AROUND LA WITH AVA ®: Spooks and Saunas

AROUND LA WITH AVA ®:  Spooks and Saunas

Ava Antilla

Ava Antilla

The Sauna; Part 2

Celebrating saunas and the Finnish sauna culture should be a fun adventure in this year leading up to the Centennial of Finnish Independence in 2017!

While writing last month’s column about Michael Fyffe’s exhibition and seeing that Risto Matti Ratia (son of the founder of Marimekko) was in attendance, I ran across Mr. Ratia’s web store featuring wonderful designs for sauna related products.  The site was so appealing that I thought: if you don’t have a sauna, you will want to build one just to have his cool robes, towels, and accessories.  Then, I smiled a subtle Finnish smile at the Hollywood fashion consideration and ‘hubbub’ so far removed from the Smoke Sauna world which begins with nudity and ends in peaceful solitude.  Rodeo Drive and the birch forest really are pretty far apart!!

Ristomatti Ratia bathrobe

Ristomatti Ratia bathrobe

Still, it amazes and amuses me where Finns find places to have saunas such as on gondolas, flotillas, and the like.  [If you have not seen Miesten Vuoro (a fine film), check it out.]  The last time I was in Finland, there was a big Ferris Wheel erected in the Marina where the Viking and Silja Lines base.  There was a “White Star Champagne Cabin” that could be reserved for special events.  Now, that cabin has been replaced by an actual revolving sauna!!  Yes, you can book it privately for a ‘reasonable’ fee per hour.

Film poster for Miesten Vuoro

Film poster for Miesten Vuoro

Other unusual saunas that seem to tickle the Finnish fancy include a ski gondola sauna, a travel trailer sauna, and (coming soon) a sauna moving around the US to honor 100 years of Finnish Independence!  These creative sites for saunas always seemed natural to me since my Uncle Jaakko, a Professor at the technical university in Finland, made a sauna for his sailboat that he sailed to and spent time in on the Mediterranean.  Real Finns are never far from their sauna!!

A DIY Saunalautta Raft

A DIY Saunalautta Raft

For those who are several generations from Finland, don’t be “spooked” about the sauna.  There is nothing scary about it.  We should get ready for the Centennial Celebration and the Centennial Traveling Sauna with a little ‘sweat equity’ of our own!

If you know someone with a sauna, ask if you can try it out.  No dedicated Finn would turn you down.  Most home saunas (like mine) take about 40 minutes to be fully heated, so some advance notice is helpful.   Burbank Spa on Magnolia Avenue in North Hollywood is an excellent, authentic commercial alternative.  If you can find a member to host you, there is a nice set-up at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Sauna at Burbank Spa & Garden

Sauna at Burbank Spa & Garden

October: What Season Is It?

The calendar year in our City of Angels does have seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, and “…more Summer”!  Today, there is a drought and the warm/hot Santa Ana winds are blowing.  Even though Fall is about over, the thermometer is scheduled to exceed 100º F.

Today, there is a drought and the warm/hot Santa Ana winds are blowing

Today, there is a drought and the warm/hot Santa Ana winds are blowing

Don’t you miss those crisp, fresh Finnish, East Coast, Midwest, Upper Peninsula, New England Autumns that yield the European Oktoberfest vibe?

There are ways to kindle that nostalgia and kill two or more birds with one stone!  You could turn on the air conditioner full blast and I will share my recipe for authentic Finnish sauerkraut (Hapankaali) from the Asikkala region I picked up from the local newspaper decades ago.  Unfortunately, that recipe begins with a call for ‘about’ 40 heads of cabbage!  Maybe by next year I will have done the math to make the ‘making’ manageable for both of us!  But, the immediate solution for your Finnish/Euro Fall experience may be just a visit to LA’s own Alpine Village. They have homemade sauerkraut, award winning sausages, and wait for it…–a treasure trove of Finn Crisp.  They also have fresh quark.

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LA’s Alpine Village

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One of my father’s favorite soups he continuously asked me to make for him since I was a child was Siskonmakkarakeitto (translated: Sister Sausage Soup–I know, go figure why the name?).  It was one of his childhood memories and many other Finns’ favorite, too.  The closest sausage to the Finnish featured makkara I have found locally is the Bavarian Weisswurst (veal sausage).  SSS has much of the same ingredients as your traditional lihakeitto, with sausage instead.  My father insisted [“se täytyy olle suurustettu”] a slurry of milk and flour needed to be added to thicken, making almost a makkara chowder.  It is tasty, comforting, and kid-friendly.

LA Happenings

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There is so much going on in LA right now. Halloween is everywhere.

There is so much going on in LA right now.  Halloween is everywhere.  The Halloween phenomenon has gone out of control.  Supermarket ‘shelf space’ has been taken over by Halloween superstores.  Investigating what these ‘super’ stores held inside, I found some child costumes, but the stock was mostly adult items for dress up parties and costumes, scary decorations, and exotic props like fog machines.  With such additions yielding more ‘coin’, over 6.9 billion dollars will be spent on candy, costumes, decorations, and the like this year!

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[It seems like Halloween is becoming bigger than Christmas which the secularists may be trying to wipe out.]

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In Los Angeles, it is easy to attribute the rise of Halloween because “…this is Hollywood”.  As the center of the film industry, we are used to seeing people in crazy, outlandish garb—with or without ‘star trailers’ parked nearby.  We do live in a constant world of make-believe.  I thought nothing of seeing two women dressed as ‘pirates’ walking down the street in early September.  Maybe they were pre-Halloween celebrants, extras off to a movie shoot, or just plain ‘wackkos’ —of no never mind, it is all part of what we love about our City of Angels.  It is OK to be whatever you want to be!!

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Actually you cannot be what you want to be or do something that ‘offends’ if you command too much attention.  For example, all the major amusement parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Knott’s Berry Farm put on special events and features for Halloween.  Haunted houses are competitive features done professionally with ‘homegrown scary things’ coming out to scare people.  The scariest entry draws the massive target market of kids.  This year, Knott’s Berry Farm had to close their top attraction down because the scary, deranged man-figure that jumps out was considered to offend the mentally ill!  This was not “politically correct”.  Protests followed.  The feature was closed down.  So—the concept winner lost the $ race.  Business can be a bear on the scary market!

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[To me, what is not politically correct is the millions of mentally ill living on our streets or under our freeway underpasses and bridges, having altercations with citizens and the police, going in and out of the jail system, and not receiving the care proper to their condition.  California used to have a large system of hospitals for the study and treatment of the mentally ill.  Perhaps someone should create a competition for the system design and funding for their proper care!  The ‘prize’ would be shared by so many!!  And, serious progress could be re-made on a really serious scary problem!]

Speaking of Politics

Is the 224 page California Voter Pamphlet for November 8 thicker than the Helsinki phone book?

Tthe biggest item stuffed in mailboxes this fall may be the Nov. 8 statewide voter guide.

Tthe biggest item stuffed in mailboxes this fall may be the Nov. 8 statewide voter guide.

Finnish Community Happenings

LAFF Monthly Meeting

A lively meeting of the Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation began with a showing of the movie The Cuckoo.   Imagine a movie with three characters not speaking one another’s languages with us (the audience) in the same predicament watching them while having a film experience of human connectivity.  Such is a metaphor for the current global situation, n’est pas?

'The Cuckoo'

‘The Cuckoo’

Jeff Neff (Coordinator of Development and Culture for LAFF) brought the film.

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Next month Al Jokela will be the featured speaker!  Don’t miss it.

Friends of Finland Meeting

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The regular gathering of Finnish community leaders was enthusiastically ready to hear all of the exciting news of each other’s organizations, as well as, of the programs developing for the Centennial.  I know you all have been excited about the Traveling Sauna.  Just as this column was going to press, I had an update from Risto Sivula.  Here is his website: www.finland100usa.com.  Please check it out.

However, the big news of the meeting was the announcement by Consul General Juha Markkanen that he will be leaving us.  The veteran group of Finnophiles was used to the natural turnover of government postings.   Still, we all felt that JP, Tuula, Juha, and Maria ‘just got here’ which is the supreme compliment for the wonders they did for Finland and California relations.  They won our hearts and inspired us to go forward with JP’s enthusiasm and call for togetherness.

Consul General Juha Markkanen

Consul General Juha Markkanen

Consul General Markkanen, you have done wonderful work here.  The Finnish American community appreciates your significant contributions and support.  We wish you well on future postings.  May they be as successful as your stay here.  We look forward to welcoming you back whenever you visit.

Back to business: Heidi Luukkonen presented much information of coming events including announcing of the Finnish Golden Globe and Oscar entry of Juho Kuosmanen’s movie The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki which was just named the Best International Film at the Zurich Film Festival.

