AROUND LA WITH AVA – SPRING THINGS 2012

Ava Anttila

SPRING THINGS

First childhood memories as a toddler in Helsinki are still so vivid. Everyone anxiously awaited the coming of Spring. Winter was so harsh that the sheets put on the balcony to dry after washing were stiff and frosty like sheets of plywood. As a little one, it was scary looking outside at night–the sheets looked like real people (or ghosts) standing there looking in.

When my Dad came home from the U.S. after his Fulbright Scholarship studies at Ohio State University, he had been gone so long I called him Setä (uncle), not Isä, at first. He brought us a really cool kitchen gadget –a glass Pyrex percolator with all glass parts. In my 3 years on this planet, I had never seen such a wondrous thing!

Every morning my Dad and I would get up early to make coffee while my mother slept. [As true Finns, we continue to be coffee-obsessed.] The kitchen counter was higher than I was as a munchkin, but the special aroma was unmistakable as the coffee pot started to ‘do’ its ‘thing’. Watching on my tippy-toes, I could barely see the bottom of the clear glass carafe filled with water as it would start to bubble. Then, magically like a volcano, the liquid spurted up the long glass tube, flowed onto the coffee grounds held in the aerated glass basket, and began its magical transformation. The clear Finnish water would turn from a transparent, almost invisible liquid into an ever changing spectrum of warming, darkening tans. Each heated gurgle pushed the liquid again up the piston to produce an ever richer product in the basin of the fascinating glass invention brought from America. This little Finn was amazed with the American ingenuity found in the magic coffee gadget. But of even fonder recollection, I remember the special Dad/daughter time –the sights, sounds, and aromas of freshly brewing Finnish coffee filling the house as we glanced out the window waiting for Easter and looking forward to Springtime.

Lauttasaari birch trees

Each year on a day about this time of the season [as we made the everyday miracle of morning coffee and looked out of the window of our flat in Lauttasaari to see the birches surrounding the courtyard], my Dad would announce excitedly “…Koivut on Hiirenkorvalla”. This is a really big announcement in Finland : “The birches are sprouting mouse ears!”

SPRINGTIME IN LA

They say Spring is a time when a young man’s thoughts turn to love. “Spring Fever” certainly sets the animal world to their mating rituals as we learned from Tom Hinkkanen’s detailed descriptions of whale-on-whale activities in his recent Finntimes feature.

'Springtime in Los Angeles' by Jonny Kahleyn

When the sun shines warm, the world opens up with exuberance to nature in all its glory. Our hearts and minds conjure possibilities. Good beginnings promise even better things ahead.

The Spring equinox brings such joy –even without the melting of snow/ice (or the appearance of ‘mouse ears’); there is a flutter of activity preceding major happenings. My bank of special memories and conjured possibilities includes giving birth to my younger son on the day welcoming Spring. Sometimes reality exceeds our dreams. On his birthday this year, his tiny two year old daughter brought me to tears when he had her count to ten in Finnish for me. And, she can do so without any assistance! That is a ‘major happening’ in my world.

Springtime by Jonny Kahleyn

BRIDAL SHOWERS

Those of us in the last several generations of Finns in the U.S. have become familiar with the very American tradition of wedding showers. It is quite a joyous expression of love and caring in which the bride-to-be is literally “showered” with gifts from family, friends, mothers, mothers-in–law, and her own generation of friends. This ladies only ‘hen party’ is a fun way of welcoming the bride as a part of her new family and circle of friends in the community she is about to join. It is a fun party often thrown by one generation welcoming the new generation into their world. Sometimes we are dignified—or not, but we do have a lot to share!

This Spring, it was fun to be a shower hostess with my dear friends, Janet and Collette, at the Valley Hunt Club. The shower welcomed a beautiful, accomplished, funny, part-Finnish young lady into another good friend’s family and circle of friends. Some rituals are just meant to be joyous—like flowers blooming!

