Category Archives: Ecological living

Lingonberries are super food, but only for the brave

The Finnish forests are now full of free-for-all superfood! The blueberry season is almost finished, but now it’s the perfect time to go and pick lingonberries for the winter!

This weekend I’m visiting my parents in my dear old hometown Tampere, always relaxed and nice. Also the weather was on our side, so this afternoon we decided to be brave and head to the forests.

Why brave? The challenge of picking lingonberries in the perfect spot that “only” my parents know is that one is not alone there. These hoods are packed with nasty deer flies (in Latin Lipoptena cervi, in Finnish hirvikärpänen), who come there because the forest is also popular among elks.

Someone would think we are exaggerating looking at the preparations below, but covering everything you can and closing your sleeves with some painter’s tape was only a clever and quite necessary precaution before entering the forest… as we immediately found out.

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Super stylish berry picker ;)

A super stylish berry picker… not! 😉

I don’t have photos of our little friends but after we returned to our car after 2 hours in the forest (and with 35 litres of lingonberries, all the buckets full!) we found these flies all over our bodies. Disgusting! Especially my dad seemed to be popular among them, as he’s the biggest one and these flies look for human heat.

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But it was worth it, the forest was beautiful and gave you some special energy. Looking and tasting the lingonberries now makes one feel satisfied. Tomorrow we’ll freeze the berries and enjoy extra vitamins in the winter.

What is a lingonberry? Wikipedia tells that lingonberries are native to boreal forest and Arctic tundra throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America.

The berries contain many organic acids, vitamin C, A and B (B1, B2, B3), potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. They also contain phytochemicals that are thought to counteract urinary-tract infections, and the seeds are rich in  omega-3.

The amazing fact is that 90 per cent of this super food is left in the forests of Finland. And at the market lingonberries cost about 4 euros per litre. What a waste! Maybe the deer flies are too big a challenge for us.

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Helsinki today: restaurants & a huge fleamarket

Today I got to taste Helsinki the way I really like it: with lots of happy people on the streets and with good weather!

This is not so easy combination that the people living in warmer climate might think… But when Helsinki wants to show its good side, it really is something! There’s a special feeling in the air…

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Today we had decided to take part in a huge fleamarket (in Finnish kirpputori), organised every now and then in different parts of Helsinki.

This time the association of Kallio, Kallio-liike, arranged a very popular street market in the bohemian & hipster Kallio neighbourhood, where everyone could just come and start selling their things – for free.

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The only requirements where to take all your unsold things back home with you and to make sure that the day would be fun & nice for everyone. And it really was! The sun was shining, there were lots of people selling and buying (perhaps more or less we were the same people but anyway) and everything went smoothly.

It’s so great when people quite spontaneously “occupy the urban space” and use it to strengthen the sense of community. The Vaasankatu street was closed to cars (actually it has been like that all the summer). Another good thing,

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However, the fleamarket wasn’t the only event happening in Helsinki today. A lot bigger one was Ravintolapäivä (Restaurant Day), which took place all over the city – and Finland – and internationally!

In short, it’s a food carnival where anyone can open a restaurant for a day – and it’s amazing how many people do it in very creative ways! You just have to take a walk in Esplanadi park, like we did, to get a good glimpse of the variety.

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Their enthusiasm is amazing, as is the fact that one gets to taste the most interesting things… Today I was mostly selling stuff at the fleamarket, but I still tasted typical Maleysian soy bean rolls with shrimps and Vietnamese frittata with cabbage. Or something like that… Unfortunately there are no photos of these delicacies, I was too hungry to think about photos at the moment. 😉

Only the creativity of the chefs is the limit when it comes to the food and locating the pop-up restaurants: they can take place homes, gardens, parks, streets, balconies, shops etc. Naturally now in the summer the most of the restaurants are outside, in the November or January edition of Restaurant Day it’s a bit different…

Thank you for today, Helsinki! Looking forward to seeing more days like this, with the city alive and many smiling people around.

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We want local food – but what is it?

Where do you come from, broiler?

Local food is a big thing in Finland these days. It’s truly in fashion, at least the trendy people of Helsinki constantly talk about how they want their food local.

New (expensive) stores selling local products pop-up all around the city. Like this one, Anton&Anton in Töölö.