Juho Kuosmanen movie The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki

Juho Kuosmanen movie The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki

There was true excitement in the room as plans are coming together for the Centennial.  It was like a beehive of brainstorming.  What a joy to have Sirpa Selänne there sharing Teemu and her dedication and support for the pending plans.  A big hug and thumbs up for Sirpa on proposing a special event honoring our remaining Veterans and Lottas [‘stay tuned’ for an announcement when/if the details can be worked out].

Sports

I always try for a sports update when we are able –and Selänne equals sports to California Finns!

The proliferation of coverage has honored a retiring Southern California sports media icon –beloved Dodger Sportscaster Vin Scully.  His farewells and goodbyes were about as long [but well deserved] as his broadcasting career as The Voice of Dodger Baseball for 67 years.

Finns are often overshadowed due to their modesty and shyness, so I want to note the simultaneous retirement of the great Finnish sports broadcaster, nationally acclaimed Dick Enberg.

Finns are often overshadowed due to their modesty and shyness, so I want to note the simultaneous retirement of the great Finnish sports broadcaster, nationally acclaimed Dick Enberg.

Finns are often overshadowed due to their modesty and shyness, so I want to note the simultaneous retirement of the great Finnish sports broadcaster, nationally acclaimed Dick Enberg.  He had a long and illustrious career—just not quite as long as Vin Scully’s!

Finnair

Finnair non-stop flights between San Francisco and Helsinki begin in November for Slush –with Summer flights beginning in June.

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Suomi Kerho Anniversary Gala

A beautiful, elegant, monumental, and warm celebration was put together by Suomi Kerho in honor of its 60th Anniversary at the Courtyard Marriot Ballroom in Sherman Oaks.  What a warm, poignant event: a display of the history of Suomi Kerho, its Charter, a celebration of its original members, recognition of its past, and an appreciation for the current awesome team brought people from their seats in applause and reaching for their hankies with nostalgia!

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President Liisa Linnala brought the history of Suomi Kerho to life as she recognized the major players who have contributed so much to our Finnish American History in Los Angeles.  All in the audience sat proudly, basking in praise of the historic and present accomplishments and achievements.  All were warmed by the remarks from Consul General JP Markkanen about the state of Finnish American affairs here in LA.

Many thanks and kudos for the wonderful service and fellowship Suomi Kerho provides for our community.  We are especially grateful for the Finnish Club’s continuing support of our Veterans and Lottas’ meetings.  Let’s all get involved to learn, support, contribute to, and enjoy the offerings of our Suomi Kerho.  

Finnish Church

October 2 was the Saint Michael’s Day worship service which featured the Holy Baptism of Henri Alec Rodriguez.  A joyous congregation of over 50 were there for the first Fall event of the season for the Finnish Lutheran Church.  Dr. Veli-Matii Kärkkäinen delivered the Sermon.  It was wonderful to have Katrierrilli lead Pirkko Satola-Weeres welcoming everyone.  [We wish her well on her ankle surgery on October 26.]

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A real show-stopper that brought spine chills was the rendition of Amazing Grace by Lauri Helin, son of Pia and Jorma Helin.

What a treat it was to have Pikku Lotta Pirkko Liisa Mishenko (sister of Raija Anttila) in the Congregation with her caregiver Rhonda for the service.

Finnish treats and bites were enjoyed by all after the service

Tricks and Treats Redux

The traditional American Halloween involved little children in costumes and masks going to their neighbors holding a basket or plastic pumpkin seeking candy.  Upon the ‘target’ opening the door, the little ones squealed the traditional phrase “trick or treat” –meaning: give us candy or we will play a trick on you.  [The tricks threatened were like ‘soaping your windows’ or decorating your tree with toilet paper.  Tricks were mischievous, not malicious.]

Since this was not something Finland participated in in my youth, my first Halloween in the US turned out to be a real trick not just for me, but for every trick-or-treater who came to our door. Looking back, what we did do was really pretty diabolical (and not very nice).

I had been sick in bed with a case of the chicken pox –my face covered with big red pustules which, in turn, were covered in pink calamine lotion to prevent itching.  My Dad told me to put on my mother’s Marimekko (one with the classic pink dots on a red background pattern that matched my face).  My assignment was to answer the doorbell every time it rang and to pass out the candy.  What a nice way for the immigrant family to get to know their new neighbors, give them a ‘candy treat’, and ‘trick’ them with a case of contagious chicken pox!

Since that experience (even now), Halloween is my least favorite of the American holidays. There is an undercurrent of evil and bad guys run amuck.  Enough with the creepy clowns and their ilk.  I am always so happy to turn the calendar page after October 31 to the wonderful holiday month of November.

November features the beautiful and loving traditions of people coming together, immigrants and natives, helping one another in a new land with gratitude and sharing.

A Real Treat for You and Yours

One of the most fun days of research for Around LA for this Ava was my pilgrimage to Olson’s. This historic stalwart of Scandinavian goodness has been around since 1948 in Los Angeles.  What was, still is!  Olson’s continues on with new leadership and a new spirit.

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Yes, it is now possible to use a credit card, although I do miss those old cash-only registers that so added to the old world aesthetic.  Otherwise, you will not be disappointed.  Quite to the contrary.   Jill can answer every question you may have.

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My lucky day there began when I walked in the door to find myself in a ceiling high birch forest!  In answer to a question about Finnish candy, not only did they have Fazer Blue Chocolate Bars and Finlandia Jellies on hand with other Nordic treats, but Jill told me she had another large shipment on its way.  Check them out before holiday time.  They are aware of the Finnish Centennial celebration and will stock up on things Finnish.  We must do our part by patronizing this grand re-casting of an almost 70 year old Los Angeles ‘secret’.  There are some Finnish gift items there as well.  Stop by Olson’s on Pico near downtown for some early Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping.  Go to www.olsonsdeli.com for more information.

While at Olson’s, I was lucky enough to meet Caroline Nilsson, Scandinavian pastry chef.  Her business [www.swedcakes.com] sounds like something neat and sweet missing for a long time in LA.

Let the Festivities Begin-  a Sauna night, Spooky night or any time Suomi!!!

 

 

My dear, late mother used to say Finns will celebrate anything.  [Vaikka kissan ristiäiset = even a cat’s christening]

Start planning your celebrations –or be spontaneous.  Whatever your style, please put a smile on your face and feel love in your heart.  Enjoy your life, your family, and your friends —do something nice for someone you do not know!!   (e.g.:  I just secretly delivered a tureen of this soup to my neighbor and left it on her stove while she was sleeping—she calls me the “Food Fairy”.   Finnish Food Fairies unite!!!!

 

Triple S SSS Soup

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Sister Sausage Soup

Siskonmakkarakeitto Arin Tyyliin

Sister’s Sausage Soup Ari’s Style

 

8  cups water

1  ‘package’ of Finnish type soup combo of vegetables: parsnip, celery root, rutabaga, leek, and onion in equal parts (approximately ¼ lbs. each ingredient).  We are not measure here people—it is soup for goodness sake!

4-6  Yukon Gold [closest I have found to real Finnish] potatoes peeled and cubed

3  large carrots peeled and cubed

2  bay leaves

6  whole peppercorns

6  whole allspice berries

1  small vegetable broth cube

1  large beef bouillon cube

4  veal sausages (weisswurst)

 

1  cup whole milk

¼  cup flour

Parsley, chopped for garnish

 

Put first eight items in a large pot and simmer until vegetables are tender.

Peel casing from sausages and drop spoonsful into boiling mixture.

Mix flour and milk into a smooth slurry.

Mix slurry into boiling vegetable mixture until thickened.

 

Garnish plated soup with chopped parsley.

 

Serve with ruislimppu  rye bread or  Finnish crispbread with European butter to complete the experience

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: The Sauna Starts In Southern California

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: The Sauna Starts In Southern California

A benefit of being on Planning Committees is that you hear of lots of neat things before they happen.  Sitting on the Committee helping with plans for Finland’s 100th Independence Anniversary Celebration, I have learned that there are plans to introduce America to the unique Finnish Sauna Culture by sending a Sauna cross-country during 2017.  The launch point will be right here in our City of Angels.

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Realistically, many things could de-rail the Sauna launch.  All kinds of things could potentially quash the plans—natural or manmade disasters, controversy, a strike, politics, …!  Still, I think it is such a good idea that I would volunteer my own Sauna for the journey.  My Sauna was named the “traveling Sauna” by my parents who bought the Sauna shortly after emigrating from Finland to the US in the late ‘50s.  It was one of the first major ‘household purchases’ they bought once here.  The Sauna feels permanent, but breaks down into six pieces—and it moved with them through the years.  They moved many times!

When my folks retired, they left their prized Finnish possession in my care when they returned to Finland and Spain for their Summer/Winter bases.  My Sauna is electric, so we would need a really long cord for a cross-country trip!!

