AROUND LA WITH AVA: MUSHROOM MANIA

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

AROUND LA WITH AVA
by Ava Anttila

MUSHROOM MANIA

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

Chanterelle mushrooms

Chanterelle mushrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cult

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

LA  Alternatives

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

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

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

FINNISH HAPPENINGS IN LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 11:  Veteran’s Support Group Veteraani Tuki Ryhmä

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

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

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

September 15:  Finlandia Foundation of Los Angeles Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

In Memoriam: Alvar Kauti

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

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

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

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

Golden Globes:Two Finnish Film Screenings

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

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

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

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

President of Finlandia University Visits LA

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

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

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

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

Marimekko Magic

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

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

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

Mushrooms ReDux

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

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

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

Chanterelle Fricassee* over Seared Salmon

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

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

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

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

1   shallot minced

½  pint heavy cream

     dash white pepper

     salt to taste

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

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

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

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

Keep mushroom mixture warm while cooking salmon.

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

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

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Serve Chanterelle Fricassee over salmon with boiled potatoes.

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Final Mushroom Musings

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

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

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

Happy hunting to all you höperös!

THE MERRY MONTH

ava51

AROUND LA WITH AVA

THE MERRY MONTH

May is always fun.  It is a mad-cap month of May frolics, Motherly celebrations, Mexican fiestas, and Memorials.  May is a long month that always goes by so quickly!  Perhaps that is because it begins with back-to-back-to-back parties and, then, before we can recover it melts into what has become a long four day Memorial Day weekend that marks the semi-official start of Summer in America.*   Even though Californians have Jacarandas in flower and roses budding instead of the “April showers [that] bring May flowers”, ice tsunamis, or floods to mark our Spring, we do find everyone buzzing with new energy finalizing Winter projects and setting up Summer plans.  To those who have lived in Finland […to say nothing of those still there!], the prospect of Summer ‘right around the corner’ is intoxicating.

Jacaranda Trees on Alta Drive in Beverly Hills

Jacaranda Trees on Alta Drive in Beverly Hills

Finns sense the impending arrival of Midsummer even without the benefit of a calendar.  For those of you going to Finland for the Summer Solstice celebrations, you are lucky! [Have your umbrellas and rubbers handy!]

Here, or there–now is the time to start planning your Finnish Midsummer Night using your ‘inner Finn’ as your guide.  Or, if you like, you can get a little LA help from ‘yours truly’.

Actually, if you live in Los Angeles where 70º F and blue sky/sunny by noon is a daily occurrence, a Finnish Midsummer celebration has less urgency to be on a specific date.  Here you can party outdoors on almost any night –Summer or not!  We can make our own heavenly Juhannus without worrying about whether or not the lake ice has fully melted.  [In case you are compulsive—or just like to pretend you are in the homeland, I will give some easy/fun suggestions and a recipe for Juhannus in this column.]

May Day

May Day is not really big in LA.  There is always a labor parade downtown, but that is usually pretty grim—more about immigration issues these days than the ‘springing of Spring’.  I know of only one May Pole with multicolored ribbons to be braided on the pole by dancing maidens with fresh flowers in their hair.  When The Archer School for Girls [Brentwood] bought the ‘old folks home’ on Sunset near Barrington, they kicked the ‘grannies’ and ‘grunties’ out to make their school but they actually kept the May Pole that used to grace the front lawn of the property each May.  A beautiful tradition continues to mark May!

maypole

Maypole at the Archer School for Girls in Brentwood

Cinco de Mayo

While it has been some time since Southern California was a part of Mexico, each 5th of May we re-live and celebrate a major Mexican military victory with a blast that has the same party-until-tomorrow ‘enthusiasm’ as Finnish Juhannus.  In March, Angelenos become Irish for a day.  In May, we all become Mexican for a long, joyous day—and many of us actually speak Spanish!

