Practicalities

Doing life right, at home and away

Of DIY Elbow Patches

I know we’re approaching the end of January… but still – Happy New Year, everyone!

Today I’m sharing you a little “craft tutorial” of sorts. Basically I just want to remind you that mending is easy, cheap and everyone can do it!

I’m going to kick-off this year by starting a series of posts about mending. This is the first part: we’re fixing up sweaters with holes on the elbows with some awesome DIY elbow patches.

The sweater in question is a classy marine cashmere sweater – it’s one of my favourites as the comfort and versatility is incomparable. However, it has unfortunately two huge holes on the elbows.

And here I am, wearing a completely different cardigan. But still with elbow patches.

Let’s get started.

You don’t need many things:

  • Fabric for patches
  • Yarn to darn the hole with
  • Yarn to sew on the patches with
  • Pins & a darning needle
  • Good scissors
  • Optional: a darning aid (a wooden egg or a mushroom or similar)
  • Start with darning the hole. The hole will be covered by the patches, so the colour of the yarn and the overall look is secondary. Just make sure there are no loose ends.
  • Make the patches: I recommend using a piece of paper or cardboard as a stencil to get an even result. Cut the patches from the fabric.
  • Pin the patches on the sweater. Model a bit for the perfect spot and make sure you pin identically. You can check it by folding the sweater in half with the sleeves on top of each others.

  • Attach the patches on the sweater: I recommend using the blanket stitch. In my opinion, it creates the cleanest, most refined look and doesn’t show wear.
  • Done? Great! Your amazing new sweater is ready to be worn! Stay warm.

Super easy, right?

Of Himmeli Workshops in 2018!

Hey y’all! Hallo zusammen! Anybody there interested in crafts? ;

(unter auf Deutsch)

Are you famliar with Finnish Himmelis?

For the new readers in this blog, I’m a Finnish tradition blogger and I’m having two Himmeli-workshops beginning of the next year. I’m so excited!

I’ve teamed up with the awesome Villa Hasenholz and I’ll be doing a little demoing at their Christmas Market this weekend 09.-10.12.

A Himmeli is a traditional Finnish ornament, which incorporate many beliefs, magic and history in Finnish culture. For hundreds of years, Himmelis have decorated the Finnish homes, hoping to bring its’ owners happiness, riches and a good harvest for the next year. 

The modern Himmeli has many forms and styles, but a Himmeli casting it’s silent, moving shadow on the ceiling, is one of the most impressive examples of Finnish craft heritage. The delicate Himmeli in it’s silent dignity is unparalleled. 

So, I have two dates:

Sunday 28.01.2018 / 14-18

Sunday 11.02.2018 / 14-18

In the workshop, you learn to make a traditional Himmeli with my help and the course is also fit for beginners. Come and learn about the Finnish Himmeli & our craft traditions!

The course includes all materials and tools needed, plenty of personal guidance & advice and a safe means of transportation for your new Himmeli. 

You can join by getting in touch with me via email: sara@practicaliti.es , or at the Christmas Market. The voucher makes also for an amazing Christmas gift for someone special 😉

If crafts are not your thing, you can also order a Himmeli directly from me. Please get in touch via email & I’ll get you your Himmeli for Christmas!

Kennst du schon die finnische Himmelis?

Für die neue Leute in meinem Blog: ich bin Sara, ein Finnin in Leipzig und ich organisiere in Leipzig zum ersten Mal zwei Himmeli-Kurse.

Also, ich bin mit die supergeile Villa Hasenholz verbindet, und ich mache ein bisschen Werbung und Demo mit meine Himmelis beim Weihnachtsbrimborium am 9. Und 10.12.2017 in der Villa Hasenholz.

Ein Himmeli ist eine traditionelle finnische Dekoration, die Glaube, Zauber und Geschichte miteinander verbindet. In finnischen Häusern sind Himmelis seit Jahrhunderten nicht wegzudenken. Sie sollten unter anderem für eine gute Ernte im kommenden Jahr sorgen. 

Das Himmeli von heute hat ganz unterschiedliche Formen, aber ein Himmeli, das einen stillen Schatten von der Zimmerdecke wirft, ist ein überzeugendes Beispiel der Handarbeitstradition. Die Zartheit und die Würde sind beispiellos. 

So die zwei Termine:

Sonntag 28.01.2018 / 14-18

Sonntag 11.02.2018 / 14-18

Nach meine Anleitung erlernst Du während des Kurses die Herstellung eines wunderschönen eigenen Exemplars. Passend auch für Anfänger. Lerne mehr über das finnische Himmeli und die Geschichte dieser Handarbeit!

Der Kurs beinhaltet das benötigte Material, persönliche Betreuung und Beratung und eine Verwahrungsmöglichkeit für den sicheren Transport.

Ihr könnt direkt bei mir entweder über E-Mail: sara@practicaliti.es

Der Gutschein ist auch ein tolles Weihnachtsgeschenk!

Und falls Handarbeiten einfach nicht Euer Ding sein sollten, müsst Ihr dennoch nicht auf den Schmuck verzichten – könnt Ihr auch ein fertiges Himmeli kaufen. Auch dazu könnt Ihr per E-Mail kontaktieren 🙂

 

Of making a traditional German Rumtopf

This year, I am finally making a Rumtopf – or a Rumpot, in English. Rommiruukku, in Finnish.

It’s a traditional German fruit preserve/beverage and there are as many variations as there are makers of it. Because you can vary the recipe in so many ways, consider these just overall guidelines.

The Rumtopf has been a culinary classic in the past, but become unfortunately untrendy in the last 10-15 years, though I am hoping for it to make a comeback.

Where did this all begin? Rum imports began in the 18th century. Close to the Danish border, Flensburg was where the West Indies fleet offloaded it’s boozy cargo and, from there, it was transported around Europe. The legend has it, that the rum importing sailors accidentally dropped some fruit into a barrel of rum which quickly developed into a way of transporting exotic fruit back to Europe – and a tradition was born.

Ye Olde way of making this starts in late spring when the first fresh fruit is in season and ends in autumn when the fruit season is ending – typically with pears, or apples or plums and such. However, these days you can probably make it all at once sometime in the middle of summer, when the fruit season is peaking and the ripe fruit times are overlapping. I’m making mine in two steps: I’m still going to add pears later in autumn.

To make a Rumtopf, you will need a large-ish container, depending on how many people you intend to feed with it. Mine is 4 liters and it’s definitely quite large. You can also use a couple of smaller jars, if you don’t want to opt for a big one.

I advise on perhaps actually getting a proper Rumtopf – not only are the clay pots beautiful, they also have handles (!!!) which become handy when you move around the pot filled with several liters of liquid and many kilos of fruit. They also don’t let light affect your fruit and preserving process. However, the pot should seal relatively well – but if you get one of the traditional ones, they will.

Making the Rumtopf

This is the foundation: fruit to sugar ratio is 2:1.  I used around 500g fruit and 250g sugar for most varieties but it depends on how big your pot is. For rum – have plenty available, you’ll see how much you need as you go. I think for my 4l pot, I needed around 2,5l rum.

And the fruit?

I opted for:

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Sweet cherries
  • Tart cherries
  • Apricots
  • Plums
  • Red currants
  • Gooseberries
  • Pear (later)

I also added some cinnamon & vanilla sticks to add some Christmas-y flavour to it. I am considering adding some star anis a little later.