Of course, the elder generations know better and have been consuming local food all their lives – without making a fuss about it. Still, I think this one is a good trend – as long as it doesn’t make the prices go up too much. And there is another major problem: nobody really knows what actually is local food?

This weekend I’m visiting my parents in Tampere and yesterday the local newspaper Aamulehti published an opinion about local food, which will surely provoke debate.

A guy called Visa Merikoski, the director of MTK Pirkanma, the local division of Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners, claimed that soon even broiler from Brazil will be considered as local product, if the current trend continues.

He says that yes, local food interests the consumers a lot, and this is way so many supermarket chains are now thinking hard how to take the advantage of the trend. They sell images and when it comes to local food, the tendency is to lie – just a little bit.

Why? Because “at its worst” Polish wheat, Danish pork or Brazilian chicken might end up being local food as in most supermarkets one can already find products, whose origins are not announced correctly.

As consumers prefer local food, it seems logical that the main reason for hiding the origins is that they are not from near here… not even from Finland. In the end, the consumer believes he/she’s buying something he isn’t. This could be called cheating, or at least hiding the truth.

The thing is that everyone has the right to define local food from their own point of view. The consumers think that only small-scale production means local and they hate the idea of industrial production. Some connect local food to organic food.

The food production industry thinks that what counts is where the food is made, not from where the ingredients come from.

Then there are the farmers, who want ingredients that arrive from as near as possible – at least from inside Finland.

And the food production workers think that domestic work is very important.

One might guess that all these different ideas cause a mess when it comes to marketing local food.

(Finnish?) rye bread

For example, Mr. Visa tells that in one local supermarket they don’t tell the origins of a pork product, whose name refers to something 100% local (the product in this case was Tapolan ylikypsä kinkku). Probably it had been made right here in Tampere, but not telling it makes one suspicious… naturally.

So why don’t the producers tell the facts, when the information would attract more consumers??

One might also find bread – on the shelf reserved for local food – whose wheat has travelled a long way. The bakers tend to explain that domestic wheat is not always available, so they cannot commit to using it. This is not true: one can always get domestic wheat, it just might not be as cheap as the foreign ones.

In brief, every Finn has encountered products that carry a Finnish flag or other symbol referring to it being national, even if the product might be something totally different.

Does this mean it’s Finnish – really?

If we don’t talk about this openly, the same tendency will continue – and someday we won’t have any means to know from where our bread, salad, fruit, meat, fish or chocolate comes from. No thanks, we have the right to know – and to be able to choose.

Everyone (the politicians, media and food producers) know well what’s going on – so please do something about it!

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A summer house where living is easy…

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Yesterday we visited the summer house of my godparents. It’s a pretty old wooden house, where all their four children with their kids, husbands and wives fit well. In the old days, the sister of my grandfather used to live alone in this big house – till’ she got 100 years old and died. An amazing, strong lady!

So we are very happy that the house stays in the family, as everyone has good memories of the place. It’s about one hour trip away from Tampere, so it’s easy to take the car and spend a day or two there.

This time I went with my mom. The moment I stepped in I remember how much I love old wooden houses, their smell and sounds. It’s always been my dream to live in one. The atmosphere is special, especially in this house were I remember most of the objects from my childhood and I know that elder generations have been living years in these same rooms, painting the walls, having sauna and planting all the flowers and trees.

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However, at the same time I start to feel very nostalgic about how fast time passes and dear old people die. Just two days ago I heard that the husband of the sister of my grandfather died at the age of 97. They had been married more than 60 years, so it’s a big shock to her – she’s also 95 years old. The couple has always been living a very healthy life, but even if their life has been happy and full, it breaks my heart to hear that it’s now over.

But that’s life, and everyone shall die someday – maybe tomorrow, maybe in 50 years. You never know, so the only option is to live your life as full as possible and spend a lot of moments with your loved ones.

Anyway, not to get too melancholic, back to the summer house! The best thing was to hear about my relatives daily routine there. They are now retired, so they spend most part of the summers in this house or with their children in Helsinki or in their other house in Northern Finland – they are free as birds to change address whenever they feel like!

While in the summer house, they wake up early and start working in the house or in the garden – in an old house there are always so many things to do. And they love this kind of simple physical work and look so healthy and happy. They work all day, then in the evenings they eat something simple and nice, home-made food made from local ingredients bought from a market place or a small eat factory nearby. Then they go to sauna (every evening), chat and read a bit and go to sleep. No TV and a mimimun of Internet. No running water. Total peace and simple life.

