AROUND LA WITH AVA: ELVES, IMPS, ANGELS – AND PRUNES

Ava Antilla by Jonny Kahleyn

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn

Elves, Imps, Angels –and Prunes
by Ava Anttila 

What a fun, positive, activity filled December it has been in our City of Angels. [Finns always count on the contribution of Elves and Imps to help us with our chores at this time of year!] For me and mine visiting elves and local Tonttus have been in abundance. The energy of the season is exciting!

Preparing for Christmas is unique for us here where Winter is often 5 days long. When it seems ‘natural’ for Santa to hang from a palm tree wearing surfing shorts and sun glasses, it is hard to dream of a white Christmas!! Yes, we do get/give the season a unique “Hollywood spin”. And, somehow, the planets seem to align each year in a way that only those of us experiencing LA can embrace and fully appreciate.

Are You Wearing Your Elf Hat?

Let us begin with two strange contrastingly divergent (yet so “LA”) concepts: the Hollywood Sign and the prune. Before your ADHD internet-wired-attention-span wants to do something else, hear me out!  We will ultimately come together for a warm Finnish Christmas LA community hug.

First—‘breaking news’:  the most photographed ‘star’ in Southern California has had a major facelift!  Yes, the beloved, iconic Hollywood Sign has had a makeover.  After many months, lots of money, hundreds of gallons of paint, and much hard work, the Sign is once again brand-spanking new and beautifully ‘snow white’!

While it can be dangerous to look up from the freeway during our annual week of rain, if you let someone else drive [for a change], the rain turns to snow on the mountain peaks that surround –and make, the LA basin. The rain clears the smog and our ‘rings of mountains’ provide a beautiful white frame for the again white Sign! When the sun comes out, the sky is a spectacular Finnish blue that takes your breath away! Check it out!!

Now, About the Prune:

Speaking of makeovers, the LA ‘flack artists’ [publicists] have done their jobs well. If you are new to America or are just trying to find a cookbook with recipes and ingredients to do some traditional Finnish Christmas cooking, you may find yourself in a quandary. That is especially true if you want our Finnish Christmas icon, the prune, for our beloved delicacy: the Joulu Torttu.

luumu kiisseli

If you are looking to make luumu kiisseli or luumu torttu, remember the word “prune” has had its “Hollywood Makeover”. A few years ago, ‘it was decreed’ that the lowly “prune” had to be renamed, remade, and re-titled as a “dried plum”. While, in fact, the prune has always been a dried plum, the new image is meant to go ‘upscale’. You will not find “dried plums” in your old family recipes. And, you will not find “prunes” in your local market!

A few years ago, ‘it was decreed’ that the lowly “prune” had to be renamed, remade, and re-titled as a “dried plum”

The name “prune” had image issues that the industry wanted to ‘facelift’. The not so attractive, shriveled fruit had become a descriptive adjective, not a delicacy to be savored. In fact, it was the butt of crude jokes. Even in the comic strip Dick Tracy, popular since the ‘50s, there was a villain “Prune-Face” whose name alone conjured a clear picture of the character. How do you take the ‘intestinal broom’ for the elderly and broaden its market appeal?  Simple!  Call it something else!  Hey!! This is Hollywood—so the effort to rehabilitate a beautiful, well preserved fruit launched a big ad campaign to eradicate the word “prune” from our lexicon. Done deal. Dried plums rule!!!

As Shakespeare said “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” –or something like that.

A favorite of the Finnish Christmas table is Luumu Kiisseli.  It is a dried fruit compote that is just delicious. The dried fruit (prunes nka* dried plums, apricots, apples, pears, and raisins) are poached, seasoned with cinnamon, thickened with potato starch (or cornstarch), and chilled. I have a large, clear pedestal glass vessel I use to ‘show’ the wonderful flavors awaiting. Despite my ‘packaging’, to this day my adult sons use their childhood term “Prune Slime” to refer to this wonder of Finnish Christmas!  Somehow, “dried plum slop” does not have the same ring and has not made it onto our menu.

*now known as

Activities in the Finnish Community in LA

This month has been incredibly active. The local and visiting elves, imps, and angels have been especially energetic and energized.

Entertainers and Organizers for Suomi 95

The December 1 celebration of Finland’s 95th anniversary of Independence was a great success thanks to the support of the Consulate General of Finland, Suomi Kerho (as well as, other sponsors), and the effective and dedicated Committee that reached out to our Finnish American community who responded enthusiastically to a memorable—and fun, evening. It was especially touching to have a number of our remaining Veterans and Lottas present as our guests to receive our heartfelt appreciation for their sacrifice and success—and that of their compatriots who preserved our precious freedom.