Let’s do this:

  1. Carefully wash and dry the pot.
  2. Clean the fruits – or wash, when appropriate. Remove the hull, stem and/or stone.
  3. Layer the fruit and in between layers, sprinkle the sugar on top, toss around a bit if needed. Let sit around 1-2 hours, or when the sugar has visibly started to melt and draw liquid out of the fruit. Pour the rum in, so that all of the fruit is covered.
  4. Place plastic wrap on top and put the lid on. Store in a cool, dark place – either until Christmas or until you want to add another layer of fruit.

Some essential pointers:

  • Use regular caster sugar. Regular cane sugar might work, but you’d have to add significantly more of it. It can be tempting to use molasses or muscovado sugar but they are not really suitable for preserving, don’t use them.
  • Don’t skimp on the sugar. Better put too much than too little: the sugar is an crucial element in preserving the fruit. It’s also important for the taste: if there’s not enough sugar, the alcohol draws all the flavour from the fruit. That does makes a great liquor, but not so much a dessert/fruit preserve aka what we are making here. The point of  Rumtopf is the have best from both worlds: fruity booze and a boozy fruit.
  • Don’t skimp on the quality of rum. It doesn’t have to be high end, just tasty and flavoursome. The spirit is a key element in a Rumtopf – don’t use anything you wouldn’t drink straight.
  • Only use rum varieties that are stronger than 50% – anything less than that might cause the fruit to ferment. Rumtopf is about preserving the fruit not fermenting it.
  • Only use fruit that are in great shape – if you wouldn’t eat it out of hand, it doesn’t belong in your Rumtopf.

You can of course use a wide variety of fruits in your Rumtopf, however different fruit has different characteristics and some are more advisable than others. Other popular fruits are: grapes, peaches, nectarines, figs and pineapple. Many recipes advise to add peaches and nectarines without their skin. You can also make “themed” Rumtopfs – a red berries one or an exotic fruit one.

Some say blackcurrants and blackberries make the mixture and other fruits a funny colour and banana dissolves into a weird mush. Some recipes recommend melons – some advise against them. Some say apples are great, some say they take on an odd texture. Basically, the only way to figure out your favourite way of making a Rumtopf is to try it out!

Can’t wait until Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Of Népra, sports and life

Part 1: In the forest

A dear friend came for a visit a while ago. Her name is Ama. We are quite different, yet somehow the same. I guess that’s how a lot of friendships work – you see a bit of yourself in them, yet you learn so much from it. Ama is a curious lady in many ways – young and complex, gentle and determined. I admire those qualities in her.

She has dark hair and bright eyes and a whiff of seriousness about her: impeccable posture and a calm presence. But she’s also full of fun and laughter, with a curious and lively eyes.

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On top of all that, she has a brand new, shiny sportswear brand: Népra. Elaborately thought-through and beautifully simple, yet never boring. Sourced and manufactured in Europe. I’ve had Népra’s clothes for a few months now and I can say it without any hesitation: I’m a huge fan.

(TL;DR: There’s a discount code at the end.)

It’s full-on summer in Leipzig – everything is hot. I’ve been sweating a lot, hanging out in the garden, taking naps and struggling to finish any project. A break in routine is more than welcome. Ama has been planning to visit me for a long time and I’ve been eagerly awaiting new Népra pieces, putting together one-by-one my perfect exercise wardrobe. I want to hear the whole story from Ama.

Upon her arrival, we go out with Musti, breathing in the smell of wild garlic and the forest. It’s mid-day and quiet. “But why did you start a sportswear brand? Seems pretty random.”, I ask, picking some wild garlic shoots. It will be a pasta sauce later on. Ama thinks for a bit. I open a beer. I love beer drinking and dog walking.

“Hmm, I guess the disheartening experiences I had with my own gear. My life had been increasingly revolving around exercise and I loved it. But the clothes couldn’t keep up with me, they wouldn’t follow me where I wanted to go – they were rather obstacles than assistants to my performance.”, Ama says. “I’d say that’s where it stems from.”

Part 2: At the gym

We’re at my Crossfit box, Crossfit Deluxe. It has a familiar smell – rubber and sweat. Concrete parking lots and old Leipzig industrial buildings spread out into the distance outside, in bright sunlight. We’re ready for a good workout.

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Ama is actually the main reason I ever got into the sport. Crossfit convinced me right away: it is the first and only sport that hasn’t managed to bore me. I get bored easy – all of my sports experiences and memories are mostly about me looking at the time (“can’t be that much longer gggGGGGGRRRRAAAAAHHHHhh only 5 minutes have passed since i last looked!”). Even though I have been quite active for a good part of my childhood and adult life, I’ve had relatively few positive sports experiences, my exercise has been always a slightly reluctant habit. My best memories from childhood involving sports are playing dodgeball at school and swimming and diving on the summer holidays. But the first time at Crossfit, the time just flew by.

Ama is adding weights to her barbell. I’ve been thinking about the inception of great ideas for the whole day, ever since she arrived. What do you do with an idea? I wanted to know the many steps from there to here.

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S: How did this whole idea come to you – about Népra? Has entrepreneurship been something you’ve always seen yourself doing?  

A: It was simultaneously straightforward and random. In short, I had graduated, doing CrossFit and wondering what to do with my life: pondering all the big questions. I’m also a self-starter – I have no trouble motivating myself, I don’t need supervision to get things done. So in that sense, maybe entrepreneurship was always in the cards for me, even if I didn’t actively plan it. If anything, I was looking for a job where I would be happy for a long period of time. Arguably, the best way to ensure that is to create that job yourself!

S: Ok. How did you build Népra and the brand out of that? What’s the inspiration?

A: Well, I have to reply for my business partner, Essi, too. Népra is Carelian and means water. The word resonates with us in a fundamental way – perhaps a cliché, but Finland is the land of thousands of lakes and in our core, I think it shapes us. We think the name encapsulates all of our inspirations and values: nature, Finland, Finnish identity, being clear-cut – even minimalism. I’ve always been fascinated by the water element. I spent my childhood summers swimming, boating and fishing with my dad. In the winter, we went ice-fishing. So the water aspect brings some very raw and beautiful, early memories.

Somehow Népra’s logo seems very fitting to me: a little frog that’s just hopped out of the water. It’s cute and a little unexpected but all-the-while elegant.

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S: How did you meet Essi then? You guys were complete strangers before founding Népra, right? I can’t even imagine how it feels to start a project like that.

A: Meeting Essi was nothing short of a miracle – we clicked instantly. We immediately shared our vision. I had almost lost hope in finding a partner to work with, but the moment I met Essi, Népra became a reality. It was no longer a dream and vision I kept running after without the proper tools. Essi thought about my proposal for a few days. I was nervous and impatient – it’s a bit like starting a relationship with someone, sweaty palms and excitement. As personalities, there is something fundamentally similar in us, but elaborating us further, I’d say we are quite different in the end. At least in the way we work. I’m better at handling the big picture, whereas Essi has the eye and the nerves for the piety to focus on even the most minute details. I don’t have the nerves or interest for that. For example our logo – Essi polished it for ages before she was happy with it. So in that sense I am definitely the more generous of the two of us.

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S: It sounds like it’s kind of a leap of faith, just like in relationships. There’s only so much you can know about the other person without committing to them somehow. But it sounds like you two can really fill in each other’s gaps. Personally though, I think I’m also in the big picture camp…

A: Yeah. Like – at some point I always just want to say “Yes, it’s good enough already!”, but then Essi comes to the rescue: she has the relentless hawk eye, when things are starting to look all the same to me. It’s wonderful to work with someone who is so committed to improve and improve even more. It’s something I truly admire in her. And she does it with everything! Our products, print materials, graphics, everything.

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S: I’m often brainstorming business ideas and hearing business ideas from friends. Now that you’ve got this far, what advice would you give to someone who’s only taking the first steps in becoming an entrepreneur?

