AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Around in Circles
It’s here! Welcome to 2017, Finland’s 100th year of Independence. The collective excitement is palatable and unbounding as this year opens and we begin celebrating, learning and remembering.
Finland Centennial “101”
While this column usually focuses on quirky and sometime irreverent everyday life in Southern California, let us now also focus on making this year one of revering and honoring Finland in its 100 year glory.
Many in the Finnish community, including Sirpa and Teemu Selänne, are on board to honor and show our local remaining Veterans and Lottas how much we appreciate them.
One example of Finnish greatness here locally I would like to introduce you to through some photos is Lotta Elma Maisack. Elma, along with the amazing Sirkka Toth are the Lottas here who are still with us. Mark Salo and Veikko Kautiainen are among the Veterans we cherish.
It is appropriate that we celebrate Elma. Coincidentally, she shares a birthday with Finland: December 6th! You can imagine her level of Finnish pride!
Elma’s son Gary is often see wearing a T-shirt that reads “Finnish Air Force” as he attends events with his mother. Imagine yourself living Elma’s life as you view this photo montage and consider how a young woman faced what she did as a proud Finn “back in the day”.
With the current innovations and the heights of human achievement in so many fields, we are so impressed by Finland. But, let us remember Finnish independence is grounded in the dedication, determination and sacrifices of our Veterans and Lottas like Elma, who, during their youth gave to their homeland, where our greatness was born and still resides. Never forget.
The Circle of Life
Looking back to where Finnish Independence started and viewing circumstances to the present day is now timely. We are now closing the circle of 100 years from Finnish Independence and are many degrees and miles around the globe from our homeland here in our city of Angels. Perhaps it will bring perspective and insight. Though Finns of the younger generations may now say we don’t look in the rearview mirror; if ever there was a time to do so, this, the 100th year would be a good one for recollection.
Though Finns of the younger generations may now say we don’t look in the rearview mirror; if ever there was a time to do so, this, the 100th year would be a good one for recollection.
The whirlwind of activities in the Finnish American community brought joy to young and old in December. From the Suomi Koulu fundraiser, Suomi Kerho Christmas party, LAFF Pikku Joulu and FACC gathering we all enjoyed our holiday Finnishness. At home this year after an epic Finnish prune tart and cookie baking session and dinner with the Haavisto family, Finnish Joulu pukki must have known about all the Finnish children in the house. He decided to actually stop in for a visit. Katja, Tapani and Rony joining our family made for a joyous Christmas Eve for us all.
All eyes on Planet Earth seem to tune in on our fair city and the beautiful Rose Parade over New Year’s. People camping on the sidewalks, bleachers at the ready since Thanksgiving, Christmas friends and family living the dream here in sunny Southern California our city felt like the center of the universe for its shining moment.
The Rose Parade was particularly fun to watch as my dear friend Mona (whose daughter in law is of Finnish heritage) and her family were honored guests riding in a rose covered carriage!
Driving Around LA recently
Driving North on La Cienega from the 10, the Hollywood Hills were shining bright with the sun’s reflection ahead. I had just left the hospital relieved that my sweetie’s surgery had gone well. At that very moment it seemed many things within blocks of my drive were happening. To my left Debbie Reynolds had just been taken to Cedars Sinai Hospital with a stroke. Straight ahead on Hollywood Blvd. a makeshift memorial was burgeoning on the sidewalks on the Walk of Fame for Star Wars’ “Princess Leia”, Debbie Reynold’s daughter, the actress Carrie Fisher who had just passed away. To my right, passing Lawry’s restaurant there was a gaggle of news vans with satellite antennas and hordes of autograph seekers for some event. Serious life and death issues all around but what was that going on at Lawry’s? Oh yes, it was that annual crazy LA tradition called “The Beef Bowl”. Just another quirky LA happening, this vegan-averse carnivorous carnival features the team members that are competing against each other at the upcoming Rose Bowl football game on New Year’s ‘eating unspeakably huge amounts of prime rib roast at Lawry’s, the restaurant that has been famous for this dish for decades since the 1970’s.
This brought to mind an old high school classmate. There were three of us admitted to Berkeley that year; one was anointed (maybe it happened here at Lawry’s) with the nickname “Baby Beef”. This football player, whose real name is Loren, ended up playing for the Pittsburg Steelers and has at least one Super Bowl victory ring, if not more.
News vans, mini-skirted cheerleaders, paparazzi, the Trojan Band, and autograph seeking sports fans were all on hand for this testosterone fueled beef bacchanal, while most civilized westsiders were having a light spot of tea with chamber music playing in the background in one of our lovely hotels at this hour of the afternoon.
Broken Heart syndrome
While no one has announced an official cause of death for the mother/daughter duo, it is believed that Debbie Reynolds’ demise was caused from the Broken Heart, medically known as stress induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo syndrome, a condition that can strike even those in good health with no previous heart conditions.
