AROUND LA WITH AVA: MUSHROOM MANIA

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

AROUND LA WITH AVA
by Ava Anttila

MUSHROOM MANIA

With people shooting up Naval Bases and shopping malls at home and abroad—to say nothing of the ‘dude’ who tried to re-create a video game experience by crashing into things in a real car, why would anyone want to write about Mushrooms??

Chanterelle mushrooms

Chanterelle mushrooms

If you are moving your cursor toward the ‘escape’ button, I know you have never been in Finland during the late Summer when the days are still light, the weather is sunny and warm, and rains are followed with Finnish flag blue skies.  School is open, people are back to work, Winter is still a good idea, and the lake-side cottages have not been shuttered against the snow.  Then, weekends are special times in Finland—and for August/September vacationers.    It is Mushroom Season!!

Nature’s bounty is there for the taking—free!  Flowers in May, strawberries and blueberries in June and July, followed by cute red lingonberries in late Summer

Nature’s bounty is there for the taking—free! Flowers in May, strawberries and blueberries in June and July, followed by cute red lingonberries in late Summer

Finns are hunters and gatherers.  Nature’s bounty is there for the taking—free!  Flowers in May, strawberries and blueberries in June and July, followed by cute red lingonberries in late Summer. Gathering the ‘goodies’ is a lovely thing to do.  [I have an Uncle who hunts, but hearing the horn starting duck season followed immediately by the ricocheting sounds of small arms fire at mid-day was a bit scary.  Hanging around for the opening of moose season was not happening!]

There is nothing that inspires (or obsesses) Finns more than mushroom season.  It is like a cult.   Mushroom foraging is serious and soul driven.  TV programs, flashy magazines, weather reports, GPS‘apps’ for your smart phone, and hints for the forager are everywhere

There is nothing that inspires (or obsesses) Finns more than mushroom season. It is like a cult. Mushroom foraging is serious and soul driven. TV programs, flashy magazines, weather reports, GPS‘apps’ for your smart phone, and hints for the forager are everywhere

There is nothing that inspires (or obsesses) Finns more than mushroom season.  It is like a cult.   Mushroom foraging is serious and soul driven.  TV programs, flashy magazines, weather reports, GPS‘apps’ for your smart phone, and hints for the forager are everywhere.  I spotted a special glossy magazine called Sieni [yes, “Mushroom”!] in its own special display rack with multiple duplicate issues crying out to be snatched up for consumption by the aficionado –whether amateur or professional.  

Special maps, accessories, clothing, shoes are all there for those who want to be ‘styling’ while in the woods

Special maps, accessories, clothing, shoes are all there for those who want to be ‘styling’ while in the woods

Special maps, accessories, clothing, shoes are all there for those who want to be ‘styling’ while in the woods. The local gossip is all abuzz sharing hints about newly found places for the treasured treats. [Actually, the prime locations are carefully guarded secrets—mine is on a moss covered giant granite rock just outside my bedroom window where I can watch the beauties pop up while having an early morning cup of Presidentti.]  

The aroma of the woods filled with mushrooms after a rain can set the endorphins pulsing in your brain as you are on the hunt

The aroma of the woods filled with mushrooms after a rain can set the endorphins pulsing in your brain as you are on the hunt

The aroma of the woods filled with mushrooms after a rain can set the endorphins pulsing in your brain as you are on the hunt.  While you feel as if you are already in Heaven just being there, you are aware that you walk the dangerous ‘edge’ knowing that if you pick a ‘wrong’ mushroom (or cook it incorrectly), the mushroom can kill you.  This ‘walk-in-the-woods’ makes for a strange obsession, not unlike that Fugu fish sushi you hear about (but the smell is much better).

There is an actual term: sieni höperö for those afflicted with the mushroom addiction. I use the term “addiction” because there is a compulsion to keep at the forage for the thrill of the hunt and the jackpot reward

There is an actual term: sieni höperö for those afflicted with the mushroom addiction.  I use the term “addiction” because there is a compulsion to keep at the forage for the thrill of the hunt and the jackpot reward.  Like the proverbial ‘little old ladies’ at the slot machines in the Vegas casinos moving from one penny slot machine to another pulling the lever just one more time.  The quest of the sieni höperö is to go further into the woods, around the next bend, or over the next boulder to find that ‘pot of gold’, i.e., that bountiful patch of mushrooms for your basket.  The endorphins in the brain pulse to the thrilling conquest as the basket fills, rewarding and fulfilling the Finnish soul.  