A: It requires a lot of really tough choices. It’s really important to keep going and not get stuck in indecisiveness. I’m quite an intuitive person which has helped me grow more secure, even when in my brain “I’m not so sure”. So with time I’ve managed to find that voice and “gut feeling” I can listen to with confidence. I’ve stopped fighting against it. And in the end, there is no crystal ball to look into – no amount of research will give you a 100% certain answer that your decision is water proof. Nobody knows. So after informing yourself on the matter – do what feels right. Well, we’ve done that, anyway.

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Part 3: In the factory

Aaaaaaaaaahhhhh, the hottest day yet. I can feel my pores oozing sweat when I stand in the sunlight, even for a couple of minutes.

We decide to check out a bit more of what Leipzig has to offer, cycling around the city ending it with with the always-enjoyed abandoned factory tour. We go to the Maschinenfabrik Philipp Swiderski in Plagwitz, close to where I live. It’s a stunning spot: HUGE and derelict, in the middle of renewing neighbourhood – a Lidl, a 24h gym and offices. I call it the “end of the world simulator”. It’s a unique juxtaposition of old and new – ruins, history and nouveau capitalism in Leipzig. Walking through the brick hall, filled with rusting pipes and overgrown with grasses, mosses and such: I also try to think of exactly what attracts me to Népra.

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I’m a practical person and I appreciate when things are done well. Heck – the name of this very blog is called “practicalities”. When discussing our values with Ama, the concept of practicality has come up. Especially in clothing, practicality and comfort has been a rather untrendy aspect. It seems to me that most brands constantly struggle between practicality and good looks, often favouring the latter.

“I have a very practical approach to Népra”, Ama says, “I mean, I don’t actually have any background in fashion.”

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We climb up the rusty stairs, to the roof. There’s a hot breeze while we gaze over Plagwitz: trams go by, people go grocery shopping. We marvel the hauntingly beautiful dead space, in the middle of it, falling apart, purposeless.

“But with sports clothes, especially – I think a practical approach is appropriate. Since sports are inherently related to movements, the form should always follow function.” 

Let’s talk about that.

S: So Népra is a very practical brand – the designs and patterns are made so that form follows function. Could you elaborate the issues with other sportswear and how Népra has started to tackle them?

A: Well, while we do collections for both men and women, the whole design process started with the almost utopian dream of having the perfect pair of training tights for ladies. You know: a pair that isn’t see-through, that you don’t have to keep pulling up and readjusting in the middle of your workout. The current trend is to make really low-cut training tights, meaning that every time you squat or crouch, you’re flashing to the whole gym. Same goes for tops – they seem be designed to flaunt your cleavage, rather than give appropriate support. Also, our tops are cut to form, they are not made in the form of a tube. Because a woman’s body is not straight! Even the less curvy ladies have some distinction of waist and bust – a straight tube just won’t fit right: the top will need constant adjusting.

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S: I can relate to all these issues. My personal pet peeves are having to pull the pants up and the top down throughout the workout. How have you gone about improving these things? How do you even decide what products to make?

A: We just have a look at the market – what is lacking? What kind of demands do different sports have, that are not met? This part is not that hard, the issues and challenges are quite easy to quantify. Then we start to assess how would the garment have to be different, to fulfil the requirements needed. Obviously, my part here is mostly verbal…

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S: Right. And then you have to turn that idea into a physical product…

A: Yes. It’s Essi who embarks on her journey of actual designing and pattern making. She’s an engineer and she’s amazing at figuring out how to get the form and the fabric to seamlessly follow the movement. When the pattern is ready, Essi will make first prototypes – usually one or two – and adjusts the pattern as she goes. When the pattern seems to be ready, she makes another prototype, usually of the actual fabric the garment would be made of. This is when she’ll check all her calculations, flexibility and such. When this part is ready, Essi makes the product card for our manufacturer in Estonia, where they usually make one more prototype to be absolutely certain that the product will be impeccable.

S: How is the Népra catalogue developing and coming together? Do you have some design guidelines for your collections?

A: During our first year, we’ve put together this basic collection with simple, basic items – good looking items that fit well and do their job. It has also been designed keeping in mind that it should be something that’s easily approachable to the customer: not too many bells or whistles or such.

Part 4: On the river

The main reason I love living in the west of Leipzig, is the proximity to the river Weiße Elster and its canals. We have been around Leipzig with Ama, cycling with wind in our hair – but we haven’t done my favourite thing: exploring the rivers and the canals in my neighbourhoods.

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Fun fact: Holbeinstraße, next to Weiße Elster-river has the biggest crime rates in Leipzig according to some metric. It’s in our neighbourhood and it’s amusing as it’s definitely a super duper upper class street – the crime rates come exclusively from stealing fancy cars and navis. There’s a reason they say there are “lies, damned lies and statistics”.

Ama’s visit is also drawing to the end, unfortunately. But we still have some topics to discuss: it’s quite rare that a sports brand associates itself with ethical values so strongly. I would like to learn more about Ama’s take on it.

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We are renting a canoe – planning to go up and down the Weiße Elster and further to Karl-Heine-Kanal. It’s great – you get a completely different perspective on the city and your own neighbourhood. You get to see places you don’t have access to generally. On a hot day like that, there are many more people on canoes and riverboats. There’s a gentle breeze while we paddle down the canal. We stop for some frozen yoghurt.

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“Clothes are interesting – they are very concretely present: close to us, on our skin, on us,  being our shield and our outer layer against the world and it’s impacts. In that sense, they are a part of us.”, Ama says. It’s true, we all wear clothes – the experience of wearing clothes or garments is almost universal. “Also the idea that all of our clothes have been made by other people, there is this very human aspect that moves me.”

S: It always seems a little silly to ask this… but could you tell me why ethical values are important to you, personally?

A: I’m a highly sensitive person and it impacts my tendency to empathise and look at things from other people’s perspective. I’ve also been interested in holistic well-being for many years, so that’s where the ethical aspects come to play. So for these values and interests to spread over to all areas of life is just a natural development, I guess.

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S: You also manufacture in Estonia, which is pretty cool. Could you tell about your manufacturing process? How does it work?

A: Overall, we have quite a unique relationship with our production site. It’s almost our own tailor rather than a factory: the company has around ten employees. They are of an impressive crowd of ladies with very high standards and focus on details.  For example, for the men’s shorts, there was a total of five prototypes made, most of them by our seamstresses, to really fine tune the pattern for optimal fit.

S: So your production site is in Estonia, with that crowd of impressive ladies. What about your fabrics, where do they come from?

A: Our fabrics come from Northern-Italy. Unfortunately, for a small company like us, it’s currently impossible to investigate where the fibres come from. It’s too big of an undertaking. It’s something we’d like to do in the future though, but we have focused on the first two steps: sourcing and manufacturing sustainably in Europe with responsible suppliers. And our fabrics are all Öko-certified, so that, too.

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S: I’m very impressed how Népra has managed these values and executed such a supply chain. Even more so perhaps, as your products are not in the high-end, but more in the mid-range and very accessible for consumers. Many larger companies specialising in technical sportswear have similar prices, yet the quality and fit is incomparable.

A: Oh, definitely. In my opinion, we’ve all been brainwashed a little into thinking that f.ex manufacturing in Europe would be somehow ludicrously expensive. Of course it’s more expensive, but as an entrepreneur you just have to deal with a different set of choices and priorities – for example, how much profit you want to make per item and what kind of price competition you want to enter. You have to pick your battles. For us to do it any other way, to compromise this, would in my opinion fail Népra’s clientele.