Oh, how I envy them these days as my daily routine consists of office work: filling reports, sitting in the office and attending more or less boring meetings and processes that don’t have an end. I talked about my discontent also with my godparents. They agreed and truly supported me in looking for other alternatives… I’m so happy I have such a supportive family!

Well, for now I’m on holiday and have more time to think about my future and what I really want from life. Don’t know if leaving the city life behind and going to live in the countryside would be an option for me, but everyday I understand better people who make this choice, too.

All photos: Helsinkimylove

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Finland – a nation in love with milk

Yesterday I arrived to my parents’ place in Tampere, ready to spend some days without doing anything. Well, anything I don’t feel like doing.

Anyway, being at the parents’ place means that the fridge is always full of good stuff. When I open the door, which I do here a lot, it’s a very different experience than at home as to the variety and quality – my mom is an excellent cook and when the daughter is home so they make sure there’s everything I could ever desire. And I sure enjoy it!

Last evening I accompanied them to do the shopping for the weekend in a huge supermarket called Citymarket. Normally me and my boyfriend do our shopping in a small Alepa or K-supermarket next to our home, so it’s an eye-opening experience to go to these huge places and realize the choice they have – of everything. And in Finland the variety is still quite limited compared to many other countries. Especially in US I always get overwhelmed by the selection of all the products from cheese to sweets. It makes me immediately think do we really need all this stuff? Of course we don’t.

Anyway, this time I focused on the  variety of milk products – Finns love milk and consume a lot of yogurt, “piimä” (kind of sour milk) and “rahka” (kind of quark). Milk is a typical drink for anything: breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, salty, sweet… The speciality of Tampere is a creative combination of “mustamakkara” (blood sausage) with lingonberry jam and a glass of milk. Quite a surprise to my Spanish boyfriend! All in all, I would say milk is our national drink, though younger generations are not so much into it.

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Mustamakkara, the typical dish in Tampere, with lingonberry jam and milk. Here’s also the dessert – a doughnut.

Another thing is that there are as many tastes as there are kinds of milk. Today my parents’ fridge contains 5 different milk packs – all three of us have our milk + some extras. And this is nothing if you think of all the milks you can find in a normal Finnish supermarket.

Moreover, there’s a huge number of Finns who can’t intake milk lactose – for example myself. There’s even a joke that you know when you’ve lived too long in Finland when you become lactose-intolerant. So now they have all the milk products also with little (“hyla” or no lactose (“laktoositon”) And so the variety grows.

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My mom likes her milk semi-skimmed and “hyla” – with only little lactose, as she is a bit lactose-intolerant.

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My boyfriend wants his milk semi-skimmed and normal – as he’s Spanish, no lactose-intolerance involved.

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Today I like soy milk the best even if I drink skimmed low-lactose milk too. Depends of the moment…

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My father drinks normal skimmed milk – he’s not lactose-intolerant but on a diet.

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My brother wants to have his coffee with normal full-fat milk.

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Extras: sour milk – another speciality that is very good and healthy containing a lot of good bacteria.

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My favourite yoghurt – I like it simple, without any artificial taste.

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… and this is the yoghurt of my boyfriend. Danone Strawberry with lots of sugar and stuff.

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Quark – another milk product. I love the sour taste and the fact that it contains so much protein.

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My mom’s favourite. “Viili” is a type of yogurt (a mesophilic fermented milk) that originated in the Nordic countries”, Wikipedia tells.

Actually last year the milk consumption of the Finns went a bit down, as every Finn drank about 129 litres of milk in a year. Still it seems a lot, as not everyone drinks milk at all. Also ice cream was eaten a bit less last year – and Finland is the nation which most ice cream enjoyes in the world! Even if you wouldn’t believe it, as we have are surrounded by ice and snow most of the time  and eating something cold on top of that might not seem wise.

Yoghurt consumption is on the rise, too. Last year every Finn ate 24 kilos of yoghurt. Personally I love natural yoghurt and eat it every morning for breakfast with fruit and seeds.

