AROUND LA WITH AVA®: CREATIVITY

ava51

Ava Anttila

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: CREATIVITY

The creative process is fascinating.

Who knows when and how that moment of vision clarity will trigger an avalanche of inspiration that translates into greatness and the sublime satisfaction of an idea fully, properly developed.

Is it a single vision, or is it a glimpse that launches a domino effect? Is it a thought, a sound, or a smell that starts the process—perhaps a memory?

criativw

While some have used the ‘thunderbolt’ as a symbolic ‘striker’, I have always associated ‘quiet’—peace as a prerequisite, with the creative process. Imaginative responses may be triggered by attack or impending doom, but grand ideas of consequence require contemplation.

Stress, interruptions, and ‘noise’ block creativity.

Los Angeles Unleashed

In our dear City of Angels, we are truly at the center of a creative universe—and have been for a long time. Visionaries and creatives have come here with their dreams, their talent, and their imagination. Some have found success—and their alter egos continue to come. Here, good ideas are welcomed from any source and the ‘creators’ are rewarded handsomely!!

holl11

LA has long been the ‘pot of gold’ for talent—and currently is the ‘gold standard’ for the arts, research, medicine, music, writers, entertainment, high tech industry, and anything fun.

LA has long been the ‘pot of gold’ for talent—and currently is the ‘gold standard’ for the arts, research, medicine, music, writers, entertainment, high tech industry, and anything fun. We have the most awesome temples of artistic greatness [Disney Hall and the Getty Center, to name just a few] and you can find the working locations of literary and artistic greatness in some of the lowliest and unassuming places imaginable [e.g., not too long ago my son got excited when he accidently found the ‘signed’, historic Bukowski house in a back alley – he was looking for a parking place on his way to see his Mummi in her (then) nursing home].

OK! New York, Chicago, and a few other places have edifices and back alleys too. But, our ‘gold’ includes the pleasant warmth of sunshine in the winter and the cooling Pacific breezes in the summer!

Peace, Quiet, … and Warmth

I think often of the Creative Finns who are here doing wonderful things, expressing their genius by creating art, music, theater, film, games, and the like. Things are so different here on the other side of the world. There are cultural differences that can cause loneliness, confusion, and homesickness even though adults are not supposed to admit to that. There is traffic, daylight, and the other irritations of everyday life in this new environment. It is easy to feel like “…a stranger in a strange land”.

 Some may attribute Finland’s success to a refined and homogeneous gene pool.  Some may even suggest that the harshness of the long winter’s nights and the utter boredom entailed lead to the ‘Angry’ Birds  and the macabre Finnish films that enter Hollywood film award derbies.

Some may attribute Finland’s success to a refined and homogeneous gene pool. Some may even suggest that the harshness of the long winter’s nights and the utter boredom entailed lead to the ‘Angry’ Birds and the macabre Finnish films that enter Hollywood film award derbies.

The World recognizes and celebrates Finnish creativity: art, architecture, music, textiles, education, science, technology, furniture, genetics, and, now, gaming. Some may attribute Finland’s success to a refined and homogeneous gene pool. Some may even suggest that the harshness of the long winter’s nights and the utter boredom entailed lead to the ‘Angry’ Birds and the macabre Finnish films that enter Hollywood film award derbies. Still others who have worn a Marimekko garment or who have watched Esa- Pekka Salonen conduct know that there must be some ‘sunshine and blue sky’ in that great land up north!

Still others who have worn a Marimekko garment or who have watched Esa- Pekka Salonen conduct know that there must be some ‘sunshine and blue sky’ in that great land up north!

“In the still of the night…” the creative juices can flow. With peace and quiet—and time to contemplate, the mind can examine the familiar anew. That, to me, is the genesis of the great Finnish creativity.

Go ‘Home’ Without Leaving Town

Sometimes when you are away, just a little slice reminiscent of home may cheer you up. A few scraps of ‘nothing’ or a familiar scent may provide the alchemy needed to reassure you that you have brought the best of your old world with you to this strange new land.

Sometimes when you are away, just a little slice reminiscent of home may cheer you up.

Sometimes when you are away, just a little slice reminiscent of home may cheer you up.

May I suggest making a loaf of bread.