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S: I’ve sometimes wondered what is really behind this holistic well-being: if it’s entirely individualistic or executed on the expense of others. Like, does the general concept of holistic well-being consider ethical values as a part of well-being? Or going even further – the well-being of others? In that sense, I think Népra has a very fresh perspective. You’re also a proof that it’s possible to be an entrepreneur without subscribing to the consumption hysteria. The values seem very modern and I’m hoping the rise of companies like Népra is indicative of a “New Wave of clothing industry”.

A: I really hope our customers see that, too. And I hope you are right about a new wave! I think when more players come along, the industry can change. But there are also many hidden perils and pitfalls with good intentions and a lot of intuitive good-will action can be a little ill-advised and counter-productive. So as an entrepreneur, the choices should be well researched so you know you’ll deliver to your customers. For example cotton – even organic – is often not that ecologic raw material, even if marketed as such. Also, although recycling cotton is better developed these days, it has usually been synthetic materials that have been properly repurposed and recycled.

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S: I agree. I think the key is perhaps that we need alternatives – there’s actually a real market for them. I would hope that finding the balance between consumption, need and stress, would be core questions for any modern business.

A: Yes, I do sometimes struggle with this – how to find a balance? We believe completely in our products and our brand, but we are also very conscious regarding the excessive consumption in our society. Still, marketing our brand encourages consumption. Yet if nobody buys our products, well – we cannot exist and we cannot push forward the change. Still, we are making new things in this world that hardly needs new things. And again, we believe our products are better and worth making. I guess the balance is finding the mindful and conscious means of consumption – it can’t and shouldn’t be avoided altogether.

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S: Well, I follow certain pivoting nooks and crannies of the internet and social media quite attentively and there are many indicators. I think the tide is turning, even if can be hard to pick up the real things from the white noise of all the cross-influences and cross-trends. The process is slow, but it is clearly a growing trend in the last years. I mean even H&M has an “Ethical”-collection…

A: Yes, I’ve have noticed that too. We do subscribe to the ethical values, but we try not to use it as a marketing tool, even though I’d like to think that it’s something that would make customers choose us over another brand. We try to think of it as an obvious, but we don’t base our entire marketing or brand image around it. What still makes us stand out, is the fit and the quality. Ethical values are in the background as our basis, our foundation.

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S: Népra is such a new brand, but it seems like you’ve come such a long way in the last year already. I guess you have plenty more to come?

A: Well we definitely want to do more kind of leisure wear – versus classic sportswear. We did our first collaboration with the Finnish company PureWaste for our logo shirts and we’d love to go further in that direction, maybe first with a pair of college trousers. But overall, we’ve tried to stay away from the idea that sportswear is just for sport. Népra’s clothes are simple and elegant enough to pass as leisure wear when combined with normal clothes. For example the ladies tights double as leggings and the men’s shorts don’t really scream sports shorts. That’s the beauty of versatility and simplicity. Our current goals for the future is to finalise our basic collection: the women’s shorts arrived this summer and we are making long-sleeve shirts in the fall – for both men and women. We are also going to release some socks, with a wonderfully cool tennis & retro take on them!

S: What about Népra’s dreams? Or plans for further future? Not immediate plans?

A: Hah, of course. We want to be the leading “new wave” sportswear brand in Europe – a trendsetter and a forerunner.

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Wear Népra: have 10% off your next order when you use discount code “practicalnepra”!

(valid until 30.09.2016)

Of making your own laundry boosters

I stopped buying laundry softener ages ago. But I do still want my whites to be white, colours to stay bright and most importantly – for all the laundry to have a wonderful, fresh smell.

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I’ve never been too fond of the smells available in laundry softeners: I’ve always found them too pungent and not my kind of scents anyway. I’m more into wood-y and forest-y smells – options that are rarely available.

If you are into making your own household products, you should also check my post about a DIY linen water.

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Making this laundry booster is so easy and you can make heaps of it in one sitting. One large pot of 5kg lasts for ages and since it’s pure bicarbonate of soda, you can use it around the house for whatever cleaning task at hand: from improving the cleaning power of your laundry detergent to sprinkling it in the toilet bowl or using it to clean your sink or mixing it in with your floor cleaning solution. It’s multi-purpose and still makes your laundry smell great.

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So let’s go!

What you’ll need:

  • 5kg of bicarbonate of soda / Baking soda / Baking powder
  • Large bunches of fresh herbs or, alternatively, essential oils
  • A sieve

Basically, first you need a container to make your laundry booster in. I buy my bicarbonate of soda from Amazon and it comes in a handy 5kg pot in which I can mix it directly. I generally suggest you make a large batch rather than a small one, mostly because, while it’s easy to make, you have to wait for it to mature before it’s ready for use.

Get your selection of fresh herbs – I suggest basil, rosemary, thyme and such. Lemon balm smells wonderful, too. Or why not try some fresh peppermint? You can also mix and match these things, as your heart desires.

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If you opt for essential oils: you can for example go with a classic, soothing lavender or something more elegant, such as cedar wood. I also love love love clove – it makes the laundry smell so good, it’s heavenly!

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  1. Have your bicarbonate of soda ready in an appropriate container: a sturdy plastic bag or a plastic pot or a large jar. The latter need well sealing lids.
  2. Add the scents. If oils, just dribble them around the bicarbonate of soda and mix in well with a spatula or spoon. If you add fresh herbs, I suggest chopping them up a little in order for them to release more smell. You’ll have to sieve them out before using it.IMG_9514
  3. This is the only slightly annoying part of making this: you have to wait! I recommend something around 2-3 weeks, letting the mixture sit in a dark and relatively cool place. If you’re patient, 4 weeks will yield even better results.
  4. After the wait, sieve the contents. A metal sieve would probably be your best option. If you make a bigger batch like me, sieving it all will take some time. So, I sit on my bathroom floor, turn on Netflix and sieve away. It takes approximately two episodes of Modern Family.
  5. Add it to your washing! There’s no right way to do it. You can put it in the laundry ball with your detergent, you can put it straight in the machine or in the small drawer for your laundry detergent – there’s really no right way.

Enjoy! ^_^

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Of making your own linen water

I do remember my mother using an ironing spray when I was little – it was just regular Helsinki tap water in this bright orange, old and worn out spray bottle we kept next to the ironing board.

It wasn’t before I was 18, and a clueless little au-pair in Paris, when I learned that there are fancy people in this world with beautiful and specific linen waters which smell like Provence in bottle: lavender, verveine, orange blossom, rose petals, cedar wood and cotton flower.

And oh how I wish I was one of those fancy people but alas – I am not.

You neither? Don’t worry! Let’s enter the world of DIY and make one ourselves!

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Is a linen water unfamiliar to you? Why would you use a linen spray?

  • Better ironing result
  • Laundry smells great
  • Spray it gently on clothes between washes to remove creases and freshen them up
  • Ironing is less tedious when it feels a little luxurious and you’re surrounded by fabulous scents (also, you feel like a fancy person)

Now, if you are wondering why should you iron anything to begin with, that’s worthy of a whole other post. But as a quick note: I iron some of our bed linens and towels so the linen cabinet stays neat and organised – especially the heavier fabrics don’t really fold that well without ironing. Additionally, stains don’t stick so hard on pressed fibres and especially the pillow cases don’t shed textile dust so much.

If you are into making your own household products, you should also check out my post about DIY scented laundry booster.