Cinco de Mayo celebration in downtown Los Angeles

Cinco de Mayo celebration in downtown Los Angeles

Mother’s Day

The second Sunday of May is Mother’s Day in the US.  Mother’s Day is big.  And on the 365th day, Mother rested—or something to that effect.  A day of rest and futile attempts by families to prepare breakfast-in-bed for Mom has morphed into a major shopping spree and a restaurateurs’ retirement plan.  But, as a Mother, I have no complaints!!

Mothers Day Brunch reservations are booked early even in ‘walk-in’ places.  Grand hotels and country clubs stage celebrations around LA that can be truly “over-the-top” extravaganzas.  This year, I got an “E Ticket”!  [For ‘newbees’, an E Ticket got you on the very best rides at old-time Disneyland while A, B, C, & D tickets got you onto/into lesser attractions.]

My younger Son made reservations and was host.  When I arrived at the designated location at the indicated time, I found myself in a ballroom sized room with numerous buffets, carving stations with prime rib and turkey, presentation tables with delicacies, a made-to-order omelet bar, a French macaroon display, a gravlax table with all the trimmings, a cold buffet, a hot dish table at least ‘a mile long’, a raw bar, multiple cheese platters, appetizer trays, side dishes, and salads!  Phew!

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The jumbo shrimp on the ice sculpture with “Happy Mother’s Day” inscribed on it was my favorite course

The jumbo shrimp on the ice sculpture with “Happy Mother’s Day” inscribed on it was my favorite course.  While such a lavish ‘spread’ could conjure diet-busting guilt, here there were ‘no worries’ –enjoying these myriad delicacies involved a lot of exercise walking to the stations and back!

The food was extravagant  and included a made-to-order omelet bar

The food was extravagant and included a made-to-order omelet bar

[I must admit to being a bit apprehensive as I headed toward Manhattan Beach that Sunday morning.  This was my first Mother’s Day, ever, without my dear Mother.  Still, it was special to be invited to be with my ‘local’ Son and his family.  The company was great, the setting was fine, the food was extravagant, and they gave me some cool Marimekko gifts. What a fun experience it turned out to be!]  

Finnish Community Happenings

Finnish American Chamber of Commerce and the Creative Finns

On May 15th, Laura Laaksonen gave a presentation to the FACC about her research on the Creative Finns currently burgeoning in the area.  The diverse group has an age range spread from 21 to 60, holds monthly meetings, and is up to 200 members now.

Ms. Laaksonen’s survey received 80 responses.  She found that the group is in film, television, and music –most of the members having a high level of education.  The Creative Finns are looking forward to working together with local service providers, to taking part in government and private fundraising, and to exchanging ideas with those in the education and scholarship fields as well as their own disciplines.

Laura noted that the next CF meeting would be the upcoming Friday night at the “Pink Taco” in West Hollywood.  Needless to say, your intrepid reporter ‘needed’ to be there!  While I pride myself in staying in touch with what is ‘happening’ in our tinsel town, I have never really been into the Friday night pub crawling scene.  So, first, there was need for some research so I would be at the right place at the right time.  As locals know, LA is crazy with multiple locations, several places (and even streets with the same names) in proximity to one another, and the same street changing names as you move from one ‘area code’ to the next.

[Schedule Note:  On June 12th, the Consulate General of Finland and the FACC will present an evening panel discussion event on the Finnish Education System.  Mark your calendar and be there to learn why and how Finnish education is ranked #1 in the world!! ]

Creative Finns Monthly Meeting On May 17th

I had not heard of the Pink Taco where the CFs meeting was scheduled.  But, enjoying both the color pink and tacos, I liked the cute name and wanted to be sure I got to the right location.  Searching the Internet for proper coordinates, I found that apparently the name is not so cute to some and that there are two locations in LA.  Leaving the controversy aside [check it out if you like—it did make the late night talk shows], the two locations presented a challenge to be solved before heading out.  [Actually, the’ pink taco’ is a menu item that has pickled onions in a lovely shade of pink as an accoutrement and garnish.  An opening promo did feature a poor donkey that was shaved and painted pink with the name “Pink Taco” on its side.]