Making a loaf of bread may not be a Golden Globe production or a Grammy worthy composition, but it does take beginning with a few scraps of nothing and following a simple path to a successful end result that is so satisfying. So what if your creation is not an Oscar winning film, a NY Times bestselling novel, a Pulitzer prize winning Internet column, or a quirky game that spies for the NSA and makes you a ‘kazillionaire’ to boot. You will have created something from nothing (well almost, except a few easily available ingredients). And, your creation will look good, smell like ‘home’, taste great, and make lots of friends –if you choose to share!

May I suggest making a loaf of bread.

May I suggest making a loaf of bread (Ava Anttila making Finnish sourdough rye bread for her father at Christmas)

So, by golly, when you are feeling down, when those crazy outside influences are setting up ‘road blocks’ to your success, or when you are just waiting for ‘things’ to come together, take a ‘time out’ and bake a loaf of rye bread! The bread-making process from beginning to end is great therapy.

The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance

A simple act such as bread baking can unleash ‘writers’ block’ by providing a sense of accomplishment, a moment of joy, a diversion. Then, the taste of comfort (even if not the perfect re-creation of your Grandmother’s Finnish rye bread) can transport one’s memory and mind to another place. In my experience, the simple, seemingly insignificant everyday act or chore of yore can bring you a sense of transcendence.

A wonderful book I so enjoyed in the ‘70s, The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance (by Robert M. Pirsig) often comes to mind.  You guessed it: the book was not about Zen Buddhism as a religion or accurate factoids about motorcycle parts per se.

A wonderful book I so enjoyed in the ‘70s, The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance (by Robert M. Pirsig) often comes to mind. You guessed it: the book was not about Zen Buddhism as a religion or accurate factoids about motorcycle parts per se.

A wonderful book I so enjoyed in the ‘70s, The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance (by Robert M. Pirsig) often comes to mind. You guessed it: the book was not about Zen Buddhism as a religion or accurate factoids about motorcycle parts per se. And, yes, I was at Berkeley ‘then’, but the ‘take-away’ from the book was the transcendence that a simple task can bring. [“Give us this day our daily bread…” has always meant someone had to bake it first—no supermarkets in Judea!] Isn’t it better to feel our spirituality in everyday tasks rather than feeling them as drudgery? This is about the “arki” everyday, i.e., finding your Finnish spirit in a simple act that is performed with such committed focus that the transformative power of the ordinary task provides you with the depth, vision, and clarity that sets you free.

“…Love The One You’re With”

Love The One You’re With [“When you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with…”] was a popular song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash decades ago (the ‘70s again). Before using the lyrics to make my point, I decided I had better look up the actual words just in case [I know someone will hit the Net or someone else will have a better memory than I].

Love The One You’re With  [“When you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with…”] was a popular song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash decades ago (the ‘70s again).

Love The One You’re With [“When you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with…”] was a popular song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash decades ago (the ‘70s again).

Oops!! Good check. It looks like the songwriter was talking more about sexual relationships and not what my innocent Pollyanna brain was telling me at that innocent time in my life.

Soooo:

Bloom Where You Are Planted

I certainly would not want anyone to feel that I advocate infidelity—nor do I want to be listed as “Also Named” in a “dissolution” action or a “Marvin” suit.

The phrase “Bloom Where You Are Planted” has always been a favorite, life affirming theme of mine. There is greater clarity of meaning, as well. The point I wish to make is: make the best of any situation in which you find yourself—make your life beautiful in the ‘world’ in which you are, wherever you are, or in whatever the circumstance you find yourself! [There is some Finnish Sisu in there too, I think.]

Whose taste buds do not remember salmiakki, Fazer chocolate, pulla, Karjalan Piirakkas, homemade licorice, or Alder smoked salmon the way they were/are in the old country?

Whose taste buds do not remember salmiakki, Fazer chocolate, pulla, Karjalan Piirakkas, homemade licorice, or Alder smoked salmon the way they were/are in the old country?

We Finns are perfectionists; we have high standards for ourselves and for each other; and we are not known for compromising. We like things just as we remember them. Whose taste buds do not remember salmiakki, Fazer chocolate, pulla, Karjalan Piirakkas, homemade licorice, or Alder smoked salmon the way they were/are in the old country?

