AROUND LA WITH AVA®: An LA Autumn

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

The Unrelenting Heat

In Finland and in much of the rest of America, Fall has arrived. There is a snap in the air. Take a deep breath and the crisp ozone fills your head—it puts a bounce in your step and sends you out looking for properly colored Pom Poms to take to a football game! In some corners of the upper Mid West, the first snows have fallen and people are airing out their Raccoon coats for next week’s big game.

Here in our City of Angels we are sweltering in triple digit heat (over 100º F or 37º C).

Here in our City of Angels we are sweltering in triple digit heat (over 100º F or 37º C).

Here in our City of Angels we are sweltering in triple digit heat (over 100º F or 37º C).

Back in the days before Jimmy Fallon or Jay Leno kept people up past their proper bedtime, THE Tonight Show host was Johnny Carson. For years, he had a running line in his monologue where he interacted with the audience about the heat in Los Angeles that went something like this:

Carson: It was really hot today in LA!

Audience in unison: How hot was it?

Carson: It was so hot that … [insert whatever funny punch line]

Mr. Carson could have had a zinger for material this week:

Carson: It is so hot that even in Bel Air, the maids are going topless!

Picture that! If you were in the west end of Bel Air recently, at the corner of Moraga and Bellagio, there was a pink van beckoning business. This blight on the neighborhood was parked advertising its provocative topless maid service for over a month. I was surprised that the parking authorities had not ticketed or towed the darned thing away.

This blight on the neighborhood was parked advertising its provocative topless maid service for over a month.

This blight on the neighborhood was parked advertising its provocative topless maid service for over a month.

LA Finns and other students of exclusive [read: outrageously expensive!] Los Angeles real estate enclaves will recognize Moraga Drive as one of the premier ‘high rent’ neighborhoods in the mega-million dollar market. Moraga Drive recently received attention when global media mogul Rupert Murdock purchased the vaunted Moraga Vineyard property close to the Finnish Consular Residence which sits just inside the gates guarding the eastern end of Moraga.   VIP visitors to the Consular Residence (or others in the beautiful residential area) could hardly miss the shocking pink van parked at the head of the Moraga corridor. Business must be good.

Colossus Flameout

There was more heat out in Castaic at Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park where Colossus [once the worlds’ tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster] caught fire. The 36 year old venue had completed its last customer thrill-ride on August 17th. Almost 70 million riders experienced its iconic breath-defying transport. KaChinggg!!!

Colossus [once the worlds’ tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster] caught fire.

Colossus [once the worlds’ tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster] caught fire.

Apparently the fire was caused by a spark from a welder’s torch. Spectacular pictures of firefighters aiming their hoses at the fire on the abandoned super-structure from fully extended ladder trucks were timely released to the TV and print media! Jaded Angelinos will need to be forgiven the suspicion that the fire sparked at the very top of the wooden structure was nicely coincidental with the announcement that Colossus is being replaced with a new steel track ‘coaster’ that will have rolls, spirals, and steep banks. The new ride will reopen with the name Twisted Colossus. The Red Carpet guest list for the Grand Opening has not been released just yet.

Blond, Blue Eyed Snake

Another ‘breaking news’ story from up in the lovely, very ‘Scandinavianly’ populated area of Thousand Oaks was the blond snake on the loose. No, really, LA County Animal Control had ‘alerts’ out for an Albino Monocle Cobra that had bitten a dog. News crews clamored, helicopters hovered, and intrepid paparazzi were able to capture images as the cobra was secured after a woman reported it slithering on the hot pavement near Rancho Road.

A County Animal Control had ‘alerts’ out for an Albino Monocle Cobra that had bitten a dog.

A County Animal Control had ‘alerts’ out for an Albino Monocle Cobra that had bitten a dog.

Fire, Fire, Fire Everywhere…

Another fire at a landmark in our tinder-box-of-a-town was caused by a spark from another welder’s torch. A dock at the massive Port of Los Angeles was triggered by the torch and smoldered for days. News crews clamored, helicopters hovered, and intrepid paparazzi captured images of the flames requiring evacuation of hundreds of workers and restricting nearby local school functions for several days. Along with its sister Port of Long Beach, the Port of Los Angeles handles 40% of all of America’s import trade.   No ‘Red Carpets’ here!

A dock at the massive Port of Los Angeles was triggered by the torch and smoldered for days.

A dock at the massive Port of Los Angeles was triggered by the torch and smoldered for days.

I hope that the re-inflated 61’ Rubber Ducky that had been hanging around nearby Port of San Pedro did not have a meltdown.   Rubber Ducky a l’Orange has never been on any restaurant menu I have seen—here or on the Continent!

I hope that the re-inflated 61’ Rubber Ducky that had been hanging around nearby Port of San Pedro did not have a meltdown...

I hope that the re-inflated 61’ Rubber Ducky that had been hanging around nearby Port of San Pedro did not have a meltdown…

“S” is for September

September was also for singing, Santa Monica, Simojoki, Sirpa, Sibelius, Sunset Strip, and Selänne

September 2014 started with celebrations of and in song. The Finnish Church of Santa Monica held its first service of the Fall with the St. Thomas Mass featuring the music of Pekka Simojoki. A choral workshop on Saturday preceded the Sunday Service with Terhi Miikki-Broersma and the Choir from the San Diego Suomikirkko. This event was topped off by a performance by the great granddaughter of Finnish Composer Jean Sibelius, Ruusumari Teppo! What blessings we find in Church.

The Saturday choral workshop featured a catered lunch by Chef Extraordinaire Sirpa Welch whose delicacies the Finnish American community has enjoyed at the Consular residence through the years. Sirpa has started her own catering business: Scandinavian Kitchen in Los Angeles. Sirpa has been so impressive at a broad range of events, including wonderful and informative cooking demonstrations at the recent Finnfest in San Diego. She worked with my nephew-in-law, Great Chefs of 2014 Troy Clayton out of Old Towne Alexandria VA, on my son’s wedding over a dozen years ago. [Troy and Sirpa prepared and served a 4 course, gourmet, sit-down feast for 150 in my back yard out of my kitchen—with some help from some ‘friends’.] Sirpa follows in the footsteps of another Finnish culinary master, the late beloved Eino Nurminen.

The Saturday choral workshop featured a catered lunch by Chef Extraordinaire Sirpa Welch.

The Saturday choral workshop featured a catered lunch by Chef Extraordinaire Sirpa Welch.

Speaking of Sibelius, LA Finlandia Foundation held its meeting on September 7th in Pasadena. It was great to see and get caught up with everyone after the long Summer. An enthusiastic crowd including Valerie Jokela, Larry Soronen, Ellen Harju, Al Jokela, Aino Lustig, Elida Mäki, Elissa Della Rocca, Anita Finifrock (who brought her special “apron cake”) welcomed speaker Professor Michael Hart.   Professor Hart from Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks made a spirited and informative presentation on the life of Jean Sibelius which delighted everyone. What a great program in anticipation of Sibelius’ 150th. [While there is a Finnish Sauna on the grounds of the Pasadena Historical Museum at the Tupa, I felt like I was getting into a personal, portable sauna on wheels for the ride home as the interior temperature in my car registered 114º F!]

 LA Finlandia Foundation held its meeting on September 7th in Pasadena.  It was great to see and get caught up with everyone after the long Summer

LA Finlandia Foundation held its meeting on September 7th in Pasadena. It was great to see and get caught up with everyone after the long Summer

With the heat still on, is there a better place to be in our City of Angels than on the sand in Santa Monica? Then, if you are an opera buff, the season started with a free live cast ‘simulfeed’ of La Traviata broadcast from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in ‘high def’ captured by 9 cameras! This was part of a new biannual series of live video broadcasts. Picnicking was encouraged. A bike “valet” was available. No Red Carpet needed!

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With the heat still on, is there a better place to be in our City of Angels than on the sand in Santa Monica? Then, if you are an opera buff, the season started with a free live cast ‘simulfeed’ of La Traviata broadcast from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in ‘high def’ captured by 9 cameras!

Special slick solicitations arrive at my home regularly. One such promo that arrived by mail was apparently tailored for a younger generation and/or ’newbies’ to opera. While showcasing the 2014-15 Los Angeles Opera Season, the mailing was splattered with interesting factoids for statistics buffs including:

< 130 pieces of jewelry and two disco balls were used for La Traviata

< in Dido & Aeneas/Bluebeard two gold fig leaf g-strings were to be worn, and

< 18 ounces of golden glitter is used in each performance

Sunset Strip

There is nothing more wonderful than an early morning weekend drive along Sunset Boulevard –taking those curves without any traffic, feeling the air on your face, and actually making it from the 405 into Hollywood in about 15 minutes. The sights along the quiet Strip are almost serene (even with debris from the revelries the night before). Rarely is the Strip ever closed off requiring one to take frustrating detours –unless the recent rash of 100 year old water pipe bursts continues.

The Sunset Strip Music Festival –now a two day event in its 7th year.

The Sunset Strip Music Festival –now a two day event in its 7th year.

One planned weekend exception where people take precedence over cars and when Sunset is closed between San Vicente Boulevard and Doheny Drive is for The Sunset Strip Music Festival –now a two day event in its 7th year.

The event makes the Roxy and the Whisky A Go-Go the epicenter(s) for groups such as The Doors, Guns ‘N Roses, The Byrds, and Van Halen where they got their starts. Jane’s Addiction was featured this year.

Among Those Sounds of Saint-Saëns

Meanwhile, in another neck of our LA woods, the classical music Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen performed Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on their season-opener that same Saturday night. Music Director Jeffrey Kahane conducted.

Classical music Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen performed Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on their season-opener.

Classical music Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen performed Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on their season-opener.

Special Stops on Sunset

Probably one of the most famous stretches along Sunset Boulevard is just as you begin to enter Beverly Hills. Heading east on Sunset at Carolwood, almost directly across from the house where Michael Jackson died, there is a house on the right with many statues: children playing, a security guard, a park bench ‘napper’, even children scaling the fence for a peek … . The tour buses all slow down so their tourist customers can snap pictures of what has become a local landmark on the sightseeing tours.   Everyone must wonder who lives there and what it is like behind the fence (like the statute of the children peeking over the wall). I know I always point out the property when giving a tour to friends new to Los Angeles. Truth be told, I never drive by that property without checking to see if the population has grown—again. Quite often, I will spot something new. Only in Beverly Hills do you use a ‘drive by’ for a Museum!

The tour buses all slow down so their tourist customers can snap pictures of what has become a local landmark on the sightseeing tours.

The tour buses all slow down so their tourist customers can snap pictures of what has become a local landmark on the sightseeing tours.

My friend Elizabeth Von Schlesinger (multimedia personality and founder of the European American Sheriff’s Advisory Council) was at the home where we were to meet. When I went to pick her up one day, I was let in through the gates onto a grand circular drive. [Like with Pandora’s Box, it is natural to wonder what is inside.] The answer: beautiful, manicured grounds and (you guessed it) more statues! The interior site presented a beautiful and breathtaking vista showcasing an even more extensive collection of statues by various artists. There was one figure that looked like Finland’s Lasse Viren* (the great Olympic Gold Medals distance runner) enjoying the cooling fountain in one area of the garden. It was so hot that day, I was ready to join ‘Lasse’ in the fountain!

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My friend Elizabeth Von Schlesinger (multimedia personality and founder of the European American Sheriff’s Advisory Council) was at the home where we were to meet.

In this entertainment wonderland of a city, it is always fun to get a peek behind the scenes.

[* Lasse was sculpted in LA and cast in bronze for The Final Meter by Finnish sculptor Eino Romppanen.   The sculpture was commissioned for and was a focal point of attention during the Atlanta Olympics. That sculpture remains in Atlanta. Greta Peck was an Eino collector. She had a scaled replica of The Final Meter in her yard on Summit Drive in Beverly Hills.]

The Final Meter by Finnish sculptor Eino Romppanen.

The Final Meter by Finnish sculptor Eino Romppanen.

Around LA with Super Heroes: Behind the Scenes

Only in a place like LA where “you know people who know people” do you have the chance of attending a monthly book club meeting where the author shows up –or of attending a film festival where the director and/or the writer are right there seated beside you. This month I went to two events where the actual subjects (the protagonists of the works themselves) were there too!

Whale Warrior

War of the Whales, written by Joshua Horowitz, is a great nonfiction read. An Amazon Best Book of the Month [July 2014] and a NY Times Bestseller List work was the chosen book for an evening hosted by friends Joanne Jackson and Carlyle Hall. Carlyle is one of the three founders of the Center for Law in the Public Interest. Carlyle’s friend and fellow environmental lawyer is the actual hero of the book [Joel Reynolds; Western Director and Senior Attorney of NRDC –the Natural Resources Defense Council]. Discussions for a film based on the book are in the works.

