AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Looking Forward With Finland

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Looking Forward With Finland

Yes,It Is A Small World After All’

Finland is a fun place to be in Summer!

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Finland is a fun place to be in Summer!

My Finland trip this year was not for fun.   It was specifically planned to take care of business. There were issues to deal with, problems to solve, people to see to get/give information, decisions to be made, and important family matters, as well.   With so many things in motion at the same time, it seemed that my biggest decisions were when to leave Los Angeles and how long I could be abroad before California called me back.

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I know, those are nice ‘issues’ to wrestle with even on a business trip. I don’t pity me either!

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The return was easy for me when the September dates were settled for an important event that I really wanted to attend near Berkeley, CA. Go Bears!! OK, now if I can just leave before I have to be back in Berkeley! That, too, was settled by two invitations to two fascinating events in Helsinki which I could attend back-to-back in venues within walking distance of each other. The first day was a real ‘bear’ with 12 hours of meetings in two locations.   With all of the whirlwind, I almost forgot to pack—not that you can afford to take luggage with you with the airline fees what they are today.

Helsinki Home Base: Grand Hotel Scandic

Grand Hotel Scandic

Grand Hotel Scandic

The morning of my long day began early with the typical ‘free’ Finnish breakfast feast available to all hotel guests.   As with dinner the night before, it was fascinating to watch the enthusiasm with which the tourists attacked the smorgasbord that came with their pre-paid package. Even before they found an empty table, they hit the line with plate in hand so as to be one meat ball ahead—I guess!

The morning of my long day began early with the typical ‘free’ Finnish breakfast feast available to all hotel guests.

The morning of my long day began early with the typical ‘free’ Finnish breakfast feast available to all hotel guests.

There is something wonderful about starting the morning with an open-faced Finnish sandwich with cold cuts, cheese, and a fresh slice of cucumber on newly baked, Finnish buttered, rye bread. Fresh orange juice followed by great, strong Finnish coffee and a sweet cinnamon roll put a smile on your face as you move into your day!

Any apprehension I may have had about what was to transpire in the 12 hour/2 different meeting day evaporated as I left the hotel lobby to cross the street to the Conference Center where the day was scheduled to commence.

Any apprehension I may have had about what was to transpire in the 12 hour/2 different meeting day evaporated as I left the hotel lobby to cross the street to the Conference Center where the day was scheduled to commence.

Any apprehension I may have had about what was to transpire in the 12 hour/2 different meeting day evaporated as I left the hotel lobby to cross the street to the Conference Center where the day was scheduled to commence. Simultaneously reaching for the center-of-the-cobblestone-steps hand rail to safely navigate a descent was old friend Anne Huhtamӓki, former Deputy Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles.   Warm hugs and hellos between 20 year friends led to a joint entrance into the Hall for the annual Finnish Ambassadors Meeting held each August at an ‘undisclosed location’ prior the global disbursement for the Senior Finnish Diplomats’ work year assignments.   [My invitation to the meeting did not identify the assembly to be the Ambassadors Meeting, it simply said “Team Finland—By Invitation Only—Meetings Will Be In Finnish”.]

Serendipity Strikes Again

Walking down those steps toward the Marina Congress Center –virtually my first outside steps in Helsinki on this trip, had brought me into the hug of a dear friend from LA. As in years past, I experienced the wonderful serendipity of running into an old friend in an unexpected place in Finland or other elsewhere. This has been a weird, wonderful experience so oft’ repeated that it is one I have come to ‘hope for’—too soon to ‘expect’, but getting close. In one string of several years, the coincidental sightings involved Mirja and Ernie Covarrubias [from Los Angeles] in various airports where none of us would normally expect to find the other—or anyone else we knew. I even asked my travel agent [Joann Scott of Travel By Scott] if she booked their travel too, looking for a connection/explanation.

Mirja and Ernie Covarrubias

Mirja and Ernie Covarrubias

Madame Ambassador

My delight in seeing Anne again was overwhelmed by her exciting news: she has been appointed Finland’s Ambassador to the Balkans. Yes, our Anne Huhtamӓki—who arrived in Los Angeles under Consul General Jȍrn Donner and whom many of us got to know, like, and admire when she was first learning her trade has now received this important posting. Her prior postings and her support roles for Finland’s European Union team in Belgium and her recent work for Finland with the United Nations Affiliated Relief Agencies helped prepare her for this important job.