What you’ll need for your linen spray:

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  • Disinfectant tablets
  • Small jar with tight-fitting lid
  • 4-6 tablespoonfuls of witch hazel or vodka
  • Essential oil: f.ex. cedar wood or neroli
  • Distilled water
  • Small funnel
  • Spray bottle
  1. Start by disinfecting the spray bottle, jar and its lid and the funnel and any other equipment you are using! Since the liquid will store for quite a while, you want to avoid it growing bacteria: it’s not dangerous if it does, but it might alter the smell and is overall quite unsightly. The tablets I use can be used with cold water and you basically just soak the items there for 20 minutes – however, follow the manual of your product and use tongs or a fork to pick them up to avoid contamination!
  2. Mix witch hazel or vodka (I used witch hazel) in the jar with the essential oil of your choice – neroli is my personal favourite. Make sure the lid is tightly closed and shake it vigorously until the essential oil has dissolved into the liquid. If it seems they are not mixing, add a little more vodka/witch hazel. As the oil won’t mix directly in to the distilled water, this step is crucial!essential oils in witch hazel
  3. Open the lid to the jar, add in a little distilled water. Replace the lid, and shake again for 15-20 seconds to combine.
  4. Pour both liquids in the spray bottle, shake well but gently for the final mix.

Let’s get ironing!

Of oven baked avocados

I rarely share just random recipes here, but today’s delicacy is such a quick and easy treat, and somehow a little unexpected, I thought it might be worth a share!

Bizarrely, I think this is originally some kind of a paleo recipe and there are as many variations on this theme as there are people in this world. You can try replacing coriander with parsley, basil or chive, throw some lardons on the top or cover the hot-from-the-oven avocados with some fresh tomato salsa. Regardless of how you make this, it’s gastronomic bliss!

I eat these for breakfast, as a part of brunch or as an afternoon snack. They are also a super quick but impressive starter if you’re serving a multiple course meal!

  • Avocados (BIG, perfect, ripe ones if available) 
  • Eggs
  • Coriander
  • Lemon or lime
  • Salt & pepper
  • Chilli sauce (I recommend sriracha or a tangy variety, such as tabasco)

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  1. Heat the oven to 250C.
  2. One avocado makes two servings and you need two eggs per avocado. Cut the avocado in half, take the stone out. Carve some extra space for the eggs with a spoon.
  3. Put the avocados in a small-ish baking dish where they can’t move too much. This is where I already sprinkle some salt and pepper and squeeze lemon/lime.
  4. Break eggs into the cavities – they’ll surely go a bit overboard but don’t mind it, it’s fine.
  5. Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper on top and give it a last squeeze of lemon/lime.
  6. Bake the avocados for approximately 6-8 minutes, depending on how cooked you want your eggs to be. I like them to be quite raw, but so that the egg white has already set.
  7. When ready, chop some fresh coriander (or other herb of your choice), throw some sriracha, tabasco or other salty/tangy chili sauce on top.

It’s the definition of tasty.

Even Nano – my assistant – was into them.

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Of training while traveling: CrossFit Amsterdam

Whoa, well look at this! I’m starting to cover a new topic!

As you guys know, I’m no stranger to travel. However, I’ve also started to take my training more seriously this year and quickly noticed that trying to keep up a workout routine while traveling a lot, is not a very good fit. (Only a few of you might know that my weapon of choice is CrossFit, ever since I was lured in to a box in Karlsruhe in May 2015)

This time I was in Amsterdam with the doglet for 10 days, working on a secret project. More about that later.

So hey – even if I’m traveling – why not just workout abroad, go for a run? And it’s a fair point! I’m one of those people, who time after time, kept packing their running shoes with them and never, nope, not once, ever did I ever use them. I stopped packing them with me already a long time ago. 

Though as said, I’m a crossfitter. And when you’re a crossfitter, you’re a crossfitter. Times are a changin’.

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Before my trip, I did a fair amount of research, finding eight boxes near-ish to the city centre of Amsterdam and a few more further out, near the airport. I also reached out to quite a few boxes before I left, to see what they could offer. 

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From that selection of boxes, I picked Crossfit Amsterdam for their friendly emails and helpful website as well as easy-to-use subscription and payment systems. Always a bonus. And while my experience there was wonderful (as you will find out further on), I personal HOT TIP to you, dear reader, would be to pick a box that is the least hassle to get to. Especially if you’re new to the city, getting around can be very confusing – be it by bike or by public transport. While my main concern in picking the box was finding a good atmosphere, perhaps something even more important would be to pick a box where the distance won’t discourage you during your trip!

In my case, I was staying at De Pijp, so Crossfit Amsterdam in the West of Amsterdam was not that far at all. Still though, first time travelling to the box, Google Maps suggested 12 minutes for the travel time by bike, taking the traffic into account. HELLS NO, it took me over a half an hour and I was almost late to class! The second and third time went much quicker though 😉

When researching, my biggest fear (if you could call it that) was that the box would be lacking in hospitality and, generally, welcoming atmosphere. I might have perseverance, but I’m also a total softie, so I don’t need any kind judgemental negativity and exclusion during my special trip! And, of course, the pitfall is that you can’t know the reality beforehand, no matter how nice things are sold on the websites: this whole crossfit community thing makes it very easy for boxes to sound like they are community minded but alas, that is not necessarily always true. 

I’ve had the experience that sometimes you see boxes where the box in general seems to have a great atmosphere – but only if you are a regular. As an outsider or a newbie, you don’t get to enjoy that, it’s more like a privilege offered to those with seniority. And a huge turn off for me.

Arriving to the box, the first time, was of course a little scary as I didn’t know what to expect, but all my worries were for nought – I was promptly and with exceptional friendliness taken-charge-of by Martijn, the trainer. As a matter of fact, all the trainers took charge and did not leave their tiny foreign Drop-Inner hanging, which I greatly appreciated.

So how were the workouts?

I had bought a set of three “Drop-In”-classes, which was the perfect amount for me. Someone doing a heavier workout routine would naturally need more.

From the first moments at the box, I got a warm welcome and the general atmosphere was inclusive, pretty jolly even. This is a characteristic I think Crossfit Amsterdam can definitely be proud of! It’s one thing that the trainers are nice, but that everybody else there has the same mind set, is a thing to treasure.

I have a fair amount of chronic back pain which has held back my workouts since… well, forever. With that in mind, I found that the workouts were generally very scalable, though still varied a lot in immediate intensity. But since we’re talking about CrossFit, that’s kind of a main feature and not a bug! 😉

The classes I attended included quite a few advanced CrossFitters, but not so many that it would be a turn-off to beginners/intermediates (such as myself), even if I was finishing the Bear Complex-workout by myself, long after everybody else was done 😀

And the WODs…

1.Morning session with Martijn

WOD: Switching between of sets of pull-ups and double-unders

Ah, so simple and elegant, yet deceptively “easy” and lightweight for a workout! Perfect for the morning. I was sore like a mother the next day. BONUS POINT for someone on holiday: not exhausted or too tired afterwards! I still managed to do a kick-ass job with sight-seeing!

2. Afternoon session with a lovely lady coach whose-name-I-may-have-forgotten

WOD: Seven rounds of The Bear Complex & Bear crawl & Rope climb, with repetitions decreasing ever round, only Rope Climb staying the same

Oh, this. Hardest workout I’ve done in ages. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been on the verge of puking during exercise! It definitely felt quite advanced, or maybe it just pinpointed my personal training weaknesses. I guess it’s a sign I need to go to the Open Gym more…

I did a scaled down version of the Rope Climb. Rope climbs are a definite pet peeve for me. And while my back can start acting up while doing it, somehow I think most of my hold-ups are rather psychological. It was also the first time I did the Bear Complex as a part of a set, and WOD, against a time limit, rather than doing some weight training and technique. So in that sense a very useful, albeit extremely tough  and challenging workout. (As said, I started with too heavy weights at the beginning, so kinda my own fault, too.)