I have heard that some lie awake at night haunted by the thought that there are untouched patches of mushrooms in forest areas that are there for the picking if only they could be found!  [Only a small percentage of the wild mushrooms that grow in Finland are ever harvested, in fact.] 

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The search process becomes ‘personal’ the first time you re-trace yesterday’s steps and find a ‘patch of gold’ where none was visible the day before.  It is as if the fungi have ‘chosen’ you to pick them and are calling your name!  It is kind of like shoe-shopping at Nieman Marcus! 

Truth be known, my dear, late Mother was one with the “mushroom madness”.  My Father even called her Rouva Sieninen (Mrs. Mushroom).  She knew every ‘secret’ trove in our little compound.  She loved the ‘hunt’!  Even in her later years, she risked life and limb just to get beyond the next hill in her foraging.  

Today, we would have had a GPS on her because she knew no limits –or fear, in her ever expanding search.  And, remember that despite all the talk about ‘good’ places, the real treasure troves remained ‘secret’.  On one of her more recent adventures, she actually took a tumble in the forest and was unable to get up.  Fortunately, she had a voice that carried and someone from a neighboring farm came to help.   

Ӓiti was a determined soul who knew her daughter loved those chanterelles.  She committed herself to bringing them home from her summer vacation in Finland.  Each year she would lovingly take needle and thread to each mushroom, creating long garlands that were hung in the rafters to dry.  [Fresh mushrooms were prohibited by US Customs.]  My annual tuliainen was a jar of dried chanterelles –handpicked/handhung.

This year my appreciation of her annual gift went from “how nice” to “wow!” as I became a forager, stringer, and importer.  I lived the labor of love that went into my tuliainen!

The Cult

There are television programs that feature mushroom preparation methods and recipes for one’s bounty.  What rational person would miss hours of instruction on mushroom preservation and pickling?  Naturally, there are even experts for hire to teach your dog how to hunt mushrooms, just like wild pigs do in France –for truffles!  I know Sohvi-koira (as a beagle) would be up to the task!!  [She did sniff out a long lost Easter egg in the yard once.  Unfortunately, she also proceeded to eat the darn thing!]  Sadly, the dry climate here in LA is not conducive to growing wild mushrooms in our own gardens.

LA  Alternatives

Finding wonderful wild mushrooms is as simple as a Wednesday visit to the mushroom vendors at Santa Monica Farmer’s market in the Fall.  Bristol Farms, Whole Foods, and other upscale grocers usually carry premium mushrooms in season.  Their prices are prohibitive for daily consumption.  Remember, mushrooms do shrink when cooked.  Still, there is nothing like ‘mushroom magic’ to ‘dress’ a dish for a special occasion!

Finding wonderful wild mushrooms is as simple as a Wednesday visit to the mushroom vendors at Santa Monica Farmer’s market in the Fall

Finding wonderful wild mushrooms is as simple as a Wednesday visit to the mushroom vendors at Santa Monica Farmer’s market in the Fall

FINNISH HAPPENINGS IN LA

September 8: Finnish Lutheran Church Service at St. Paul’s in Santa Monica

The first church service this Fall was very well attended and included a blessing of the school children as they began their new year.  The reception following the service was quite festive.  The congregation joined in celebrating the 80th birthday of John (Jukka) Vuorenmaa, a venerable and much loved member of the Finnish community.  The Vuorenmaa clan provided a beautifully ladended table of Finnish treats and a birthday cake.  

The congregation joined in celebrating the 80th birthday of John (Jukka) Vuorenmaa, a venerable and much loved member of the Finnish community

The congregation joined in celebrating the 80th birthday of John (Jukka) Vuorenmaa, a venerable and much loved member of the Finnish community

To add to this fun occasion, the presence of our new Consul General in Los Angeles (Ambassador Juha “J.P.” Markkanen and his family) made for quite a special celebration.  The Consul General introduced his wife, Tuula, and children, Maria and Juho.  The Consul General told of his Savo background and he shared his enthusiasm for his new post.  His motto of “cooperation” will define and be the spirit of his tenure.  We welcome these dear people to our Los Angeles community and look forward to much positive interaction in the name of Finnish cooperation and promotion.

