Tag Archives: summer house

The Midsummer Weekend in Finland

Midsummer in Finland, miss you! Midsummer in FinlandThis is the weekend when Finland shuts down. As early as Thursday afternoon people started migrating to summer houses by the lake or the sea, and they will stay there until Sunday. Activities include sauna, swimming, outdoor games, fishing, water sports and barbecue. It is the weekend when the sun never seems to set. Midnight sun, Midsummer in FinlandThe Midsummer holiday (Juhannus in Finnish) is full of symbolism and magic. Some villages prepare a hug bonfire, kokko, which usually burns by the water. In addition, there are other traditions and rituals that include running around naked, looking deep into water, collecting flowers and placing them under the pillow and observing the direction of the bonfire smoke, to mention a few, and all these rituals are for the purpose of finding a decent husband and getting a hint of who he may be. Indeed, Midsummer is originally a pagan celebration. Midsummer, FinlandI have not been able to join Midsummer celebrations in Finland for a long time and it is a pity. It really is one of the happiest celebrations in Finland (even if every year someone gets too dunk and drowns…). Now that I am thinking about it, I realize I am more nostalgic about Juhannus than I am about Christmas! And to be very honest, uploading these photos (taken at the summer house) made me cry a bit. To me this is the most beautiful place in the world.

Happy Midsummer everyone!! Hyvää juhannusta!!

PS For those interested in understanding what life at the summer house looks like, see these previous posts:

Finland, Land of the Midnight Sun
Summer holidays in Finland
Sauna Time
A typical Finnish meal after sauna
Fishing at midnight
Our beautiful lake has turned into a monster!
What does Finnish barbeque look like?
Finnish fish tajine (part 2)
Very easy tartiflette
The Wind in the Willows (kaislikossa suhisee)
A must-try at the Finnish summer house!

Lastly, if you like these posts, why not to follow Pearlspotting on Facebook, too? Or by Twitter, @Miia_Niskanen.

Understanding Finland by Art

During my last visit to Helsinki I did something that I recommend every tourist to do. I visited some of the most important art museums of the Finnish capital: Ateneum Art Museum, Design Museum and Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art.

This may sound like a lot of museums to do in one trip, but in my opinion these museums provide interesting insight into what Finland used to be, how it has evolved, what it represents today and where it is heading to. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that what you will learn about Finland through art in these museums will lay foundations for your further encounters in Finland and make you better understand this sparsely populated but geographically big country, sometimes also described obscure.

My first mission was to visit Ateneum and particularly its “Highlights of the Collections” section. To me this is where I would get to the roots of Finland; time travel to the Romantic Nationalism era of the late 19th century when Finnish artists begun to praise local traditions and culture. Kalevala (the national epic) and its mythology, lakes, majestic scenery, peasants, folklore and nationhood were recurring themes in the paintings of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Eero Järnefelt, Albert Edelfelt, Helene Schjerfbeck, Hugo Simberg, to mention a few.Kullervo Cursing by Akseli Gallen-KallelaAs every Finn, I have seen these masterpieces thousands of times, but I wanted to revisit them to see what they can explain to me about my country of origin. As I continued observing, I was reminded of the harsh living conditions of this northern country, the period of the Swedish and then Russian rule, as well as of the solitary personality type of a Finn who still often is more relaxed alone (or in the nature) than with other people.

Wandering in front of some of the most famous Finnish paintings did open the door to the Finnish soul and I understood that what these artists expressed more than 100 years ago is still very much alive. Today, the Finns continue to love the nature and lakes, and forest is a place of meditation. Indeed, this is why in Finland there are about 500,000 summer houses, sacred places where Finns jump into their dear lake in all weathers, often naked as in this painting. The Aino triptych by Akseli Gallen-KallelaOn my way out of Ateneum my mind was stuck on Finland that was an agrarian state much longer than its neighbors. How did this country that was so poor just over 100 years ago became one of the richest and most gender-equal nations of the 21th century? The answer to this question was to be found in my next destination, Design Museum, where I was going to witness the transformation that Finland underwent. First around its independence in 1917 and second immediately after the Second World War that left the country ruined and badly injured physically and psychologically.Lemminkäinen's Mother by Akseli Gallen-KallelaAlready during the Russian rule Finland had taken steps toward showing its distinctiveness. The artistic triumph of the Romantic Nationalism era culminated in the Paris World’s Fair in 1900 when Finland made its international breakthrough: “we are culturally different from Russia” was what Finland was saying to the world and the world loved the message.