This one though, I’m glad I had no plans afterwards – it took me the whole day to recover!

3. Afternoon session with Tosca

WOD: Running 1,5km with a weighed vest (vest optional), 10 Burpees & 15 double-unders AMRAP

Wonderfully exhausting and rewarding in the right balance! Personally, if I felt that the 2nd session I did was highlighting my weaknesses at CrossFit, this one was stuff I felt very comfortable doing, even if the time limit and AMRAP provided a good challenge. Though I actually think I counted my rounds wrong 😀 (Sorry guys!)

Overall, I can say that the sessions did what CrossFit promises: offered plenty of variety, did not let you get bored and definitely got you sweaty!

So keep it up! Salil eka, salil vika! First one at the gym, last one to leave!

Crossfit Amsterdam – thanks a lot for having me. See you next time I’m in town!

CrossFit Amsterdam
Karperweg 39
1075 LB Amsterdam
info@crossfitamsterdam.nl

Of spring tymes & spring vybes

Spring has been taking giant leaps in the last weeks. It’s as if every morning a new flower, a new tree is in full blossom. That’s also the reason there’s been a bit quieter blog moment.

I’ve taken Musti out to the forest for longer and longer walks, breathing in the scents of the new life.

In my neighbourhood, the beautiful, nearby river gets a makeover with the spring: the bleak water is no longer so bleak with all trees along it getting all dressed up in leaves and blossoming flowers. Somehow even the colour of the light is different, there’s a clarity and brightness everywhere you go. With each blooming branch, the smaller canals have a slightly jungle-like feeling as the long, rope-like branches reach out to the water. The river and the canals start to smell like sea, even though there’s salty water nowhere to be found.  

People and cities in Finland tend to come to life in a very different way in spring. I’ve lived many springs in France and in Germany, however it doesn’t compare to the Finns.

Germans probably to get their Frülingsgefühle but it’s not quite as crazy as it gets in Finland. In France, I hardly noticed the difference in people’s mindset.

Even after years of living abroad, I still get the vibes we Finns do. That curious, buzzing feeling – a bit like butterflies in your stomach, but not quite. The alertness, excitement – anticipation of summer. Because the coming summer? It’s going to to be the best summer EVER. (but of course, it never is – the anticipation and expectations are always better than the real thing)

The dreams of the summer never have any of the bad stuff: nettle burns, ants at the picnic, mosquito bites, BBQ sauce stains on white blouse. The beer is never warm, it’s never too hot and you never sweat that much. You don’t get sand everywhere if you go to the beach.

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I also tend to have ludicrous amounts of energy during spring. I wake up early and full of energy, but can’t seem to channel it productively. I want to go out, spend time outdoors, go out even more, see friends, especially sit on terraces and drink endless amounts of beer. I want to stay up late and wake up early and experience everything, all at once.

So this spring has been true to form and following the previously mentioned tradition. The weather has been like a bride – warm and beautiful (as we say in Finnish). The weeks are filled with sun, outdoors and events. Usually there’s music – sometimes a gentle breeze. Always cold beers and if exceptionally lucky, some African BBQ action.

One of these perfect spring experience was last week – I had one of my dearest friends over all the way from Finland. We did everything that goes hand in hand with a good visit: had too many drinks in smoky bars and sunny terraces, disregarded reason when it came to bedtime and biked through the city and the canals in blazing sunshine.

For the Ascension Day, the whole city of Leipzig went outdoors: the weather was sunny and blissful and every single park was buzzing with people and music. It’s one of those days when the offerings are so plentiful, that you just float and trail form an event to another, picking up more friends at each location. Perhaps a little hungover, from all the beers at the smoky bars the night before.

It felt like the perfect preview for summer, with all the spring energy we had garnered. As if every single day of the summer would be like that, warm, soft and affectionate and full of friends.

When the weather started to cool down the longer the shadows drew along the green park fields, we wrapped up the day of music, park dancing and wandering around and slowly floated home. We climbed to bed that night early, exhausted but will full hearts.

I hadn’t slept that well in weeks.

Of sima and fermenting drinks

Yay! It’s May and it’s time to make some mead! This beautiful fermented nectar – sima (pronounced for English speakers like see-mah) – is traditional to the Finnish 1st of May bacchanals.

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One of the BIG FOUR Finnish celebrations in the calendar year, the 1st of May celebration – Vappu (pronounced kinda as vah-poo) – celebrates the spring, Saint Walburg (along the lines of Walburgsnacht) and whathaveyou. Labour movements as well as university students have all alike appropriated this beautiful spring party day.

In Finland, sima  – this often home-made, low-alcohol lemon mead – is one of the most prolific signs of Vappu. It is an important part of my favourite Vappu tradition: the big, even lavish picnics, especially popular in Helsinki.

Other typical things related to Vappu are: carnival-style festivities, all imaginable varieties of alcohol and drinking them aplenty.

While Vappu/Walburgsnacht is of religious origin – for centuries if not millenias have pagan prehistoric Finns been chucking down pints of sima and dancing the night away in the gleaming light of spring bonfires.

While a strong and potent alcoholic beverage in the past, sima of today is kind of a party drink for the whole family due to its low alcohol content. This is my mother’s recipe, that we have used for years and tweaked it a bit to our taste.

Here, I’m going to tell you how to make it – it’s super easy and so tasty!

labeledsimaingredients

  • 4l water
  • Glass bottles for 4l (I use 1 liter milk bottles, but really, it doesn’t matter too much)
  • 250g Cane sugar or equivalent
  • 250g Caster sugar
  • 1-2 Lemons, preferably organic
  • Fresh yeast, a pea size amount
  • A few raisins
  • 1-2 Oranges (optional)
  • Ginger (optional)
  • Treacle or other dark syrup (optional)

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1. Wash lemons (and oranges, if you are using any) well. Peel the zest in thin slices. Carefully take off the entire white layer between the zest and the fruit.

2. Cut the lemons and oranges into thin slices.

3. Boil the water. Add the sugars and syrup/treacle, if you are using any. Mix in well.

4. Add lemon and orange slices and zest to hot water.

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5. Let it cool down. This takes longer than expected – so don’t start doing this too late in the evening!

6. When the liquid is lukewarm, take a small amount of it in a glass or a small bowl and mix the yeast in. Pour it back into the pot and mix. Cover the pot with a lid and let ferment in room temperature for 12-24h. In a few hours already, the pot will be sizzling and the yeast and the fermentation will be working their magic.

7. Strain it.

8. Bottle it! Preferably in glass bottles: wash the bottles carefully, put 1-2 teaspoonfuls of sugar on the bottom along with a few raisins and fill up. Let them ferment in room temperature for a day or two. When the raisins have risen to the top, your sima is ready to be put in the fridge. If the sima stays too long in the room temperature, the fermentation uses up all the sugar and sima will not be as tasty.

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The optional ingredients all fine tune the flavour: oranges add a softness and sweetness that pure lemon won’t have. Ginger adds a bit of a kick and complements the fruits wonderfully. The kind of sugars you like alter the taste but also the colour  – the darker the sugar, the darker the sima. All syrups, molasses and honeys can also be used and provide a different tasting sweetness to the drink.

Sima actually used to be drunk all year round and I find it quite sad, that this beautiful beverage is now only consumed once a year. I’m actually interested in bringing it back – trying different flavours with seasonal fruits and keeping the sima tradition going on. One variety I’m interested in testing rather soon is “sima of Louhisaari”, which is flavoured with black currant leaves – and was especially favoured by our Marshall Mannerheim.