SUOMI 95, Los Angeles

Pepe Wilberg (featured entertainer), other visitors from Finland, and Team Suomi 95 came by my home to experience some local Mexican cuisine [Chicken Mole] cooked by a Finn (…yours truly) the night before the Independence Day Gala.  Since there was no reference to Montezuma the next evening, I guess all went well—we did serve wine instead of water, of course!

Pepe Wilberg by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

President of Finlandia University Visits Southern California

Philip Johnson, President of Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan visited the Southland recently. Dr. Johnson has maintained, but re-shaped, the historic Finlandia ties to Finland and the Finnish history, culture, and traditions that are so much a part of his Upper Peninsula, Copper country University formerly known as Suomi College. The challenges of running—and funding, a small, private university in the current economic and educational climate are great. Philip’s vision for Finlandia has been influenced by his Lutheran ministry, his admiration for leaders in innovative educational approaches such as in Finland, and his commitment to provide a stimulating, life-shaping experience for Finlandia’s students, faculty, and staff. During the five years of his Presidency and during his visits to Los Angeles, we have had conversations long into the night that resumed again in early morning. The development and implementation of ‘visions’ is an evolutionary process fraught with challenges when it is your job to ‘make it work’. The real-time ‘issue wrestling’ is challenging, energizing, and frustrating, but seeing growth, progress, and results based on the premises postulated is heartwarming.

Philip Johnson, President of Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan

Esa-Pekka Salonen

There is a wonderful feeling of pride whenever our own Esa-Pekka Salonen comes back to Los Angeles for performances. As Finns and as music lovers, we are inspired and overjoyed with the magnificence of his work. [I won’t call him an ‘elf’ even though I can remember the story he told of being “carded” while buying beer at a Brentwood market early in his tenure here.] We were blessed to have our Finnish Maestro on our LA podium this holiday season. I hope you were able to be present for a performance.

Esa-Pekka Salonen (courtesy of LAPHIL)

Seija Gerdt: Art Exhibition and Sale

Seija Gerdt is our own treasure and creative genius in the local Finnish community. Each December Seija hosts an event no Finn –or anyone who appreciates art and artistry, should miss. She is the supreme local artist in glass.

Finnish artist Seija Gerdt

For many years, Seija’s pre-Christmas show and sales event has been an opportunity to see her work and to purchase hand-blown glass and artwork as gifts made by a very talented local Finnish artist of international reputation. This year I was [pardon this] ‘blown’ away by the variety, extent, and beauty of Seija’s work and talent. New visions, techniques, and materials presented in her offerings this year were so inspiring.

Art Exhibition and sale by Finnish artist Seija Gerdt

This event should be any Finn’s first stop for holiday shopping. Forget Rodeo Drive, make Seija’s on Cedar Street in Santa Monica your first stop next year [–or call her for an appointment sooner.] The Glögg is on the stove and a lovely table of nibbles is offered for those stopping by. Sieja is truly a dedicated elf working all year producing magnificent creations for Joulupukki!

Seija Gerdt: Art Exhibition and Sale

Did you know that “Seija Gerdt” used to be “Seija Anttila”. That is how I first got to know her several decades ago. Seija’s [then] husband was a professor at UCLA. Around Vappu, I would get May Day greeting calls from revelers in Finland –some 10 time zones away, starting at 4 AM. Her friends were looking for any “Anttila” in the L.A area. No wonder she changed her last name to Gerdt.

Suomi Koulu Katrilli Party

Speaking of Elves [Joulu Tonnttu], it was a veritable invasion and infestation of the jolly, mischievous, life sized, apple-cheeked creatures that came to life in a ‘conga-line’ formation at the Suomi Koulu gathering in Costa Mesa on a recent December Saturday. The Katrilli danced to the delight of young and old at the holiday celebration and fund raiser for Suomi Koulu. Fun was had by all.  My Granddaughter asked if we could bring her little Brother next year!

Suomi Koulu gathering in Costa Mesa

Suomi Koulu gathering in Costa Mesa

An Angel Passes

One of the dearest members of the Finnish Community, Annikki Wiikari, was celebrated and laid to rest on December 1. She was a long time member of the Katrilli dance group. The Katrilli danced in her honor and provided a Finnish meal for attendees.

an angel passes

Annikki was part of a trio of great Finnish cooks at Suomi Kerho [including Rauha Loponen  and Eila Korpinen] who always provide supreme cuisine at events. I remember fondly that Annikki made the most lovely tippaleivat for a big Vappu event we held at Greta Peck’s home a number of years ago. She was a beautiful soul and great Finnish inspiration for us all.