This shower brought back memories of the bridal shower some of us had for Sirpa Welch (nee Jatkola) a few years back. All local Finns know Sirpa as the Chef at the Finnish Consular Residence who makes us so proud of Finnish cuisine at so many official functions where the world is watching—and tasting. …

Back to Sirpa’s shower. Of course, all in attendance were Finnish [if only for the day] so we ladies started the shower with a sauna. The “swizzle sticks” in our cooling glasses held pink diamond rings for all. The dining room table was set all in pink down to the table cloths, plates, and napkins. Following dinner, we had more fun with the silly ‘create-a-wedding-gown-for-the- bride out of rolls of toilet paper’ game competition. [Yes, it did play better than it reads! We should have had it filmed.] Great results from our Finnish ‘creatives’ and, no worries, everything was recycled.

At the VHC shower, seated next to me was a new addition for my circle of friends, Lynn Van Dam. She is a very interesting person, a fantastic artist, and a fan of Finland. Lynn creates historical drawings/watercolors of/in the Los Angeles area and produces commissioned works of landmarks and homes. Many of the shower guests are stalwarts of the major Spring charity event for the Los Angeles Philharmonic known as the Pasadena Showcase House which is almost as famous as the Rose Parade. Lynn has done many of the covers for the Pasadena Showcase House Program through the years, including the one for this year. You can see samples of her work at http://www.lynnvandam.com.

PASADENA SHOWCASE HOUSE 2012

The Pasadena Showcase House of Design is one of the oldest, most successful, and largest house and garden tours in the United States. It is the major fundraising event for the LA Phil. Over its 48 year history, the Showcase House has raised over $18 million. This year, over 35,000 visitors are expected to attend.

It features the best of building interior and landscape design in Southern California. As “green” Finns we can all appreciate the fine tuning and historic preservation thinking that goes into the work. Also, as Finns we can celebrate what the American philanthropic ethic and volunteer spirit can do for a worthy cause such as our beloved Philharmonic orchestra. I am particularly proud that during Esa-Pekka Salonen’s tenure as Musical Director my friend Mona Mapel, chairperson, raised record setting fund amounts through the Showcase House and other Music Center related activities and groups she orchestrated.

The Pasadena Showcase House event is one of the Rites of Spring I so enjoy here in our City of Angeles. I have written previously of my adventures with my friend Greta Peck. As an accomplished artist who had the special ‘eye’ talent often has, it was such a delight to tour the House with Greta and to hear her comments and perspectives. Some people do see the world differently—the coffee pot really can be a magical volcano in the mind’s eye.

Another reason I have always been excited to attend the annual Showcase House is to see the work of Finnish-born Karina Oldemans who is often one of the featured interior designers. Many of us know Karina (and her husband Ted) and have admired her work for decades here in Los Angeles. Her timeless, classic, enduring style is always inspiring. She is one of those talents who make it fun to be a Finn!

Karina Oldemans

The 2012 Pasadena Showcase House is open from April 15th through May 13th. If you have never been, go—if you have been, go again. In addition to the featured home tour itself which showcases the very best local designers who are present to personally discuss their work, there are about 25 vendors who participate in the “Shops at the Showcase”. A buffet restaurant is on site, as well, to make your visit a real feast for all the senses. It is a fun afternoon. You can get Spring Fever touring the grounds or you can satisfy your “fantasy nesting” instinct by pretending to be “at home”. This year the home chosen is Spanish style. You can see Lynn’s drawing of the house on the Program if you attend –or you can look on the Showcase website.

EASTER AT SUOMI KERHO

Suomi Kerho held its annual Easter Bake Sake and traditional Dinner on March 31st. The Hall was beautifully decorated for the Springtime festivities.

Suomi Kerho's Easter Bake Sake

The Bake Sale is a much anticipated and appreciated fund raiser because it features so many delicious things: pulla, cakes, various cookies, Karjalanpiirakkas, rye bread, and rolls. Tuula Norda was responsible for much of the baking and preparation of the offerings. She is one of the wonderful cooks in the Finnish community and is always fun to talk with. Gunnel Kullbak and Eila Korpinen were happy, busy, and beautiful in the kitchen. Many of us cook traditional Finnish ‘goodies’—but not as well as these ladies!

Ari Anttila amd Henry Aspen

It was nice to see Henry Aspen, the Majamäkis, and many others. The Easter buffet looked wonderful with herring, ham, beets, deviled eggs decorated with dill, and a beautiful dessert table filled with pastries and fruit.