Sauna Secrets-Pondering A Local Conundrum

Because of my family’s ‘traveling Sauna’, I grew up as children do in Finland.  The Sauna is a natural part of everyday living—and a weekend without a Sauna is not a weekend!  The silence of the warm Sauna, the aromas of the vihtas, the bracing cold water ‘splashes’, and the peace of being alone and at home at the same time knows no national boundaries and flies no special flags.

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In a word: the Sauna is Finnish—not a natural part of local generations’ experience

One surprising secret I have discovered in much of the area Finnish American community is that there is hesitation, misunderstanding, embarrassment, and even trepidation about the Finnish Sauna.  In a word:  the Sauna is Finnish—not a natural part of local generations’ experience.

 I asked myself how many of my local contemporaries had actually had been in a Sauna—to say nothing of having the peaceful, cleansing ritual as an integral part of natural existence. The answer has to be: far fewer than I thought!

I asked myself how many of my local contemporaries had actually had been in a Sauna—to say nothing of having the peaceful, cleansing ritual as an integral part of natural existence. The answer has to be: far fewer than I thought!

As I pondered this ‘secret’, I asked myself how many of my local contemporaries had actually had been in a Sauna—to say nothing of having the peaceful, cleansing ritual as an integral part of natural existence.  The answer has to be: far fewer than I thought!

A Personal Revelation

Then, I recalled attending a special dinner party shortly after becoming a newly single years ago  where a popular producer/bon vivant properly attired in his velvet smoking jacket played host and his trophy wife orchestrated magnificent food courses.  A bit nervous at being “…out and about” in my new status, I had to think long and hard on how to answer the host’s provocative dinner party conversation-starter of a public question of the evening: “… what has been your second most pleasurable experience in life?”

… what has been your second most pleasurable experience in life?”

… what has been your second most pleasurable experience in life?”

I gave my truthful, heartfelt answer to the dinner guests.  I described a Finnish Sauna with the beauty of the lake, the silence (except for the occasional fish jumping), the warmth exuded by the rocks, the light scent of the birch switches soaking in the water bucket.  Sitting on the beautiful hand-made/hand-loomed laudeliina watching the never-ending sunset over a mirror-like lake on a perfect midsummer night, the exquisite beauty of nature at that very moment spelled perfection to me—and still does.

I described the memory of a 10 year old sent alone to visit my homeland for the Summer with Uncle Jarmo and Aunt Kaija. 

The conversation that night stopped except for the many questions about the Sauna, Finnish nature, and how that ‘Maslowian’ peak experience became my retreat and antidote in moments of sadness or stress.  I may have subverted my hosts’ evening conversation plans, but many “Finnfans” were born that night—many of whom subsequently reported positive experiences visiting Finland and having a Sauna in the Finnish countryside by the edge of a beautiful lake!

The Sauna Simplified

If you have not gotten into the experience, it is hard to wax poetic about it.  The Sauna is really not complicated.  You go into the hot room until you sweat, go out to cool off, repeat as you like!  Throw water on the hot rocks if you feel like it!  Cool off.  Shower.  You have Sauna’ed!!  Time for a makkara and a Lapin Kulta!!  My secret guilty hydration pleasure is a glass of bubbly (White Star-with a strawberry) enjoyed out of an Iittala Archipelago champagne flute! Result: happiness, inner peace rosy cheeks and a big smile!

The Sauna is really not complicated. You go into the hot room until you sweat, go out to cool off, repeat as you like!

The Sauna is really not complicated. You go into the hot room until you sweat, go out to cool off, repeat as you like!

The Sauna Complicated

When you read about the Sauna in Finland, it is often described as a public communal experience.  Business and political meetings—and negotiations, are transacted in the Sauna.  If you are not Finnish, this seems counterproductive unless the idea is to get everyone’s defenses down!  I guess that is called getting down to basics!!

Business and political meetings—and negotiations, are transacted in the Sauna

Business and political meetings—and negotiations, are transacted in the Sauna

Truth Be Told

America is a Puritanical country in many ways.  Nudity is uncomfortable and public nudity is not accepted.   Those of us who have spent most of our lives here are much more modest than our Finnish ‘cousins’.  It is difficult to fool the initiated as a dowager friend of mine discovered when visiting Finland.  She spent over an hour in the dressing room pretending she had been in the Sauna alone.  Her hosts smiled knowingly, but were not offended, when she re-appeared with her neatly coiffed “helmet head” hairdo still in perfect shape!

Those of us who have spent most of our lives here are much more modest than our Finnish ‘cousins’

Those of us who have spent most of our lives here are much more modest than our Finnish ‘cousins’

If you have not “made your body into your own personal work of art” through rigorous workouts and physical discipline—or cosmetic surgery, you do not have to be an exhibitionist.  It is OK.  I have simple solutions for you.  [Two words = Big Towel!  Three words = Two Big Towels—one to sit on; one to wrap yourself like a big burrito!  Problem solved!!]

Sense and Scents

Food good.  Sauna good.  Food in the Sauna not good!

While I have heard of people strapping a roast to their engine block on a long ride here in California—and, I do admit to poaching a whole salmon in my dishwasher before the day a glorious, huge French copper fish poacher came into my life [more later, maybe].  The Sauna, food preparation, drinking, and eating are separate events!  First you have a Sauna; then you drink; and then you eat!

Part of the beauty of the Sauna experience is the silence and the clean aromas: the cedar of the heated interior walls, the birch switches essence as you flagellate yourself or beads of birch water drop on the rocks from the spray you create

Part of the beauty of the Sauna experience is the silence and the clean aromas: the cedar of the heated interior walls, the birch switches essence as you flagellate yourself or beads of birch water drop on the rocks from the spray you create.

Part of the beauty of the Sauna experience is the silence and the clean aromas: the cedar of the heated interior walls, the birch switches essence as you flagellate yourself or beads of birch water drop on the rocks from the spray you create.  These aromas—even fresh human perspiration, are part of the proper scents experienced in a Sauna.

[Warning: California Birch trees do not produce the expected Finnish aromas!]FYI You can purchased frozen birch vihtas in Finland but USDA customs may not approve.

Among the aromas that have no place in the Sauna include: dripping makkara grease, spilled beer, and young male ‘contestants’ creating their own ‘steam’ when left to their own devices—if you get my drift!

Sauna Food

Don’t get me wrong about Sauna Food.  Cooking with the best ingredients in nature and from nature defines Finnish cuisine.  Good Makkara as part of a post-Sauna meal is a match made in heaven.  [Please see “Isomummin Makkara” in an earlier ALAWA column.  Add a nice Finnish potato salad with dill dressing, homebaked Finnnish bread and an ice cold olut!! (beer)  Just be sure the cooking is done on your outdoor grill or indoor oven—not on the Sauna rocks!!]

Good Makkara as part of a post-Sauna meal is a match made in heaven.

Good Makkara as part of a post-Sauna meal is a match made in heaven

As a little tyke, I did take ‘brain notes’ on the best foods related to the Sauna.  Again, Isomummi rules!  Every morning started with a swim in the lake; then, it was time to check the katiskat (traps) for fish.  The two of us went off in a rowboat for the adventure.  She was most excited when there was a nice, big lahna (bream) flopping around in a trap.  She knew just what to do with it!

Next stop, the fish cleaning station on the shore where we went to gut and scale this flat, oval shaped beauty!  Isomummi was a concert pianist and her fingers flew in whatever she was doing.  That bream was cleaned, scaled, and salted in the wink of an eye.  The scales were large and looked like sequins from a mermaid’s costume to this excited toddler.

The salted bream was wrapped in parchment paper which was further wrapped in about 6 large pieces of newspaper forming a tight pouch.  Once wrapped, the package was dipped in the lake and put into the fire compartment of the sauna water heater.  After about an hour, the fish was done.  The newspaper turned to wet ashes.  Once peeled away, the parchment package revealed a delicious fish to be enjoyed later for dinner.  [I have used the same technique with a whole salmon on top of a barbeque grill. I added dill, lemon slices, and salt on the inside.  Be sure the salmon fits on the grill with the top closed. Takes about an hour to cook.  Let rest before opening.  A salmon I prepared with this method was a big hit at a local Chumash Indian wedding reception.

FINNS THIS SUMMER

“Midsummer” In LA

Literal Midsummer on Juhannus began with news of a “beached whale” on the shores in the LA South Bay at Dockweiler Beach.  Please do not make any connection to the theme of this column, even though the afterglow of a Sauna might make you feel like a ‘beached whale’!

The whale washed up right at the Hyperion Water [= Sewage] Treatment Facility.  Curiously, this is the premier parking location throughout the year for campers, ‘glampers’, and RV enthusiasts, themselves, for their vacations.  Go figure.  The next ‘premier’ stop going South is the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.   So, go figure some more!!