War of the Whales group photo

War of the Whales group photo

The riveting ‘save the whales’ tale tells of the battle for balance between national security and environmental protection.   The connection between naval sonar and deadly mass ‘stranding’ of whales is revealed. The book chronicles the twenty year battle against military sonar by environmental activists seeking to protect dolphins and whales from the assault of Navy sonar. The suits and legal maneuvering all the way to the Supreme Court of the US are discussed.

Joanne Jackson and Joel Reynolds

Joanne Jackson and Joel Reynolds

You may have made a visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. As a Member and a Director of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce, I helped with a Finnish Independence Day event one year under the big Blue Whale that ‘floats’ over the main lobby. The sheer size of that ‘statue’ is awesome. Over a hundred feet long and weighing over 200 tons [in ‘real life’], the Blue Whale is the largest ‘animal’ ever to have lived on Earth.   Standing in the Lobby and looking up, it is only natural to say “Wow, that whale is big!”

The Blue Whale still travels just off the Southern California coast in the Channel Islands chain. The War of the Whales issues are close to home for us here on the Pacific Coast.   The man who raised the issues that became the book sat with us that evening to answer questions and to provide insights.

Joshua Horwitz's book War of the Whales.

Joshua Horwitz’s book War of the Whales.

Now, that is a Book Club meeting worth attending!

The Finnish Flash

Another evening in LA, I was at a film viewing where the starring hero was personally present! The movie: SEL8NNE is a documentary about Teemu Selänne –the best Finnish hockey player of all time. Teemu’s life is followed from childhood to the latest NHL season. His story is revealed through his own words and those of his family members and colleagues.

Teemu and Sirpa Selänne at the screening of his biography, Sel8nne at USC. The movie is a part of the first  EUphoria Film Festival.

Teemu and Sirpa Selänne at the screening of his biography, Sel8nne at USC. The movie is a part of the first EUphoria Film Festival.

SEL8NNE is about our own Teemu Selänne. The film presents a fascinating view of the life and hockey career of our hockey phenom. The word “our” is used here because Teemu and his delightful wife Sirpa have been such generous, kind, long standing, supportive members of the Southern California Finnish community. From their support of charitable events to Finnish Independence Day celebrations, their warm and enthusiastic presence has been appreciated.

The film gave a great look into the public and private life of a talented, hard working, determined Finn.

The film gave a great look into the public and private life of a talented, hard working, determined Finn.

The film gave a great look into the public and private life of a talented, hard working, determined Finn. [SISU is the appropriate Finnish descriptor.] The Finns in the audience roared with approval as Lord Stanley’s Cup was used to pour water onto the rocks in a sauna! In the unique traditions of the Stanley Cup, the name of each winning team member is engraved onto the silver trophy and each winning team member gets to ‘…take the Cup home’. In Teemu’s case, that was Finland for 3 days. Teemu confirmed that the Cup has many tales to tell—taking a sauna is not its most unique experience! [I wonder if anyone checked the melting point of silver before ‘cranking’ the sauna?]

Teemu was his usual gracious self. Consul General of Finland, Juha Markkanen chats with Teemu Selänne after the screening.

Consul General of Finland, Juha Markkanen chats with Teemu Selänne after the screening.

Teemu was his usual gracious self. He willingly spent time with each person who wanted a private moment, an autograph, or a picture. I cannot wait to read the book that has just been published!

Post Autumnal Equinox

We are now past the Autumnal Equinox.   It is getting cold and dark in our native homeland. Even though we will have warm, light evenings here and probably another hot spell or two (at least until November 2 when daylight savings time ends), we can imagine ourselves coming home from the Finnish forest with a basketful of wild mushrooms.   Closing our eyes, our minds can savor a taste of Finnish Autumn on our tongue.

While mushroom soup usually has chunks of mushrooms, the soup presented is pureed to be smooth and to extract more mushroom flavor. This soup is healthier and more figure-friendly because it has very little cream and butter. If you are healthy enough already—or just nostalgic, you can kick it up a notch by adding a tiny drizzle of truffle oil to bring you even closer to the actual Finnish forest primeval.

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Finnish Fungus ‘Amongus’ Soup

Finnish Fall Mushroom Soup aka Finnish Fungus ‘Amongus’ Soup.

Finnish Fall Mushroom Soup aka Finnish Fungus ‘Amongus’ Soup.

Ingredients

1 lb wild mushrooms, sliced

(Hard to find Chanterelles or fresh Porcini preferred—here, Shiitakes were used. If using Shiitakes, remove the stems and discard.)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon oil

I large carrot, chopped

1 large onion (or 1 leek, white part only), chopped

1 small (or ½ large) parsnip, chopped

3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 cubes vegetable bouillon

6 cups water (alternatively, substitute 1½ quarts liquid vegetable broth for the cubes/water)

¼ cup cream

1 tablespoon sherry

1 tablespoon truffle oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Double click on pictures above for full size view

Double click on image for full size view

Process

Peel and chop root vegetables. Sauté the ‘veggies’ in oil and butter until golden and soft.

Peel and chop root vegetables.

Peel and chop root vegetables.

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Sauté the ‘veggies’ in oil and butter until golden and soft.

Sauté mushroom slices in a hot pan until they exude liquid. Save about 4 slices to chop for garnish.

 Sauté mushroom slices in a hot pan until they exude liquid.

Sauté mushroom slices in a hot pan until they exude liquid.

Combine broth, vegetables, garlic, and tomato paste. Boil until vegetables are soft –about 20 minutes.

Combine broth, vegetables, garlic, and tomato paste. Boil until vegetables are soft –about 20 minutes.

Combine broth, vegetables, garlic, and tomato paste. Boil until vegetables are soft –about 20 minutes. (double click on  for full size view)

Puree with an immersion blender (or in a food processor) gradually adding cream and sherry. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender (or in a food processor) gradually adding cream and sherry. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender (or in a food processor) gradually adding cream and sherry. Cook an additional 5 minutes. (double click on image for full size view)

Taste for seasoning.

Pour into Finnish bowls and garnish with sour cream, chopped mushrooms, and herbs.

Add truffle oil to finish.

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Serving Suggestions

Begin preparation during the 1st LA blizzard of the season—or, at least, wait until the Santa Ana’s stop blowing!   A ‘marine layer’ evening party will get off to a great start with a nice warm soup serving. This tasty liquid Finnish Forest is great to put into a thermos and take to your Fall concert or picnic—perfect for an Opera at the beach!

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Fall Is Here, The Calendar Tells Me So!

It is officially Fall in LA. The way you know is you look at the calendar and ignore the thermometer! For confirmation, you go to Costco where Christmas decorations are for sale already. A trip to any local grocery store confirms that, indeed, they do have pumpkins and bales of hay as their front door displays. Starbucks is trying to tempt us into the Fall mood by running full page ads for their pumpkin spice lattes.

A trip to any local grocery store confirms that, indeed, they do have pumpkins and bales of hay as their front door displays

A trip to any local grocery store confirms that, indeed, they do have pumpkins and bales of hay as their front door displays

The real ‘tell’ is that ‘everyone’ is back in town and the Fall buzz of activities has started. Calendars are filled with events for the next several months.

See—the calendar tells you so!

Pumpkins Know It’s So

It takes pumpkins to celebrate an LA Autumn. One of our suburbs is even called “Pumpkins” in Spanish. Yes, Calabasas, home to the ubiquitous Kardashian clan is named for the large orange orbs. In fact, to have a real LA moment, there is a Pumpkin Festival there with live entertainment, costumes, food, beer, and pumpkin carving. [calabasaspumpkinfestival.com]

..to have a real LA moment, there is a Pumpkin Festival there with live entertainment, costumes, food, beer, and pumpkin carving.

..to have a real LA moment, there is a Pumpkin Festival there with live entertainment, costumes, food, beer, and pumpkin carving.

And, if you want more Kardashian in your Calabasas celebration, you can see renderings of the visages of the frighteningly popular Kardashian sisters in pumpkin among 5,000 hand-carved Jack-o-Lanterns of celebrities, dinosaurs, and more. This Rise of the Jack-o-Lanterns is debuting and lighting up the Descanso Rose Garden. [therise.org or descansogardens.org]

END NOTE

Now that the Moraga maids have cleaned your house and the pot of soup is hot, it is officially LA Autumn! “…The frost is on the pumpkin” even if it is generated through air conditioning!

Enjoy our Autumn.

And, have a Happy LA Halloween!!

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AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Let Them Eat Cake

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AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Let Them Eat Cake

Happily, life and its stages involve celebrations.  Virtually all cultures celebrate with a cake of some kind.  Each of us has childhood memories of cakes as part of celebrations that can bring a smile on reflection.  Cakes mark a passage of time, a milestone in life, a welcome for a dear friend… .

“Let Them Eat Cake…” as some other Lady once said!

“Let Them Eat Cake…” as some other Lady once said!

Some cakes are for show.  Some cakes are to let you know.  “Let Them Eat Cake…” as some other Lady once said!

Beverly Hills Celebrates 100 Years

Lavish lifestyles and ‘over the top’ celebrations were the operative words to describe the Beverly Hill’s Centennial extravaganza.  Select BH dining and shopping establishments joined to donate a portion of their proceeds to a community charitable foundation during the event.

Select BH dining and shopping establishments joined to donate a portion of their proceeds to a community charitable foundation during the event.

Select BH dining and shopping establishments joined to donate a portion of their proceeds to a community charitable foundation during the event.

A 4,000 pound cake made to feed 15,000 guests on Rodeo Drive stood 10 feet high with a 15 foot width and a length of 20 feet.  The cake was modeled after the Beverly Hills City Tower and surrounding buildings.  Carnival games and entertainment (including a band and fireworks) were fitting accoutrements.  The staff of The Luxe on Rodeo Drive served the largest chocolate cake in the world to the event guests.

A 4,000 pound cake made to feed 15,000 guests on Rodeo Drive stood 10 feet high with a 15 foot width and a length of 20 feet.

A 4,000 pound cake made to feed 15,000 guests on Rodeo Drive stood 10 feet high with a 15 foot width and a length of 20 feet.

Strawberry Fields Forever

While bakeries in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Paris, Helsinki, and other centers of world gastronomy offer most beautifully crafted and exquisite, delicious confections, there is nothing quite as special as a token of love than a good, well-crafted, homemade cake!

While bakeries in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Paris, Helsinki, and other centers of world gastronomy offer most beautifully crafted and exquisite, delicious confections, there is nothing quite as special as a token of love than a good, well-crafted, homemade cake!

While bakeries in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Paris, Helsinki, and other centers of world gastronomy offer most beautifully crafted and exquisite, delicious confections, there is nothing quite as special as a token of love than a good, well-crafted, homemade cake!

The traditional American layer cake that originated in the ‘40s and ‘50s was so delicious—and popular, that it has now been duplicated with ‘store-bought’ cake mixes and ready-made frostings of unpronounceable ingredients.  In this Finnish mind, dry crumbly perfect layers of cake with gobs of very thick, sweet (but fake, as if made from ‘scratch’) sugary frostings are best used for photographs, not friends!  Some of those ‘manufactured’ cakes are constructed more sturdily than many American houses—some could not be knocked down in an earthquake.  They stand lovely and lonely on pedestals in their high glory: the red velvet, the pound cake, the coconut concrete, the lemon whatever… .

The ethereal, unctuous, wet, strawberry field of dreams featured in the special Princess Castle.

The ethereal, unctuous, wet, strawberry field of dreams featured in the special Princess Castle.

If you are making a wedding cake perched on columns for display, go for it!!  There is lots of money to be made in the cake ‘construction’ business.  [As a former wedding cake hobbyist, I made quite a few tasty ‘show’ cakes as gifts for friends in my new land.  From my experiences (good and bad), use a pound cake if you are doing a tiered cake.  The ethereal, unctuous, wet, strawberry field of dreams featured in the special Princess Castle version pictured herein is the caveat exception!!] But, back to our focus on the Finnish spirit and sensibility that comes with our LA summer.

Fun Finnish Food for a Sweet Finish

As a token of appreciation and love for our regular readers, I am going to share my most special 5th generation family (Finns and progeny) celebration secret sweetness.

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As a token of appreciation and love for our regular readers, I am going to share my most special 5th generation family (Finns and progeny) celebration secret sweetness.

As with so many parables on the mysteries of life, there is no specific script or scientific scenario to follow.  The directions, the techniques, the instructions, and the secrets you will discover are just ‘hints’ gathered along the way from generations of loving hearts and hands that have been assimilated and adapted from across the Atlantic by the best recollections of this FOB [‘fresh off the boat’ 7 year old] who packed her heritage in her heart and brain along with her pinafores in her suitcase.  How else could it be?  After all, my adult 6 burner/2 oven cooking equipment is not fired by burning birch logs from my front yard.  Relax, enjoy, smile, be joyful; fixing fine food should be fun—sharing things we have learned from others and by our own failures (and recoveries) should be one of life’s pleasures!