Ambassador Anne Huhtamӓki

Ambassador Anne Huhtamӓki

What a fun way to learn that it was Ambassadors Week in Helsinki—and Team Finland Day on their agenda!

Ambassadors Week = Old Home Week!

Walking into the Team Finland Day meeting was like ‘old home week’ seeing so many old friends—such as Consuls General from days past in Los Angeles who have gone on to Ambassadorships for Finland elsewhere: Manu Virtamo is based in Tokyo as Ambassador to Japan and Kirsti Westphalen whose last prior post was as Consul General in Los Angeles is Ambassador to Thailand.

Ava with Ambassador Kirsti Westphalen

Ava with Ambassador Kirsti Westphalen

I met many new friends just making it across the room under the good guidance of Finland’s new Ambassador to the Balkans!   Finland’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States Kirsti Kauppi (who takes over the post in a matter of weeks from Ambassador Koukku-Ronde in Washington, DC) was among the first.   In addition to many other diplomats who are leaders for Finland all over the world, Anne introduced me to several Ministers of the Finnish government.

Ava with Finland’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States Kirsi Kauppi (left).

Ava with Finland’s newly appointed Ambassador to the United States Kirsti Kauppi (right).

It was a very gratifying experience to be ‘at home’ in such an august assembly. I thought of how proud my recently departed Veteran and Lotta parents would be with the ‘company I was keeping’.

Team Finland

The Team Finland meeting was the major event in Finland’s Ambassadors Week 2015. Over 400 people were brought to fine order with welcoming words from Finland’s Prime Minister, Juha Sipilӓ.

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A fascinating and informative series of presentations were made by representative diplomats and their Finnish corporate constituents who face special challenges that need Finland’s assistance around the globe. Finland sets her own pace, so we were taken ‘Around the World in 8 Hours’!

Finland’s current Consul General based in Los Angeles is Juha “J.P.” Markkanen. Consul General Markkanen brought home the point of the importance of California and its relationship to Finland in his well-received presentation. His point was emphasized by noting that California is economically larger than either Russia or Canada.

Consul General Markkanen brought home the point of the importance of California and its relationship to Finland in his well-received presentation.

Consul General Markkanen brought home the point of the importance of California and its relationship to Finland in his well-received presentation.

Things are happening on the US West Coast, especially in Los Angeles with the creative industries, clean tech, and the burgeoning Silicon Beach. Consul General Markkanen told that Venture Capital available in San Diego is larger than in London—and the economy is growing strongly now. The Consul General’s enthusiasm and hard work has paid off significantly for Finland in our region.

Consul General Markkanen told that Venture Capital available in San Diego is larger than in London—and the economy is growing strongly now.

Consul General Markkanen told that Venture Capital available in San Diego is larger than in London—and the economy is growing strongly now.

JP Markkanen ‘walks the walk’ with his positive, ‘get things done’ attitude, and enthusiasm. His advice to the assembled diplomats, business people, and Finnish government leaders was simple: “The US wants to be friends; why not do more business there?” He did caution that the tuppisuu (–the obtunded, ‘bump-on-a-log’, ‘wait and see’) culture does not work in the United States. His ‘breath-of-fresh-air’, ‘go-for-it’ approach that reflects the American style is infectious as evidenced by the group’s very positive reaction to his speech.

Duty Calls

Anne had to leave the Ambassadors Meeting a bit early because she was scheduled to spend the afternoon with former Finland President Matti Ahtisaari who had been instrumental in bringing the temporary peace to the Kosovo region that it will be Anne’s challenge to help sustain.

former Finland President Matti Ahtisaari

former Finland President Matti Ahtisaari

In turn, I went off to my afternoon FinnCham meetings where I touched bases with ‘players’ from days past and met many of the new global Chamber of Commerce leaders—including the head of the Afgan Finnish Chamber. [The latter was a check-off on my ‘bucket list’ that I would never ever have thought to list!]

Finland’s former Ambassador to the United States Jaakko Laajava.

Finland’s former Ambassador to the United States Jaakko Laajava.