When Finland gained its independence seventeen years later, architecture and design played an important role in the identity making. The poor, agrarian past remained in the back of the mind of designers, encouraging them to create simple and practical but aesthetic objects, often in harmony with the nature and natural materials. The predominant Protestant religion further directed the designers toward plain and unornamented creations.Alvar Aalto chairs at Design MuseumThe years following the Second World War filled Finnish homes with tears and poverty, but some comfort was brought to the Finns by the international success of Finnish design. The postwar period in Finland is called the Golden Age of Finnish Design and for a good reason. This is when Artek, Arabia and Marimekko became internationally sough-after brands. The Aalto vase, created in 1936, continued to travel around the world, and Jackie Kennedy stood by her husband wearing a Marimekko dress in 1960. The Finns were slowly but surely recovering from the wounds of the war.

Finnish design continued to strengthen its domestic and international position in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. New materials like plastic emerged, creating new opportunities for designers like Eero Aarnio and Yrjö Kukkapuro who became forerunners of plastic chair design. As Finland grew richer, design expanded to home appliances (for example, Fiskars scissors) and various aspects of daily life (for example, Helsinki got its funky orange metro in 1982). Design MuseumIndeed, during many decades Finnish design and art were seen as means to serve everyday needs, and everyday needs were seen as opportunities to create design and art. Convenient! Very Finnish! The moment I understood this idea, I understood a lot about Finland. Art and design were always meant to be available for everyone, regardless of person’s social class. The fact that every Finnish home is full of “design objects” is probably one of the best proofs of successful nation building that is equal and democratic…?

Now, let’s fast forward to the ’90s. Once again Finland took big international steps and Finnish design contributed to the success of the world’s most famous telephone, the Nokia phone. However, this was not all that was happening. During the ’90s Finland embraced the world in an unseen way. Finland’s EU negotiations coincided with the construction of Finland’s first truly international museum, Kiasma. Curiously, but as a reflection of the spirit of the time, it was designed by an American architect. KiasmaSome have compared Kiasma to Espace Louis Vuitton and Pompidou Center, but during my visit I realized that there was something particularly Finnish about Kiasma’s approach to contemporary art. Its desire to create a dialogue. In fact Kiasma is a platform where a dialogue between decision makers, artists, audience and society takes place, and as a demonstration of its ideology, I stumbled upon an exhibition curated by Finnish daycare children. Talking about participation and engagement!

While I admired Steven Holl‘s minimalist hence oh-so-Finnish architecture, I realized that Kiasma played and still plays a very symbolic role: it is a prime example of Finland’s forward-looking attitude. Finland has strongly tied its development to the future (as opposed to some countries that are more past-focused) and is open to the world. As Ville Kylätasku, an aspiring, young Finnish artist residing in Berlin told me, “To me, Kiasma is like a window through which Finland looks at the outside world”.

So, what did visiting these museums teach me about Finland? That art has played a strong role in the Finnish identity making. That art is practical and accessible. That often design objects and daily needs look the same. That Finland is a young country still looking for its place. That even after Nokia Finland will continue making international headlines. That there is nothing more sacred than a lake (and if you a foreigner visiting Finland, do jump –preferably naked– into that lake!).

Ateneum: http://www.ateneum.fi
Design Museum: http://www.designmuseum.fi
Kiasma: http://www.kiasma.fi


Note: The idea behind this write-up was to see what kind of Finland-related emotions and ideas these three museums bring to me –“me” being someone who left Finland in the ’90s, travelled the world and settled (at least for the time being) in Paris. “Me” being someone who finds herself no longer fully Finnish and not yet (and maybe never?) French, but who is interested in individual and national identities.