Let me know if you want to know more about my adventures in the world of sima!

 

Of wild garlic and spring foraging

Ah, the spring, the greenery, the herbs, the foraging. 

Starting from some time in March, until May and even beginning of June, Leipzig is filled with the distinct aroma of wild garlic. (Maybe you call it ramsonsbuckrams, broad-leaved garlicwood garlicbear leek or bear’s garlic, or just Bärlauch, if you’re German…)

It is perhaps the easiest and the most versatile herb to forage and, perhaps most importantly, it grows in heaps throughout Central Europe. 

Kind of a chive, the name in many languages comes from the brown bear’s liking to it and the bear’s habit to dig up the ground to eat the bulbs. Brown bears have great taste.

How to find it and identify it?

Wild garlic is so common at least in Central Europe and the UK, you’ll unlikely struggle to find it. 

Go to the nearest (semi) deciduous forest. Smell the air. The dead giveaway of wild garlic is the scent. You’ll smell it miles before you see it – as mentioned previously, the whole city of Leipzig smells of wild garlic for weeks. 

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Wild garlic tends to grow in low, bushy foliage, with quite long, thin stems and long, gently tapering leaves. The individual little “bushes” have each long and thin stems in the middle with one single flower bud growing on each stem.

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However, the strong smell is such a clear way of identification that if ever in doubt, just rub a leaf between your fingers to break it and trust your nose – it will smell like a strong chive/spring onion and distinctly garlicky. There is no way to mistake wild garlic for anything else if your sense of smell has not been compromised!

How to forage it?

The best places to pick them are on slopes and hidden corners – they are less likely to have had animals or people mess around there. Always pick healthy leaves all the way from the ground, with long stems. This is useful too, if you want to store the wild garlic for a few days: just put them in a glass filled with water.

I collect mine usually in a basket, but you can also use paper bags, canvas bags or such. A plastic bag will keep the scent from sticking to any of your clothes or your bag, but the leaves should not be kept too long in plastic. 

Also, don’t bother with the bulbs: they are edible but not really of any special use and it also means there will be no foliage next year. 

When to forage it?

Wild garlic tends to peak in April, but you can probably start foraging it already in March and, in many places, until some time in May. You can monitor a little the state of the wild garlic from the flowers: while the beautiful blooming flowers are edible, the peak of wild garlic is before they blossom, when the flowers are still just tight buds.

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As said, this is often in April, but is of course weather dependent. The garlic will still be delish, but the leaves might be a bit tougher and, right at the end of the season, they begin to have a slightly more bitter flavour. 

How to prepare it before use?

Wild garlic is very straight-forward in this regard: cut bad bits off and wash thoroughly under cool/lukewarm water. Dry with a kitchen towel or let air dry. 

How to use it?

Basically, your imagination is the limit. It is an exceptionally versatile herb with a million ways to use it in a variety of recipes – each tastier than the next.

Wild garlic is amazing in omelettes, basically any possible salad, as a side dish to any meat (simply fried quickly, pickled or worked in oil) and complements any sauce. You can also replace normal garlic in most recipes with it. 

Four of my favourite ways to use it – which I’m sharing below – include two pasta dishes f.ex. for a quick lunch and two even more versatile products: butter and pesto are great ways to conserve the wild garlic for a little longer. Pesto will easily last a few weeks if not even a couple of months and the butter you can even freeze and consume all year round, if you make enough of it!

Wild garlic butter

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  • 500g butter (makes either two smaller “logs” or one big)
  • Several bunches of wild garlic
  • Sea salt or himalayan salt
  • White pepper 
  • Nutmeg (optional)
  1. Take butter out to room temperature well in advance. 
  2. Blitz the wild garlic leaves in a blender or a food processor, or chop very fine by hand.
  3. Add butter and mix together: either in the food processor or in a bowl. Add sea salt or himalayan salt to taste and a dash of white pepper and nutmeg. They give the wild garlic butter a deeper, richer taste.
  4. You can store the butter in many ways, I usually roll it in a piece of baking parchment, shaping it into a uniform “log” and twist the ends. You can also use other kinds of moulds though. Chill until hard. You can also make a bigger batch and freeze it, to have the taste of spring available all year round. 

But of course, your butter needs a buddy. Luckily this butter is an absolute treat and will be bffs with bread, steaks, corncobs – you name it. A soulmate and a lifelong partner might be, however, home made soda bread, hot from the oven. 

EXTRA HOT TIP: make your own butter and mix it with wild garlic, that stuff will have bread rolls queuing up to the door.

Wild garlic pesto

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  • Wild garlic, 1-2 large bunches
  • Parsley (curly or leafy – both work just fine)
  • 60g Toasted pine nuts
  • 60g of Parmesan
  • 1,5dl of olive oil
  • Lemon juice (to taste)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Pesto is a little hard to make without a food processor. So, place all the ingredients into a food processor apart from the olive oil and blitz for a minute or two. Then slowly pour in the olive oil until blended smooth. Use for pasta, spread on canapés, use for dips, mix in sauces and so on.

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Lime-cashew-wild garlic pasta

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This approximately feeds two. It’s a magnificently creamy and tangy pasta, with the sharpness of garlic. Spring in a bowl!

  • 1,5dl of frozen peas
  • 300g Pasta of your choice 
  • 1,5dl Cup of cashews (soaked if possible)
  • 1-2 Bunches of wild garlic
  • 1 Lime
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, freshly ground pepper
  • Parmesan (optional)

1. Start by cooking pasta with the frozen peas in boiling water. Salt well!

2. While pasta and peas are cooking, put the cashews, olive oil, salt, pepper, lime juice and the wild garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth. Again, food processor/blender is ideal, though you can still make this without one. You just have to grind the cashews in a mortar. You could certainly also grind the garlic leaves in the mortar after chopping them roughly, too, but just chopping them fine would also do. The sauce won’t be as smooth but it will be delicious all the same!

3. When pasta and the peas are ready, drain them and put them back in the pot. Throw in the sauce from the food processor and mix up with a spoon or a spatula while on a low heat for a couple of minutes.

4. Drizzle some lime juice on top and finish off the dish with a sprinkle of fresh parmesan, if that’s your thing – though the creaminess of cashews is almost enough. 

Merguez-wild garlic pasta

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This pasta is like magic! The way the sauce is mixed to the pasta results in the thick bright green sauce forming a proper “coating” on the pasta and the fresh wild garlic will wonderfully complement the merguez.

  • 2 Large teaspoons coriander seeds
  • Dried red chilli, ideally smoked chilli, chopped fine-ish (optional!)
  • Olive oil
  • 4 Fresh spicy sausages (merguez or equivalent)
  • 4 Bunches of wild garlic leaves
  • 320g Fusilli, penne or farfalle
  • 1dl Pasta cooking water
  • 1 Lemon
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese to taste, freshly grated, plus extra for serving
  1. Mash and mix coriander seeds and chillies in mortar.
  2. Heat olive oil in a pan on a medium heat. Cut open the sausage skins and squeeze the meat into the pan. Break it up into small pieces with a spatula and fry for a few minutes until the meat starts to colour.
  3. Add the ground seeds and chillies to the pan and cook for about 10 minutes on a medium heat until the meat is a dark golden brown and caramelised. Turn the heat down to low – don’t let the meat dry out!
  4. Get well salted water on to boil and put the in the pasta of your choice. 
  5. Blend the wild garlic leaves in the food processor, until you have a deep green sauce, add a fair bit of olive oil, lemon zest and a pinch of salt and pepper. Once again – food processor is ideal, but chopping them fine and grinding them on a mortar would work, too. 
  6. Take aside a little of the cooking water (1dl) or so, when the pasta is ready. Drain the pasta. Put the pasta back in the saucepan and add a little bit of the cooking water to loosen the sauce and lemon juice for tang. Stir the lovely green sauce to coat the pasta then divide between your bowls. Top with the delicious sausage meat and a nice covering of Parmesan cheese, and serve.