Creative Finns Meeting at the Pink Taco

Creative Finns Meeting at the Pink Taco

Having found the meeting place even without the donkey to wave me in from the street, it was great to be with young, vibrant, Creative Finns.  Laura Laaksonen was there, as well as, Pekka Pekkala who writes his poignant observations in a column in Helsingin Sanomat.  What fun it was to sit with the ever-charming, effervescent Sauli whose blog about his life in Ilta Sanomat is such a kick to follow.

Truth be told, the hard driving, loud music made it difficult to have a conversation with anyone more than a few feet away.  [Ooooh—someone is not a ‘20 something’ anymore!]

Ava and Sauli Koskinen

Ava and Sauli Koskinen

The afternoon ‘happy hour’ was morphing into ‘Friday night on the Sunset Strip’ as the sun was setting into the Pacific.  Having retrieved my car from the valet, I did manage a quick handshake through the car window and an ‘air kiss’ with Kirpi Uimonen who has ‘arrived’ in Hollywood where many CFs dream to be one day!  Here was a mentor arriving to share experiences and give insights to the next generation of ‘stars’ –surely there are exciting things ahead for many members of the CF group.  We will be proud for their individual and collective accomplishments to come.  Finland and the local Finnish community needs to be supportive and helpful to the CFs –and will be, if I have anything to say on the matter.

“Kokko-itis” [Bonfire-Ban-Itis] Comes Home

Celebrating Midsummer [Juhannus, i.e., the Summer Solstice] in LA used to be easier.  If you have lived or visited here, you know the vastness of the beaches –our entire West border is the fun, scenic rim of the Pacific Ocean.  Southern California Summers are all about singing around a fire and roasting marshmallows at the beach. [Adult beverages are prohibited by local Ordinance, but occasionally consumed nonetheless.]  If you have lived in or visited Finland, you know that virtually every person able to be there is at the edge of a body of water at Midsummer to enjoy the “kokko” [bonfire]—and an occasional adult beverage.

The latest buzz on the California bonfires is that some local residents are said to be objecting to the smoke emitted.  One of the most popular local LA beaches with fire rings permitting bonfires is Dockweiler State Beach which lies almost directly under the LAX runways.  Having lived on the beach a mile or so from Dockweiler, I can testify that the air pollution problems near that beach do not come from 15 or 20 per evening kokko, when 15 to 20 jet planes take-off per hour and 4 lanes of cars stream by on Playa del Vista day and night.  Actually, the real offenders are the Scattergood Sewage Treatment Plant which is immediately South of Dockweiler and the Chevron Oil Refinery next door, both of which run 24/7.  [Have you noticed that reporters sometimes seek quotes that suit their story and ignore facts that do not?  Besides, what would you rather inhale—a burning birch log or the ‘stuff’ that comes from those other sources??  I rest my case!]

One of the most popular local LA beaches with fire rings permitting bonfires is Dockweiler State Beach which lies almost directly under the LAX runways

One of the most popular local LA beaches with fire rings permitting bonfires is Dockweiler State Beach which lies almost directly under the LAX runways

Next target: home fireplaces.  The Winter nights do get cold here—even Summer evenings at the beach.  There is something romantic about a bear rug in front of a cozy fireplace.  What is a Finn to do?  We need our flame!

But –why are we talking about fireplaces when May is about planting and planning “…the start of Summer in America”.

Midsummer in LA “102”

We begin our ‘course’ at102 because just having some Finnish blood justifies skipping the basic introduction materials.  Let’s get on with some advanced fundamentals.

One:  Heat your sauna –or call a friend who has one and ask them to “crank it”!!

Two:  Get some birch branches.  We really do see some beautiful birch plantings in LA.  If you are Finnish, you know you know where they are!  Now, I am not advocating you trespass to get your hands on some prime birch branches.  [Use your imagination: You could offer free tree trimming which is always badly needed in this lush growth spurt time and take away the discard.]  Do get enough for the vihtas you will need for your sauna and for decorating your doorways, interior and exterior.  The local birches lack the signature aroma of the Finnish variety, but topping off your sauna with birch scented shampoo and soap for your ‘wash up’ will give you that shot of olfactory nostalgia you need on this holiday.

sauna birch branches

sauna birch branches

Three:  Take that sauna!

