AROUND LA WITH AVA – MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DAY DREAMS

Ava Anttila

Summer is Here!!!

With Finnish heritage/genes, we all long to be in our homeland this time of year when she is the most beautiful, fresh, and verdant.  Our dream is to be in the stillness of nature, feeling the soft air, hearing the rustle of the birch trees, smelling the pines, and hearing the waters gently lapping on the shore.  In our dream we are there for Midsummer, daisy chains in our hair, enjoying the beautiful first baby vegetables from the earth, dancing with friends and family, and watching the bonfires late into the luminescent night.

But, we are here.  In our ‘awake’ hours in the City of Angels, we have many opportunities to “get into the spirit”.

New Pastor

The U.S. has Constitutional separation of Church and State.  Finland is 84% Evangelical Lutheran and Lutheranism is considered the national religion.

May started off here in Los Angeles with a delightful surprise.  It is said, God works in mysterious ways.

Reverend Jarmo Tarkki

A three year joint project by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has brought forth Finnish Pastor, The Reverend Jarmo Tarkki, PhD.  The first new style Finnish worship service took place Sunday, May 20th at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica.

Finland’s Pastor Jarmo Tarkki held services and greeted worshippers at St. Paul’s with 40+ in attendance at this Finnish Jumalanpalvelus.  Among those present were Linda Homer, Heidi Crooks, Ilona and Erkki Kanto, Bill Russell, Virpi Sidler, Ernie and Mirja Covarrubias, Mira Scott, Jonny Kayhlen, Tomi Hinkkannen, Tiina Puurtonen, and Ari Anttila.

Pastor Tarkki explained that the government of Finland has provided support for his service in Western North America where his mission includes San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, Denver, and Mexico!  [That is some “parish”—probably over 100 million potential members!!]

The lively, “interactive” sermon included historical perspective on the various Martin Luther sects that have developed in Finland, the experience and approach to faith by the Finns, and, finally, how faith comes to individuals.

Announcements and a social hour featuring pulla and karjalanpiirakkas followed on the St. Paul’s lawn.

a social hour featuring pulla and karjalanpiirakkas followed on the St. Paul’s lawn

Future Finnish services at the St. Paul’s location [958 Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica] will be held on September 9th, October 21st, and the 16th of December.  [Mark your calendars—come on out!  Bring your family and friends!  It is a great spiritual and cultural experience –as well as a chance to hear the Finnish spoken word—always good for all of us.]

Summer Soup

After the long hard Finnish winter, the first vegetables of the season are so exquisite: tiny, succulent, and full of flavor.  They are celebrated by an incredible ode to nature’s eruption of summer goodness.

From my years as a little girl in Helsinki, I have fond memories of taking the yellow and green raitiovaunu [trolley or tram] to go to market with my grandmother.  Anticipation would build as side streets whizzed by as the trolley rocked down Mannerheimintie.  I loved looking about while taking the walk to the Market Square in the harbor for a most important shopping trip.  It was a grand adventure for a little girl doing ‘grown up’ things in the newly warm weather.

Even today, the Market vendors offer the best of Finnish produce and fish direct from the farm to the table.  Carrots, cauliflower, new potatoes, and ‘magical’ peas were purchased for the special soup that symbolized summer’s arrival.  Those peas were always kept safe in a small brown paper bag on my lap.

vegetables for summer soup

As we headed home with our treasures one day, I remember my grandmother noting, humorously, that she had “…worms growing on the tops of her hands” as she reached for the bag of peas.   [Actually, she had the hands of a well-conditioned ‘athlete’ in her profession: the bulging veins a necessary badge of honor earned through the hours upon hours of practice required for her to become a concert pianist, an instructor at the Helsinki Conservatory of Music, and the organist at the Grand Cathedral in Senate Square.  The Grand Cathedral was where my father pumped air into the organ as a little boy helping his mother fill the church with wondrous sound.]  

My grandmother’s finely tuned fingers would begin to tap mischievously until we ‘partners-in-crime’ could wait no longer.  We reached into the brown paper bag, took a small handful, popped them open, and slid the beautiful green pods between our teeth (almost like we eat California artichoke leaves) –just to be sure the ‘magical’ peas qualified for the summer soup.  Thumbs up!!  Smiles up!!  The ‘girls’ had done it again!!

Truth be known, QC–quality control—was not needed.  But, what fun those outings were.  Every time I see one of those green and yellow trams in Helsinki those trips with my grandmother run in ‘instant replay’.  The trips bringing back live crayfish rattling around in their paper bag were a little more scary!  And, no—we did not do QC on them! 

Here in California we live in the “salad bowl of America”.  The San Joaquin Valley provides year-round vegetables to many continents.  There is a way to fantasize your Finnishness for that special taste for your soup.  Go to your local farmers market, be a ‘locavore’, use organic ingredients, and carry your own trolley bell for effect/affect.  [Do bring your ‘little ones’ with you—remember, we are the ‘memory makers’ now!]

Southern Californians suffer through a winter of 60º F and 5/6 days of rain with mild impatience for ‘May haze’ and ‘June gloom’.  We like our 70s/sunny days all year long!  After the long hard winter Finns are so excited for the arrival of summer, they actually named a soup in honor of the season.