Honored guest and featured FinnCham participant was Finland’s former Ambassador to the United States Jaakko Laajava. I had first met the Ambassador when he invited me to participate in the very first (and imminently successful) Finnish American Business Forum held at the grand Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC in 1999. Later, we invited Ambassador Laajava to address the Annual San Diego Meeting of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce when I was FACC President and Bert Salonen was Honorary Consul General of Finland who hosted a major FACC event each year in San Diego. I simply smiled when Ambassador Laajava’s major applause line in this meeting was to urge Finns to MARKET their talents, capabilities, and products to the rest of the world—the very same prescription he presented almost 20 years ago in San Diego! Same sermon, same solution, same audience—just different players. He was right then—he is right now.

Someday some Finn will sing like an Angry Bird and the world will listen!!   Do a billion downloads of the newly released Angry Birds II count?

FinnTimes Rocks!

One satisfying discovery on this trip was that a pleasantly surprising number of people encountered at these meetings were familiar with and readers of FinnTimes and Around LA With Ava®

One satisfying discovery on this trip was that a pleasantly surprising number of people encountered at these meetings were familiar with and readers of FinnTimes and Around LA With Ava®

One satisfying discovery on this trip was that a pleasantly surprising number of people encountered at these meetings were familiar with and readers of FinnTimes and Around LA With Ava®. It was rather fun to run into Markku Vartiainen who published Headlines magazine [formerly the global publication out of Helsinki for the Finnish American Chambers of Commerce] ‘back in the day’ when the FACC Pacific submitted so many articles and so many pictures of so many exciting events that Mr. Vartiainen told me then that he was concerned that the other FACC chapters around the US and the world would get discouraged. Time has passed; others are now running exciting events; and the FACC Pacific is gearing back into ‘catch up’ mode. I think the Ambassador called it “Marketing”!

Before leaving for her meeting with former President Ahtisaari, Ambassador Huhtamäki suggested we get together in the evening.

With a full day successfully behind me, I had ‘flopped’ onto the bed and flicked on the TV for a world news update. I had barely time to utter a satisfied sigh of relief before I noticed the hour on the TV—19:50. Unless I had missed a message at the hotel front desk or on my cell phone, there were just 10 minutes to freshen up before meeting Anne and Veli-Matti in the lobby for drinks! [Consider this: Veli-Matti Mattila is CEO and President of Elisa, the Finnish telecom equivalent of ATT or Verizon, and one of the brightest, young, talented, accomplished stars rising in the Finnish and global business worlds. Anne is a career Diplomat recently named Ambassador who spent the afternoon being briefed by a former President. This is Ambassador’s Week in Helsinki. Surely each had at least several dozen more urgent matters to attend to tonight! Still, the telephone remained silent.]

Veli-Matti Mattila and Anne Huhtamäki

Veli-Matti Mattila and Anne Huhtamäki

With Finns’ penchant for promptness, we exited the elevator into the lobby at precisely 19:59. We found a table for four next to the window that gave us a view of all arrivals, fully expecting to have the cell phone ring with last minute regrets. Instead, we saw a driver helping a blond lady with semi-short hair exit the rear of a discrete vehicle and join her husband to enter the hotel. Warm greetings later, old friends were sipping celebratory champagne, recalling fond moments past, and exploring current activities—including those of our children, now adults. A quick drink turned into dinner—you know how those things go.

It is nice when good things happen to nice people. It is especially fun when you knew them at the start when they were just beginning to create their futures. Now they are the stars and their children are in launch mode—Olli as a degreed management consultant about to marry another degreed management consultant [different companies] and Eeva a year away from finishing medical school!

And yes, we did close the restaurant.   The staff was still smiling when we left so I guess we did not overstay our welcome or have too much fun.

It was fun, indeed!

Friday brought the Helsinki 2015 adventure to a close. Off to the lake house in the woods.

What a two days!!

Insect Aside

The Helsinki Festival (Helsingin Juhlaviikot) is an annual ‘Around Helsinki’ event in late August. This year Helsingin Juhlaviikot featured China in cooperation with Teurastamo, the Centre of International Cultural Exchange, and the Chinese Ministry of Culture. Street Food is almost as big in Helsinki as in LA. While Tacos and Tex/Mex are catching hold*, nakki [little sausages] and muikku [little fried fishes] still prevail in the vendor ‘wars’. But Finns are adventurous—and brave.

This year Helsingin Juhlaviikot featured China in cooperation with Teurastamo, the Centre of International Cultural Exchange

*I ‘imported’ freshly made corn tortillas from LA for my countryside’ parties for years. Now those fun delicacies can be bought in the TexMex aisle of most Finnish food markets!