Recently, I found an old article from the Finnish Kauppalehti blog about Finns’ favorite foods.  The usual ‘suspect’ dishes were there such as freshly caught lake fish, new potatoes, and the like.  The Dessert category highlight was the märkä mansikkavispikermatäytekakku (wet filled strawberry cream cake).  Bingo!  Now we are talking the same language!

Recently, I found an old article from the Finnish Kauppalehti blog about Finns’ favorite foods.  The usual ‘suspect’ dishes were there such as freshly caught lake fish, new potatoes, and the like.

Recently, I found an old article from the Finnish Kauppalehti blog about Finns’ favorite foods. The usual ‘suspect’ dishes were there such as freshly caught lake fish, new potatoes, and the like.

The märkä mansikkavispikermatäytekakku is a moist, unctuous, fragrant, divinely flavored cake layered with a berries and fruit concoction topped with decorated whipped cream to delight us and our loved ones.  Here we can create the freshest and finest flavors and textures to celebrate summer, weddings, graduations, birthdays, family, friends, foreign guests, and everything fun that Finnish nature offers in summer!  How can that not be fun?!

How To/To Do

Now in the interest of Finnish greatness, culinary supremacy, and the joy that needs to be spread to make the world a better place, my intent is to share with you what has brought happiness to each and every generation of my family in the US since at least the ‘50s.  This is the 7th decade that this exact same cake has been made in my family for everyone’s birthday cake [unless they ask for something different—no one has, so far].  With all of those same cakes, none was really the same.   But, there is a lot of good karma in this kermakakku.  I hope your family, friends, and you feel the love.

How High the Moon?

While our project works best as a ‘not-too-high’ layer cake, it has been made into a Castle for a Princess themed birthday party.  A cardboard round perched on wood skewers kept the ‘second floor’ steady.  This requires a PhD* as a pastry chef—you may want to stay on the ‘ground’ the 1st time around!                                                                           *[piled higher and deeper]

To be my special cake, it ‘must’ have fresh strawberries, in season or not.  Here and in Finland, June and July are the prime strawberry months.  During the season in Finland strawberry sweepers are as bad as the mushroom maniacs in August.  At my favorite place in Finland, we drive through prime strawberry field country heading from Lahti toward Jyväskylä.  The local farmers of my youthful vision hunched over while berry picking with their straw baskets have aged, but they have been replaced by blond bikini-clad young female Estonian berry pickers—a startling sight the first time around!  At work rain or shine, the girls wear raincoats over their bikinis as the weather warrants.  Enough ‘eye candy’ for gentlemen customers already; save those crops!

To be my special cake, it ‘must’ have fresh strawberries, in season or not.

To be my special cake, it ‘must’ have fresh strawberries, in season or not.

Strawberry Cake Success Secrets

Before we get started, there are secrets other than the necessary strawberries you need to be aware of: timing**, some serious cognac is involved, and the supreme secret –as in so many childhood fairy tales, you learn there really is no recipe!  However, there is a right way to do things.                                                                   **As in life, timing is everything when making a cake.

In making Ava’s Finnish Strawberry Fields Forever Whipped Cream Cake you need to “give it time”!!  Why?  …because: “you can’t hurry love”.  Or, as they say in Finnish, the cake must vetäytyä  [try saying that three times fast!] .

A direct, functional translation of vetäytyä might be that the cake needs to “suck” or ‘sop up’, but that is not quite correct here.  What really happens is an absorption or maceration process involving all of the solids and liquids of the cake, the juices, the cream, and the fruit that results in the ultimate moist and delicious product.

It is important to begin 3 to 4 days ahead of your celebration.  On the first day, bake the cake layers.  Once cooled, remove the cakes from their pans and wrap.  Let the plastic wrapped layers rest overnight –at least.

The next day, cut the layers in half horizontally making two equal circular rounds from each baked cake.  Place the first round on the serving plate upon which we are going to build the tower of taste.  Follow the same process for each of the first 3 rounds as the tower grows.  Moisten each round [once set on the plate or the completed lower round] with cognac and peach liquid; spread on a layer of strawberry jam [homemade, if you have it]; spread a layer of whipped cream; place sliced bananas, peaches, and strawberries onto each round except for the final (top) round.  On the last (top) layer or round, drizzle the top with cognac and/or peach liquid.  Wrap the whole constructed cake [tower] in plastic wrap and let it sit until the next day, at least.

It is vetäytymisaikä time!!

Who Hosts Oddities

The Finnish Birthday and Name Day traditions have an odd hosting component to them.  If you are the päivän-sankari (the Birthday or Name Day person), you automatically become a host.  And, you provide your own cake!  Forget about being pampered, you get to do the pampering of yourself—but that means you can practice what you are learning here!!

You may get calls from people asking “…is the coffee pot on?”  Some folks may just show up at your door, especially if it is a ‘big digit’ Birthday and you have not advised people that you “…are traveling” in the local news where pictures, age notations, and other personal information are freely published.  [Good luck trying to stay ‘29’ forever!]

bowlala

make a nice, wet, juicy Finnish Strawberry Fields Forever Whipped Cream Cake and take it to the Hollywood Bowl when Esa-Pekka is conducting or to enjoy with the Beatles’ 50th Anniversary show this August.

Sometimes there are benefits to staying home in the USA where protocol says you do not ask someone’s age unless they are under 10 or over 80.  If, in fact, you are enjoying a Los Angeles “staycation” but dreaming of the Finnish countryside, make a nice, wet, juicy Finnish Strawberry Fields Forever Whipped Cream Cake and take it to the Hollywood Bowl when Esa-Pekka is conducting or to enjoy with the Beatles’ 50th Anniversary show this August.  Of course, you can always crank up your coffee pot (or grab a cold quart of milk) and put on a Finnish CD before going out on your balcony, into your back yard, or to a local beach with your Dream of Finnish Strawberry Fields (Oma Maa Mansikka) Forever —‘poof’ and you are there, just like the Princess!!

Keep on Dreaming Oma Maa Mansikka –and keep on baking.

Ava’s Finnish Strawberry Fields Forever Whipped Cream Cake

Ingredients

Eggs

Sugar

Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder [this recipe]

The first three ingredients are in equal amounts [Practiced pros may use ‘eyeball’ or ‘hand’ measures, but I recommend using 3 matching measuring vessels (see picture).  Did I mention that baking is an ‘art form’?]

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The cake pictured has 6 large eggs and, therefore, the same equivalent volumes of sugar and flour.

Processes 

Cake

Grease and flour two 8 or 9 inch cake pans.  Cut parchment paper circles to fit the bottom of the pans.  Grease and flour those also. 123 Whip room temperature eggs and sugar until light yellow, voluminous, and airy.

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Fold flour and baking powder together gently into the egg mixture with a spatula, lifting as you fold so as not to lose air from the batter.

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Pour equal amounts of batter into each pan.

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(click to see full size image)

Bake at 350º F for approximately 20 minutes or until tops are golden to slightly brown. ava_august13 Let cake cool in pans.  Remove cakes from pans carefully.  Then, wrap each cake in plastic wrap. [Cakes can be frozen at this point.]  The wrapped cakes can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a day or two.

Filling Ingredients

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2 cups whipping cream, whipped

½ cup strawberry jam (cloudberry jam is also divine)

2 to 3 bananas, depending on their size and your interest

1 cup sliced strawberries

½ cup cognac (preferable; but juice of fruits can be substituted)

1 15 oz. can of sliced peaches in heavy syrup (saving the liquid and about 6 peach slices for later top decoration, if desired)

Combine cognac (or juices) and peach liquid to make the liquid drizzle (kostutus liemi)

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Assembly Instructions

Cut the 2 cakes to make 4 equal circular layers or ‘rounds’ using a serrated knife

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Put the first layer round down on a serving plate [Don’t worry  if the cake breaks during assembly, just ‘pat’ the piece(s) back in place—the cake is very forgiving at this stage!]

IMG_0947 Drizzle cake layer round with approximately ¼ of the liquid (until layer looks slightly saturated) IMG_0951 Spread with 1/3 of the strawberry jam; then, with 1/3 of the whipped whipping cream

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Slice 1/3 of the bananas and place on the round with1/3 of the peaches and 1/3 of the strawberry slices—distribute evenly

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Repeat the same assembly instructions on the remaining cake rounds, except the top round

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(click to see full size image)

Place the top layer round and drizzle the remaining liquid over that top segment.  Finish top layer with whipped cream Cover the whole cake with cling film Let the cake rest (preferably overnight) covered and refrigerated

Day of the Event

Frosting and Garnishing

2 cups whipping cream, stiffly whipped

2 tablespoons granulated sugar (use powdered sugar for stability if the cake needs to sit out for a long time)

1 teaspoon of vanilla (optional)

Combine ingredients

Frost the top and the sides of the cake, setting aside some cream for piping/decoration, if desired

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(click to see full size image)

(click to see full size image)

Use whole or sliced strawberries and/or the reserved peach slices for decoration.  Often I use fresh blueberries for ‘writing’ a name or message on the cake top. ava_august11 CONGRATULATIONS! You have made Ava’s Strawberry Fields Forever Whipped Cream Cake now in its 5th generation of pleasing my extended family! IMG_0972 At its core, this is a basic 4 layer cake.  Someone [—was it Marie Antoinette or Ben Franklin??] said “…necessity is the mother of invention”.  Sometimes you just need a large, special sheet cake for a lot of people.  Then, use the same processes, but bake the batter in 4 rectangular baking sheet pans by quadrupling the ingredients—no cake slicing needed!  This works well for a huge birthday or other event.

ometimes you just need a large, special sheet cake for a lot of people.  Then, use the same processes, but bake the batter in 4 rectangular baking sheet pans by quadrupling the ingredients—no cake slicing needed!

ometimes you just need a large, special sheet cake for a lot of people. Then, use the same processes, but bake the batter in 4 rectangular baking sheet pans by quadrupling the ingredients—no cake slicing needed!

A more adventurous and courageous soul (my daughter-in-law) made a Castle Cake with a second tier built on the standard base for a ‘Little Princess’ birthday party.  It even featured a coconut path and a moat.  She had fun successfully using her imagination to build on a good/known base, her daughter was ecstatic with the glorious resulting presentation, and her daughter’s friends thought the whole thing was awesome!  All of that –and great taste and texture too!!

 

A more adventurous and courageous soul (my daughter-in-law) made a Castle Cake with a second tier built on the standard base for a ‘Little Princess’ birthday party.

A more adventurous and courageous soul (my daughter-in-law) made a Castle Cake with a second tier built on the standard base for a ‘Little Princess’ birthday party.

If you do try to tier, be sure to cut and place dowels on the bottom layer to support a cardboard round the size of your top layer.  Party on like the little birthday Princesses did!

Family Cake Back Story

I always look forward to visiting my Aunt Kaija’s home in Finland.  She is my lifelong culinary muse and idol.  She and my uncle are my Godparents.  As such, they may have felt obligated to take me under their wing when my parents shipped me off to Finland to spend summers as a child.  I was delighted and excited to be there with them!

I always look forward to visiting my Aunt Kaija’s home in Finland.  She is my lifelong culinary muse and idol.

I always look forward to visiting my Aunt Kaija’s home in Finland. She is my lifelong culinary muse and idol.

My favorite childhood ‘thing’ was to watch my Aunt Kaija in her kitchen.  My uncle (as former Head of the French School in Helsinki) is much revered at home and abroad –and was often honored by the French.  [He still wears a beret when he gardens.]  They often had French visitors, so Aunt Kaija had to excel in French, as well as, Finnish cuisine.  And, does she ever!  She is the only person I have visited and been served foie gras and Chateau d’Yquem at a Finnish lakeside cottage.  Aunt Kaija is tré chic et tré magnifique!

Aunt Kaija always has her special Whipped Cream Berry Cake as the piece de résistance when she has Coffee guests.

Aunt Kaija always has her special Whipped Cream Berry Cake as the piece de résistance when she has Coffee guests.

Aunt Kaija always has her special Whipped Cream Berry Cake as the piece de résistance when she has Coffee guests.  She must have trained for pastry skills under Lenôtre in Paris. The cake she served on our last visit is pictured here.  Do you know anyone else who can make a basket weave design out of pure whipped cream?   (Try that in LA when we are in “triple digit” heat and you will have “hanging baskets”, guaranteed!!  Take it from this ‘basket case’ of an LA baker who tried recently.)

Just as every Finnish hostess has her special pulla recipe, Aunt Kaija has her celebratory cake recipe.

Just as every Finnish hostess has her special pulla recipe, Aunt Kaija has her celebratory cake recipe.

Just as every Finnish hostess has her special pulla recipe, Aunt Kaija has her celebratory cake recipe.  These family recipes are usually very secret and are passed on as tradition from generation to generation.  Each of you Finnish or Finnish American readers probably has this as part of your inherited tradition and kitchen repertoire —if not, welcome to mine!