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Many were not able to catch up, including the ever popular SCAN Nansenfield Shrimp Fest

Official Midsummer seemed to come too early this year.  Many were not able to catch up, including the ever popular SCAN Nansenfield Shrimp Fest.  ‘Maypole marvels’ Mons and Anita were in Sweden in June this year.  They usually spend hours making the beautiful floral May Pole on the soccer field that the crowd dances around.  This year a floral arrangement on a chair was all that was needed to get the folks dancing.

Finns I spotted supporting SCAN included Virpi Sidler with Bill Russell.  Jukka Vuorenmaa was there with his crew in tow.  All of us enjoyed watching a wonderful Norwegian peeling his shrimp and adding his special Norwegian mayonnaise to his treasure.  He created quite a homemade delicacy before telling that the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in San Pedro has the secret mayonnaise for sale.

Finns I spotted supporting SCAN included Virpi Sidler with Bill Russel

Finns I spotted supporting SCAN included Virpi Sidler with Bill Russel

The SCAN Brits have the best kept culinary ‘stash’ for those not into shrimp: makkara!  Andy (the pleasant, dedicated caretaker at Nansen Field) was manning the grill.  These were not conventional bangers.  He made the best veal sausage with caramelized onions that was worth the drive from LA to PV.  Add dessert of fresh strawberries and kringle –what could be better?

Paal Berg, Erik Mikkelsen, Sue, and others made for a fun evening and a joyful celebration.  I can’t wait until next year.  I love being the Finland representative at the SCAN meetings and have had nothing but fond memories since being asked to represent Finland at SCAN by our Consul General Kirsti Westphalen during her tenure.

This is a great dedicated group of people who are lots of fun.  The SCAN location is just fabulous up there in Palos Verdes.  It is a wonderful party venue for all sorts of indoor and outdoor activities that is available to Nordic organizations at reasonable rates.  Check out their scheduled programs and events, as well as, the new Heritage Memory Walk where you can donate a personalized brick to a loved one in your family or create another special memorial.

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Anu Partanen Book Launch

What an exciting evening celebrating noted author and journalist Anu Partanen as she began her US book tour on her thought provoking treatise The Nordic Theory Of Everything.  Consul General JP Markkanen hosted an interesting group of local Scandinavian ‘movers and shakers’ to hear Partanen’s presentation on Nordic Values which elicited very lively comments from the assembled participants.  Thank you, Anu.  Your work gives us much food for thought and great grist for discussions ahead.

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The Ambassador Came to Call

Family weddings and other personal business brought Ambassador Anne Huhtamäki, husband Veli-Matti Mattila, and daughter Eeva (a newly ‘minted’ Medical Doctor) to Los Angeles for a very brief visit.

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We enjoyed a fun evening of reminiscing and learning about her life and the current situation in the Balkans

When they arrived, they brought “regards” from having spent an evening with Bitte and Jörn Donner at a concert in Tammisaari in the prior few days.

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We enjoyed a fun evening of reminiscing and learning about her life and the current situation in the Balkans.  The menu theme was meant to reflect places Anne has served it was probably too subtle and was lost. Because of the warm evening, almost everything was chilled : ahi tuna avocado boaths, noodle almond ginger slaw, poached chicken in a tahini garlic sauce, salmon Nicoise salad, baby lamb chops with roased shallots, fruit tart with orange flower essence.

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Ahi tuna avocado boaths

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Noodle almond ginger slaw

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poached chicken in a tahini garlic sauce

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Salmon Nicoise salad

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Fruit tart with orange flower essence

Dinner is served: from top: ahi tuna avocado boats, noodle almond ginger slaw, poached chicken in tahini garlic sauce, salmon nicoise salad, baby lamb chops with roasted shallots and mint

Dinner is served: from top: ahi tuna avocado boats, noodle almond ginger slaw, poached chicken in tahini garlic sauce, salmon nicoise salad, baby lamb chops with roasted shallots

Artist Daniel Fyffe in Helsinki–Tuonetar Opening at Makkaragalleria

I had been contacted by Bitte Westerlund about local LA artistic treasure and friend Daniel Fyffe.  She was excited about his opening presentation of his artwork in Helsinki.  Somehow, perhaps because I have an Uncle and a Cousin living in the same neighborhood as the Gallery, I ended up sponsoring sausages for the event.

LA based Kaya Kouvonen made it to the opening.  She is pictured with the artist.  You may also recognize Ristomatti Ratia, an artist and designer himself—and, the son of the founder of Marimekko, Armi Ratia.  If you missed the Helsinki opening, you will be happy to hear there will be a Los Angeles event sometime soon.   Let’s keep up the theme and have makkara refreshments!

More Makkara

There is always makkara around when it is Summer.  This year, the biggest thing at the box office on a recent weekend was Sausage Party!

There is always makkara around when it is Summer. This year, the biggest thing at the box office on a recent weekend was Sausage Party!

There is always makkara around when it is Summer. This year, the biggest thing at the box office on a recent weekend was Sausage Party!

‘They say’ there are two things you do not want to see ‘made’: sausage and politics!  This political season, there is a strange absence of the bumper stickers you normally see during a Presidential election year.  There are some “Feel the Bern” Sanders left over.  The few Hillary stickers around have a big H with a right arrow through the middle that looks like a traffic sign saying “…this way to the hospital”.

The most accurate ‘they say’ sign I have found is depicted in a photo I took at the Huntington Gardens parking lot last week that is pictured here.  Perhaps it reflects a general consensus.  In a strangely ironic ‘coincidence’, the name of a Senatorial Candidate for California this year is “Kamala” which means “Terrible” in Finnish.

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Can you imagine what Mr. Trump would do with that translation???

Fact checkers and political strategists must be multi-lingual today!  ‘Spinning’ that translation has its difficulties!!

As we begin to move into the big celebration year HAVE A SAUNA!!!  Relax!!  It is time to enjoy all things Finnish!

As we begin to move into the big celebration year HAVE A SAUNA!!! Relax!! It is time to enjoy all things Finnish!

As we begin to move into the big celebration year HAVE A SAUNA!!! Relax!! It is time to enjoy all things Finnish!

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Cookies for Fun—and Eating

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Cookies for Fun—and Eating

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Dear Reader:

Are you worn out from  shopping?

Do you need to keep houseguests busy?

Do you need to keep children occupied?

Do you wish you were a kid again?

Do you miss playing with Play-Dough?

Do you feel you have to bake something Finnish to make your end-of the-year complete?

All of the above?

Here is an answer for all your problems. It is so easy –and such fun!

This basic Finnish butter cookie dough can become your artistic medium for many fun versions and diversions. The beauty is in its simplicity!! Once you have mixed the dough, you can make a lovely platter of cookies for a gift or you can just throw a ‘blob’ on the kitchen counter and challenge the creativity of your children, friends, and or family.

It’s OK, I’ll give you’re a little trick that should win the first challenge round without fancy kitchen equipment, cookie cutters, rolling pins, or messy frosting. It is a quick “triple-play” delight (dough goes into thirds).

(more…)

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: HILLS, VALLEYS, & CLEAVAGE

AROUND LA WITH AVA®:  HILLS, VALLEYS, & CLEAVAGE

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Heights, Achievements, and Awards—LA Has What the World Wants

There is something about California that brings the dreamers and the overachievers [sometimes even underachievers who get lucky] to pursue their schemes, to showcase their personae and products, and to defy the STAR odds in amazing and surprising ways.

In January/February the ‘Hollywood’ beautiful people are out en force.  It is Awards Season.  In other parts of the world, the season is called “winter” and snow falls.  Here, ‘star dust’ is sprinkled with massive publicity campaigns that, when successful, yield ‘gold drifts’ that easily surpass the big Boston piles this winter.

The beautiful people and the ‘wanna-be’s are on their treadmills, at their plastic surgeons &/or stylists, and priming their publicists with juicy tidbits [or outrageous headlines, if necessary] as the fans are bombarded with look-at-me commercials on all media sources

The beautiful people and the ‘wanna-be’s are on their treadmills, at their plastic surgeons &/or stylists, and priming their publicists with juicy tidbits [or outrageous headlines, if necessary] as the fans are bombarded with look-at-me commercials on all media sources

The beautiful people and the ‘wanna-be’s are on their treadmills, at their plastic surgeons &/or stylists, and priming their publicists with juicy tidbits [or outrageous headlines, if necessary] as the fans are bombarded with look-at-me commercials on all media sources.  Each year—at this time of year, there is a fantasy land favorite that keeps running that has the tag line: “…make your body into your personal work of art!”.  The ad features a perfectly shaped sculptress putting the final touches to a perfectly shaped female clay sculpture.  That is all well and good for an advertisement for plastic surgery, a gastric bypass process, or the like, but it sure takes the steam out of mere mortals’ vows to be healthier and thinner in the New Year.