Those lucky enough to have a pool to enjoy know what to do on your Juhannus sauna.  Otherwise, improvise: buckets, washtubs, a plastic kiddy pool, a garden hose, or any ready source of cool, clean water.  We have a cold water outdoor shower for a quick ‘shot’.  If all else fails, try turning on the lawn sprinklers and running naked through the mist.  [Don’t knock it until you have tried it!  Back yard please, not the front!]

Take a sauna!

Take that sauna!

Four:  Light the bonfire!!

Even if you are not on a fire permissive beach or do not have a fire pit on your back yard, safe substitutes are available.  Not long ago at a small Albertson’s, I found Estonian sliced pine trunk mini bonfire kits you can light for your adorable little “mini-kokko”.  When all else fails, just put a multitude of candles together and call it a bonfire –and raise a glass to the Finnish Juhannus tradition.

Light the bonfire!!

Light the bonfire!!

Five:  Drink a beer –maybe more than one if you are going to do the fun sprinkler run!

Just as it is for a Finnish Christmas Eve meal, beer is essential to Finnish Midsummer rituals. [If you are one of those aficionados into sahti, knock yourself out –you are on your own.]

Unless you brought home a case of Lapin Kulta from your last trip to Finland, you will need to settle for what is available locally.  Many years ago, there was a beer called Finlandia sold in California.  I had a special space in a closet just for my ‘stash’!

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Summer Solstice is a cream ale style beer brewed by Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, CA

 An adequate Scandinavian substitute we have used for years is Carlsberg, a good Danish beer.  I even like Kronenberg (French).  Both are hard to find.  I get Carlsberg for Finnish dinners at a place on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Berkeley Street in Santa Monica.

An adequate Scandinavian substitute we have used for years is Carlsberg, a good Danish beer

An adequate Scandinavian substitute we have used for years is Carlsberg, a good Danish beer

Things to Ponder Category

Why has no one imported some good Finnish beer?

If you are into stronger libations, you can make infused vodkas as schnapps.  I like to infuse Finlandia vodkas with various fresh essences such as lemon, dill, berries, and spices.  Shelf life is not a problem given the medium.  I enjoy serving them in ice encased Finlandia bottles for Midsummer, as well as, other Finn-themed parties. 

[If you have a lot of Finnish friends, you probably do not have to wonder when your next empty vodka bottle will appear—you just have to allow enough time for the infusion flavors to mellow and the ice to form encasing the bottle.  Hint: rinse out an empty paper juice or milk carton—boil some water and let cool before pouring around the vodka bottle you are going to put in the freezer over night (boiling makes clear ice)—insert some ‘seasonal’ decorations (e.g. birch bark and leaves for Juhannus or holly leaves and berries for Christmas) into the water before freezing.]

Ooops!  If you are going to sauna, drink beer and schnapps shots, run naked through the sprinklers, and mellow in front of a kokko, you had better serve some great Finnish food!

The Main Featured Recipe: Pih-Mummi’s Special Sauna Lenkki

Pih-Mummi’s Special Sauna Lenkki

Pih-Mummi’s Special Sauna Lenkki

This special recipe is a makkara preparation my Paternal Grandmother used to make.  I watched and learned.  (There is probably a similar recipe in every Finnish household!)  We called her “Helsingin Mummi” or “Pih-Mummi” because she lived on PIhlajatie.  Go figure –but, she “rocked”!  Pih-Mummi was a grand lady, a concert pianist, and a little Finnish girl’s idol.