To add to this fun occasion, the presence of our new Consul General in Los Angeles (Ambassador Juha “J.P.” Markkanen and his family) made for quite a special celebration.  The Consul General introduced his wife, Tuula, and children, Maria and Juho

To add to this fun occasion, the presence of our new Consul General in Los Angeles (Ambassador Juha “J.P.” Markkanen and his family) made for quite a special celebration. The Consul General introduced his wife, Tuula, and children, Maria and Juho

September 11:  Veteran’s Support Group Veteraani Tuki Ryhmä

Suomi Kerho was the setting for the Veteran’s support group which held its meeting along with lunch and a movie with the Suomi Kerho Senior’s Group.  Veteran Mark Salo was presented a beautiful medal from the Finnish Government for his service.  After the lunch provided by the Ladies of Suomi Kerho, those present enjoyed a viewing of the film Pohjanmaa.

Veteran Mark Salo was presented a beautiful medal from the Finnish Government for his service

Veteran Mark Salo was presented a beautiful medal from the Finnish Government for his service

September 15:  Finlandia Foundation of Los Angeles Meeting

Finlandia Foundation Lecturer of the Year, Yvonne Lockwood (Hiipakka) was introduced by LAFF President Ellen Harju for her presentation on Traditional Material Culture in Modern Finnish America.  Ms. Lockwood’s theme focused on how hand-crafted objects connect us to one another.  Her lecture covered food, textiles, woodworking, boat building, ski making, sauna building, bird fans, Christmas ornaments, and looms—quite catholic. 

Finlandia Foundation Lecturer of the Year, Yvonne Lockwood (Hiipakka) was introduced by LAFF President Ellen Harju for her presentation on Traditional Material Culture in Modern Finnish America

Finlandia Foundation Lecturer of the Year, Yvonne Lockwood (Hiipakka) was introduced by LAFF President Ellen Harju for her presentation on Traditional Material Culture in Modern Finnish America

The topic of ‘rag rugs’ was a particularly interesting area of her research.  Ms. Lockwood noted that Finnish frugality, humility, and functional talent made for memorable treasures prized as graduation and wedding gifts.  The rugs are made from old clothing –and even other recyclables such as old audiocassette tapes.

It was fun to hear about Finnish American immigrants efforts to duplicate the traditional Finnish Viili (that drippy sour milk delicacy) and “squeaky cheese”.

In Memoriam: Alvar Kauti

The Finnish community has lost a wonderful, long standing member.  The passing of Alvar Kauti was sad news to all who knew and admired him.  Alvar was an active member of many Finnish organizations, providing service and support to all.

Alvar Kautii with family and friends. Photos by Ellida Maki.

Alvar Kautii with family and friends. Photos by Ellida Maki.

The son of Finnish immigrant parents in Los Angeles, Alvar went on to become a teacher, football coach, and administrator for 38 years at Pasadena City College where he also served as Dean of Students.  He founded a Sauna business that he ran for over 20 years.  Alvar was devoted to education and served as LAFF scholarship chairman for many years.  He gave much of himself to our Finnish American community.  We will all miss him.

Golden Globes:Two Finnish Film Screenings

Two Finnish films were presented at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association screening at an official Golden Globes pre-event held at the Real D Theater in Beverly Hills.  The Finnish Consulate General was principal sponsor and as Consul General “J.P.” Markkanen introduced the film makers and thanked fellow sponsors and those in attendance.

The Finnish Consulate General was principal sponsor and as Consul General “J.P.” Markkanen introduced the film makers and thanked fellow sponsors and those in attendance.

The Finnish Consulate General was principal sponsor and as Consul General “J.P.” Markkanen introduced the film makers and thanked fellow sponsors and those in attendance.

The Disciple by Ulrika Bengts was shown, followed by a reception.  Above Dark Waters (directed by Peter Franzėn and produced by Markus Selin) was presented after the reception, followed by a sit-down buffet dinner in the beautifully decorated grand atrium festively decked out in Finnish blue and white.  [Other sponsors included The Finnish Film Foundation, Lumene, Glove Hope, Saintex, Design Paola Suhonen, Amazon Publishing, Fazer, Leaf, and Finlandia Cheese.]