The Night Market at Helsingin Juhlaviikot 2015 offered ten stalls featuring Insect Food Cooks [Chefs??] from Shanghai who presented various bug delicacies for consumption by those Finns who sought a long awaited chance to get back at the insect world! Fortunately, I missed the Festival. I was happy to be heading back to the Finnish Lake District where the insects eat the people the way nature intended—not the other way around! Here the mosquitos [aka the ‘Finnish Air Force’] enjoy the Summer as much as anyone. And, this year, the hirvi karpaset (moose flies) were particularly nasty. Hirvi karpaset leave a painful (rather than itchy) mark as much as several inches in diameter. Those bites take a bit of the edge off of the joy of blueberry picking or mushroom foraging! Some Sisu required.

This year, insect food cooks from Shanghai conjure up snacks from all kinds of insects

This year, insect food cooks from Shanghai conjure up snacks from all kinds of insects

Mandatory Pauses In ‘Around Finland With Ava’

The trip out of Helsinki was quick after a few ‘retail therapy’ stops along the Esplanade. The Academic Bookstore, Artek, Marimekko, Iittala, … ‘called my name’! Kappeli Restaurant was abuzz –and live music was coming from the Band Shell. There were smiling people all around, not just on the faces of the favored vendors who saw me coming!

A sign on the rail of the Kappeli Terrace said it all: “Jean was here!”

A sign on the rail of the Kappeli Terrace said it all: “Jean was here!”

A sign on the rail of the Kappeli Terrace said it all: “Jean was here!”

Of course he was “here”, there, and everywhere this year. All of Finland –and the world, is celebrating Sibelius 150.

Sibelius 150

Sibelius Week was starting in Lahti at the Sibelius Concert Hall the very next day. About an hour and a half north of Helsinki, this beautiful, scenic city on Lake Vesijärvi where genius Finnish composer Jean Sibelius had a summer home, is the location of a magnificent wooden concert hall right on the shore of Vesijärvi.

Inside Sibelius Hall

Inside Sibelius Hall

The Lahti Symphony Sibelius Festival schedule this celebratory year includes the BBC Orchestra, the Helsinki City Orchestra, and others under the batons of such notables as Okko Kaum, Osmo Vänskä, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Sakri Oramo, and Leif Segerström. The glass encased wooden architectural wonder that is Lahti’s Sibelius Concert Hall was built in 2000.

Sibelius Week was starting in Lahti at the Sibelius Concert Hall the very next day. About an hour and a half north of Helsinki, this beautiful, scenic city on Lake Vesijärvi where genius Finnish composer Jean Sibelius had a summer home, is the location of a magnificent wooden concert hall right on the shore of Vesijärvi.

Sibelius Week was starting in Lahti at the Sibelius Concert Hall the very next day. About an hour and a half north of Helsinki, this beautiful, scenic city on Lake Vesijärvi where genius Finnish composer Jean Sibelius had a summer home, is the location of a magnificent wooden concert hall right on the shore of Vesijärvi.

The sesquicentennial excitement was palpable even wandering about on the morning of the Festival opening [including walking up and down corridors and taking some elevators we probably should not have taken] stepping over the wires TV prep crews had taped to the floors for the YLE Live Opening Concert Simulcast that was to happen later in the day.

The magnificence of Lahti’s Sibelius Concert Hall is a truly inspiring model of Finnish architecture, use of native materials, and a perfect nature setting placement.

As midday arrived, the Concert Hall was ‘a buzz’ with preparations. Everyone was calmly busy with their assignments. Judging from the ‘special setting’ of linen-clothed tables strategically placed in front of huge lake view windows and the dress of the guests, there was a special ‘donors’ luncheon happening in a discretely separated section of the Hall’s public spaces. In the Hall’s Ravintola, the orchestra members [they had ‘that look’—no other signs] went efficiently through their lunch at the lovely restaurant featuring special menus for the occasion. When they left almost simultaneously without even the wave of a baton, it seemed certain that they were heading for a final rehearsal and mark-up. [If these ‘observations’ are simply figments of my journalistic imagination, they are at least as real as the fellow who looked remarkably like the evening’s Conductor Osmo Vӓnskӓ wearing a ‘cap and top coat’ disguise taking pictures of the outside of the building only a pending major event performer –or a student architect, would take! The photographer looked more like the Conductor than an architect to me.]