Anyway, as there’s a very strong low-carb fashion in Finland right now, we consume more and more fat milk and butter (instead of margarine). Also cheese and quark are getting more popular. So I guess we’ll continue heavy consumers of all the white material coming out of a cow – and it’s derivations full of calcium and protein. Not that bad a habit, I guess, even if my vegan friends think it’s crazy to eat “cow’s food”. But even they love soy milk, rice milk, oat milk or coconut milk…

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Finnish summer: “short and with little snow”

The last 5 days I’ve was in Spain, mostly very involved in the wedding celebrations of my boyfriend’s little brother. This was the first time I attended a wedding abroad – or anywhere for many years, as my friends here in Finland don’t seem established or at least willing to get married… or if someone does, they do it in secret or in a humble way.

Well, this Spanish wedding was anything but small and humble. What mostly struck me was the amazing amount of food we were offered – all the time. Anyway, more about this experience later as now I’m back in Helsinki. And at work, unfortunately. However, you always appreciate what you have at home more when you go away – even if only for 5 days.

When we returned to Helsinki-Vantaa airport last night at 11pm, the sun was still up, the green of the trees had got a deeper tone and I felt that finally summer is about to arrive here in the North. So far it’s been cold and rainy, and I’ve been feeling a bit down – no wonder, as we Finns spend all those cold months waiting for the summer to come and when it doesn’t arrive the way it should, well, that’s just depressing. A couple of days ago in Sweden the temperature went even lower than during last Christmas Eve. No, no, no.

But now there is hope. Today we had lunch outside with my colleagues (even if the wind was chilly) and after work we went with my boyfriend to enjoy an ice cream by the sea in Kaivopuisto. That was OK too, if you avoided the cold shadows.

Helsinki West Harbour seen from the top of a building – actually from our post office in the new suburb of Jätkäsaari. I never knew there was a terrace with a view up there, till we decided to climb up today.

Baana, thw new recreational zone of Helsinki, was opened yesterday. It looks great and the best thing is that it’s only a couple of minutes from home.

The most positive surprise of today was Baana, a big recreational zone and bicycle route opened yeasterday. It’s built on an old abandoned railway track that crosses the centre of Helsinki, which gives the place a special touch.

I feel Baana is the best thing the city of Helsinki has created for its people in a long time! Today I got even emotional as I saw Baana filled with people enjoying the sun and the new facilities with their bikes or playing petanque, ping pong or basketball, practicing their long board skills or having a picnic. Thank you, Helsinki!

Luckily Baana is not the only example of a new “more open and human Helsinki” that I feel is slowly surging out there… Thanks to many active citizens who have created projects such as the delicious Restaurant Day or the popular Urban Agriculture project (kaupunkiviljely) started up by an organisation called Dodo. For me, this new Helsinki means inclusive, free and creative things that make our city a better place to live. The most important thing is to create the feeling of ownership and offer some free space to the people – after that anything is possible.

Urban agriculture means that farming comes where the people are – making us aware of where our food comes from and making our lives a bit happier taking care of these little gardens. Credit: Kaupunkiviljely.fi.

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Flea markets make you happy. Why?

You can find kirpputoris’ (flea market, also literally) all over Helsinki. There are tiny ones put up among friends in someone’s livingroom and huge ones organised in old warehouses and such.  There are the daily self-service ones and the ones that attract hundreds of people to sell their extra stuff in a big hall early in the morning.

Valtterin kirpputori is such a place. A couple of times I’ve been selling there with my friend. We woke up at six, packed our sandwiches with all the stuff we hoped to sell and joined the crowd. Valtteri takes place mostly in weekends in an old warehouse in the neighbourhood of Vallila. The atmosphere is special.

I love kirpputoris. Why?

  • For me, kirpputori brings out a special solidarity among people. We are all there, together exchanging: one’s trash is another one’s treasure.
  • Buying gets personal. You chat with the person from who you are buying a thing and hear the history of the item. Today I bought a blouser and found out that the owner had bought it from Paris and it’s been dear to her. Nice.
  • It’s ecological, so you feel better buying, or “giving a new life to an item”.
  • You save money and find things and cool clothes that you never would at H&M etc. Kirpputoris’ got popular in Finland during the recession in 1990s. Today my boyfriend bought 11 good CDs for 6 euros.
  • All kinds of people go there: snobbish ladies and poor students, immigrants and even children (with a little help for the parents.)
  • It feels so good to get rid of things! I just packed 3 big sacks of clothes for kirpputori. And it’s a special feeling to meet the person who will be the next happy owner of your jeans, book, toaster, mug…
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