When/How/Where to Serve the ‘Prize’

There is so much to be said about the Finnish Coffee tradition.  It is the 15:00 [3 p.m.] rival counterpart of/to the British 4 p.m. Tea.  In the Anttila family Coffee, the five distinct Courses are not immediately discernible to the novice observer, but they unfold in inexorable fashion culminating in the divine Whipped Cream Cake at the end.  My Strawberry Fields Forever version of that special celebration cake is our topic herein.

In another column one day, we will delve into what is also an incredible edible from our Finnish heritage, the celebratory sandwich cake (voileipäkakku).  When I served this to my great friend Mona, she was excited to serve it for her San Marino friends at a ladies tea—perfect choice.  I can’t wait to share my recipe and special California technique soon.

Back to the special celebration cake from my family:  I first learned much of what I know from my paternal grandmother [Pih-Mummi of Makkara fame from a previous column] when I was so small that I sat on the table she used for baking so I could see every fascinating thing she was doing.  That table was on the porch of the family summer home—a birch forest ‘path’ away from Aunt Kaija.

Baking day converted into a ‘little bakers’ wonderland.  My compatriot toddlers and Pih-Mummi’s sous chefs were my cousins Aarne and Marja.  We were all under the age of three.  We loved these simple and delicious lessons.  And, it was a great way to pass the rainy days so frequent in the Finnish summer.  [Somewhere there is an old photograph of three of us sitting topless in our skivvies in the summer heat on the green painted table that was used for meals in the old house.  So much for our adult dignity aims!]  Aarne (especially) loved the sessions involving pulla dough where he could make long ‘snakes’ out of the dough using raisins for eyes.  I was more interested in the piece de resistance with the “wow factor” for the Coffee Ritual soon to follow: the divine Whipped Cream Cake With Fresh Fruit!

I can tell you that as a little kid sitting through the Coffee courses of pulla, cookies, dry Bundt type cakes (all homemade and quite delicious, of course), I behaved nicely knowing that the moist, multilayered, creamy, fruity sweet, beautifully decorated taste of Finnish summer soon to come was worth waiting for—even worth the long plane ride from California.  As a child, you felt special and knew that your hosts were really glad to see you if they showed their welcome with this most awesome treat!

The berries (often wild) were usually just handpicked from the forest or newly purchased from the local tori for your arrival celebration.  What the Finns lack in words speaking their welcome they certainly make up in communicating with their handpicked, hand chosen, handmade treats that become their special cake for you.

Strawberry season is winding down now in our Homeland.  In prime season, not only are the toris (the farmer’s markets) full of berry perfections, literally at the entrance to every grocery store there are booths and stands offering nature’s beautiful bounty picked from local fields, farms, and gardens.  The summer harvest cycle moves from strawberries to blueberries, to lingonberries, and, at the end of summer, to the glories of mushrooms.

Strawberries are an essential part of “the cake”, both fresh and as jam.

Strawberries are an essential part of “the cake”, both fresh and as jam.

Strawberries are an essential part of “the cake”, both fresh and as jam.  In the off-season, the price of fresh strawberries often seems as if they flew ‘1st Class’ into town.  Frozen berries offer an economical alternative, but I usually splurge for a few beauties to glamorize the top.

LOCAL NEWS

Suomi Kerho Midsummer Party

Birch branches decorated the club house space, divine snap worthy makkara grilled on an open fire, delicious salads were chilled and waiting, while freshly baked pulla graced the buffet table to help make for a great Midsummer celebration party at the North Hollywood Suomi Kerho location.  There was a great energy in the room as people gathered to celebrate the bright Midsummer sunshine lasting long into the night.  Even non-Angelenos know that the seasonal ‘marine layer’ of high level fog rolling in from the Pacific in many parts of our City of Angels this time of year (sometimes referred to as “June Gloom”) can put a damper on early summer celebrations.  Not this year.  This special night was calm, balmy, and perfect.  While all present thought fondly of nights in our Homeland and our loved ones there, we did not miss the rained out grilling or mosquito invasion experienced this year in Finland for Midsummer.

There was a great energy in the room as people gathered to celebrate the bright Midsummer sunshine lasting long into the night

There was a great energy in the room as people gathered to celebrate the bright Midsummer sunshine lasting long into the night

Strawberry Fields Revisited and Beatle Beetle News

The Hollywood Bowl will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ first Bowl performance this August 22-23-24.  Plan your Strawberry Fields Forever baking schedule now!  [Information and tickets @ HollywoodBowl.com]  

Did you know the Beetles killed the Beatle tree?

Did you know the Beetles killed the Beatle tree?

Did you know the Beetles killed the Beatle tree?

A tree in honor of Brit Beatle George Harrison planted in LA’s Griffith Park has been killed by a beetle infestation.  “With a little help from my friends…”, quick response forces were utilized and a replacement tree was planted in its place —“…no worries”, as the songs go!

Suomi Soldiers Summer Session Veterans_Suomi2014-116 Almost 50 Friends of Finland assembled at my house on Sunday, July 27th for a casual, fun afternoon.  The beautiful Finnish flag flew proudly from our 35’ flag pole to properly greet our Guests of Honor.

This was the second Soldier Summer Session—a follow-up to last year’s luncheon built around a visit and presentation by Olli Kivioja, former Surgeon General of Finland and a President of Pilvenveikot (the Finnish War Pilots’ organization) who was traveling in the US with his daughter and granddaughters last July. Veterans_Suomi2014-65 The local Finnish War Veterans and Lottas had such a great time last year, a follow-up seemed worth doing.  When Jim and Sirkka Aldridge agreed to present a program focused on our Vets’ Russian wars, the party was on!

Sirkka and Jim Aldridge brought much of their extensive archive collection of Finnish military material and memorabilia from the days of the Winter War and the Continuation War for guests to see firsthand.  Sirkka wore an authentic Lotta uniform and Jim gave an informative presentation on the history, geography, and tactics of the Wars.  Jim’s presentation used an enlarged map of the War Theatres which served as a remembrance trigger for the Veterans and the Lotta who were the honored guests. Veterans_Suomi2014-100Consul General JP Markannen extended greetings to the Friends assembled and offered the Finnish government’s special thanks to the Veterans and Lotta for their role in preserving Finland’s independence.   One American present suggested that the event was the equivalent of having lunch with the US’s 18th Century Minutemen who responded to Paul Revere’s cry “…the British are coming!!”  What a thought!  What a day!  Big smiles –and a few proud tears! Veterans_Suomi2014-87

End Note

Happy summer celebrations!!  I hope you have been busy making memories and Dreaming of Strawberry Fields –wherever you are!

Southern California is a fabulous and fun place to be –if you cannot be in Finland during the summer.  Really stimulating things happen here, if you know where.  Seek them out.   Your scribe has lived, raised my family, and worked in Los Angeles for a lot of years.  I learned so much from so many as a youngster in Finland that I cannot look at a strawberry today without thinking of my dear mentors and muses: Pih-Mummi and Aunt Kaija.  Still, an escape to the Homeland [even if it happens in my LA backyard with an illustrated Finnish history lesson] permits bridging both worlds and I cherish that opportunity.  Sharing the good, the bad, and the fabulous/ugly is what AROUND LA WITH AVA® seeks to do.  All things Finnish are celebrated wherever and whenever just ‘because’.

ALWA topics are catholic—history, culture, traditions, work, play, sight-seeing/sightings, local ‘hang-outs’, public/social service, travel, faith, food, people, LA/Finnish life, fun, events past and pending, politics, the history and the future of the world…whatever.  Whether you are an intellectual, a food critic or just one of us regular tasty food loving folks; a Strawberry Sweeper or a Mushroom Maniac or just one of us little observers sitting on a baking table; a ‘mover’ or just one of us ‘squiggly’ kids on the table in our ‘skivvies’, welcome to AROUND LA WITH AVA®.

We applaud those who learn how to make the Finnish Strawberry Fields Forever Whipped Cream Cake!  We love those who share their final product!

SWEET !

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Manors and Manners

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Manors and Manners

Most little girls go through their ‘Princess’ stage; pretending they live in a castle where everything is just as it should be.

Most little girls go through their ‘Princess’ stage; pretending they live in a castle where everything is just as it should be.

Most little girls go through their ‘Princess’ stage; pretending they live in a castle where everything is just as it should be.

Finnish Manors

There are lovely historic old Manor Houses in Finland –mostly in the southern areas.  The logic of location by population concentration is amplified by the unique historic evolutions of Finnish Church and State.  ‘Kings Road’, Lutheran/Swedish/Russian control…: our past is fascinating.  Some Manors remain as such; some are now restaurants, museums, and/or hotels.

Haikko Manor

Haikko Manor

One such Manor is less than 35 miles from Helsinki on the way to the beautiful, historic town of Porvoo right on the Gulf of Finland.  Haikko Manor now houses a hotel, conference center, and spa.  Haikko sits on breathtaking, seaside grounds.  Non-the-less, the crowning glory is the stately Manor House.

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Haikko Manor

Arriving at the renowned 5 Star Resort at Haikko is like coming “home” –returning to a familiar place of wonderful past, memorable times.  The long entry road that leads to the majestic circular driveway with the white Rolls Royce parked in front of a light blue Manor House is the stuff of dreams.

A sturdy, tall, bright white flagpole stands proudly sporting the Finnish Flag snapping and waving in the ever present breeze that comes from the sea just below.  A long, slow, deep breath is needed at this sight.  Yes, the blue in the Finnish flag and the blue in the Finnish sky are a perfect match—a fact, not the ‘stuff of dreams’!

 A long, slow, deep breath is needed at this sight

A long, slow, deep breath is needed at this sight.

Which Came First: The Manor or The Manners?

“To the Manor born…” is a commonly used phrase with uncertain origins and vernacular.  But, should it be to the “Manor” or to the “Manner”?  In many languages there are words that are spelled the same but mean something different in context; other words are spelled differently but are pronounced the same—and so goes the linguistic roulette!

Does the phrase refer to the English nobility vernacular about a stately mansion or to the effete, worldly, mannered/cultured people properly trained in etiquette and the social graces?

Haikon Kartano

Finland’s Haikon Kartano chooses “both” as the answer to the question pending.  Haikko is a stately mansion and grounds on the seaside coast with superb, exacting ‘white glove’ service and world class cuisine “…where everything is just as it should be”!

Haikko History

Only 50 km from Helsinki, Haikko is one of the oldest and best known Manor Houses in Finland.  Its history dates back to 1362 when the Manor was owned by the Dominican Monastery of Vyborg (Viipuri).  One of its subsequent owners hosted members of the Russian Imperial Family.  Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt was also a guest.  For 24 Summers Edelfelt painted in his nearby studio, just a short walk from the Manor.

After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Russian Grand Duke Kiril Vladimirovits fled to Finland.  When the exiled Grand Duke, his wife, and daughter were in town, they stayed at Haikko Manor.  Son Vladimir was born and christened before they moved on.  Vladimir would go on to be head of the Romanov family.

The Vuoristo family bought the Manor in 1965 and opened it as a hotel for the first time.  The spa, hotel, and conference center came later in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Today, the old Manor House still brings guests back to the world of the Russian Imperial era of the Tsars and the Russian aristocracy.  The oval Yellow Room with paintings by Edelfelt remains a lovely spot to entertain visitors for high tea.  It is easy to conjure those days as you look past the terrace outside to the beautiful views of the Gulf of Finland and the Manor grounds.

[On my last Haikko visit, my Dad and I hosted a Finnish couple and their American traveling companions for a spot of tea.  Our guests were on their way to St. Petersburg with their Seattle visitors from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  I hope we did not spoil the Hermitage for them!]

Back to “Both”

Having made the trip from the modern Finnish highway into the historic Manor grounds, I was warmly and graciously welcomed as an old friend would be.

Here in LA we call that initial interaction “checking in”.  As good as it feels, fantasy lasts only so long these days, so I did what I usually do after checking in to a hotel–I plopped on the bed in my room.  It felt good.  I felt good.  Life was good.

Haikon_Kartano

After a few good ‘ceiling’ moments, I remembered my room overlooked the sea!  I looked out through the treetops and realized that I had been removed from harsh civilization and had been transplanted into a Finnish forest!  What had felt good, got even better.

It is always fun to become familiar with the written materials, brochures, room service menu, and the like as you settle in to your temporary home.  As I perused the materials about Haikko Manor history, my mind was half a globe from San Diego.  Then, a photo of our beloved Southern California resident Armi Kuusela [the original Miss Universe from Finland] jumped off of the page and demanded my attention.  Ms. Kuusela was pictured with her husband Albert Williams in the late ‘70s.   Among other photos featured were Finnish President Urho Kekkonen laying the Haikko Spa’s headstone in 1973 and President Mauno Koivisto and his wife at a Haikko expansion ‘opening’ in 1983.  With such folks in residence, I am sure all guests and staff used their best Manners at the Manor!!

Of course, as a premier resort, Haikko rooms have premier amenities.

Of course, as a premier resort, Haikko rooms have premier amenities.