 Lake view windows inside Sibelius Hall.

Lake view windows inside Sibelius Hall.

The magnificence of Lahti’s Sibelius Concert Hall is a truly inspiring model of Finnish architecture, use of native materials, and a perfect nature setting placement.

The economics of music have not been ignored in Lahti. The Concert Hall gift shop was ‘marketing’ special Sibelius coffee, chocolates, and tea along with the requisite T shirts and a 21st Century chance to take a ‘selfie’ in front of a mural of Jean Sibelius.   [Speaking of selfies, I heard on the Finnish radio news that there is an outbreak of head lice on Finnish children because of the prevalence of kids touching heads as they are taking selfies. Sibelius and I did not have that problem –he was bald.]

Speaking of selfies...

Speaking of selfies…

Music Brings The World Together

A most charming scene was taking place at the box office: A man from Japan (a total Sibelius groupie if there ever was one) was just overwhelmed to have made the pilgrimage to this Lahti place and he could not wait to tell everyone within earshot of his trip, his accommodations, the performances he was going to attend, and the activities surrounding the Sibelius anniversary year in his native Japan.

All of this enthusiastic rhetoric was taking place in perfect American English in the marble faced lobby in front of the sole ‘Will Call’ window manned by a Finnish speaking clerk whose Protocol Manual likely prescribes “…Smile and nod affirmatively until the customer calms down”. After about 10 minutes, the Finn’s prescribed silence was being tested, the patron was joyously extolling his own good fortune—and a line of 5+ increasingly impatient Will Call customers on lunch break had formed.

The affection the Japanese have for things Finnish (including feedback from/for this column) is just adorable. There is clearly an aesthetic and spirit we share. I am still awaiting—and hoping for, similar feedback from our Afghanistani fan base.

Meanwhile, Back In LA

Just before leaving for Finland, a Sibelius 150 event took place at the Finnish Consul General’s residence—a fundraiser featuring a ballet performance with Valse Triste beautifully produced and performed by Jenni Kiilholma. The Sibelius 150 Dance Event fundraiser at the Consular residence previewed the September 18th and 19th evenings of dance, music, and poetry with the South Coast Dance Arts Alliance at Cal-State University Long Beach.

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The first weekend in September is dedicated to Sibelius In Southern California, with events featuring Jean Sibelius’ great granddaughter Ruusumari Seppo in Los Angeles arranged by the Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation and in San Diego by the Santa Monica and San Diego Parishes of the Finnish Lutheran Church with a jointly sponsored Concert in Poway, CA.

Helsinki ReDux

As much as I enjoy Helsinki and visiting with my wonderful friends there, this was a ‘business trip’. I had tried to politely decline all invitations until my Aunt, my Father’s only sister and next sibling in age, called to say “Please come to lunch”. When one of your dearest relatives, the family matriarch, makes such a request, it is time to change plans. At age 89, my Aunt Heljӓ had just made the 2 hour trip from Helsinki for my Father’s Interment Ceremony on a rainy Saturday. That family ceremony had been beautiful, brief, touching, and a reminder of life’s priorities.

Arriving later than conventional Finnish lunch time because of a previously scheduled meeting in Lahti and difficulty finding parking near my Aunt and Uncle’s home (which is literally across the street from the world famous Temppeliaukkionkirkko [Rock Church]) was taken in stride by my senior relatives.   My Aunt had prepared a fabulously delicious salmon soup presented in full Finnish fashion with all accoutrement. What a memorable treat.

An Eva Anttila tapestry

An Eva Anttila tapestry

Our conversation focused on family history and some of the many artifacts decorating their top floor flat with the grandest view of Helsinki I have seen. I was not aware that Aunt Heljӓ had worked under famous Finnish tapestry artist Eva Anttila [a cousin and my ‘namesake’] as an apprentice before she went on to nursing school and a medical career where she met her husband, the future Surgeon General of Finland.   In turn, Aunt Heljӓ was not aware that some years ago a University of Helsinki graduate student working on her PhD thesis on the artist Eva Anttila had come to the United States to view, photograph, and interview the US owners of Eva Anttila’s works. Los Angeles was an important stop on her research road since there were at least four tapestries there: I had two, my parents had one, and my former in-laws had one they had specially commissioned by the artist. That treasure trove of research had been assembled and photographed on walls outside my then Manhattan Beach, CA home by the researcher whose successful dissertation had been published later. My Aunt was unaware of the book which was in limited circulation. I wonder if the researcher was aware that Eva Anttila was a painter before she was a tapestrist? Aunt Heljӓ has one of Eva’s early paintings, as well as, one of her beautiful tapestries.