Our minds celebrate the magnificent Finnish products and their flavors as we remember them. If we are lucky, our taste recollections are enhanced by the memory of the sights, sounds, and aromas that were created along with the ‘goodies’ we cherish! Some ‘hard core’ Finns –like my Dad, seek out sources where favorites can be ordered by Net, call, or mail. Of course, it is always nice when dear family and friends understand our ‘cravings’ and lovingly bring an object of our desire (some Reissumies, a loaf of Oululainen—or whatever) when they visit. Such simple gifts assure warm hospitality and fond memories of their visit! Eikö niin?

Of course, it is always nice when dear family and friends understand our ‘cravings’ and lovingly bring an object of our desire (some Reissumies, a loaf of Oululainen—or whatever) when they visit.  Such simple gifts assure warm hospitality and fond memories of their visit!  Eikö niin?

Of course, it is always nice when dear family and friends understand our ‘cravings’ and lovingly bring an object of our desire (some Reissumies, a loaf of Oululainen—or whatever) when they visit. Such simple gifts assure warm hospitality and fond memories of their visit! Eikö niin?

Bread

Finnish bread is known to be the healthiest and best in the world. That is a Truth you already know. But, I will try to tell you some things you may not know—and show you something you can do that you did not know you could do!

Finnish sourdough rye bread is a cult onto its own.  Most of us who learned to bake (or even eat) Finnish Sourdough Rye Bread [FSRB] are fanatics.

Finnish sourdough rye bread is a cult onto its own. Most of us who learned to bake (or even eat) Finnish Sourdough Rye Bread [FSRB] are fanatics.

Finnish sourdough rye bread is a cult onto its own. Most of us who learned to bake (or even eat) Finnish Sourdough Rye Bread [FSRB] are fanatics. To the purists, “hapanlimppu” (FSRB) defines our homeland. It must be made with no other flour than rye flour. The leavening must be a sourdough “starter”, not yeast. The most fortunate baker of bread is one who has a wood-burning oven (leivinuuni joulupukki, ole hyvä). [I have made it as far as a charcoal fired ceramic “Green Egg”—but, please, one day… .]

Fundamentals

Believe me, your author has been a FSRB Fanatic since childhood. Making FSRB has been a passion since I was a little kid. I played with ‘starters’ like a ‘lab rat’ using strange liquids acquired from grandmothers, aunts, village ladies with FSRB ‘reputations’–nursing the ‘starters’ along like a mad scientist as my life moved on.

Making the perfect Finnish sourdough rye bread became a quest once my family moved from Finland to the USA. My FSRB dedication was fueled by the recognition that what my dear Father missed most about Finland was the bread!

My FSRB dedication was fueled by the recognition that what my dear Father missed most about Finland was the bread!

Some years, FSRB was the only gift I could think of to give Isä as a gift for Christmas or his birthday. Never once did he complain! The smile on his face at first bite was my delight.

For decades now, I have read everything I could get my hands on regarding traditional FSRB methods. I have watched Finnish ladies in farmhouses and home kitchens—always eager and ready to learn the tiniest new detail of the craft. Each expert emphasized the importance of their ‘starter’—sometimes by the little they said about the importance of their magic elixir!

Frankly, some of my ‘starters’ have come and gone. A move here; a power failure there—no sense in taking a chance with food safety. My current official ‘starter’ is now safely tucked away in a secret location in the bowels of an extra refrigerator. Let’s hope we don’t have any long term power outages.

Even to the most dedicated FSRB fanatics, it seems ‘over the top’ to do as purists do in Stockholm where, for a price, there is actually a “hotel” (like a kennel for a dog or cat) where Swedes take their ‘starter’ for care and safekeeping when they travel!!

But hey, maybe this is a great new business idea. Here in LA we have pet sitters, house sitters—why not ‘starter’ sitters? Do you know where your bacterial culture is spending the weekend?!?

From The Ridiculous To The Sublime Without Slime

Regular readers of AROUND LA WITH AVA® already know that I like fun things. So, it will come as no surprise that I like to ‘play’ with food.