Of course, as a premier resort, Haikko rooms have premier amenities.  I was interested in something more mundane.  I turned on my television set when I remembered that I had not seen Finnish TV in years.  I found my fingers longing for channel surfing with the remote that is an everyday occurrence in LA.

Old Home Week

Literally, within the first hour of selective ‘surfing’, it was like old home week.  Seemingly with the press of a button, I could go from Porvoo to LA and back—with no evidence I had left!  Clicking channel to channel I found: my actress friend Anna Easteden with her new show; LA ‘wonder kid’ and friend Sauli Koskinen with his new show about ‘friends’; and long time friend Lasse Viren’s parents featured in retrospective interviews about their iconic son’s 4 Olympic Gold Medals and his more recent Parliamentary career—oh, incidentally, Lasse and Päivi had their wedding celebration at Haikko ‘back when’.

Clicking channel to channel I found my actress friend Anna Easteden with her new show..

Clicking channel to channel I found my actress friend Anna Easteden with her new show..

Still within that hour, a program on the TV Station featured Candy Spelling in her special series Selling Spelling Manor (Spellingin Kartano Myynnissä)–of all things.  It was like “It’s A Small World” overload hour.

Work Break

I was having way too much fun in my Haikko room—it was beginning to feel like a vacation!  So, it was time to plug in the laptop to get caught up on what was happening AROUND LA and elsewhere.  Checking e-mail is a pretty routine, almost rote activity in today’s world.  Not today.  Not the way things were going.

When my mail opened, there was a message from Anna Easteden.  She told me she was checking in from Zion National Park to say “HI” and tell me about her latest project.  As I read Anna’s e-mail from the US, I was watching that very project [hosting Wipeout] on Finnish TV.  Is this fun—or what???

Anna Easteden by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Anna Easteden by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

It is such a pleasure to follow the careers of the young fun Finns in our City of Angels.  Anna Easteden has taken Hollywood by storm.  She was the MC at the FinnFest Gala in San Diego a few years ago.  Lively, lovely, and talented, Anna did a great job as Master of Ceremonies there and now is doing the same on an international TV show.  It was such a pleasure getting to know her and her husband Rob.  Following her life and career is a delight.

Next on my ‘tube’ watching agenda was Sauli Koskinen’s Finnish show about his ‘best friends’ in LA.  This ‘wind-up-toy’ of a show host is already ‘best friends’ or ‘hope-to-be-best-friends’ with all of us who have met him or who follow him on his Ilta Sanomat blog.  Since Sauli barely stops to take a breath, his Finnish audiences may come away with the idea that ‘best friending’—and everything else, happens quickly in LA.  [And, maybe it will once again once the 405 construction is finished!]

Sauli Koskinen

Sauli Koskinen

To complete the ‘friends in strange places’ circle of TV viewing, one more click and there were the Spellings: Candy and Tori.  It was somewhat surreal to be at a Finnish Manor watching people I have known since my sons’ childhood talk about selling their home in LA (always known locally as “The Manor”).  The Manor is—or was, the largest home in Los Angeles with the ultra-exclusive Los Angeles Country Club and its two golf courses in its ‘back yard’.

.. program on the TV Station featured Candy Spelling in her special series Selling Spelling Manor (Spellingin Kartano Myynnissä)–of all things.

A program on the TV Station featured Candy Spelling in her special series Selling Spelling Manor (Spellingin Kartano Myynnissä)–of all things.

Much of the current Spelling episode showed Candy making decisions on how to compress her living space into only two full floors at the top of a new skyscraper being built in Century City—look for the shiny new oval building near where the Finnish Consulate used to be, but south of what was the Century Plaza Hotel.  With Aaron’s death and Tori living with her husband and children somewhere on another TV channel, Candy felt it wise to consolidate her space into what is now known as the “Manor in the Sky”.

 Candy felt it wise to consolidate her space into what is now known as the “Manor in the Sky”.

Candy felt it wise to consolidate her space into what is now known as the “Manor in the Sky”.

It is always interesting to follow the lives of your children’s classmates.  I must admit that, even in my strange life, this is not usually the way it happens!  I laughed at my tie to fame: Tori’s mother and I shared a page on a school cookbook fund raising project.  Her recipe was for popovers, mine for muffins.

I laughed at my tie to fame: Tori’s mother and I shared a page on a school cookbook fund raising project.  Her recipe was for popovers, mine for muffins.

I laughed at my tie to fame: Tori’s mother and I shared a page on a school cookbook fund raising project. Her recipe was for popovers, mine for muffins (double click on picture above to view enlarge).

Haikko Pool and Spa

Meanwhile: LA is known for having the most beautiful and spectacular swimming pools.  Personal homes and hotels/resorts spare no expense to provide “…the best Poolside experience in the world” and they deliver ambience, service, …, and sunsets daily!  For example, after visiting the Playboy Mansion one of my neighbors from the Spelling schoolmate era fashioned their new pool as a replica of the famous “grotto” there.  [George Clooney’s aunt now swims in that purloined pool.]

For an AROUND LA girl to go to Finland and ‘go gaga’ over a swimming pool should take some doing, nes’t pas?

 The swimming pool at the Haikko Manor took my breath away.

The swimming pool at the Haikko Manor took my breath away.

Well, it happened.  But, it happened because the pool was so Finnish!  The swimming pool at the Haikko Manor took my breath away.  The pool is indoors for reasons that need no elaboration.  When you get into the Haikko Spa pool, you are instantly in the treetops of a birch forest facing the Bay. You are enveloped in water and are swept away by real currents.  There is no edge to the pool, so a moment of panic can set in before you realize that you are not going to be driven out to sea!  It is an infinity pool.  The heated water moves and caresses you like a newborn just out of the womb.  You feel like you are bobbing up and down in a Finnish lake in the Finnish forest while (at the same time) coming to life as a newborn Finn.  [Finnish technology being what it is, you can push a button and, violá, you have the ‘swoosh’ of waves—too bad my surfboard would not stow safely in the overhead compartment!]

The Haikko Spa is a real adult playground.

The Haikko Spa is a real adult playground.

The Haikko Spa is a real adult playground.  Since I was almost always by myself when at the pool, I could easily fantasize the Ronanov life—even if the Spa had not been built then.  Back and forth to/in and out of …the sauna and the hot tubs with varying temperatures.  There is even a  minus-110º C Cryonic Treatment—if you dare!

Take it from this LA insomniac, you will sleep like a newborn Finnish baby after a Haikko Spa visit!  If not, you can turn on your TV to see some ‘best friends’ from LA!

Treatment of Veterans

I was at Haikko Manor to accompany my Dad [as required by the Finnish government for him] to attend his “rehabilitation” (Kuntoutus).

 was at Haikko Manor to accompany my Dad [as required by the Finnish government for him] to attend his “rehabilitation” (Kuntoutus).   On behalf of a nation grateful to its sons and daughters who preserved Finnish freedom against the Russian attacks in The Winter War and The Continuation War, the Finnish government has hosted a fully paid* ten day Spa Retreat [several premier locations about the country] with physical therapy and other amenities for its War Veterans.

On behalf of a nation grateful to its sons and daughters who preserved Finnish freedom against the Russian attacks in The Winter War and The Continuation War, the Finnish government has hosted a fully paid* ten day Spa Retreat [several premier locations about the country] with physical therapy and other amenities for its War Veterans (Photo: Finnish war veteran Ari Antiila with daughter Ava)

On behalf of a nation grateful to its sons and daughters who preserved Finnish freedom against the Russian attacks in The Winter War and The Continuation War, the Finnish government has hosted a fully paid* ten day Spa Retreat [several premier locations about the country] with physical therapy and other amenities for its War Veterans.  This awesome benefit of gratitude has been offered for decades without great fanfare, as is the Finnish way.  I am writing about the grand benefit now because the special program is going away quietly as our heroes and heroines pass the age where travel is safe or beneficial.                                           [*For my Dad, not me!]

The Veterans at Haikko Manor

About a dozen Veterans were at the Manor as part of my Father’s group.  Most of the ‘crew’ were from local areas: Helsinki, Espoo, the lake regions … .  My Dad was the only one who made the trip from abroad.  The War Veterans were all in their late 80s.

About a dozen Veterans were at the Manor as part of my Father’s group.

About a dozen Veterans were at the Manor as part of my Father’s group.

The Conference Center/Hotel section was the center of Veteran activities with our properly pampered octogenarians shuffling about in ‘uniforms’ of slippers and terrycloth robes as they worked their way through a tough day of saunas, swims, massages, facials, pedicures, and other specialties of the Spa.  The mini-platoon moved en masse.   Breakfast and lunch were mere steps away from the Spa facilities which were mere steps away from the guest rooms when rest breaks were in order.  Conversations were as animated as Finnish men’s conversations get.  The volume tended to be loud—whether that was because of hearing issues or enthusiasm was not apparent.  There was always a friendly hum and a warm greeting for new friends and familiar staff.  The guys were having a really good time—buddies, one and all.

It was great to hear everyone’s stories; their recollections, their thoughts, and their perspectives.  Of course, their responses to my interrogation on their family traditions, on fishing techniques, and on preferred food preparation were eagerly absorbed and noted.  Most of the conversations I was privy to took place at the dinners at the Manor House dining room.

Manners at the Manor

Dinner at the beautiful Manor House in the exquisite main dining room was the highlight of the day.  The Veterans who were received promptly at 17:00 were always properly turned out in jackets and ties.  [While my Father and I were there promptly and never late, we were still the last ones to arrive—how can you be on time and be late/last?  I guess that is the American way.]  Other than Veterans’ family/aides such as me, no one else was in the dining room.  The white-gloved staff was there to respectfully serve these beloved War Veterans and Lottas.

Dinner at the beautiful Manor House in the exquisite main dining room was the highlight of the day.

Dinner at the beautiful Manor House in the exquisite main dining room was the highlight of the day.

Meals at the Manor proceeded with military precision.  Salad, Sir; main course, Sir; dessert, Sir.  Everyone evacuated as quickly as they had arrived.  No lingering to absorb the ambience or to dally in idle after dinner conversation.  The ‘crew’ was out of barracks and on protocol!

Retrospective

My parents had many memorable visits to Haikko through the years.  One year, the daily flag lowering ceremony was to be in honor of the gathering Veterans.  Apparently my late Mother who had a beautiful singing voice was the only one who showed up.  No matter!  Nothing was going to stop her Lotta spirit.  She started belting out Siniristilippumme with all her might.  Needless to say, she gathered quite an appreciative crowd in no time.  There was not a dry eye around that flagpole that night.  A national representative of the Lotta organization was there for that performance and made sure my Lotta mother was recognized and honored.

Lotta Raija Anttila

Lotta Raija Anttila

Seeing that flagpole each day of our last visit made me smile—and let a tear well up, as well.

The staff at Haikko is always welcoming and gracious.  But, somehow, I think they winked at each other in years past when they saw this cute elderly couple (my parents) arriving because they remembered them as the ones who kept regularly sliding out of bed onto the floor and calling for help.  My Mother said the sheets were slippery.  But, there may be more to the story than needs to be said here.

Things to Ponder

Cultural differences can be fun to observe and ponder.  I have written about and been a speaker on cross-cultural differences in customs, processes, and social/business practices.  It is a fascinating subject.   For example, consider this: one of the most remarkable—and significant, differences between the Finnish and American ways of doing things is “Arrival Time”.

Arrival Time Manners

Finns new to America and Americans going to Finland (business or social—matters not) take heed!

In a Finnish environment (social or business), people arrive early to be polite and to be ‘ready’ when the ‘doors’ open promptly on schedule.  Really early, by American practice.  It may be as a sign of respect for your host or the guest of honor; it may signal that you are happy to be there; or it may simply be because that is the way Finns do things.  Most Finns do not talk unless necessary—and, certainly not about anything they assume you know, or should know.  Consequently (and without instruction) plan to be ‘on location’ well ahead of the scheduled hour—do not be surprised to be in line waiting to ‘enter’ at the established hour.  Each event has its own ‘life cycle’ or timing—for now, just follow the lead of the natives.  Have no fear—they will know when to leave!

If you are invited to a Finnish home for dinner at a specific hour, you are expected to be prompt and you are usually escorted right to the table and served food.  But, that is another column for another day!

If you are invited to a Finnish home for dinner at a specific hour, you are expected to be prompt.

If you are invited to a Finnish home for dinner at a specific hour, you are expected to be prompt.

If you are invited to an American home for dinner—well, that is a horse of a different color.

There is quite a difference here in the United States, not just here in ‘laid-back’ LA.  The general ‘rule’ is that you arrive 15minutes later than the appointed hour—particularly for a dinner party.  This 15 minute ‘buffer’ is to give the hostess/host a little breathing time to get herself or himself ‘together’.  Do not expect dinner to be served until 1 to 1½ hours later.  [However, it is considered impolite to arrive after dinner has been served—particularly for a ‘sit down’ dinner.]