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I wonder if the researcher was aware that Eva Anttila was a painter before she was a tapestrist? Aunt Heljӓ has one of Eva’s early paintings, as well as, one of her beautiful tapestries.

History happens even if we are not aware of it!!

On The Way Out of Town

While my second day in Helsinki was dwindling to a satisfying close, I had something I wanted to drop off for friend Bitte Westerlund, wife of former LA Consul General Jȍrn Donner. I called. She welcomed my visit–which I promised would be brief.

Bitte Westerlund with her sons

Bitte Westerlund with her sons

Upon arrival—and only one circle of the block to return to the first parking place I had missed, I had a warm greeting from Bitte who had spotted my car and ‘knew’ I would be back for that prime parking spot just below her balcony! Once inside, I had the added pleasure of being greeted by the Donner boys (young men) Rudolf and Daniel. What fine fellows! Jȍrn continues his busy pace with book writing and film making. While he was due to be elsewhere shortly and had to head out, we did have a pleasant visit. He already knew that I had caught up with his protégé, now Ambassador Huhtamӓki.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela's portrait Jorn Donner's father Kai Donner.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s portrait Jorn Donner’s father Kai Donner.

As I was leaving, Bitte loaned me the book that she had just finished reading. She thought I might find it interesting. [I had not told her of my Team Finland/FinnCham meetings.] The book was written by Ambassador Laajava and discussed, among other things, President Ahtisaari’s role in the Kosovo peace settlements. [Did I mention that the last time Anne and I had dinner together was several years ago.   Veli-Matti was disappointed not to have us seated at one special table he had requested. It was already reserved he was told. Some 20 minutes later we discovered that table was being held for sitting President Ahtisaari who had just been given a major global award for his peace keeping work! Serendipity all over again!!   Compounded!!!]

History happens even when you are there.

Back To Real Life

More meetings are arranged and attended, but they are with clients, plumbers, appliance dealers, bankers, association managers, and taxi services. Berkeley beckons!

Finally, A Finish With A Finnish Feast

The season’s final magnificent Finnish blueberries and strawberries are at market and the Summer produce is at its finest in final harvest. The lingonberry harvest has begun with the local farmers homes suddenly having posted Puolukkaa signs on their property.

The season’s final magnificent Finnish blueberries and strawberries are at market and the Summer produce is at its finest in final harvest

The season’s final magnificent Finnish blueberries and strawberries are at market and the Summer produce is at its finest in final harvest

To me, three of the best things in Finland are: duck (ankka), Juniper berries (katajan marjat), and blueberries (mustikat). All three are in this month’s recipe.   ENJOY!!

Duck With Juniper and Blueberry Sauce

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  • large, boneless duck breast (Bristol Farms, Surfas, or LA Farmer’s Market)
  • tablespoon dried Juniper berries
  • ½ pint container of fresh blueberries
  • shallot
  • ¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Score fat on duck breast in a diamond pattern, being careful not to cut into the meat.

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Salt and pepper both sides.

In a cold skillet, put duck breast fat side down and bring pan to heat enough to render most of the fat.

Carefully remove duck, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat (poured off fat should be saved for future use—do not discard).

IMG2980Put duck back into pan and sauté until brown and almost crisp (about 4 to 5 minutes).

When done, turn duck over and cook another 4 to 5 minutes until breast is medium rare.

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Place duck breast on a covered plate and keep warm.

Chop shallot, put into pan with remainder duck fat, and sauté until softened; add Juniper berries and blueberries; add Balsamic vinegar; cook until all softened. Add collected juices from plate to sauce.

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Cut duck breast into slices and pour sauce over; garnish.

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Perfect wine pairing: Stag’s Leap Petite Syrah

AFTERWORD

As this Column is being written in Finland, the children have been back to school for over a month! None-the-less, we are experiencing the best weather of the Summer season.

The countryside is quiet. Gone are the roars and squeals of motor boats, jet skis, water skiers, and children playing on the sandy shores. We are left with the stillness of nature welcoming this long distance traveler to her Homeland.