Consul General Westphalen Addresses European American Sheriff’s Advisory Committee

Sheriff Lee Baca hosts a luncheon each December for the Southern California based European Consuls General under the aegis of his European American Sheriff’s Advisory Committee. Finland is a founding member of EASAC which meets monthly to learn about and communicate with the Sheriff on matters of interest in and impact on our local communities.

consul general of Finland Kirsti Westphalen with her husband TV journalist Abdellatif Mouffakkir and Ava Anttila at the European American Sheriff’s Advisory Committee luncheon

This year, Sheriff Baca welcomed the Dean of the Consular Corps –our own remarkable Consul General Kirsti Westphalen, as keynote speaker. Consul General Westphalen’s address was a thought-provoking presentation concerning the survival of the EU (and the US) in these challenging economic times. The social and political pressures on the Euro and the dollar have been compounded by the global recession. The potential consequences are real and pressing. The audience of diplomatic representatives, community leaders, and public officials was impressed and appreciative.

EASAC (European American Sheriff’s Advisory Council) Holiday Luncheon group photo

Holiday Shopping

This was a great year for holiday shopping for things Finnish. I have already spoken of my soiré to Seija’s annual bash. Of course, we are all excited about the new Marimekko store.

Still, one of my favorite events is Suomi Kerho’s annual Christmas Bazaar preceding their Christmas dinner and visit from Joulupukki. This year there was an unbelievable array of baked goods. Laatikkos were on one side of the table with purchasers ahead of the starting time armed with large bags to receive the goods. [The earliest elf gets the most goodies.] Pulla, karjalanpiikarras, spice cakes, Finnish cookies, and an assortment of laatikkoswent ‘like hotcakes’!

Suomi Kerho’s annual Christmas Bazaar preceding their Christmas dinner and visit from Joulupukki

Most Beautiful Christmas Music at Finnish Church

In a beautifully decorated St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, Pastor Jarmo Tarkki led a joyous crowd with the singing of our favorite Finnish Christmas songs. The sing-a-long included our classic childhood hymns, nicely provided in a booklet. In his endearing, impish way Pastor T led us in a favorite ditty “Porsaita Ӓidin Oomme Kaikki” translated as “We Are All Mother’s Little Pigs” –sung in both Finnish and Swedish. A ‘groaning table’ of Finnish treats followed in the Parish Hall of the Church –all delicious contributions by attendees. Thank you all for making this new event a warm and welcoming part of Christmas.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica

Mira Scott (the angel/elf of the Suomi Koulu and of the Finnish Church) has been instrumental in making good things happen with her great work this year. We all appreciate her in the LA area. She is an inspiration –one we all should emulate. And, Anniina Lukiini-Johnsson’s work for this amazing bringing-together of the Finnish community has been literally a “God-send”.

A ‘groaning table’ of Finnish treats followed in the Parish Hall of the Church –all delicious contributions by attendees

Christmas Preparations

As this column goes to press we are all working to bring a Finnish Christmas experience to our family and friends. While I write, the aroma of rutabagas is percolating from the stove ready to become lanttulaatikko, the piparkakku taikina is set for action, the graavilohi is working in the refrigerator. Rosolli is in the works, the boiled rice is about to go in with pureed carrots for porkkanalaatikko. The one “laatikko” [casserole] I just love to serve because the name is a great topic of conversation is “imellettyperunasoselaattikko”. I like the funny, long Finnish word that I have fun putting on a ‘menu card’ when I serve it to those new to Finnish cuisine.  It is basically a simple dish–malted potato casserole from the Province of Häme.

Back to the Prunes…Ooops, Dried Plums!

You probably just finished your shopping, wrapping, basic cooking, cleanup, set up, and are now officially exhausted. Here is a simple dish to make you a star in your own kitchen.

Joulu Tortut (Christmas Stars)

Joulu Tortut (Christmas Stars)

Take a 1 pound bag of pitted prunes (or, now, the politically correct/rebranded “dried plums”). Dump half into a pot.  Add enough water to cover the fruit plus ¾ cup of sugar. Boil until soft. Cool. Chop or puree the ‘product’ in a food processor.

Using ‘store bought’ frozen puff pastry dough [thawed, of course], roll out to about ¼ inch. Make squares with a knife or a pastry roller. Score cuts from center to each corner.

Using ‘store bought’ frozen puff pastry dough [thawed, of course], roll out to about ¼ inch. Make squares with a knife or a pastry roller.

Place a nice dab of filling in the center of each square. Bring alternating edges of the pastry to the center, dabbing with water and pressing so they stick to each other. Brush with beaten egg.  Bake on a cookie sheet at 400º F for about 10 minutes. Cool. Dust with powdered sugar.

Double-click on picture above to view it full size

Stars are born! You –and the plum!

double-click on picture above to view it full size

Hauskaa Joulua!!

There is a nice saying occasionally seen on ‘bumper stickers’ in LA:

“Practice Random Acts of Kindness!”

Let us all be Finnish elves, imps, and angels who do just that—all year long!!

“Practice Random Acts of Kindness!”

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