MӒMMI

And, making a special, surprise appearance on the items featured at the Bake Sale was that often-poked-fun-at Finnish Easter delicacy Mämmi [a thick, sticky, brown substance maligned because of its appearance]. It is made from rye malt and orange peel, often served in a birch basket with sugar and cream.

Mämmi

A few years ago I heard about a Middle Eastern man who had written a Mämmi cookbook. Last year during the Spring while making a stop at a Middle Eastern market I frequent, there was something resembling Mämmi for sale [I did not buy it or try it, however]. There is even a Mämmi society—or so I am told! Is Suomi Kerho leading the way to cultivating a cult following for this funny Finnish treat? Be sure to attend their next Bake Sale and stay tuned for the continuing tale.

THE OTHER SIDE OF SPRING

The start of Spring in LA brings on a whole different feeling: Oh Mämmi!!

Spring cleaning, fire brush clearance announcements, fighting the ever- burgeoning growth of vegetation gone wild–weeds in the bricks, shrub overgrowth, 360 trimming needed, pruning in arrears….

The abundance of vegetation brings about solicitations left on the porch and in the mailbox from “experts willing” to take on the tasks of cleaning up, replanting, new installations of landscaping and lawns, and the like. In my yard, it is not just hiirenkorva delighting in its happening, it is more like “moose antlers” sprouting each and every day. The weeds even need staking to keep from falling over before it can be determined/decided if they are welcome additions to the yard.

On Good Friday, my father had an announcement about Spring in Finland after checking out the news. This time it was not that the birch trees in Finland had mouse ears but that the annual “Passion Pageant” held in front of the Great Cathedral in Senate Square in Helsinki depicting Christ’s march to his Crucifixion was a real challenge for the participating actors since the temperature was below freezing [0 C/32 F]. The ‘sheets’ or loin cloths/vestements must have been stiff and frosty for those intrepid participants!

SIMPLY SIMA

Back to the Sunny Side:

As we enjoy our warm California Spring weekends, it is a good time to remember that Vappu (May Day) is just around the corner. While we prepare to trim and prune our gardens with the aforementioned luscious overabundance, this is a perfect time to take advantage of what we have. When life hands you lemons make lemonade! Or, as Finns, we take our burgeoning lemon tree crops and make a big batch of Sima.

Now is the perfect time to make Sima! First, it diverts your attention from the weeds in the brick patio. And, in three weeks time it will be perfect for the next big Spring celebration, Vappu.

Sima

Sima is another Finnish heritage recipe. Sima is lemony, fresh, slightly carbonated, sometimes referred to as mead, and a true taste of Spring. So, gather the fallen citrus fruit even if you have to shake the neighbor’s tree; cut the beautiful and fragrant branches for grand floral arrangements once you have picked the fruit. You now have two legitimate excuses for not pulling the grass from the patio bricks—you are cleaning up the fallen fruit and trimming the trees while you are studying Finnish culture! [Maybe I should ask my granddaughter to count the excuses for me.]

Ava’s family Sima (makes 1 ½ gallons):

A combination of Eureka lemons, Meyer lemons, and even an orange is a favorite blend. Use about 5 or 6, depending on size. Wash the fruit. Find (or create—party time!) four empty 1.75 l wine bottles with corks; sterilize.

Gather your little loved ones around you (even if they can’t see over the kitchen counter) to help you make the Finnish kitchen magic happen.

Peel all of the fruit with a potato peeler, saving the peel but making sure not to get any pith [that white stuff is bitter]. Peel the pith off with your fingers and discard. Slice the fruit thinly and put into a large pot with the 24 C [cups] of water, 2 C of sugar (I like to use half white/half brown). Stir. Bring this mixture to a boil, cover, and simmer for twenty minutes of so. Turn off the heat and let cool until lukewarm. Add 1 to 1 ½ tsp. active dry yeast. Let stand at room temperature overnight (or about 12 hours). Strain and pour into the sterile bottles. Have your little ones count and add 4-5 raisins (yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä, viisi—my granddaughter can help here) per bottle. Cap tightly with your reserved corks and let stand in a cold place or refrigerate for at least a week –unless Vappu comes sooner.

The miracle of Spring, the gift of our Finnish heritage, celebrating nature’s bounty, and passing this on to future generations with loving care–it is all good!

NOW, BACK TO THE BRICKS!!

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