Speaking of the Mothers/Grandmothers we celebrate in May, apparently the ‘baby-boomer’ generation here (now becoming Grandparents) are bristling at the titles “Grandma” and “Grandpa”.  They are trying to come up with alternatives: something less “old-sounding” and/or more “hip”.  NaNa, GaGa, G-Mom, Gummi, NutherMother, BonBon, and such are now becoming popular.  The pair that got me is the couple who have actually asked their Grandkids to call then Chablis and Cabernet!  Only in California!!

But, I digress.

Speaking of wine….

Buzz in Bel Air

I digress again…but it is worthwhile.

If you have been to the Finnish Consular Residence, you have been by a winery in Bel Air!  The most expensive real estate in the world and grape vines are planted on the rocky sloped back yard!  If you take the Getty tram to the top, look East SouthEast and you will have a spectacular view of the Vineyards of Moraga.  This stunning prize of a Bel Air property was ‘uncorked’ by none other than Rupert Murdoch of News Corp fame.  Kippis to you, you lucky fellow!!

Vineyards of Moraga in Brentwood

Vineyards of Moraga in Brentwood

The 16 acre property brought in the range of USD$30 million.  The seller was businessman Tom Jones (no, not the singer with the tight pants) who lovingly created magnificent –and very expensive wines.  The expense comes from the exceptional quality and the limited production.

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I used to see Mr. Jones in his Prius with wooden cases on the back seat

I used to see Mr. Jones in his Prius with wooden cases on the back seat.  Often, he was headed for Wally’s in Westwood making a delivery to one of the best wine shops in the country.  [OK, OK –I did follow him once out of curiosity to be sure my hunch was right and to be sure that nectar got to a place it could be found when the time was right.]

Changing of the Guard—and Consuls General

Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.

Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.

I was thinking of the Jones/Murdoch property transfer while on my way to the Finnish Consul Residence for the official “Goodbye” to Consul General Kirsti Westphalen [and husband Mouf] prior to her posting as Ambassador of Finland to Thailand.  The “Hail and Farewell” event at 1100 Moraga Drive was also a grand “Welcome” to Consul-General-In-Waiting Juha Markkanen [“…call me JP”] and his family who will soon hold court beneath the Moraga Vineyard.

[Please see Tomi Hinkkanen’s recent interview of Minister Markkanen for FinnTimes.]

The Finnish Consul Residence is such a proud property.  The Residence lends dignity to any event—and Finns are always pleased to be invited there to greet, learn, or celebrate.  The grace and dignity of the facility is enhanced by the culinary wizardry of Finnish Chef Sirpa Welch who sets a ‘mean’ table of tasty homeland specialties.  I so enjoy her enthusiasm and her skill.

Sirpa Welch oversees the lavish buffet

Sirpa Welch oversees the lavish buffet

 Now to the Nitty/Gritty Serious Makkara Recipe??

First, another detour.

A Most Important Décor Suggestion

You already have the birch branches absconded from your neighborhood, now go get some river rocks!  Since the Los Angeles River (and its kin) is lined with cement, you will have to look for the large, smooth gray pebbles at Home Depot or your local hardware store.  Gray is nice, but if you can find some recycled blue ‘sand glass’, that is all the better.

Next, in most any good grocery store produce section they sell cubes of wheatgrass or catnip.  You will also need some little tea lights which most Californians have in their household for emergencies and most Finns have just because we Finns must have our candles!

Now, form an undulating creek bed down the length of your table with the stones.  Place the wheatgrass alongside of the rocks as if it were the lawn or reed grass along a Finnish stream.  Place tea lights strategically in the wheatgrass down the length of your table.

If you can get your hands on those little ‘toothpick’ Finnish flags to place into the wheatgrass “tablescape” for your party, your guests will exhale Oohs and Aahs complimenting you with your creation in tribute to Finnish Summer and Finnish Greatness!  The Finnish Tourist Board website will get a ‘kazillion’ more hits from your friends saluting your efforts!!