Americans like their ‘social’ aka cocktail hour.  Mixed drinks, wine, and hor’s doevres are usually served at a location other than the dinner table for this duration.  Back ‘when’, non-alcoholic libations required a special request—now, not so often.  Cocktails and socializing usually occur at a free flowing location that facilitates interaction and conversation.

Look carefully at what is being served. Once what I thought was a hot appetizer (bagna cauda) was actually a potpourri mixture of flower petals in perfumed oil with a flame under it to produce a nice aroma!  And, keep your shoes on during your visit—unless you see a stack of mixed leather at the door.  Usually Americans do not remove their shoes when entering a home.

Usually Americans do not remove their shoes when entering a home unless they have just stepped in “something”.

Usually Americans do not remove their shoes when entering a home.

Manners As “How”

Social Manners are just protocols showing kindness and proper respect for others.  (Hyvät tavat) Manners are the way we act, interact, and perform in specific situations—or should.  In a different day and in a different way, the ‘rules’ were clear and specific.  If you were not certain of the proper way to respond or act, you could actually look up the ‘rule’ in a book or ask an elder.  Manners were meant to shape a frame of mind receptive to civil interaction.  The ‘rules’—written and unwritten, defined a culture.  I guess they still do, but it is harder to be sure!  The base concept of kindness and proper respect for others has eroded, dimmed, disappeared, or otherwise become indefinable in a ‘by-the-numbers’ rule.  Does rudeness rule by default?  Can noblesse oblige survive in some fine form?

Manners and Veterans: Here and There

Finland’s remaining War Veterans are held niinkuin Herran kukkarossa (like in God’s wallet) and like Guests of Honor wherever and whenever they appear.  Because Finland is such a young country, many of us today are in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generations of free Finns and we feel the recentness of our Independence.  Our history is part of how we think and feel as Finns since our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents ‘wrote’ Finland’s story with their blood and treasure.  Most Finns alive today know someone who was there when the bombs began to fall.  Our freedom is so recent that it can remain ever fresh in our minds.

Our local Finnish War Veterans and Lottas at the 80th Independence Day event (1997) PRR947

Our local Finnish War Veterans and Lottas at the 80th Independence Day event (1997)

AROUND LA WITH AVA® took me to the regular June meeting of the Southern California Finnish War Veterans club [Veteraani Tuki]Suomi Kerho opens its clubhouse to our Veterans, honoring them by giving them a home, a meeting place, a meal together, and even a movie in Finnish.  Our hearts are warmed by the Veterans presence even as their own memories of their valor fade.   Respecting them and thanking them is ongoing.  Future generations will read of their role in our lives—we are privileged to live with them and love them as family.

Gary Maisack with his mother Lotta Elma Maisack at the Veterans' Meeting on 6/11/14

Gary Maisack with his mother Lotta Elma Maisack at June meeting of the Southern California Finnish War Veterans club [Veteraani Tuki].

In the United States, Memorial Day is as sad as Thanksgiving is joyous.  Both share the distinction of being focused on gratitude—not “getting” things!  Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer in the United States.  In many parts of this country that get Finnish type winters, the month of May brings sufficient sun and warmth to permit the snow and ice to melt enough to let folks believe that summer and real warmth will arrive one day soon.

There is a National Cemetery near my home—like Arlington Cemetery in Virginia near Washington, DC, that is run by the Veterans Administration.  The Cemetery is on Sepulveda Boulevard just off of the 405, north of Wilshire and east of the massive Veterans Administration Hospital campus.

There is a National Cemetery near my home—like Arlington Cemetery in Virginia near Washington, DC, that is run by the Veterans Administration. The Cemetery is on Sepulveda Boulevard just off of the 405, north of Wilshire and east of the massive Veterans Administration Hospital campus.

On Memorial Day we follow proper flag Manners and fly our American flag on the 25’ flag pole in front of our house.  The flag is set at half staff until noon in memory of those who gave their lives—then, the flag is raised to full staff to fly proudly for the freedoms earned/preserved by those who served.  Such is the prescribed protocol.  Such is our practice.

There is a National Cemetery near my home—like Arlington Cemetery in Virginia near Washington, DC, that is run by the Veterans Administration.  The Cemetery is on Sepulveda Boulevard just off of the 405, north of Wilshire and east of the massive Veterans Administration Hospital campus.  Each grave of the thousands there is decorated with a flag placed by hand by Scouts who honor our passed American heroes each year.  I drive through the Cemetery as a personal moment of pause as we approach each Memorial Day.  Being inside the gates, with or without flags, creates reflection, awe, and honor.  It is quite inspiring.

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My dear friend, the late Greta Peck had that spirit of honor for the Veterans.  Though she was born in Finland, she “…grew where she was planted” here in our City of Angels.  Greta was truly a humble, though often secret angel.  For 50 years—over half a century, Greta drove from Beverly Hills to the Long Beach Veterans Hospital with sandwiches she had made herself; with magazines and books; with grooming products and special things she bought or made to hand out to the Veterans hospitalized there.   Wounded in body and mind, they knew Greta was their friend.  Greta’s spirit and smile were irresistible.  Most important to the Vets was the knowledge that Greta would be back next week and next week… .

My dear friend, the late Greta Peck had that spirit of honor for the Veterans.

My dear friend, the late Greta Peck had that spirit of honor for the Veterans.

Greta exemplified the perfect combination of committed American volunteer spirit and Finnish hard work, dignity, and humility.

Manors, Manners, or Both

YES

OTHERWORDS OR NOTEWORTHY

Liisa Niemi

We learned over Memorial Day weekend that Patrick Swayze’s widow, our Finnish Liisa Niemi, remarried.  Blessings, peace, and joy to Liisa and to her new husband.  He will soon know for himself what so many of you already know “…Happiness Is Being Married to a Finn”!

Blessings, peace, and joy to Liisa and to her new husband

Blessings, peace, and joy to Liisa and to her new husband

FACCLAFF Creatives Night

May 15th was a record setting heat wave of a night in our City of overheated Angels.  A networking event for the Creative Finns, Finlandia Foundation, and the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce was held in the garden at my home.

My philosophy generally (and for this night specifically) is that authentic Finnish home cooking brings out a spirit of bonding, cooperation, and fellowship whenever expatriate Finns assemble.

My philosophy generally (and for this night specifically) is that authentic Finnish home cooking brings out a spirit of bonding, cooperation, and fellowship whenever expatriate Finns assemble.

My philosophy generally (and for this night specifically) is that authentic Finnish home cooking brings out a spirit of bonding, cooperation, and fellowship whenever expatriate Finns assemble.  So many are so busy making their way in a challenging new world that they do not have time (even if they have the interest and resources) to pursue preparing our heritage cuisine.  Since I have that passion, I took the time because I thought it would be fun and a nice way to facilitate comfortable interaction and stimulate conversation.

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I should have checked the weather forecast before I volunteered to do the cooking!

I made gravlax, poached salmon, smoked whitefish with sauces, and various salads.  I made pea soup, cabbage rolls with lingonberry sauce, and individual meat pies.  There was a large dish of boiled New potatoes with dill, of course.  Desserts included: rhubarb crisp, fresh strawberries and blueberries, with a large mound of vanilla ice cream (a must on this hot night).

There was a large dish of boiled New potatoes with dill, of course.

There was a large dish of boiled New potatoes with dill, of course.

As the meeting hour approached, the temperature kept creeping up.  We were now into “triple digits”**.  An ‘ice run’ to Smart and Final was in order—for me, if not for the beverages that needed chilling.  A trunkful of ice and cases of Carlsberg were loaded up and brought home.

Despite my stated “Philosophy”, I quietly “deep sixed” [i.e., ‘buried’/eliminated] the hot and hearty pea soup from the menu.  On this night, even the most imaginative ‘creative’ could not conjure an image of us feeding the Finnish troops on skis in the winter.  The cabbage rolls and meat pies even seemed wrong for the season, but there was not enough time to re-do the menu—or my philosophy.  Usually LA nights are cool even on the hottest of days, but not this one.  It felt like we were in the tropics.

With enough ice and Carlsberg, the stoic Finns carried on.

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Let me tell you, there is something special about sitting under a two hundred fifty year old oak tree in LA on a warm summer evening sharing heart to heart with the likes of Niina Sallinen.

Let me tell you, there is something special about sitting under a two hundred fifty year old oak tree in LA on a warm summer evening sharing heart to heart with the likes of Niina Sallinen.  Having long been a big fan of Niina, it was fun to hear of her latest news.  She was in Macedonia for a One Person Show Award Ceremony recently.  I was able to give Niina personal congratulations and good wishes on her latest two Awards!

The event was designed to give locals and newcomers to LA an informal opportunity to meet and to spend a few enriching moments together.  Juulia Merisalo and Heidi Luukkonen are two new dynamos working at the Consulate who got to ‘meet and mingle’ with some of their interesting constituents.  Their boss, Consul General JP Markkanen shared his vision of teamwork in the Finnish community.  We toasted his efforts and service as a catalyst to bring us all together for a productive and pleasant evening.

[**Triple Digits means over 100º Fahrenheit = over 37º C.]

The Scandinavian Center Brown Bag Lunches

The Scandinavian Center at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA concluded its Spring Brown Bag Lunches on May 29th with Finnish Consul General Juha (JP) Markkanen speaking on “The State of the Finnish Economy”.   Quoting Fred Tonsig, he noted that the Finnish economy is “hot”; Finnish international trade is “hot”; innovation and invention in Finland are “hot”; the prospects for the future are “hot”; and the Finnish people are “hot”.  Certainly no one who had been in my garden for our earlier quiet assembly was going to argue with his assessment!

 The Scandinavian Center rounded up its Spring Brown Bag Lunches Finnish Consul General Juha (JP) Markkanen


The Scandinavian Center rounded up its Spring Brown Bag Lunches
with Juha P. Markkanen

Friends of Finland

Another great event was hosted by Consul General JP Markkanen for what he labeled the “Friends of Finland”.  The Consul General invited leaders of various organizations, journalists, artists and other creatives, business people and other professionals, our Lutheran pastor, and others to share their backgrounds, ideas, and visions in a brainstorming roundtable.  We liked being called Friends of Finland—and everyone felt that the time spent and the information shared were very worthwhile.  Our gratitude and thanks to the Consul General for bringing his spirit of cooperation to the community.

The Consul General invited leaders of various organizations, journalists, artists and other creatives, business people and other professionals, our Lutheran pastor, and others to share their backgrounds, ideas, and visions in a brainstorming roundtable.

The Consul General invited leaders of various organizations, journalists, artists and other creatives, business people and other professionals, our Lutheran pastor, and others to share their backgrounds, ideas, and visions in a brainstorming roundtable.

Spring Is Breaking Out All Over

You know it is Spring in Los Angeles when the jacaranda trees come alive with bursts of blue all over the city and the adorable hummingbirds are building their tiny nests on the most fragile of branches.

You know it is Spring in Los Angeles when the jacaranda trees come alive with bursts of blue all over the city and the adorable hummingbirds are building their tiny nests on the most fragile of branches.

You know it is Spring in Los Angeles when the jacaranda trees come alive with bursts of blue all over the city and the adorable hummingbirds are building their tiny nests on the most fragile of branches.  My garden path is a blue carpet of fallen blooms.  Three tiny, pea sized eggs sit in a golf ball sized nest waiting to come into their tiny lives in this wild, ruthless, gargantuan civilization called Los Angeles.  Good luck little ones!  I hope those pesky crows and neighborhood cats mind their Manners and do not invade your cute, munchkin Manor.

 Three tiny, pea sized eggs sit in a golf ball sized nest waiting to come into their tiny lives in this wild, ruthless, gargantuan civilization called Los Angeles.  Good luck little ones!

Three tiny, pea sized eggs sit in a golf ball sized nest waiting to come into their tiny lives in this wild, ruthless, gargantuan civilization called Los Angeles. Good luck little ones!

End Note

Southern California is a fabulous and fun place to be any time of year—even at 105º F.  Really stimulating things happen here, if you know where.  Seek them out.  Occasionally, Finns need a fix of fresh Finnish air, too.  Your scribe has lived, raised my family, and worked in Los Angeles for a lot of years.  Still, an escape to the Homeland permits bridging both worlds and I cherish that opportunity.  Sharing the good, the bad, and the fabulous/ugly is what AROUND LA WITH AVA® seeks to do.  Some of our friends even show up on TV.  All things Finnish are celebrated wherever and whenever just ‘because’.

ALWA topics are catholic—history, culture, traditions, work, play, sight-seeing/sightings, local ‘hang-outs’, public/social service, travel, faith, food, people, LA/desert/Finnish life, fun, events past and pending, politics, the future of the world…whatever.  Whether you are an intellectual, a TV celebrity or just one of us regular folks; a Manor Manner minder or just one of us observers; a ‘mover’ or just one of us ‘shakers’; a seasoned traveler or just one of us wide-eyed wanderers, welcome to AROUND LA WITH AVA®.  We applaud those who learn the Manners of the Manors you visit!