Most of us real people need to have some tailoring tune-ups to good garments we buy—in Hollywood, the stars have their bodies sculpted to fit the designer gowns they borrow for the Red Carpet parades!

—in Hollywood, the stars have their bodies sculpted to fit the designer gowns they borrow for the Red Carpet parades!

—in Hollywood, the stars have their bodies sculpted to fit the designer gowns they borrow for the Red Carpet parades!

[Of course, LA is world headquarters for the newly fashionable transgender plastic surgery.  Earlier this month, I had a scare when an out-of-town friend called to ask if I would pick up her adult son from a procedure he was scheduled to have here.  The doctor had to change the date schedule so Mom could not be here in time.  Having agreed to be a ‘responsible adult’ for patient pick-up, I did an Internet check to be sure I had the right address and enough time to be at the doctor’s clinic for the discharge.  I admit to more than mild panic when I recognized the physician as a premier Beverly Hills plastic surgeon noted for, among other things, transgender innovations.  I could not shake the image of the little boy whose diapers I had changed—now 6’ 4”, emerging from the recovery room on 6” heels and a dress!  Whew!! He was still an adult male who was happy to see his mom’s old friend.  Maybe next time??  It does take some adjustment to do favors for friends as the world’s parameters change.]

Red Carpet Time

Watching the Awards Shows, especially the Red Carpet entrances prior to the ceremonies where most all of the women look like stick figures with exaggerated cleavage, it is fascinating to ponder how do they do it –how they achieve that perfection.  Hard work, determination, deprivation, plus lots of time and money are committed to feed this society’s ideal of feminine beauty.

Watching the Awards Shows, especially the Red Carpet entrances prior to the ceremonies where most all of the women look like stick figures with exaggerated cleavage.

Watching the Awards Shows, especially the Red Carpet entrances prior to the ceremonies where most all of the women look like stick figures with exaggerated cleavage.

The Changing Shape of Beauty

My recipe to share this month was going to be a low calorie spinach concoction I serve with salmon.  I was ‘sipping the Kool-Aid’.  Then, I remembered that currently The Getty Center Museum features an exhibit by the painter Reubens.  If you have not reached your diet goals this Award Season, have a look at a Reubens painting.  Then, go eat a reuben sandwich as you watch the next Fashion Police Red Carpet review and critique of the beautiful people –you will feel better.

Rubens' Jupiter and Callisto

Rubens’ Jupiter and Callisto

Super Bowl/Birthday Bash = Oscar Party Practice

My steamed spinach recipe was temporarily put on hiatus because my party preparations for the Super Bowl ‘made’ me detour to bring you award winning wings.  And, it is time to plan for your Oscar party.  The City of Angels Award Winning Wings are perfect!  You can even make them now and freeze them –a perfect party food [even if Birdman were not nominated] for a busy party host.

My steamed spinach recipe was temporarily put on hiatus because my party preparations for the Super Bowl ‘made’ me detour to bring you award winning wings.

My steamed spinach recipe was temporarily put on hiatus because my party preparations for the Super Bowl ‘made’ me detour to bring you award winning wings.

As usual, I have no idea how many will be at my home for Oscar Night viewing, but I am ready.  You see, I practiced on Super Bowl Sunday with a willing crowd who assembled to watch the game, eat some good food, celebrate 2 birthdays, eat some good food,  welcome East/West Coast family, eat some good food, celebrate 4 generations of family/friends together, and eat some good food.

A LA Perspective on Heights

I find it amazing to learn what people set as goals to achieve.  As a frequent visitor to one of California’s natural wonders, Yosemite National Park, I was awestruck recently by the gumption of two young men determined to climb the face of El Capitan –a 3,000 foot tall vertical granite wall.

Picture of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson at their hanging camp on El Cap at Yosemite

Picture of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson at their hanging camp on El Cap at Yosemite

For perspective, just imagine standing at the foot of the Library Tower (some call it the US Bank Building) in Downtown LA.  It is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.  Look up and imagine a smooth-faced rock 3 times that height!  [I get dizzy just being inside that building.  The last time I was there I was on the 19th floor doing depositions at a law office.  I had to face ‘inward’ to be able to maintain focus.]  Now, imagine climbing for 19 days to reach the top using only your hands and feet.  At night, you sleep in a tent hanging suspended in midair from the largest piece of granite the world.   You watch as a rope and pulley system moves supplies up and down, but the only ropes you use in your climb are safety harnesses to keep your falls from smashing you back to ‘ground zero’.   Occasionally, you take time off from climbing to let your raw finger tips re-grow skin so you can grip yet another crevice in your climb.  A 3 week life of freeze dried meals and baby-wipes.

Is that Sisu –or something else that starts with the letter “s”?

Finns in the Hollywood Awards Spotlight

Were you tuned in to the Golden Globes presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association when our Finnish superstar members were personally mentioned in a speech on global TV?

Recent weeks have been huge for Finns in Hollywood, starting with the Golden Globes.  We Finns are proud of our Finnish members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association: Erkki Kanto and Kirpi Uimonen.  The HFPA is known to be super exclusive.  Erkki and Kirpi are active, influential voting members who, this year, were recognized by The Grand Budapest Hotel Golden Globe winner Wes Anderson in his speech of thanks.  The whole world heard the names “Erkki” and “Kirpi” –and we cheered our friends!

Kirpi Uimonen

Kirpi Uimonen

Scandinavian Film Festival

Finnish films were showcased on January 2-12 at the International Film Festival in Palm Springs.  This exciting venue is the first of the year where international films are presented for Oscar consideration.  Fond memories of Finland’s Klaus Haro were conjured from a few years back.  Klaus had spent Thanksgiving with us and he wowed the crowd in the desert with his film contribution that year (Letters to Father Jacob).

Fond memories of Finland’s Klaus Haro were conjured from a few years back.  Klaus had spent Thanksgiving with us and he wowed the crowd in the desert with his film contribution that year.

Fond memories of Finland’s Klaus Haro were conjured from a few years back. Klaus had spent Thanksgiving with us and he wowed the crowd in the desert with his film contribution that year (Letters to Father Jacob).

The annual SFLA Film Festival in LA was held on January 17 to 25.  Finnish films presented were Concrete Night, Heart of a Lion, and Raspberry Boat Refugee.

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) has a Finnish nominee this year.  Cinematographer Peter Finchenger is nominated in the Spotlight Award category for his work in Pirjo Honkasalo’s Concrete Night.  That awards event takes place on February 15th in LA.

Music

This January, Esa-Pekka Salonen was named the Marie-Josée Kravis New York Philharmonic Composer-in-Residence for the 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 seasons.

When Esa-Pekka Salonen was Music Director of the LA Philharmonic, he wrote LA Variations. It has become a modern classic and will be featured at the New York Premier in the fall of 2015.

Food

Finland rocked the food world in this years’ ranking—its best ever!  Finland won the prize for the Best Meat Platter and Antti Lukkari was awarded as the competition’s best Commis.

The most noted chefs’ competition in the world, Bocuse d’Or, welcomed Finland’s best placement at fourth when Matti Jämsen represented Finland along with his Commis Antti Lukkari and Coach Eero Vottonen.

Matti Jämsen represented Finland along with his Commis Antti Lukkari and Coach Eero Vottonen.

Matti Jämsen represented Finland along with his Commis Antti Lukkari and Coach Eero Vottonen.

Designer Pekka Palkkari was responsible for the platter’s breathtaking design.  The Finnish team’s theme was a story of ‘the Finnish forest on a plate’ starring forest berries, mushrooms, caviar, and reindeer in the dishes.  Ohhh!! Yes!!

Designer Pekka Palkkari was responsible for the platter’s breathtaking design.

Designer Pekka Palkkari was responsible for the platter’s breathtaking design.

Sports

Teemu Selänne was celebrated on January 11th on “Teemu Tribute Night” when he was the first Anaheim Ducks player to have his game jersey retired.  Known as the “Finnish Flash”, the 44 year old retired after 21 remarkable seasons as one of the best players in the National Hockey League where he still holds the Rookie Record for Most Goals and Points.  His career 684 goals are the 11th highest total in NHL history.

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Teemu Selänne –just another humble Finn with awesome achievements.

American Sport’s Biggest Event—The Super Bowl

The annual Super Bowl has become so big, it is as if it has become part of Awards’ Season.  All of America stops for this grandest of sports/friends/family/communal celebrations.  They say it is the second biggest eating day of the year—after Thanksgiving.

Over 1/3 of all American households are tuned in to the Super Bowl on their televisions.  The commercials are as watched (or more) than the game itself.  Air time alone went for $4.5 million for a 30 second spot!