Do notice also that I am not an art historian. I have tried to check facts and figures, but as always, do your own research and certainly do not take every word and sentence I wrote as a representative of the absolute truth. These are my ideas and should be taken only as such. 

Lastly, I would love to hear your opinion about Finland and Finnish art! Please do so by writing your comment below this post, by Facebook (Pearlspotting) or by Twitter ()!

Crazy winter!

This past winter has been very mild in many European countries. So far, it has been one of the three warmest winters in France since 1900. Surprisingly, but to everyone’s delight, the temperature climbed to 22C in Paris last Sunday! Although I like spring as most of the people do, I feel slightly sad that I didn’t experience really cold weather this year.

In Finland, my country of origin, it hasn’t been much better. Lapland has snow but Helsinki is ready to welcome spring. In the region where our summer house is located, It still looks very much like winter but the reality is quite different. The ice on the lake is only 35 cm thick compared to what it could be: 100 cm 35 years ago, usually 60-70 cm. This is what the lake looked like few days ago (photo credit: my father):Finnish lake in winterMaybe with the climate change we will now have more of these Caribbean sunsets at least?

PS To compare this winter image to a summer photo, see Our beautiful lake has turned into a monster! Yes, it is the same lake. Same islands. Spectacular, isn’t it?


The Wind in the Willows (kaislikossa suhisee)

Do you have a sound that you love? I do have, and it comes from rowing a boat among the reeds. the reeds in a lakeAs far as my knowledge goes, we have two types of reeds in the lake where our summer house is located. They grow in a small bay near to us, and this bay is also a hiding place for pikes. They seem to like shallow water.reeds in the lake During my last visit to the summer house, there was one day when the temperature climbed to 25C. I took our rowing boat with my husband and we headed to the reeds for a “water safari”. We did not see any pikes, but it was nice anyway. rowing among the reedsI have tried to illustrate the rowing in the reeds experience by sharing these photos, and if you are intrigued, like my new “Pearlspotting” page on Facebook and you can access a short video to hear the sound that I love.

Fishing at midnight

pike perch ("kuha")lake fishWind calmed down, so we could go and check the nets. The lake was quiet and the colours were stunning. It will be a busy night to prepare all this fish! fishing at midnight

Very easy tartiflette

The sun is back and we had tartiflette for lunch at our summerhouse terrace.lunch at summer house terraceThe recipe I used could not be easier: put sliced potatoes (peeled), onions, garlic and thinly-cut smoked duck into a glass bowl. Mix. Add cream and black & white pepper. Mix again. Add special tartiflette cheese on the top of the ingredients. Cook under aluminum foil for 1h – 1h30 minutes. Enjoy with either red wine or dry white wine (for example AOC Vin de Savoie Apremont).tartiflette

PS Duck can be replaced by lardon. To give more taste, onions and garlic can be sautéed in a frying pan.

Our beautiful lake has turned into a monster!

This is what our lake looked like yesterday evening.  Colours were stunning but we could see the storm approaching… beautiful view of a Finnish lakeAnd this is the view tonight! The wind is so strong that it disturbs the internet connection. We cannot go and check the fishing nets. Hoping  for a better day tomorrow. It is barely 10C but after posting these photos I will head to the sauna to warm my bones…. storm at a Finnish lake

The 24 hour lamb leg

July 14 is the French National Day, also called Bastille Day. We are in Finland at the moment, far away from Paris celebrations, but my parents decided to create a special meal for their French son-in-law.

