Finland

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Hyvää huomenta! Good morning from Finland! Finland is one of the Nordic countries—together with Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland—but is not a part of the region known as Scandinavia. That distinction belongs to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark alone. While Swedish is also an official language of Finland, the Finnish language itself shares more in common with Estonian, the language of Finland’s neighbor to the south (Estonia). As you can see from the hyperlinks above, we had already visited several nearby countries, but this weekend we naturally hoped to discover what makes Finland unique.

We didn’t have long to wait, as Jess had discovered the perfect Finnish breakfast to make on Friday night. Yep, this was a recipe for barley porridge that baked in the oven while we were asleep. By Saturday morning, the soupy mixture had baked into a chewy porridge which Jess topped (in the Finnish style) with lots of fresh berries.

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Foraging for wild berries is quite popular in Finland, we had learned. The blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries made an excellent addition to our barley porridge. While we didn’t manage to find the elusive cloudberry, which is a Finnish specialty, berries would appear again in several more of the weekend’s recipes.

After breakfast, we watched the Finnish episode of Geography Now, which introduced us to many of the nation’s most prominent features:

Jess had decided to make Karelian pies, which are to be served room-temperature, for lunch, so we started to make them several hours in advance. Karelia is a cultural region of Northern Europe that today lies along both sides of the border between Finland and Russia. Jess also prepared a rosolli beet salad, which is popular at Christmas time.

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I also spent part of the morning baking the spoon-shaped cookies for some lusikkaleivat sandwich cookies, which I later filled with strawberry preserves.

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During an afternoon visit to the library, we realized that the Finnish flag is one of many that fly above the reflecting pool in Buffalo’s Fountain Plaza, which you can see in the photo at the top of this page.

We later watched several Finnish travel documentaries, including this introduction to the local cuisine:

For dinner, I attempted to make the famous Finnish combination of pea soup and pancakes (even though it wasn’t a Thursday, as is the tradition). First came the pea soup, a meatless version that was therefore missing some key flavors:

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Next came the pancakes, which we consumed in the traditional manner with some strawberry preserves.

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After dinner, we watched a Finnish film called The Man Without a Past (2002). This was a bleak comedy in the vein of the other Baltic films we had seen on previous globetrots to Russia and Estonia, and it gave us a slightly dated look at Helsinki.

The next morning, after enjoying another batch of Jess’s barley porridge, we watched an hour-long documentary called The Finland Phenomenon (2011) about the country’s top-ranked educational system:

After another lunch of Karelian pies and beet salad, we walked over to Kleinhans Music Hall, a building that was designed in 1940 by the famous Finnish architect Eero Saarinen and his father Eliel Saarinen. The concert hall is now one of Buffalo’s architectural treasures. The younger Saarinen went on to design landmarks like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport.

We had a pair of tickets to hear the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Faletta. The concert featured a condensed orchestral performance of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas, which are based on stories from Norse mythology. We had thought that this Norse connection was as close as we could get to hearing some Finnish music. Little did we know that the orchestra was planning to perform the music of Finland’s most famous composer, Jean Sibelius, the very next weekend!

Despite this musical mishap (the Wagner left us a bit underwhelmed) we managed to  have a tasty and educational weekend from start to Finnish. Look out for a detour ahead!

–Derek

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