Tomi Hinkkanen and Nina Sallinen starred in  H-E-B’s 2015 Super Bowl Commercial: “On the Road” (which did not play in California, unfortunately)
What Has Chicken Got to Do With Anything

Now, Finland is not as into American jalkapallo football as it is into soccer.  Nor is it into chicken so much.  Food stores in Finland may have chicken (though not so much), but if you find chicken, it is usually in a tub of some strange orange colored marinade.  When Finns come to visit, they often ask me to cook chicken since that is what they have heard America does best as far as cuisine.

Things to Ponder Category:  Chicken Wings

Chicken wings (kanan siivet) –no, we are not talking about the chicken legs or the thighs [legitimate parts with meat on them], but wings (siivet).  Think about it.  Have you ever seen a chicken fly?  As a lawyer, I rest my case. This is a useless, ‘non-purposeful’ part of the animal with no more meat than a runway model!  Sorry, precious little hens and vegan friends—no harm intended.

Yet, the fact is chicken wings are a standard item on Super Bowl menus around the country.  According to the National Chicken Council, 1.25 billion wings were to be eaten during Super Bowl XLIX.  For my Grand Canyon fanatic Finnish friends [Pertti, are you listening], 1.25 billion wing segments laid end to end would circle the Grand Canyon 120 times!

[There is more than you will ever want to know at the National Chicken Council website.]

If Finns do not even favor the meaty pieces of chicken, why do Americans obsess over chicken wings?

It is like algebra.  Chicken wings are to Americans like crayfish are to Finns.  Being a lawyer (word person) rather than something else (numbers person), I hope that my effort at an algebraic formula makes sense:

If:

A = y/rapujuhla (crayfish party) and

B = x/chicken wing feast (super bowl party)

Then:

A + B = Fun aka a virtually nonexistent-meat promoted thing to put into your mouth to suck on and to wash down with adult beverages for hours while pursuing communal camaraderie.  [Caution: Do not drive or operate machinery for at least 12 hours.  This has been rumored to cause a condition called “a hangover”.]

A most popular chicken wing in America for sporting events is the Buffalo Wing.  It is cooked with butter and hot sauce; then, served with a blue cheese dressing and celery sticks.  Yum!!  [Note: BWs have nothing to do with the ’buffalo that roam’  who have no useable wings either, but are named for Buffalo, New York where it originated at the Anchor Bar.]  

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Super Bowl/Birthday Bash Extravaganza

My Super Bowl Sunday this year included human guests ages 2 to 92, 1 dog, two birthday heroes (one a football hero), their fans and loved ones.  Finger food items including the City of Angels Award Winning Wings created a game time ‘groaning board’ on the Aalto table in the Library.  Drinks: hard, medium, and soft were set up for self-service on the back patio.  Greta’s “Chasin’ Chili”, with all the ‘fixins’, and Tamale Pie waited for the half time main course.  Desserts included 2 birthday cakes and three varieties of homemade cookies.

Ava's Super Bowl Helmet Centerpiece

Super Bowl Helmet Centerpiece

Scaling the Heights to the Hollywood Sign to Visit a Finnish Award Winner and Hero

We Finns have heroes still in our midst.I saw both of our Lottas recently. Elma Maisack was at the February Veteran’s Meeting at Suomi Kerho.

Elma Maisack was at the February Veteran’s Meeting at Suomi Kerho.

Elma Maisack was at the February Veteran’s Meeting at Suomi Kerho.

A privilege for me this month was a long-anticipated/oft postponed visit with Sirkka Toth –one of the other remaining Finnish Lottas in Southern California.  Sirkka is a remarkable oral poetry historian/performer, a Finlandia Foundation Honoree –a wonderful person of talent and positive Finnish energy.  And, Sirkka lives as close to the Hollywood Sign as anyone I know.  Getting up Beachwood Canyon to the city’s most enduring icon [the Sign, not Sirkka !] has become quite an ordeal.  Residents in that area have had it with all the cars and tourists now that mobile Internet connections and navigation systems readily reveal ‘secret’ ways known only to locals in decades past.  Of course, everyone wants that ‘selfie’ to memorialize their conquest of the urban maze.  It is not El Capitan, but crowds are clamoring to make that climb!

A privilege for me this month was a long-anticipated/oft postponed visit with Sirkka Toth –one of the other remaining Finnish Lottas in Southern California.

A privilege for me this month was a long-anticipated/oft postponed visit with Sirkka Toth –one of the other remaining Finnish Lottas in Southern California (pictured with her longtime friend, Irene Yaro).

Sirkka is lovingly cared for by her longtime friend, Irene Yaro, in a house filled with adoring pets eagerly vying for a turn on Sirkka’s lap.  We shared coyote stories –apparently tourists aren’t the only pesky problem in the neighborhood.  The little dog in the photo was actually snatched by a coyote that Irene had to chase up the street with some neighbors who joined the rout.  Fortunately the coyote dropped the Chihuahua mix in order to jump the fence where it was cornered. The little dog needed stitches [no, no plastic surgery], but has recovered well from her injuries –not usually the fate for small animals in the hills.

Sirkka lives as close to the Hollywood Sign as anyone I know.

Sirkka lives as close to the Hollywood Sign as anyone I know.

Speaking of Meals…

AFTER WORD

Super Bowl/Birthday Bash Menu 

Homemade Guacamole in Morcajete with Chips

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Homemade Guacamole in Morcajete with Chips

Spinach Dip in Bread Bowl

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Spinach Dip in Bread Bowl

Ceviche Style Shrimp

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Ceviche Style Shrimp

 

Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla Rolls

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Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla Rolls

Blue Cheese Garlic Sauce

Greta’s ‘Chasin’ Chili

City of Angels Award Winning Wings

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City of Angels Award Winning Wings

Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms

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Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms

Charcuterie/Pickle Plank

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Charcuterie/Pickle Plank

Cheese Board

7 Layer Sunset Beach Dip

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7 Layer Sunset Beach Dip

Tamale Pie Bake

Macaroni and Cheese

Vegetarian Butternut Squash, Bean, and Kale Chili

Green Garden Salad

Acanto Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Garlic Fingerling Potatoes

Hot Off the Grill LA Bacon Wrapped Street Dogs with Peppers and Onions

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Hot Off the Grill LA Bacon Wrapped Street Dogs with Peppers and Onions

Kiwi, Blackberry, Blueberry Angel Food Dessert

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Kiwi, Blackberry, Blueberry Angel Food Dessert

Chocolate Cake with a Homemade Chocolate Dipped Lemon Truffle Crown

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Chocolate Cake with a Homemade Chocolate Dipped Lemon Truffle Crown

Ava’s Cookies: Candy Corn Ginger Blocks, Meyer Lemon Bars, Chocolate Coconut Squares

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Ava’s Cookies: Candy Corn Ginger Blocks, Meyer Lemon Bars, Chocolate Coconut Squares

Finnish Chocolates

Icelandic & Belgian Beer, Chalk Hill & Geyser Peak Chardonnay, Niebaum-Coppola Claret

Recipe

Award Winning City of Angels Wings

A foody friend once asked me for this recipe.  He won a contest with it!
4-5 lbs of chicken wings*

1 cup brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup Marsala or sherry

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1 cup soy sauce

2-4 cloves of garlic, minced

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Place wings on baking sheet [11” x 15” rimmed pan] in a single layer (jelly roll pan) and bake at 350º F for 30 minutes.

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Meanwhile, combine the sugar, Marsala, mustard, soy sauce, and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
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Pour over wings and continue cooking for 1½ to 2 more hours, turning occasionally, until sauce has been absorbed and wings are deeply glazed.  [Yield: about 50-60 pieces.]

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* Butchers/markets sell whole chicken wings which have three sections to them: two with meat and the tiny wing tip.  You can cut them up yourself with poultry shears and use the two portions with meat to please your friends’ appetites.  Discard the wing tips or save them to make stock.  I usually buy the wings already in pieces called “drummettes” or “party wings” –they look like baby drumsticks.  Four packets fit perfectly in a pan.   

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Saying Goodbyes

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Saying Goodbyes

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Candles From Above

Sometimes saying goodbye comes with a ‘wink from above’.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a column entitled Pennies From Heaven to describe a phenomenon my father and I experienced when my dear mother passed away. Then, shiny new pennies suddenly began appearing in places and at times that ‘meant’ Ӓiti was with us and paying attention. Goodbye 101 is on the record.

Penny from heaven

Penny from heaven

Well, it has happened again.

Before you write me off as being a little off, let me tell you what has happened that looks an awful lot like Goodbye 102!

A few years ago while visiting in Minnesota, I saw realistic, wax, battery operated, ‘flameless candles’ for the first time. Like all Finns, I have always loved candlelight, use candles as a decorating statement, and look for interesting ways to place candles to enhance the mood of a party. Since my home is in a high fire risk area, ‘cool candles’ seemed pretty cool to me. I resolved to look for some flameless candles back home.