I have been taught by some mighty fine ‘aprons’ and I have learned a great deal from my own experiments and experiences. I have driven past the growing fields on my way to the mill in Vääksy where the farmers bring their harvested grain for grinding into the flour I use for baking. It’s that Zen, again!

I love to learn from the best. They always work hard, but make it look effortless. They know what they are doing—and they love doing it! There is pride in perfection. The real MASTERS rarely work from recipes, so don’t ask for one. Rather, observe the ‘methods’ they use; feel their understanding and reverence for their ingredients [they can see, feel, smell subtle differences in the various ‘grinds’ of rye flour and make adjustments for the terrior, the rain, or whatever]. ‘Notice’ anything ‘different’ that they do. They will appreciate you as a student.

Americans tend to be more ‘paint-by-the-numbers’ cooks, so some of my recipes and techniques have been published in various cookbooks. Preliminary discussions have begun on putting together my process cookbook –one day, maybe.

My fanatic FSRB quest has come from my Finnish heart –with quite good results. So, please don’t call me a ‘sellout’ for what follows. We will deal with the real hapanlimppu –the ‘true rye religion’ another time, I promise.

Look Ma, No …

Imagine I told you that you can make your own rye bread (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) in about an hour –and you don’t need a ‘starter’ (or even yeast) and you won’t get sticky hands. Would that ‘make your day’? Since we live near Hollywood, we get to ‘fake it’ every now and again.

This recipe came to me one day when making the crust for Karjalan piirakkas. That crust requires a rye flour/white flour blend. Then, I thought: “…since buttermilk is often a starter ingredient, let’s see what happens”. What happened was fun!

If you have never made a loaf of bread, this is for you!!

Even though I ‘chickened out’ earlier, you can call this: ‘Love the Loaf You’re With… Bread’. It is a quickie (—quick bread, that is). If you are a FSRB purist and fanatic, you may simply call it:

Blasphemy Bread

5 cups rye flour* [some ground up Finn Crisp* can be substituted for part of the flour]

3 cups white flour

1 ½ tablespoons salt

1 ½ tablespoons baking soda

1 quart buttermilk

Ingredients

Ingredients

Blend the dry ingredients together; pour in the buttermilk; stir with a fork.

ava23a

Once the mixture comes together as a dough, take half and form it into a rounded ball (or “limppu” shape) and place it on a baking stone or cookie sheet. [No need to “knead”!]

IMG_0444

Cut slits across the limppu top in a grid pattern about ½ inches deep to make a decorative surface

IMG_0447

With the tip of a knife [I use my favorite one with a Karelian burl birch handle made by a Japanese company], poke holes throughout the loaf all the way to the bottom to allow air to escape as the bread bakes.

IMG_0449a

Bake the loaf in a preheated 350° F oven.

After about a half hour (when the top has risen and starting to brown), flip the loaf over for another 10 to 15 minutes.

IMG_0454c

Allow to cool before slicing and serving.

IMG_0458

[This is the hardest part of this recipe! Kill time by baking the 2nd loaf, getting out the butter, slicing a little makkara,making coffee, or whatever you can think of doing to keep from burning your tongue. Sensual sniffing works well—and feeds the memory meter.]

IMG_0459

#

Enjoy the Zen of the bread baking experience.

#

I hope you had fun! May the aromas of your bread baking hold you over until we get started on the real FSRB Rye Revolution –one day soon.

* Note: Rye flour used to be available in the ‘bins’ at Whole Foods. Now, look in the baking aisle. Also, rye flour is available online. Finn Crisp can be found in LA at most Cost Plus World Market stores and, always, at Vicente Foods in Brentwood (San Vicente @ Bundy). [Psst: Vicente Foods is always good for celebrity spotting –Elliott Gould dropped by the last time I was there.]

Happening Finns

Did you miss Vellamo? Shame on you!

In Finnish mythology, Vellamo is the goddess of the sea. In March, in the South Bay, Vellamo was the performing and songwriting team of Pia Leinonen [Lapland] and Joni Tiala [Kokkola] who have just released their 1st album. They write songs in English and Finnish—and, they perform traditional ballads from the Finnish, Celtic and Scandinavian folk traditions. Pia combines her love of Finnish folk music with the western story-centric, singer–songwriter tradition. Joni—the skilled guitarist, is also a founding member of the renowned Finnish progressive rock band, Moonwagon.