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The first sunrise (even seen through bleary eyes at first light from my bathroom window) seemed like a welcoming greeting to a jetlagged home comer. Hyvää huomenta and tervetuloa kotiin Suomen luontoon! Ihana hetki (a supreme moment).

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Home at last at my private little* ‘Lake Woebegone’!

*Actually, Lake Pӓijӓnne is over 60 miles [100 kilometers] long.

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The sunrises, the sunsets, the sounds, the silence, the trees illuminated with ‘magic’ lighting—I kept reaching for a camera to be able to share my rapture. How you ‘capture’ silence in a digital format, I do not know.   I do know that you have left Los Angeles far behind when you experience perfect silence!

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I hope you enjoy this years’ “Postcards: Around The Lake With Ava”. The sunny days of late Summer are here with me to enjoy the awesome beauty. The only real day of rain was part of a Saturday. That period of rain yielded the delightful surprise of a handful of chanterelles from my yard for tonight’s dinner.

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Life is good in the Finnish forest. It does require an alertness beyond avoiding the 405 at rush hour, however.

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The mirror-like lake glistens and ripples in any light. Seven swans swim quietly by to their nest on the nearby island. Their fellow species (the ducks) are now on the ‘most wanted’ list with a target on their backs and have hightailed it ‘out of Dodge’. The geese have also migrated away. Rabbit and bear hunting seasons are on too. About 12 bear got their due in eastern Finland on the first day of their season.

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I got excited too when Finnish Radio News excitedly announced that the rare event of a clear nighttime sky—no clouds, the night before I was scheduled to leave this lakeside cabin. The cloudless sky prediction suggested that the aurora borealis could be viewed in Southern Finland. That was a natural phenomenon I had seen only once—from an airplane on a night flight. It was awesome.

As anyone who has been in Finland during the Summer knows, nightfall can take forever to arrive. The pitch-black of a moonless night takes even longer!

While pushing forward with my packing and cleaning chores, I would periodically check to catch the colorful horizon eruptions that I had seen from my plane’s eye view some years earlier. My nightly recording of spectacular sunsets from the lakeside deck had given me hope that the aurora borealis could be similarly captured. The 100’+ birch and pine trees protected the distant horizon too well, however.

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My final check took me to the meadow side deck where the trees are set back sufficiently south to provide a large frame for the normally black night sky. Tonight was different! With a perfectly cloudless night some 25 kilometers from the nearest village [not even a stoplight there, to say nothing of streetlights or neon signs], the moonless night revealed more stars than anyone could dream existed in our universe—or beyond. The beauty of the unfiltered view was beyond my comprehension.

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My glimpse of Heaven assured me my two recent trips to bring the ashes of my dear deceased Parents home to Finland were good and proper decisions. I breathed a final sigh of relief. A peace came over me.

And then, the forest erupted in ‘applause’ like I have never heard before. From mice to moose, the forest animals burst out in a cacophony of chatter.   Each creature big and small had to be heard—all talking at once. It was beyond a Disney movie. The toad was talking to the timber wolf and the owl passed the message forward.   The ducks came out of hiding and joined the chorus.

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I wish I had timed [and/or recorded] the unique experience. It was long and it was loud—and, then, it was silent again!

Here at this magical place the silence is deafening.

The silence is magnificent.

May you feel the peace of silence in your world.

AFTERWORD2

I know that Serendipity is hard to rationalize for pragmatic Finns. So, here is a challenge for those who calculate probability for most anything.

Parameters: Contemplate the likely number of taxi cabs that go to LAX each day to drop off or pick up passengers. Now, multiply by 3 since cabs run 24/7 which means 3 shifts/day. Next, multiply by 30—the approximate number of days of my trip. Then, multiply that by the number of airlines flying into/out of LAX [Guess—I only know there are 9 (8 domestic and 1 international) terminals.] In the alternative, you could simply multiply by the number of daily LAX in/out flights.

Projection Problem: Calculate the odds for the same taxi driver who picked me up at my house after a random call to a phone book ad very early on Day 1 of a 30 day trip being ‘next-in-line’ at the United Airlines cab queue at 6:30 PM on Day 30.

Serendipity Probability: = 1 in some number with lots and lots of “0”s!!!

Reality: It happened on this trip! Our random cabbie not only remembered picking us up, he knew the directions to my house without prompting or GPS.

As they say: “Go Figure!”

or

“It IS a small world after all!!”

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