The emotion of losing a loved one can trigger this medical condition, one that affects women more than men and can even be fatal. I was thinking of this while driving by Cedars Sinai Hospital where, in a matter of hours, Debbie Reynolds would succumb and join her daughter in death.
This sad Broken Heart scenario had just played out in my own family where my dear aunt Pirkko, recently lost her husband and within a couple of weeks, declined in health herself as she was missing her beloved husband. You often hear about people in long term relationships where the surviving partner follows in death in less than 6 months.
Having felt the pain of a broken heart must not have been new to Debbie Reynolds. Years ago she lost her husband to another woman whe when he left her for Elizabeth Taylor in an epic Hollywood story. Many were not aware that Debbie and Eddie Fishers’ offspring, Carrie, would end up as everyone’s heroine, Princess Leia, in the Star Wars saga years later.
The pain of loss, stress and heart- related problems has been a part of Finnish heritage for many families, through evacuations out of Karelia, the loss of the fallen who fought for independence, and other sacrifices made. The rewards are of peace, love of friends and family, devotion and honor. When we have those things and feel the epitome of joy it is time for our souls to rejoice As Finns, the proud times in our personal as well as collective lives with the everyday gifts we have been given engender reflection and reverence. Perhaps that is why Finns revere their silence.
You have heard of long term couples who are so close “they finish each other’s sentences”. Then there are those who are so symbiotic, so telepathic and so connected to each other that words are not even needed between them to communicate. (Yes, it does happen)
Did you hear that Norway had considered giving Finland a mountain for a 100th birthday present last summer? Halti Mountain sitting on the border with its peak on the Norwegian side was part of a proposal of moving the country’s border about (130 feet). What a sweet kind and neighborly thought that was of the Norwegians.
Gift to Finland suggestion
For all whose families came from Karelia, who fled on evacuation wagons from their land…A nice gesture in honor the Finland’s 100th from the eastern neighbor: how about a little payback border adjustment? What an awesome show of goodwill that would be in this political climate. Then there is the issue of that missing Super Bowl championship ring President of the Patriots, Jonathan Kraft never got back… Let us call it a draw.
This much loved iconic Finnish dish is a must for anyone’s culinary repertoire as we start Finland’s centennial. Like Finland itself it is simplistic beauty and perfection even for a novice cook.
Paisti means roast and Karjalan means of Karjala. It is actually a layering of assorted cut pieces of various meats with Finnish spices (peppercorns and allspice) covered in water or broth left to cook covered in an iron pot in a slow oven for many hours.
In Finland, the residual heat from baking ovens was the source for many wonderful dishes including jälkiuunileipä(“after oven bread”) and Karjalan paisti. Many casserole dishes that benefited from the long warmth that not only warmed Finnish homes but brought delicious life to the stars of Finnish cuisine that live on. In Finland nothing was wasted not even the waning heat of the hearth or oven.
People talk about “love” being an ingredient for a cook as he or she prepares a meal for someone. There are some dishes, Karjalanpaisti being one, which we make because of the love and connection we want to experience and share about Finland. There is a joy in the ceremony of taking down the Finnish Timo Sarpaneva iron pot, bringing out my favorite knives with handles made of birches from Karelia to trim the meat, the layering of spices and meat all the while thinking of Finland and its history while making it.
4-5 lbs beef, pork or lamb, cubed.
Whole peppercorns 10-20 or so
Layer meats with spices and salt between in a Timo Sarpaneva or other enameled iron pot. Add about 1 C water or beef broth down side of the pot. Put on lid. Bake 3 to 3 ½ hours at 300 degrees F. Do not stir. The topmost morsels should have a slight “crust” peeking through.
The topmost morsels should have a slight “crust” peeking through.
Serve over mashed potatoes with the broth. Garnish or serve with a side of dill pickles and beets. Lingonberry sauce is a nice accompaniment.
TO HAVE LOVED SO AND TO HAVE BEEN SO LOVED IS A GIFT FROM GOD.
It is Friday afternoon again in LA traffic heading up La Cienega with the Hollywood (now defaced to read “Hollyweed”) sign in view just like earlier, leaving after a visit with my loved one in the hospital. I am making “the rounds” going in the LA Friday circle of traffic again. A quick stop at the post office for mail.
Usually there is a big stack of mail; today there is only one envelope. Arriving home there is voicemail relaying the awful sad news from the hospital of the passing of my beloved. I opened the envelope I had picked up; it was addressed to him. It was from the hospital, a “customer satisfaction survey letter” asking him what he thought of the latest experience he had just had there! Talk about “things to ponder” This could almost be funny if it was not so sad.
Life can be so cruel sometimes, but then again this is the circle of life we all experience.