IMG_0391

The Vellamo Concert was such a delight. Friends of the Torrance Library brought this Finnish band for a performance before a nicely large audience. Hardly a spare seat was available. Most of the audience was local, non-Finnish/Nordic. The adults and children (including a few familiar faces) in the audience thoroughly enjoyed the music and the charming tongue in cheek humor of Pia, the female vocalist. The ensemble had the audience eating out of their hands. A bright, fun, engaging audience participation sing-along brought the program to a spirited conclusion. You know the program was a hit when the crowd is eager to meet the performers and to purchase their CDs.

IMG_0388

It is always fun to see the Della Roccas and the Covarrubias in the audience. But, the most delightful treat for me was to find the iconic Dr. Tuula Stark and her son seated quietly in the back of the Hall.

IMG_0390

Finland made some new friends that day. Old friends had fun, too.

LAFF

The following day, the Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation had its meeting. It was the annual St. Urho’s Day celebration: a unique American Finnish ‘made up’ holiday involving grapes and grasshoppers [Yup, from the ‘70s]. Conveniently, the party date was set for right about St. Patrick’s Day.

FFLogo

About the same time, I happened to hear a feature on the radio where a bartender at St. Urho’s Pub in Helsinki was interviewed about the ‘occasion’. He confirmed that no particular celebration takes place at his establishment. Apparently, fake fun is had only on this side of the pond.

Hauli Huvila

The Hauli Huvila fundraiser was held at the Burbank Spa. The featured event was a sauna night which was appropriate since the proceeds were to go toward a new sauna at the Reedley,CA HV facility. It is wonderful to see that the renovations and improvements are going forward and that the fruits of these labors will serve and preserve the Finnish spirit for generations to come.

The Hauli Huvila fundraiser was held at the Burbank Spa.

The Hauli Huvila fundraiser was held at the Burbank Spa.

–30–

Several FSRB Back Stories

I marveled at how Ulla Saarela [the former wife of prior Consul General of Finland, Tapio Saarela] kept a beautiful wooden Finnish vessel on display in the kitchen at the Consul Residence. The vessel edges were proudly lined with remnants of previous rye bread batches. She told that the family ‘starter’ tradition had been kept that way for generations and that she used that ‘starter’ to make her bread.

And,

While, as you may imagine, there is great pride (and ‘some’ competition) among local FSRB bakers, the word was that Marjatta Coughlan made the “best ever” Finnish sourdough rye bread. [Many of you know Marjatta from her years of work at the Finnish Consulate. She is now retired—from the Consulate.]

I put in a request to watch the “best ever” in action. I wanted to see and learn from a ‘States-side’ FSRB fanatic in action. Marjatta graciously agreed. It took many years before we were able to get together, but the experience was worth the wait!

One day Marjatta invited me to her home on Bonnie Brae. That prime location near downtown LA was where many of the early Finns who came to Los Angeles and Hollywood first made their homes decades ago. It felt as if I were going back in time to a grand era where Finns had found their place in LA.

It was such a treat watching Marjatta at work. I was fascinated to observe her process, part of which involved a full 45 minutes of hand-kneading per loaf. All the while this tiny little lady was kneading, she had her large gray parrot, “Pepe”, on her shoulder! I wish I had brought my camera for that one! Actually, I should have interviewed Pepe to learn what ‘secrets’ Marjatta had kept ‘up her sleeves’.

End Note

Southern California is a fabulous and fun place to be any time of year. Your scribe has lived, raised my family, and worked in Los Angeles for a lot of years. Sharing the good, the bad, and the fabulous/ugly is what AROUND LA WITH AVA® seeks to do. All things Finnish are celebrated just ‘because’. If you ‘sniff the air’, you may learn why there are FSRB fanatics. Better yet, try making the Blasphemy Bread and get a local taste of Finland!! That may spark your Finnish creativity!!!

ALWA topics are catholic—work, play, sight-seeing/sightings, local ‘hang-outs’, public/social service, travel, faith, food, people, LA life, fun, events past and pending, history, …whatever. Sometimes we just have fun! Sometimes we even get to eat the mess we make!!

Welcome to AROUND LA WITH AVA®

468 ad