Two days before the big day we begun defrosting a lamb leg, bought at the local farm. On the eve we placed the leg in the largest bowl we found at the summer house and covered it with olive oil. We then added herbes de Provence (mixture of dried herbs), fresh rosemary, thyme stems and black pepper, with only a little bit of salt. Next we cut plenty of garlic into small pieces and put them on the lamb, not forgetting to place (unpeeled) garlic cloves aside in the bowl.preparing 24 hour lamb legIn the end, we added a cup of water, covered the leg with aluminum foil and put it in oven. At the summer house we have a traditional Finnish oven called leivinuuni, which is specifically made for cooking: excellent for making crunchy pizza, bread, overnight porridge, meats, etc. The moment we started cooking the lamb leg, it was around 110C inside the oven.Traditional Finnish oven, leivinuuniThe next morning I moistened the leg with juice that had come out of the lamb. The dish was looking good. I repeated this a few times during the day. In the evening, after approximately 24 hours, we removed the leg from the oven. The temperature had decreased to 50C. My Mom had prepared a green salad with home-grown tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta cheese, onion and basil leaves. My husband served red wine (AOC Côtes du Luberon). The lamb leg was excellent: juicy, not greasy, not dry; just perfect. The garlic cloves melted in the mouth. France was properly honored!

PS I did not have time to do it yesterday, but today I prepared some eggplants (with olive oil and herbs), and we finished the lamb with oven-baked eggplants.

Finnish fish tajine (part 2)

Yesterday’s fish tajine turned out excellent and I thought to write down the recipe before I forget it. Finnish Fish Tajine

PREPARATION (see also the previous post Finnish fish tajine (part 1)

  • Peel and cut potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, eggplant, and place them in a large bowl (clay pot gives deeper taste but glass is fine, too)
  • Add spices: couscous mix, coriander powder and crushed coriander seeds, curcuma (also called turmeric), paprika, cinnamon sticks, lemon pepper and harissa paste
  • Add olive oil (in addition I used oil from a sundried tomato jar and it gave a lot of taste!)
  • Add fish broth (I used homemade frozen burbot broth)
  • Peel a lemon and cut it into thin slices
  • Add green olives

Mix everything thoroughly. Add fish pieces in the end (I had frozen pieces of burbot, which is an excellent fish for tajines and stews because of its solid texture). Leave the dish to marinate in the fridge for several hours. Heat the oven to 250C. Let the dish cook during one hour. The fact that the dish was cooked under a rather high temperature gave the vegetables a lot of taste (in fact the trick is to let the vegatables to almost-burn! but in order not to burn them totally, you should keep stirring the dish regularly). Finnish fish burbot tajineEnjoy “Finnish fish tajine” with cool rosé wine, for example AOC Côtes du Luberon from the South of France. Serve harissa aside for those who like it hot. I am confident to say that your dinner will be a great success!

PS I was a little bit in a hurry, but to prepare the dish more properly you should probably heat up the spices, garlic and onion in a frying pan (it is important to “open up the spices”with oil). Secondly, if you don’t have burbot, try to find a similar type of fish that has firm texture. Lastly, should you want to save money and do something even easier, try with canned tuna.

Finnish fish tajine (part 1)

When the sun shines in Finland, one has to enjoy it. So, when I spend time at the summer house by the lake, I try to do as much as I can outside. Even my cooking preparations!

My parents have burbot (made in Finnish) in the freezer (it is a winter fish), so today I decided to make a fish and vegetable stew. I invented a recipe as I was advancing. I started peeling and cutting potatoes, carrots, eggplants and onions. I placed them in a large bowl and added garlic, green olives, couscous spices, harissa, slices of lemon and olive oil, and left the dish to marinate in the fridge for several hours. It is in the oven now and will be eaten after the sauna. I wonder if it will taste anything like a Tunisian fish tajine? Probably not, but I am sure it will be tasty on its own curious way… As my husband brought with him some rosé wine from the South of France (AOC Côtes du Luberon), and I think it our dinner will be just fine! cooking at the summer house in Finland

PS Burbot is an excellent fish, but unfortunately many people are afraid to buy it because of its weird looks. Some people consider it difficult to prepare, too (getting rid of the skin etc.). This is a pity, because the texture of the fish is wonderful for preparation of many types of dishes. If you have your special burbot dish, I would love to hear about it!