain. Hence the name. She was adopted by my friend's aunt and after they moved from Sicily back to Finland my friend adopted the cat. So she now lives in the town of Tampere known as the Finnish Manchester or Manse for short. I suppose because it is the second town of Finland and a bit of an industrial hub. Or used to be when there still was industry in Finland before the labour unions ruined it.

Sicilian pesto from Etna

I don't necessarily need to advertise this, but we did manage to empty 4 bottles of sparkling wine between the two of us over the course of the day and evening, a couple of shots of limoncello and one lonkero. Pretty good performance for two little ladies.

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