I saw sets of flameless candles at Costco many months later. Of course, I bought the box of various sizes. I had no real candle plan in mind so I just placed the candles up high on the open rafters of my parents’ suite just to get them out of the way. I never put batteries in them, tried to see if they worked, or read any directions. There they sat, out of the way, and virtually forgotten.

The night after the day of my father’s passing, the strangest thing happened. I walked by the darkened suite where he and my mom had lived for 10 years and the shortest of the candles on that open beam was lit! Each time I checked that evening, that candle was still lit.   It stayed on all night.

The night after the day of my father’s passing, the strangest thing happened.  I walked by the darkened suite where he and my mom had lived for 10 years and the shortest of the candles on that open beam was lit!  Each time I checked that evening, that candle was still lit.  It stayed on all night.

The night after the day of my father’s passing, the strangest thing happened. I walked by the darkened suite where he and my mom had lived for 10 years and the shortest of the candles on that open beam was lit! Each time I checked that evening, that candle was still lit. It stayed on all night.

The very next night, the tallest candle [–the one next to the shortest candle] had come on too! Those who knew my parents know that my mother was 5’2” and that my father was 6’2”. The message seemed clear: my mother was saying “I am here –and, then the next evening, Isä is now with me. All is good.” Those two candle lights […only those two] continued to come on every night for a month. I smiled –and was comforted.

As an educated professional woman, good sense suggested I show this unique happening to others for personal confirmation that my mind was not playing tricks. Just to be ‘safe’, I took pictures which do show the lighted flameless candles on the rafter. The calm, the peace, and the majesty of the original occurrence and the repeated reprieves are not captured!

Life Goes On

Even with death, life goes on.

In the year just passed, our local Finnish community said goodbye to many including: Alvar Kauti, Anja Reynolds, Dave Larsen, Eino Nurminen, and Marjatta Coughlan –a longtime staff member of the Finnish Consulate who taught me how to make her famous sourdough rye bread with her parrot, Pepe, on her shoulder.

May each of us leave values, memories, a recipe, and/or a technique true to our heritage for the following generations to cherish and to sanctify with loving use.

Holiday Happenings

The Finnish community’s social calendar was chock-a-block starting right after Thanksgiving.

The grand and glorious Finnish Independence Day Reception at the Consul General of Finland’s Residence was both respectful and fun. December 6th was on a weekend this year so it coincided with many other local Finnish and non-Finnish festivities.

Finnish Independence Day Reception at the Consul General of Finland’s Residence .

Finnish Independence Day Reception at the Consul General of Finland’s Residence .

I began the ‘season’ that day at my friend Mona’s Annual Luncheon at the Valley Hunt Club [creator of the original Rose Parade] which always kick-starts me into the holiday spirit. On the weekend schedule was Finnish artist Seija Gerdt’s annual glass sale, the Marimekko store’s holiday event and sale, my legal colleagues at Holland & Knight’s “Shopping at Bloomingdales” fundraising party with a significant portion of the proceeds going to the Downtown Women’s Shelter, and some of my own ‘what do I want to give—or get’ looking. We were not even to Sunday yet and, already, I had missed SWEA’s Annual Santa Lucia Pageant and Sale (which was at a new location on Broadway this year).   There was just too much to do!   I rationalized that making salmon sandwiches for the next day’s Finnish Church “Most Beautiful Christmas Carols” program was more urgent than spending money buying SWEA’s Scandinavian ‘goodies’ even if it was for a good cause.

marimekko

The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols were as advertised. From my usual place in the back of the church pew section [a good site for counting heads], it looked like more than 140 of all ages were in attendance.   As I sat there looking up to the forward, center aisle place my dad always sat so he could better hear the Pastor, the Lessons, and the music—and so he did not have far to walk to take Communion, my heart and my eyes welled up. The contemplation of my vision from just weeks ago was interrupted by the banter of the youngsters seated with their parents in the pew behind me.   My pending melancholy was aborted by hearing young children excitedly explaining to each other “…in Finland, at Christmas… !!!”. The music of the season began before the music of the season began! The music was beautiful indeed!

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The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols at our local Finnish Lutheran Church

Even without the preamble above, hearing those Most Beautiful Christmas Carols in Finnish would have gotten my ‘waterworks going’! Thanks to a comforting hand from Barbara Tuuri sitting to my right and a fresh hankie handed to me from my left, I made it through the service.

The music was beautiful indeed!   HALLELUJAH!!

And the Beat Goes On

The following weekend was equally jam-packed.   Our Annual Bel Air Christmas Dinner with friends was scheduled for the same evening as the Suomi Kerho Annual Bake Sale and Christmas Party.   I got to the North Hollywood clubhouse where the SK fun was just starting. While I arrived at the announced ‘start time’ for their famous Bake Sale, half of the prized Finnish delicacies had been ‘captured’ already by ‘early birds’.   I knew I could not stay for the Christmas dinner and festivities, but I did have a flashback to several years ago when my dad and I attended the same event together. Then, my father’s prankish Finnish sense of humor got the best of him—and me. Without warning, he had secretly bought, wrapped, labeled, and handed over a present with my name on it for joulupukki to hand out to me as if I were his 5 year old daughter. Santa called my name and insisted that I sit on his lap to get my present. Fun —and a few good laughs, were had by all! Well, almost all.

Suomi Kerho Annual Bake Sale and Christmas Party

Suomi Kerho Annual Bake Sale and Christmas Party

Reflections on my dad’s impish sense of humor occupied my thoughts as I headed off to participate in a tradition of over 25 years, the ‘so-called’ Bel Air Dinner. Through the years, the same 4 or 5 couples scheduled a ‘start of the Season’ dinner together where good food, good wine, and good humor made for good friendships and good fellowship. The Bel Air Dinner was traditionally held at the restrained Bel Air Hotel where the elegant main dining room tolerated our disruption of their traditional tranquility because we had become one of their traditions, their normally staid clientele seemed to enjoy our fun, their normally stuffy staff did enjoy our fun, and our end-of-evening bill reflected our enjoyment.

When the Bel Air Hotel closed for a year for major facility renovations, our dinner moved to the Peninsula in Beverly Hills

When the Bel Air Hotel closed for a year for major facility renovations, our dinner moved to the Peninsula in Beverly Hills

When the Bel Air Hotel closed for a year for major facility renovations, our dinner moved to the Peninsula in Beverly Hills for that year—and for additional years. I am sure there are Congressional leaders, Presidential advisors, TV news anchors, and the like at the Bel Air who are happy not to have to find an excuse to decline invitations to join our table revelries—just as I am sure there is a ‘bean counter’ somewhere in a Bel Air backroom wondering what happened to their early December profits without our ‘contribution’ for the past several years!

More 2014

The week after Suomi Kerho held its tradition laden Finnish Christmas and the ‘Bel Air’ Dinner happened at the Peninsula, the Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation held its Pikku Joulu and the Suomi Koulu and Katirilli held their special Christmas Party in Costa Mesa.

Friends from law school whom I had not seen in decades were in town the following week. So, of course, we found ourselves at a window table overlooking the Pacific having lunch at The Lobster in Santa Monica. What a fun afternoon of ‘catch-up’ on old times and colorful ‘war’ stories.

..we found ourselves at a window table overlooking the Pacific having lunch at The Lobster in Santa Monica

..we found ourselves at a window table overlooking the Pacific having lunch at The Lobster in Santa Monica

 

The three of us were tempted to have our picture taken on the Santa Monica Pier where there was a guy with the big yellow eight foot boa constrictor offering ‘pay for pose’ opportunities to tourists.   But, time was running short and the ‘clock was running’ to get those rutabagas boiling in preparation for what we Finns long for: Christmas Peace.

The three of us were tempted to have our picture taken on the Santa Monica Pier where there was a guy with the big yellow eight foot boa constrictor offering ‘pay for pose’ opportunities to tourists

The three of us were tempted to have our picture taken on the Santa Monica Pier where there was a guy with the big yellow eight foot boa constrictor offering ‘pay for pose’ opportunities to tourists

But, time was running short and the ‘clock was running’ to get those rutabagas boiling in preparation for what we Finns long for: Christmas Peace.

But, time was running short and the ‘clock was running’ to get those rutabagas boiling in preparation for what we Finns long for: Christmas Peace

Memorial Preparations

A Celebration of Life suits my preference over the term Memorial Service. While some may say that is just semantics, I feel the difference is in focus. ‘Memorial’ suggests ‘done’/ready to be ‘filed’ under history.   ‘Celebration’ suggests that we will put the spotlight on your life’s accomplishments and rejoice in your qualities, your accomplishments, and your contributions to our lives and the lives of others.