Ava Antilla

Ava Antilla

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Flower Power

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: Flower Power

Coachella Bound

The road trip to the Concert venue was complete with psychedelic vans, “magic buses”, cars with signs, RVs side-by-side with stretch limousines –all caravanning out toward the desert for the Easter weekend session of the Coachella Music Festival.  It was like Berkeley and the days of Woodstock, all over again!!  Those were the days!!!

 It was like Berkeley and the days of Woodstock, all over again!!  Those were the days!!!

It was like Berkeley and the days of Woodstock, all over again!! Those were the days!!!

Just like the ‘good ole daze’, the road was crowded with vehicles filled to overflowing with bare-chested, tanned, excited young people with “Coachella” signs and painted slogans—someone’s adventurous progeny sharing rides for the big happening.  One car had painted a sketch of a snail and the labeling word “Slowchella” on its side*–an appropriate ‘moniker’ for the state of the traffic out to the desert in Coachella Valley!

* The reference was likely a recollection of last year’s notable art: a 30-foot-tall snail slowly slithering its way across a field. 

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…the road was crowded with vehicles filled to overflowing with bare-chested, tanned, excited young people with “Coachella” signs and painted slogans.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival [commonly known simply as ‘Coachella’] started in 1999.  Coachella takes place over two Spring weekends in Indio, California—near Palm Springs.  Continuous music (hip hop, rock, indie, …) takes place on several stages among sculpture installations in the midst of what was once a polo venue in the California desert.  It is one of the largest (and most profitable) music festivals in the United States.  Last year’s festival has been estimated to have made over $60 million.

Hot Rocks Rock Hard

Apparently this year’s Coachella tickets sold out immediately.  They ‘ went like hotcakes’ or niinkuin kuumille kiville (like onto hot rocks) even though ‘regular’ tickets cost $450 per person per weekend [the steerage level cost only $375]!   And, boy, were there hot rocks out there in that 100º+F heat even before they cranked the hot rocking music!

Actually, Coachella has become so ‘in’ that premium packages have begun to evolve in our ‘see and be seen’ society.

I was tempted to ask, rhetorically, how people can afford such steep admission rates in this ‘iffy’ California economy, but I remembered that we all choose our priorities, all fun has a price, and making decisions is part of growing up.  Actually, Coachella has become so ‘in’ that premium packages have begun to evolve in our ‘see and be seen’ society.  Oh well, it is a very well run, well publicized, and social media hyped event.

Who ‘s News/What ‘s New?

This year’s festival included Arcade Fire, Lorde, Outkast, The Replacements, Pharrel Williams, Beck, Queens of the Stone Age, Preservation Hall Band, and many others.  [Yes, the old ‘coots’ from Preservation Hall in New Orleans still kick jazz that rocks in the 21st Century!]

The security for such an event is cleverly designed and involves specially activated bracelets that are sent to you along with your ticket materials in a fancy, cigar box like container.  They know you are coming from a mile away—literally!

Crocheted tops, layered long skirts, and floppy sun hats are perfect for the 100º degree weather and seemed to abound

Crocheted tops, layered long skirts, and floppy sun hats are perfect for the 100º degree weather and seemed to abound

For the adventurous, camping and RV spots have been available on site for the last few years […show me the way to go home!].  Recent additions have included showers, charging stations, and free Internet/WiFi facilities.  At Woodstock, the only showers came from the sky—and left lots of mud behind!  No mud (but lots of sweat) in the desert.

Ambience and glamour seem to have taken over Coachella.  For those dropping in for VIP tents, lawn parties, and late-night mansion soirees seeking to be free of the “carpoolchella” sweat snarled traffic, a $1,500/30 minute flight on SurfAir provided roundtrip convenience.  Or, you could enjoy life in a $6,550 “safari” tent (for two) that includes concierge service [whatever that means].  The paparazzi are there to catch photos of ‘whatever’ as long as ‘whomever’ is in frame.  Some celebrities try to go incognito—some celebrities bring stylists along for preparing their Coachella wardrobes/styles that will be watched and copied as new ‘trends’.  [Doing both when the paparazzi are nearby is the new PR gimmick.]  Clothing companies are promoting their lines and their brands.  Crocheted tops, layered long skirts, and floppy sun hats are perfect for the 100º degree weather and seemed to abound.  It is clear that this has become America’s most glamorous Music Festival and a “must be seen” destination for Young Hollywood.

Sounds like next year’s “…sooo last year” to me!

Old School/New School

Jackknifed trucks, downed motorcycles, and the normal Friday get-away traffic were relatively painless for me since my Son was driving the family van with GPS traffic apps that he actually knows how to use, 4+ freeway lanes our way, and a rolling Cineplex showing Disney movies to the most precious human cargo—the little ones.  While he was sweating the details of idiot drivers, alternate routes, and fuel consumption, I stopped video watching long enough to produce a great charcuterie: bacon wrapped blue cheese stuffed dates matched with French cheese (Delice de Bourgogne) on Finn crisp, which I passed front from the back seat.  Except for the children wondering what the ‘funny smell’ was, the trip was quite pleasant even with a GPS suggested detour through Chino.  The Chino jaunt took us along surface roads lined with prisons on one side and cattle grazing behind their enclosures on the other side.

Was that smell cheese or Chino??  Or, were we just getting close to Coachella???

Splash Down

Jumping into a cool swimming pool at your destination is a nice punctuation point to a pleasant trip.  I so enjoy breathing in the lovely desert air—it feels so fresh and ‘light’.  Turning down the RPMs for several days makes the ‘voyage’ worthwhile.

 I so enjoy breathing in the lovely desert air—it feels so fresh and ‘light’.

I so enjoy breathing in the lovely desert air—it feels so fresh and ‘light’.

The Springs in Spring

An Easter family reunion with my younger generations happened at The Springs in Palm Desert this Spring.  I was the only Boomer around and did my best not to spoil everyone else’s fun with ‘been there/done that’ stories. Though I was daydreaming of the past… Flower Power rock concerts attended in the ‘60s and ‘70s: Jimi Hendrix, Iron Butterfly, the Rolling Stones, Glenn Yarborough, Sonny and Cher; in the ‘80s: Oingo Boingo, Poison, the Rolling Stones… . 

Spring is the perfect time to make a drive to the desert, or anywhere out of LA.  Spring flowers abound.  That is what Spring is all about.

The wildflowers put on quite a show.  Here, in our City of Angels, orange poppies (the California State Flower) are popping out of cracks in the sidewalk, as well as, exploding on the sides of the freeways.

The wildflowers put on quite a show. Here, in our City of Angels, orange poppies (the California State Flower) are popping out of cracks in the sidewalk, as well as, exploding on the sides of the freeways.

The wildflowers put on quite a show.  Here, in our City of Angels, orange poppies (the California State Flower) are popping out of cracks in the sidewalk, as well as, exploding on the sides of the freeways.  Even with California’s serious drought (and alleged lack of Seasons), Spring is here –and the flowers prove it!

Of Poppies and Flower Power…

Marimekko’s Unikko celebrates its 50th Anniversary.

Maija Isola’s iconic Unikko (poppy) print pattern dates to 1964.  This year is a big celebration.

Maija Isola’s iconic Unikko (poppy) print pattern dates to 1964. This year is a big celebration.

Maija Isola’s iconic Unikko (poppy) print pattern dates to 1964.  This year is a big celebration.

Probably every Finn has some item with the Unikko pattern.  Sometimes you cannot stop creative impetus—or “Flower Power”.  Apparently Armi Ratia (the founder of Marimekko in 1951) was adamant that there would never be a “floral” pattern in the Marimekko line.  Somehow, Maija Isola’s creative spirit won out –and, look where we are now!

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I ran into Tuula Markkanen, wife of the Finnish Consul General in Los Angeles carrying (wait for it…wait for it) a Unikko bag, of course!!

Morning coffee comes from a Unikko tin and is drunk from a Unikko cup set on a Unikko tablecloth poured from a Unikko pot held by a Unikko potholder before the day starts but after drying off from our shower with a Unikko towel which we store in a Unikko bag along with our cell phone in a Unikko pouch, next to our Unikko notebook, Unikko cosmetic bag, and Unikko eyeglass holder. Whew!!  I am out of breath and worn out—and that was just the first minutes of a Unikko day.

Apparently Armi Ratia (the founder of Marimekko in 1951) was adamant that there would never be a “floral” pattern in the Marimekko line.  Somehow, Maija Isola’s creative spirit won out –and, look where we are now!

Apparently Armi Ratia (the founder of Marimekko in 1951) was adamant that there would never be a “floral” pattern in the Marimekko line. Somehow, Maija Isola’s creative spirit won out –and, look where we are now!

As I was contemplating all of this glamorous history and composing the ‘clever’ construct, I went to the Post Office on Sunset and Barrington.  I ran into Tuula Markkanen, wife of the Finnish Consul General in Los Angeles carrying (wait for it…wait for it) a Unikko bag, of course!!

Consul General Markkanen had the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce Board for a business breakfast meeting at the Consular Residence recently. We were all inspired and delighted with the lovely Spring table that was set with the pink and green Unikko tablecloth.  Darn, I had the exact pattern in matching clogs I could have worn for the occasion!  There I was in my new Marimekko Converse ‘high tops’ that matched my outfit.  I doubt that the Consul General noticed, however.

Darn, I had the exact pattern in matching clogs I could have worn for the occasion!

Darn, I had the exact pattern in matching clogs I could have worn for the occasion!

So, Unikko is ubiquitous.  Don’t you find a smile on your face and feel a twinge of Finnish delight when you get a glimpse of that pattern while out and about anywhere in the world?  Someone else loves Finland too—whether they know it or not.

A Marimekko Flower Child Hosts A Global Cultural Event

My Berkeley classmate of ‘then’, Joanne Jackson (famous woman LA architect, ultimate Finnophile, and Marimekko fan) hosted an event featuring international scholar, Kalpana Sharma.  Ms. Sharma was in LA by special invitation to speak elsewhere on her decades of writing about women’s issues in South Asia.

My Berkeley classmate of ‘then’, Joanne Jackson (famous woman LA architect, ultimate Finnophile, and Marimekko fan) hosted an event featuring international scholar, Kalpana Sharma.

My Berkeley classmate of ‘then’, Joanne Jackson (famous woman LA architect, ultimate Finnophile, and Marimekko fan) hosted an event featuring international scholar, Kalpana Sharma.

Joanne’s home is her own beautiful architectural creation with an awesome view and a most interesting visual perspective of LA.  That magnificent setting was the scene of the event.  Joanne’s assembled friends responded with interest and enthusiasm to Professor Sharma’s presentation.  Her research and her vast experience as a reporter, columnist, and author of four books made for an informative session that offered perspective on current day India and its upcoming elections.  Ms. Sharma’s lifelong pursuit has been to advance the rights of India’s 500+ million women in a fast-changing society.  This world we live in is fascinating, indeed.

LA can be such fun and so stimulating.  Spending an evening in a beautiful home as the guest of the person who conceived and executed that beauty would be a great time for most anyone.  Add in interesting guests such as, for example, Freida Mock [an Oscar winning filmmaker, producer/screenwriter and co-founder of the American Film Foundation whose documentary on Anita Hill has just been in theaters] and other comparable talents who listen to, consider the work and thoughts of, and pose questions to a UC Berkeley Visiting [from India] Professor from their own perspective and you have to go home thinking: Wow, that was fascinating—can we do this again next week?

pending an evening in a beautiful home as the guest of the person who conceived and executed that beauty would be a great time for most anyone.

pending an evening in a beautiful home as the guest of the person who conceived and executed that beauty would be a great time for most anyone.

While I do not have the capacity to synthesize the evening’s dialogues, unequivocally I can say accept any such invitation you receive.  When the focus issue(s) is outside of your expertise, competence, or comfort zone, there is even more reason to be there.  I think we all benefit from an occasional reminder of how connected we all are globally –with our cultures and with the issues we face.  Our solutions are often disparate because our histories, cultures, and processes are disparate.  If we learn nothing else, we learn how important it is to be informed and to stay engaged.

What a wonderful, stimulating life we can live right here in Los Angeles!

THINGS TO PONDER CATEGORY

 ...who took the first bite of a lobster or a crayfish—and why?

…who took the first bite of a lobster or a crayfish—and why?

Did you ever wonder how the very first person decided ‘something’ was edible?  For example,  who took the first bite of a lobster or a crayfish—and why?  Dead, they become slimy and they smell.  Live, they are really hard, difficult to handle, and they bite back—really hard.

An Edible California Flower: The Artichoke

The same goes for the California artichoke.  Some who encounter this ‘armored flower’ for the first time (even now) wonder what to do with it.

Some who encounter this ‘armored flower’ for the first time (even now) wonder what to do with it.