Finally, The Food: Makkara/Grilli-Linkki with Boiled New Potatoes and Dill

Some Finns like to cook on their sauna rocks.  To me, that is like Americans who strap food to their car engines so it can cook while they drive.  While these ‘techniques’ may make a great TV Tip Clip on multi-tasking or eco-sustainability, some ideas just don’t work!  I prefer to keep the sauna rocks—and my car, as pure and pristine as possible without the stench of burned salmon when I get trapped in traffic on the 405 Freeway!  [If you do put the makkara ‘on the rocks’, it should be a ‘no brainer’ to wrap it well in heavy duty aluminum foil.  If you strap it to your engine block, watch out for melting cheese—it burns!]

In the oven, makkara is best baked uncovered on a cookie sheet or in a sturdy oven pan.

Pih-Mummin Makkara

(4 Servings)

1  Ring Bologna  – This is as close to a Sauna Makkara or Sauna Lenkki as you can get in LA.  You can also use a Kielbasa which is spicier, but may be easier to find.

Brown Mustard in a tube or squeeze bottle

1  Onion, thinly sliced

1  Tomato, sliced (Roma preferred because they handle heat better)

3  Pieces of a white cheese, sliced into strips (Finlandia brand, of course)

 

Ingredients: 1 ring bologna, brown mustard in a tube or squeeze bottle, 1 thinly sliced onion, and 3 pieces of white cheese, sliced into strips (Finlandia brand, of course)

Ingredients: 1 ring bologna, brown mustard in a tube or squeeze bottle, 1 thinly sliced onion, and 3 pieces of white cheese, sliced into strips (Finlandia brand, of course)

Directions:

Make an incision running the length of the top of the sausage about ¾ of the way down into the ‘flesh’ to create an opening.

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Put the top of the tube or the bottle of mustard into the incision and squirt mustard all along the incision bottom.

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Put slices of cheese, onion, and tomato all around, stuffing the makkara opening as neatly as you can.

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Place sausage on a cookie sheet or oven pan and into a 375º F oven, baking for about 20 to 30 minutes until the sausage begins to brown and the cheese melts.

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Serve with additional mustard.  New potatoes boiled with dill sprigs make a nice accompaniment.

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Ice cold beer is the perfect drink.

HAPPY SUMMER PLANNING!!!!

*Memorial Day in America honors those who sacrificed to make and keep America free.  It is not just a day of barbeque and shopping.

To experience the solemnity, pride, and joy that makes Memorial Day so special, visit the United States Veterans Cemetery in Los Angeles that runs from Sepulveda to Veteran between Wilshire and Montana.  Worthwhile visiting anytime, it is a sight to behold on Memorial Day weekend each year when the 88,000 graves of the fallen are decorated with flags reverently and precisely placed by local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.   
Ava-June1a

AROUND LA WITH AVA: PENNIES FROM HEAVEN

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN

Have you ever been walking and, out of the blue, looked down to spot a penny on the ground? …On the sidewalk?  …In a parking lot?  … Insignificant?/Coincidence?  …Maybe/maybe not.

As a decades-long fan/reader of the advice columns of the twin sisters Ann Landers and`  Abigail (Dear Abby)Van Buren [both now departed], I remember a many, many years ago letter from a reader who wrote about the significance of finding a penny on the ground.

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Raija Anttila

Raija Anttila

Since my last column in January, I have lost my dear Ӓiti.  She was the most wonderful, intelligent, inspirational, caring person ever –and I miss her so.
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The Candle Day event at the Finnish Church Service on February 3rd was very special and poignant.  Our inspirational Pastor Tarkki reported on the great work of the Western Congregations he is shepherding on behalf of the Finnish Lutheran Church in North America.  While Super Bowl Sunday made for a ‘female leaning’ attendance, great fellowship was the order of the day.

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When Pastor Tarkki told of my Mother’s passing, the hugs and support of fine Finnish friends (Pirkko, Mirja, Tiina, Linda, Tomi, Jukka, Mira, and so many others — progeny of amazing Finnish Mothers themselves) meant so much to my Father and me.