Either is so hard for people who lose loved ones –especially at this time of year. It is difficult to sing Joy to the World when all you feel is a great sense of loss. If not for the candle incident, the flickering winks, and the pennies from heaven, I might not have been able to cope with all that needed to be done to properly honor my father. With out of state family in town, it made sense to do something while they were here. If we were going to do anything, it had to be put together quickly.

Thanks be to God for Pastor Jarmo Tarkki, for Sirpa Welch with her new Scandinavian Kitchen in LA catering business, and for Michael Armstrong (my Dad’s favorite pianist from the old Finnish Church in Van Nuys)

Thanks be to God for Pastor Jarmo Tarkki, for Sirpa Welch with her new Scandinavian Kitchen in LA catering business, and for Michael Armstrong (my Dad’s favorite pianist from the old Finnish Church in Van Nuys)—all of whom rose to the occasion to create the most wonderful, warm, and comforting Celebration of Life imaginable. So many friends from the Finnish community and organizations came together, shared their memories, and brought such love and good feelings to the day.

A delicious Finnish luncheon with all of my dad’s favorite foods followed, especially: pea soup, smoked salmon, delicious salads, scalloped potatoes, karjalanpiirakkas, a majestic pullakranssi with spoon and fork cookies and blueberry pie.

A delicious Finnish luncheon with all of my dad’s favorite foods followed, especially: pea soup, smoked salmon, delicious salads, scalloped potatoes, karjalanpiirakkas, a majestic pullakranssi with spoon and fork cookies and blueberry pie.

Jonny Kahleyn Dieb, photographer and photo editor for Finntimes, made a beautiful pictorial tribute from old photographs from my dad’s albums. Tomi Hinkkanen, international journalist and Finntimes editor, memorialized the Celebration Service on video.   My children, now accomplished adults with families of their own, spoke with loving and touching words describing the impact and value Iso Vaari had in shaping their lives. A delicious Finnish luncheon with all of my dad’s favorite foods followed, especially: pea soup, smoked salmon, delicious salads, scalloped potatoes, karjalanpiirakkas, a majestic pullakranssi with spoon and fork cookies and blueberry pie. The special foods were expertly homemade by Sirpa and beautifully presented with the help of Sirpa’s professional staff including table stylist extraordinaire, Brain Gandolfo.

Everyone present had to feel my father’s presence, his modest appreciation at being Celebrated, and his smiles from heaven.

Eino Nurminen Has Left Us Too

All of this talk of celebrations, of food, and of Sirpa carrying on the Finnish/Scandinavian catering tradition in Los Angeles reminds me of the legacy she is following. I wanted to share some memories of another Finnish culinary legend who passed on last year.

The Finnish American community in Southern California has lost one of its most remarkable icons. Eino Nurminen was a community leader, a businessman, a chef, a novelist, a columnist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and, for all of us expatriate Finns, an influence beyond description. I labored over the order of those descriptors until I realized that the ‘order’ was dependent solely upon the hat(s) that fit the circumstances in which he found himself—often more than one was appropriately worn!

Eino Nurminen was a community leader, a businessman, a chef, a novelist, a columnist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and, for all of us expatriate Finns, an influence beyond description

Eino Nurminen was a community leader, a businessman, a chef, a novelist, a columnist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, and, for all of us expatriate Finns, an influence beyond description

Anja, otamme osaa (we take part in your grief). You were Eino’s great partner in a life of adventures and accomplishments. You were a fantastic team.

Kiitos Eino for your friendship, joy, inspiration, and the Finnish spirit you demonstrated to (and for) all of us. We will miss you. We thank you for all you did for the Finnish American community when you were here in Los Angeles. Your contribution is permanent and indelible.

One of my last memories of Eino was when Anja and he attended one of my father’s “big” birthday gatherings at the lake cabin in Finland a few years ago. Eino was wearing a snazzy fedora to shade him from the long day’s Summer sun. With the hat tilted at a rakish angle, he looked a bit like Indiana Jones! But, his Hollywood days were behind him. Anja and Eino had come to the party from their home in a neighboring Finnish village where they were enjoying their retirement.

As always, Eino brought that warm smile and twinkle in his eye that we all had experienced for so many years when he was evolving as a Renaissance Man during his ‘prime time’ in Southern California. Those who knew Eino, know what I am talking about.

Eino had the best qualities a Finn could have: a happy hard work ethic, perseverance, a quiet sense of humor, humility backed with significant accomplishment, a vision for the future, a willingness to do whatever needs to be done, and an appreciation for Finnish culture and tradition—and a desire to make sure those values were passed on.

Most knew Eino had talent as a chef—they had eaten at his restaurant (The Nordic Inn on Ventura Boulevard), been to a party at the Finnish Consulate that Anja and he catered, or participated in a Finnish community event where he volunteered his considerable talents.   Some simply bought his Chef Eino’s Finnish Mustard to impress their friends. Eino’s creativity served many of us well when entertaining since we were able to order his laatikkos, karjalan piirakkas, and the special Christmas hams for our Finnish festivities.

Others knew Eino as a writer: he had novels published and wrote media/by-line articles in Finnish and English for international publications. Anja and he were supreme Finnish folk dancers (Katirilli) sharing and passing on this joyous tradition to everyone who would watch. When Finnair commissioned a film special on The Naked Truth About the Finnish Sauna, there was Eino sitting on his Finnish porch demonstrating the proper techniques for preparing a hand-made vihta from fresh birch branches.

Others knew Eino as a writer: he had novels published and wrote media/by-line articles in Finnish and English for international publications

Others knew Eino as a writer: he had novels published and wrote media/by-line articles in Finnish and English for international publications

Eino was always there at whatever Finnish event was going on with whatever organization. One of my favorite and definitive Eino memories occurred at Suomi Kerho many years ago. I had volunteered to make Finnish Field Marshall Mannerheim’s favorite food (vorschmak) for an event being held at the clubhouse. My now daughter-in-law was game to have a real Finnish exposure—and did she ever! We brought the enormous pot that had been cooking for literally days [54 hours is prescribed by the General’s favorite Savoy Restaurant in Helsinki] and the large oven baking potatoes to be prepared on the premises. We were quite proud of ourselves because we had done all of the hard work.   All we had to do was set the huge SK gas stove ovens for potato baking and wait—we had planned our time well and were quite pleased with ourselves.

Fate takes care of smugness quickly! We could not get the monster gas stove and its cavernous ovens lit! My panic at the prospect of serving ‘candle-baked’ potatoes to demanding Finns was compounded by the Finnish National Costume I was wearing so proudly.   Literally, I could not move or take a deep breath because of the cinched laced waist of my grandmother’s kansallispuku from Ikaallinen. I did not want to risk a ripped lace or a bodice ‘malfunction’. Figuring out how to fire up that recalcitrant potato baking machine was a punishing time-line challenge I was losing.   Then, like the Lone Ranger to the rescue, Eino arrived, laughed at the quirky oven he knew so well [and us!], and quickly solved our problem by crawling on his back to get under the stove to light it successfully. Eino always went the extra mile—with a smile.

Eino mastered working with his hands and with his mind. For so many years generations of us were amazed at his many and varied talents. I can remember so many events and so many dishes that made me proud to be a Finn.   Some of the dishes that remain in my memory are the Salmon Rice Pie in a Crust, the Dried Plum Mousse, a Whitefish Gravlax!  Eino’s food was exquisite before anyone in LA knew what a “foodie” was!

Celebrate Being Alive In Two Oh One Five

As we remember those who have gone beyond last year, it is always good to get perspective on our own mortality. I was abruptly reminded of mine when my perceptive little grandson who is always full of questions said: “Iso Vaari died, right”? Yes. “And, that is because he was really old, right?” Yes. His third and final volley: “I guess that means you are almost dead!!!”

Out of the mouths of babes!

Preparing for and participating in A Celebration of Life helps us realize that “…life is not a dress rehearsal”. In looking to another’s aspirations, accomplishments, and influences we are reminded to live our own lives every day, helping each other and ourselves in striving toward our greatest good in the best way we can.

Preparing for and participating in A Celebration of Life helps us realize that “…life is not a dress rehearsal”. In looking to another’s aspirations, accomplishments, and influences we are reminded to live our own lives every day, helping each other and ourselves in striving toward our greatest good in the best way we can.

AFTERWORD

Preparing for and participating in A Celebration of Life helps us realize that “…life is not a dress rehearsal”. In looking to another’s aspirations, accomplishments, and influences we are reminded to live our own lives every day, helping each other and ourselves in striving toward our greatest good in the best way we can.

Oh yes, as I was clearing out a clean white box of receipts from my dad’s medical expenses in 2014 just after finishing the first draft of this article, there at the bottom of the storage box was another of those shiny new pennies smiling up at me! You tell me!!

Have a Happy, Healthy, and Helpful New Year!!!!