Some who encounter this ‘armored flower’ for the first time (even now) wonder what to do with it.

When my family first moved to the Bay Area in Northern California as immigrants, some local people took us to Castroville, the “Artichoke Capital of the World”.  There we saw field upon field of tall bushes with strange looking green, spiky flowers.  As a kid from Finland, I did not ‘get’ what all the excitement was about.  Confusion reigned when ‘they’ talked about eating these strange ‘things’.  Then, when I was instructed that to eat one, you had to painstakingly remove each leaf individually and ‘scrape’ the bottom off with your teeth!  After all that hard work, you got to the inedible center with a dry, scratchy, hairy thistle inside that needed two handed surgery to remove.  [Not exactly a kid-friendly ‘happy meal’ prospect to this then 7 year old!]  It took several years before I warmed up to artichokes but, since then, I am fascinated by them.  Playing with artichokes can be rewarding if done properly.

When my family first moved to the Bay Area in Northern California as immigrants, some local people took us to Castroville, the “Artichoke Capital of the World”.

When my family first moved to the Bay Area in Northern California as immigrants, some local people took us to Castroville, the “Artichoke Capital of the World”.

When Springtime comes (and the ‘flower’ prices drop) cooking, serving, and eating artichokes is actually a treat.  Artichokes are a special California ‘delicacy’ that I often prepare for my Finnish visitors who stop in when they are exploring California.  [Yes, that delicacy descriptor is used intentionally, but cautiously!]

When Springtime comes (and the ‘flower’ prices drop) cooking, serving, and eating artichokes is actually a treat.

When Springtime comes (and the ‘flower’ prices drop) cooking, serving, and eating artichokes is actually a treat.

Once you know how to handle artichokes, there are some fun ways to serve them.  Begin with my secret to perfect artichokes:  just boil the heck out of them!  The rest is easy—and tasty.

Ava’s Way To Play With Artichokes

(aka: ‘Artichokes For Dummies’)

Preparing Artichokes for Boiling:

Pull off the little leaves on the stem and discard

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Cut off the stem (optional—keep stem if you are going to cut into quarters)

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Cut ¼ of top off of artichoke with a serrated knife.

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Trim tips (if desired) of the bottom leaf layers with a scissors
(This will keep the tip thorn from ‘biting’ the leaf remover during dining.)

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Put the artichokes in pot with water enough to cover

Add a sprinkle of garlic salt and the ‘squeeze’ of half a lemon

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Cover and boil for 40 minutes to 1 hour depending on the size

Artichokes are done when a skewer or toothpick (poked in the ‘bottom’) meets no resistance and/or a leaf pulls off easily

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Remove each choke from the water and cool upside down so the water can drain

If serving hot, keep covered with foil until serving time.  Serve individual artichokes with melted or browned butter (bagna cauda is also nice).  This makes a nice first course.  [Be sure to have a ‘used’ leaf collector dish (known in Finland as a risteiliä) available for the debris.]

For an appetizer [as featured in the photos on the yellow platter], place one artichoke on a serving plate and spread out the outer leaves gently. Remove and discard the light- colored leaves.  A hairy hockey puck-like ‘choke’ is left.

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Remove the remaining hairy center of the choke by pulling or cutting carefully with paring knife.

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Remove any ‘fuzz’ gently with a spoon.   Put a container of your favorite homemade dip near or even in the artichoke bottom.  [Tell your novice guests that to eat an artichoke you put dip on the bottom of the leaf (wide end) and pull that bottom section of the leaf (inside down) over your bottom teeth to scrape off the dip and ‘meat’ –discard the leaf and repeat as desired.]

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The artichoke “money-piece” is the remainder round bottom left after the leaves have been cleared.  Many consider this their reward for all of the work.  The heart can be cut into small pieces to be eaten with a fork and knife by itself or to enjoy the dip remaining.

Some Recommended Artichoke Dips

Mayonnaise, plain

Mayonnaise, with curry powder

Mayonnaise, with cumin

Mayonnaise, with lemon juice (add dill for a Finnish touch)

Note: In a future column I will share my fabulous, but easy artichoke

tree centerpiece I have been making for years.  It will be a fun project !

Vappu Party

LA Realtor Maria Rowe –a new addition to the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce Board, hosted a Vappu party on May 1 as is Finnish tradition.  Consul General and Mrs. Markkanen joined FACC Board members, new and old, for the festivities, the refreshments, and the good company of fellow Finns.  Fun was had by all!

LA Realtor Maria Rowe –a new addition to the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce Board, hosted a Vappu party on May 1 as is Finnish tradition.

LA Realtor Maria Rowe –a new addition to the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce Board, hosted a Vappu party on May 1 as is Finnish tradition.

It had been a long time since the FACC had a Vappu party.  This year’s celebration brought back memories of what had become an annual tradition of fun Finn times: Vappu at Greta Peck’s home, the California Yacht club, and even one at my home that was dubbed “Silli de Mayo” because the celebration day fell between May 1 and May 5 (Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican holiday celebrated enthusiastically by all in LA).  No, don’t worry, we did not serve herring tacos!

Those FACC Vappu parties were lots of fun.  We had homemade sima, makkara, song sheets, and a great sing-along!!

Thanks to Maria for ‘raking the coals’ and breathing some oxygen onto the embers of the memories.  Hopefully, the flames will burn brightly again in future years.

Pacific Council on International Policy

Proving that it takes stamina and a facile mind to thrive as a Diplomat in Los Angeles, Consul General Markkanen quickly shifted gears and led a delegation of local Finnish leaders to a major international policy event in downtown LA the very next day.

Proving that it takes stamina and a facile mind to thrive as a Diplomat in Los Angeles, Consul General Markkanen quickly shifted gears and led a delegation of local Finnish leaders to a major international policy event in downtown LA.

Proving that it takes stamina and a facile mind to thrive as a Diplomat in Los Angeles, Consul General Markkanen quickly shifted gears and led a delegation of local Finnish leaders to a major international policy event in downtown LA.

The exclusive California Club was a proper setting for what was billed as “A Conversation with The Honorable José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission”.  Barroso, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, who is serving his second consecutive term as President of the European Commission, spoke on TRANSATLANTIC TIES THAT BIND: Deepening EU-US Cooperation.  The Honorable Mickey Kantor, a former member of President Clinton’s cabinet as Secretary of Commerce, introduced the guest speaker and former United States Ambassador to Finland and to the European Union Rockwell Schnabel moderated the program’s lively question and answer session regarding the current European situation.  The large audience was populated by thought leaders and super stars from many local and worldwide endeavors.  With the Russian bear licking his chops in Eastern Europe, the titled Cooperation has major consequences for our Worlds.  Of course, the local Diplomatic Corps was out en force.

Driving home after such a thought provoking and informative event, I had a moment of flashback to a similar occasion 11 years ago when, as President of the Council of European American Chambers of Commerce, I had the honor to welcome then President of the EU Commission in Washington, Dr. Guenther Burghardt to an event we sponsored with the venerable Los Angeles World Affairs Council.  That was at the time the EU was beginning its rapid expansion and Dr. Burghardt’s presentation EU Enlargement: Confronting New Unknowns anticipated some of the possibilities that are today’s realities!

In the interceding decade, the Europe Union has blossomed; it has bloomed, evolved, matured, and survived a multitude of problems and issues.  Some were anticipated, some were not.  Some were easy, most were not.  Going forward will certainly not be challenge free.  Where the opportunity occurs to be witness to the movers and shakers as they anticipate problems and grapple with solutions, be there!  Connect the ‘dots’ between what you hear and what happens—it is fascinating.  And, know that the people who build the ‘roads’ from here to tomorrow are worthy warriors who often work out some of their most difficult challenges just so they are prepared to answer the questions they are afraid some member of their audience may ask!

I remember vividly having breakfast with former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen when she was Finland’s Foreign Minister and was in Los Angeles for a major policy speech to the World Affairs Council.

I remember vividly having breakfast with former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen when she was Finland’s Foreign Minister and was in Los Angeles for a major policy speech to the World Affairs Council.

I remember vividly having breakfast with former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen when she was Finland’s Foreign Minister and was in Los Angeles for a major policy speech to the World Affairs Council.  Our small morning ‘coffee clatch’ gave her the opportunity to try out responses to important questions involving Finland’s position on joining the EU and adopting the Euro.  Of course, she was exceptionally well prepared before she left Helsinki—after all, she was a major player in the formation of those positions.  Still, her response to one of our intimate group’s questions about the pending NATO participation requirement for full EU membership was telling.  First, she took a slow, deep breath and smiled.  After a pause and a fleeting glance at the ceiling, Minister Halonen bought time by declaring the question to be interesting, important, and difficult—given Finland’s vaunted Neutrality.  Without hesitation, but with clear indication that she was thinking of her answer as she was giving it, she smiled broadly and turned off any need for follow-ups with her answer.  A few hours later, after her fine speech to hundreds of ‘movers and shakers’ at the World Affairs Council luncheon, the same question was asked by an audience member.  Again without hesitation but with clarity of conviction and a twinkle in her eye, the future President of Finland, Halonen gave exactly the same answer she had formulated around the breakfast table—with exactly the same results!  Her breakfast audience had smiled approvingly—her luncheon audience roared with applause!  Just another fun day in LA.

Living in one of the world’s greatest cities, our own City of Angels, we are fortunate to draw such distinguished leaders to our stage for important discussions.  I cannot help but feel that seeds are planted at these occasions.  I have been present in the past as the ground was cleared and cultivated, the seeds planted and nurtured, and life cycles evolved into fine, if not perfect, products.  As complicated as the world is today, the process really does work over time!  So, while Juha (J.P.) Markkanen as Consul General has stated that foreign policy in not on his agenda, he has reaffirmed in his goals and theme of “cooperation”.  By fostering Finland’s active participation in events such as the Pacific Council on International Policy program building US and EU ties and by sustaining the relationships with highly visible friends of Finland such as Ambassador Schnabel, the Consul General practices a most effective form of foreign policy.  This Spring’s cultivation and seed planting is bound to ‘blossom’ ahead.   May a thousand Finnish flowers bloom from each seed planted here in LA!

I admire the ‘sowing’ effort, will help with the watering, and, hopefully, will be around to enjoy the blue and white blooms!!!

Stay tuned.  More beautiful things will happen.

End Note

Southern California is a fabulous and fun place to be any time of year.  Occasionally really stimulating things happen here, if you know where.  Seek them out.  Your scribe has lived, raised my family, and worked in Los Angeles for a lot of years.  Sharing the good, the bad, and the fabulous/ugly is what AROUND LA WITH AVA® seeks to do.  All things Finnish are celebrated just ‘because’.

ALWA topics are catholic—work, play, sight-seeing/sightings, local ‘hang-outs’, public/social service, travel, faith, food, people, LA/desert life, fun, events past and pending, history, politics, the future of the world…whatever.  Whether you are an intellectual, a celebrity or just one of us; a diplomat, a visitor or just one of us; a ‘mover’ or just one of us ‘shakers’; a planter or just one of us pickers welcome to AROUND LA WITH AVA®.  We applaud those who plough, plant, water, weed, and harvest ideas and actions that make our world a better place.  Grow where you are planted.  Keep on keeping on—but, do stop to smell the Unikko!  Better yet, take a sniff and carry the stem to the next person who invites you to a session where new ideas are explored!

Sharing the good, the bad, and the fabulous/ugly is what AROUND LA WITH AVA® seeks to do.

Sharing the good, the bad, and the fabulous/ugly is what AROUND LA WITH AVA® seeks to do.

 

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: CREATIVITY

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Ava Anttila

AROUND LA WITH AVA®: CREATIVITY

The creative process is fascinating.

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

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

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

Stress, interruptions, and ‘noise’ block creativity.

Los Angeles Unleashed

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

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

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

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

Peace, Quiet, … and Warmth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go ‘Home’ Without Leaving Town

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

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

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

May I suggest making a loaf of bread.

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

May I suggest making a loaf of bread.

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

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

The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance

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

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

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

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

“…Love The One You’re With”

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

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

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

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

Soooo:

Bloom Where You Are Planted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bread

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

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

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

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

Fundamentals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Ridiculous To The Sublime Without Slime

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

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

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

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

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

Look Ma, No …

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

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

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

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

Blasphemy Bread

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

3 cups white flour

1 ½ tablespoons salt

1 ½ tablespoons baking soda

1 quart buttermilk

Ingredients

Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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Bake the loaf in a preheated 350° F oven.

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

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Allow to cool before slicing and serving.

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

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Enjoy the Zen of the bread baking experience.

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

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

Happening Finns

Did you miss Vellamo? Shame on you!

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

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

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

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

LAFF

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

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

Hauli Huvila

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

The Hauli Huvila fundraiser was held at the Burbank Spa.

The Hauli Huvila fundraiser was held at the Burbank Spa.

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Several FSRB Back Stories

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

And,

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

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

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

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

End Note

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

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

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