Dear friends and family in Finland were kind enough to send loving thoughts.  I caught my Finland friend Bitte in a ‘warmer climate’.  She and her family were in the middle of a paella course celebrating the big 80th birthday of her husband, Jörn.  If you have access to the most recent issue of Suomen Kuvalehti, you will be treated to an eyeful of our former LA Consul General in all his glory in his Helsinki library.

Triumphant Return—Fanfare Forbidden!

A memorable and special recent visit brought Maria and Tapio Serenius back with us in Los Angeles.  The time has gone so quickly since their tenure here.  Not just the time, but the advances in technology and innovation that have taken place underlined the exciting ‘wireless’ communication revolution that occurred during now-retired-Ambassador Serenius’ term as our  Consul General over a decade ago.  Finland was in the forefront.  Nokia commanded the cell phone market—even introducing the ‘computer phone’ before Jobs and Apple figured out the ‘app’/’touch screen’ formula.  Maria made sure the world knew this revolution was Finnish in origin even though she silently subscribed to then-Ambassador Jaakko Laajava’s admonition that Finns needed to learn to “market” [read: “boast”] –one day!

Jack and Ava with Maria and Tapio Serenius

Jack and Ava with Maria and Tapio Serenius

While billed as a drop-in-nostalgia-visit to an old “stomping ground”, I saw it as a true “victory lap”.  Just retired, Maria and Tapio celebrated her stunning diplomatic career with an ‘around-the-world’ tour—months of exotic travel for fun, not work, for a change.  I am pleased that we in LA were able to be part of an amazing career at a special place and time in California/Finland history.  Maria Serenius came to Los Angeles as our first woman Consul General of Finland.  The trail she blazed continues to shine brightly.

Maria Serenius and Ava Anttilla

Maria Serenius and Ava Anttilla

The far too modest, but typically Finnish, duo brightened our hearts with their presence.  Their warmth and their ‘specialness’ made their return conjure very wonderful memories for all of us who have known them and who were part of their ‘reign’.

Let Them Eat Soup!

Tapio –the ever charming, dapper, chivalrous “renaissance man” (who also works as a business consultant), was in my cross-hairs for a ‘brain picking’ even before I knew they were on their way to LA.  I was on a mission to learn the secrets to his Bouillabaisse.  His was a dish that had been in my culinary dreams since tasting it at a party many years ago.

Ava Anttila and Tapio Serenius

Ava Anttila and Tapio Serenius

We Finns love our fish and, especially, any kind of fish soup.  Finnish Salmon soup is on the menus of the finest palaces of culinary delight in Helsinki, as well as, on the menu at the Presidential Palace […or, so I have heard].  It has been a quest of mine to learn to make the best fish soup as ‘locals’ do it whether here on the Pacific Coast, in Marseille in the South of France, or on the shores of a Finnish lake with perch, pike, whitefish, bream, or ‘whatever’ right out of the net or katiska that morning.

Tapio delivered!!  The Bouillabaisse was awesome!!!  I will share the Serenius adventure soon.

…Or Not

Our current superstar Consul General Kirsti Westphalen is the Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps representing almost 100 countries in the Western United States.  Last week Consul Westphalen and her husband, Abdellatif  Mouffakir, hosted an elegant dinner for the Emeritus Members of the Consular Corps and for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Kirsti is the perfect leader of this international group with her background in various countries, cultures, and languages.  Her warmth, charm, and inclusion brought leaders from around the World together with important ‘players’ on the Los Angeles scene.  For example, I was seated between Chris Vigueria-Crabtree, a former LA County Head of Protocol (now Program Director for the World Affairs Council), and Elga Sharpe, Chief of Protocol for the City of Los Angeles.  Elga is a whirlwind- of- a woman who serves as a perfect liaison between Hollywood and politics.  Even though no ‘personal/city/state/national/global secrets’ were breached, the back and forth stories and anecdotes at the table would have made for a fascinating article –or even a book or a mini-series!  It was especially delicious fodder considering our pending local Mayoral election.  But…my lips are sealed!