President of Finlandia University Visits LA

Philip Johnson, President of Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan visited our fair city last week.  Dr. Johnson and Finlandia’s VP for Business and Finance Nick Stevens had important meetings in the area, but managed to find time to stop by for an evening of conversation, conviviality, and some Green Egg ‘Possum Pork Chops’ […sounds like another column to me]. 

It was my pleasure to introduce Philip to our new Consul General, Ambassador Juha Markkanen and his wife Tula

It was my pleasure to introduce Philip to our new Consul General, Ambassador Juha Markkanen and his wife Tula

It was my pleasure to introduce Philip to our new Consul General, Ambassador Juha Markkanen.  JP and his wife Tuula honored us by hosting a lovely breakfast as their first official visitors to the Consular Residence!  Much good information was shared about mutual goals.  Parting wishes for success and cooperation reaffirmed the value of the meeting and the prospects for beneficial future contacts.

Marimekko Magic

Marimekko Beverly Hills held a presentation of its Fall home collection featuring a fabric workshop on September 21

Marimekko Beverly Hills held a presentation of its Fall home collection featuring a fabric workshop on September 21

Marimekko Beverly Hills held a presentation of its Fall home collection featuring a fabric workshop on September 21.  Fabric wall hangings and custom tablecloths were the order of the day.  The workshop fun was very ably facilitated by the always knowledgeable, helpful, and enthusiastic Marimekko staff:  specifically on this occasion, Jasmine, Cheryl, and Caroline.

Mushrooms ReDux

Chanterelle mushrooms have such an exquisite taste.  The taste is hard to describe but, as with other wild mushrooms, there is what is described by the Japanese as umami (the 5th taste) which is an earthy, savory, musky flavor.  

There have been books and articles written about chefs –and even ‘death row’ inmates, on what is their most favorite dish [for the latter, their desired last meal].  But, I digress…

Kanttarelli Kastike (Chanterelle Fricassee) served over salmon with potatoes does it for me!  [OK, maybe we need to include cheeseburgers, Tapio Serenius’ bouillabaisse, and a few others, but it is right up there!]

Chanterelle Fricassee* over Seared Salmon

*(A fricassee is a meat cooked in its own juices; then, thickened with cream

—since these mushrooms are “meaty” I use this term loosely, but reasonably.)

1   pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms [larger ones torn into strips]

3   tablespoons butter (European, e.g., Plugra, Kerrygold, or Luripak preferable)

1   shallot minced

½  pint heavy cream

     dash white pepper

     salt to taste

1   filet of wild salmon pre-cut into 1½ inch servings.

Brush any dirt residue off of the chanterelles, but do not wash.  

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Place in a cold frying pan. Turn heat to medium high.  The chanterelles will release their water.  Keep stirring until the moisture is reabsorbed.  Add butter and shallots, stirring until mixture has softened and become fragrant (about 10 minutes).  Add cream and cook until a lovely consistency is achieved.  Add pepper and salt to taste.

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(Hint: this is great served in a baked potato or worked into a risotto!)

Keep mushroom mixture warm while cooking salmon.

Heat pan over high heat (or prepare your grill).  Add 1 tablespoon of butter into pan and immediately place salmon pieces “presentation side” (non-skin side) down and sear for 1½ to 2 minutes, undisturbed.  

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Flip pieces and cook for another 1½ to 2 minutes, keeping the center of the salmon slightly pink and moist.

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Serve Chanterelle Fricassee over salmon with boiled potatoes.

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Final Mushroom Musings

If you are missing the mushroom madness of Finland in our City of Angles, do not be dismayed. There are no Sieni Höperös (Mushroom Maniacs) here, like in Finland.  Though, after reading this you may think otherwise. You know what they say: “…it takes one to know one!”

If you are truly hardcore, you may be booking a flight to catch the final days of the season. 

Oh, did I tell you that I found a place today for you to score your chanterelles that is cheaper than an off-season air flight to Finland: Costco — of all places.  These ‘golden globes’ will probably not be there for long and do not match the flavor or aroma of those outside my lakeside window, but they are a mere fraction of the price of the “gourmet” grocery stores.  Let this be our little secret!

Happy hunting to all you höperös!

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