Summer Soup

summer soup

Use organic vegetables if possible—it is so Finnish.

Kesäkeitto

1 quart water/2 teaspoons salt

3 cups small new potatoes [or Finnish or Yukon gold] in 1 inch cubes

4 tablespoons butter

3 cups unshelled ‘sugar snap’ peas

2 cups fresh green beans (cut into pieces)

2 dozen baby carrots

1 cup cauliflower florets

1 cup shelled [or tiny frozen] peas

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups milk

6 tablespoons flour

   chopped parsley and dill

In a large pot, boil salted water.  Add potatoes, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

In another pot, boil carrots, cauliflower, unshelled pea pods, and green beans in salted water just covering the vegetables for about 8 minutes or until ‘just tender, but bright in color’.  Add cooked veggies to the large pot with the boiled potato pieces.

Add shelled peas for about 2 minutes until vegetables are al dente.

Mix together milk, cream, and flour into a small bowl.  Add mixture to soup pot.  Stir over moderate heat until soup gets slightly thickened.  Season, as needed, with salt and white pepper.

Garnish with chopped parsley and dill until pretty and perfect!  Serves 10.  Do not freeze*.

We Finns are always re-purposing and that includes leftovers.  In LA, even food has a Sequel or Act II.  This Summer Soup based dip is a creamy, bubbling dip that brings more people together to start a party than a Midsummer’s bonfire!

*Ava’s L.A. Dreamin’ Dip

(Summer Soup: “The Sequel”)

Ingredients: 

2-3 cups leftover Summer Soup

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped leeks [use white & pale green portions]

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons fresh chives

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1 cup grated Finnish Lappi cheese or white cheddar

¼ cup small peas [can use frozen—thawed]

1 cup chopped, drained, canned artichokes [optional–for a California touch]

4 ounces crumbled goat cheese

½ cup peapods

Put Summer Soup through a strainer so you have 1 cup solids and 1¼ cups liquid.

Melt butter over medium heat.  Add leeks and cook until very soft.  Stir in flour.  Gradually add soup liquid, stirring over medium heat until thickened.  [Thin with milk, if needed.]  Remove from heat and add Lapp or cheddar, mixing until melted.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fold in soup solids, peas, chives, zest, parsley, and half of the goat cheese.

Blanch peapods by boiling in water for 3 minutes.  Drain.

Pre-heat oven to 450º F.  Put mixture into an ovenproof serving dish.  Top mixture with goat cheese and sliced blanched peapods.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  

Serve with Finn Crisp, toast points, or tortilla chips. Makes 4-5 cups.

The Veterans Met on June 11th at Suomi Kerho

There were about a dozen Veterans in attendance for the Veterans’ June Meeting.  Suomi Kerho does such a great service in honoring our Veterans and in giving them a warm welcome for their meetings.  They look forward to each get-together. 

Lotta, Elma Maisack with her son Gary

Elma Maisack and her son Gary were in good spirits, as always.  Gary was wearing his Finnish Air Force tee shirt for the occasion: it depicts a formation of giant mosquitoes!  [The FAF is one thing those Midsummer Night Dreams sometimes omit.]  Elma always brings the most amazingly beautiful flowers from her own garden.  She knows each one by name.  [She told me her secret is composting kitchen scraps.  That is the way it has always been done in Finland.  Finns know how to bring forth beauty and delicious things from nature.] 

Veterans' Buffet Table with Elma's flowers

A lovely lunch was served.  Included in the buffet was Jansson’s Temptation, a requested favorite.

Veterans' Buffet with flowers from Elma's garden

Suomi 95 Committee

The same night [June 11th] the Suomi 95 Committee came over to my house for a kick-off meeting.  Riikka Jyrälä, Tiina Puurtonen, Liisa Linnala, and I met to review the considerable preliminary work that has been done and to focus on the challenges that lie ahead.  

Plans are in the works for a fabulous celebration to be held on December 1, 2012 at the Courtyard By Marriott Los Angeles-Sherman Oaks.  There will be cocktails, dinner, entertainment from Finland, dancing—a great evening.  Lots of love and hard work is going into the preparations.  SAVE THE DATE.

I served the Summer Soup to the Suomi 95 Committee.  It was a hit.  Half of the Committee is going to Finland this week.  The rest of us can only have our Midsummer Night Dreams.

LA Finlandia Foundation

On June 10th, LAFF had its Annual Scholarship Picnic in Pasadena.  The annual event supports the financial aid proffered to worthy students with Finnish affiliations.

SCAN Annual Midsummer Shrimp Feast

On June 19th I participated in the Scandinavian Center at Nansenfield/SCAN Board meeting as Finland’s representative.  As the 12th ‘edition’ of this “All You Can Eat Shrimp Feast & Dance”, the Board and the supporting organizations have their act together.  This year the event will be on June 30th –reservations close June 27th.  For more details visit www.nansenfield.org   Sweden’s “Time Machine” [rumored to feature several Finns] will provide music –and you can dance around the Maypole!    

OR

Light your own very little bonfire [in a safe fire pit, of course], cut birch branches from a tree for your doorway, decorate your home with flowers, grill some makkara, close your eyes and visualize Juhannus [Midsummer] by the lake shore, and raise a glass to Finland!! 

Summer is here !

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