Finnish Chef Sirpa delivered a lovely and delicious meal, as always.  Each course was beautifully presented on the cobalt blue china with Finland’s Gold Lion emblem.  The first course was a codfish mousse with quail egg and salmon caviar on a rye crust.  The main course was short ribs with horseradish mashed potatoes.  Dessert was a raspberry pastry with blackberries, berry mousse, and whipped cream.  Each was a delight to the eyes and to the palate!

I was proud to be a Finn watching Finland entertain the World with such style and grace—and, beautiful tastes!  I was happy, too, that my dear Mother (–a stickler for perfect etiquette) had taught me how to navigate through the myriad knives, forks, and spoons that surrounded the glamorous plates.  Talk about a “final exam”—seated between two Protocol experts!

The Beat Goes On

While anyone stricken by the death of a loved one knows, at some point one must go forward with the ordinary tasks of life.  Life stops, but after the initial shock, Life resumes “…in its petty pace from day to day.”

The first day out of the house with my Dad required the minimum: stops at the drug store, the bank, and the Trader Joe’s in Westwood.  The Rite Aid drug store had several steps to get to street level –waiting on the steps something caught my eye: a penny.  A trip across the street to the bank and, you guessed it, there was another penny on the pavement in front of the door.  Still, we did not pay much attention.  At the last stop, Trader Joe’s where I always buy a lot and use a credit card, I ran in to buy just one item and paid cash.  The change equaled one cent.  The cashier stuffed my 1₵ into my palm with the receipt.  The coin fell to the ground.  As I picked it up, there it was: a brand new, freshly minted, bright, shiny penny.  I got the message!  My Mother was letting us know she was THERE –she had made it: she was now a newly minted Angel in Heaven.

Penny from Heaven

Penny from Heaven

Ӓiti always did have a way of getting her message across.

Looking Back

Something sweet, warm, fragrant, and Finnish coming from the oven can be comforting and help sooth Winter [and other] blues.

In the ‘70s, when our children were little, my neighbor and I were lucky enough to have Finnish Au Peres help out in our homes and with our little ones.  These lovely young ladies enjoyed hanging out with the Finnish hockey players then affiliated with the LA Kings –I think the Kings enjoyed their company too!

The girls liked going to the Sunset Strip, dancing there (and around the house) to Cindy Lauper’s “…girls just want to have fun”, and sleeping late.  One of the girls, Essi, had attended culinary school in Finland.  Her recipe for cookies is several decades old and is almost guaranteed to bring hockey players to your door!  [Yes, Teemu Selanne is married—besides, he is a Duck and may be immune to ‘King bait’.]

This is a doubled recipe.  Why?  Because that is the way Essi did it—and it works!  You might as well make the whole bunch batch: freeze some, give some away, send some to someone special in a shoe box, put some on a large platter and call over your friends for a Finnish coffee, or, now while the Kings hold the Stanley Cup, it might be fun to find out just how many  it takes to fill the Cup!  [Remember to save some for your own eating pleasure!]

Jääkiekko: Hockey Cookies

Jääkiekko: Hockey Cookies

Jääkiekko: Hockey Cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, melted

3 cups sugar

2 cups raisins

3 cups flour

4 cups old fashioned oatmeal flakes

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 cup cream

1-2 tablespoons Dark Karo Syrup

Ingredients

Ingredients

Mix dry ingredients; then, add in wet.

Using a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, drop cookie dough in mounds onto a greased or Silpat-lined cookie sheet and bake at 375º F for about 8-10 minutes.

Open a window to let the Kings catch the aroma!!

recipe

Double click on picture above to view it in larger size

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Pennies From Heaven

By Georgy

I found a penny today

just laying on the ground

But it’s not just a penny

this little coin I found

“Found” pennies come from heaven

that’s what my Grandpa told me

He said angels toss them down

oh, how I loved that story

He said when an angel misses you

they toss a penny down

Sometimes just to cheer you up

make a smile out of your frown

So don’t pass by that penny

when you’re feeling blue

It may be a penny from heaven

that an angel tossed to you

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