Go foraging!

(and greetings from my tiny blog assistant)

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Of butter

I love butter.

I have always loved butter, but my love has deepened even further in recents months.

I like my butter nice and salty and, since moving to Germany, I’ve had trouble finding a good salted butter. Back in Karlsruhe, I’d pop over the border to France and grab several kilos of Normandy butter with flaky sea salt. But since coming to Leipzig, I’ve had extremely slim pickings. So, the inevitable result was hatching this plan: making my own perfect butter, to perfectly suit my needs.

So, I’ve slowly started, over a week or two, to build the habit of making butter. I’ve had some time to experiment a little with different recipes and styles. If you like a perfect, creamy and tangy butter on your bread, read on to find out how to make it yourself!

You’d think BUTTER would be a relatively simple and straightforward product, right? You could not be more wrong! When starting to write this post, I considered myself quite well butter-educated. I was proven profoundly wrong. And I paid the price – by staying up until the wee hours of the morning – reading more and more about this delicious spreadable fat.

First of all – butter is cultural, super complex and slightly confusing. There are large differences in butter making and taste between countries and continents. It does not stop there though: the differences can be seen in how the entire concept of butter in perceived! This is mostly due to history, but those nuances have, with time, become genuine cultural differences and expectations regarding how butter is: how it looks and how it should taste. To some, these may seem like minute and inconsequential details, but for a butter lover like myself, they are fundamental.

Anyway, at least in Scandinavia and generally cooler climates, butter is as old as civilisation. The story begins when we stopped being hunter gatherers and started domesticating animals: first goats and sheep, then later cattle. At least from the European perspective, the southern, Mediterranean folks had their fancy oils and such, and considered butter a food for peasants and barbarians.

And generally – by the way – though the history of butter goes way back, there is a whole other story of butter in North Africa and Middle East, where we’re actually talking about clarified butter or ghee. Actual butter would have spoiled quickly in warmer climes. Hence, this genuine butter, as most of we Internet people would know it, has traditions and origins in the cold north.

So anyway, what about butter today? There are basically two types of butter:

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  • Sweet cream butter (Süßrahmbutter in German/ Imelävoi in Finnish)

Butter in its simplest, elemental form: the cream is churned until the fat and buttermilk separate. Very mild in taste.

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  • Cultured butter (Sometimes also called “European butter”/ Sauerrahmbutter in German/ Hapatettu voi in Finnish)

Well, this – for me – is real butter. Before the introduction of modern manufacturing processes, cream was gathered from several milkings. This meant that the unpasteurised cream would go sour before churning. Cultured butter has this distinct, tangy, “butter-like” flavour, resulting firstly from lactic sugars transforming into lactic acid, but also from the formation of diacetyl during the culturing process. (I will explain the culturing process a bit further into the recipe.)

A variety of different types of butter

There is actually also a third type of butter, which is between the two types: it’s mildly sour or “cultured”, as the cultures are added only after the cream is churned. Amazingly enough, this butter concept only has a specific name in German: mildgesäuerte Butter. However, since this type of butter making has only emerged after the industrial production of butter (adding the cultures after the milk is churned saves manufactures precious time and space and is thus more profitable), I have reason to suspect that this kind of butter is also found in other countries where tangy-er, cultured butter is popular.

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As you know, I like being thorough. In order to complete my research, I toured several of my local supermarkets and checked the websites of the main butter brands in several countries. Something interesting emerged: excluding Germany, it’s practically impossible to find out which kind of butter you’re buying! French, Finnish and British butter producers, at least, don’t indicate anywhere the type of butter they sell.

In Germany, only a few brands indicate the butter type straight-forwardly. On most you have to turn the package around and around to find the fine print and, in some cases, it was not mentioned at all.

But alright, we want to make our own cultured butter? If you are in a huge hurry, you can make some-kind-of-your-own-butter by just whipping up cream until it separates. But, as I’m a firm believer in the superior taste of cultured butter, I highly recommend you give this recipe a try.

Magnificent home made butter

Different kinds of creams and culturing agents produce a different tasting butter. Don’t skimp on the quality of the cream. As it is your main ingredient, you do taste the difference. I would recommend avoiding UHT-treated cream, as it alters and diminishes that unique dairy taste.

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Here’s what I made mine with:

  • 6 dl cream
  • 3 tbs cultured dairy product (I used buttermilk, but you may just as well use yoghurt or sour cream or similar)
  • Salt to taste

In a nutshell, 2:1 cream to lactic acid product.

  1. Start by mixing the cream and the buttermilk and heating them on the stove. I assume this is to speed up the souring process – to give it a lil’ head start. You could do it without heating, too – it might just take anything between 18 and 72 hours for the culturing to begin.
  2. Cover the cream and leave it at room temperature, at least overnight. Could easily be a day too. You’ll know it’s ready when it has thickened a little and it might have a mildly sour smell.
  3. For the last couple of hours – put the bowl in the fridge to cool.
  4. Put the mixture in your electric mixer. You could do it by hand, too – but you need some serious muscles and/or persistence. I’ve never even dared to try. Put the mixer on high speed and let it mix for around 5-10 minutes, until the buttermilk and butter separate. Monitor the mixing and turn down the speed when you notice it separating. And here’s a piece of advice: this part of making butter is extremely messy – as the buttermilk begins to separate, it splashes around uncontrollably and everywhere. Even with a splash guard, I cover my KitchenAid tightly with a kitchen towel or two.
  5. Pour the buttermilk and butter into a sieve: save the buttermilk for later use. This is the traditional buttermilk, the real deal. Drink it as is, put it in a smoothie, bake a soda bread or flat breads, make pancakes, bake a cheesecake or add it to a milkshake.
  6. Now it’s time to rinse the butter. There are many ways to do this, but I personally prefer to run the butter under cold tap water until the water runs clear. It’s important to turn the butter around while doing this. You can also use a cheese cloth here.
  7. Mix and squeeze the butter further in a bowl. This stage is important because it gets rid of the last drops of buttermilk and water. Keep mixing until practically no water separates from the butter anymore. I’ve noticed that, if a little too much water/buttermilk is left in the butter, it doesn’t spread so well and sometimes has a slightly grainier texture. So to make it smooth, keep mixing!
  8. Add salt, if that’s your thing. Put in a container or wrap it in wax paper and chill it.

Homemade butter stays fresh for around two weeks. If you’re up to making a bigger batch, you can also freeze it.

Home made butter is so incredibly easy and the taste is incomparable with store-bought varieties. It’s wonderfully creamy, round and soft – yet with the distinctive tangy edge I think butter is supposed to have.

Spread on.

Of my favourite winter fruit: the lychee

Lychees – “The Kings of Fruits” – are now in season.

I’m squeezing my entire face together, trying to remember. As if somehow bringing your eyes, nose and lips closer together would help your memory.

I’m trying to remember: when was the first time I ate a lychee.

I’m almost certain it was in Vietnam. Let’s say 2008. It had to be. I remember the feeling, the taste, the novelty, the dripping messy juiciness running down my chin and my fingers, the crisp sweetness with a sudden perfumed tang. The skin of the fruit – red and rough textured, like a dragon’s scales. But I can’t grasp the details, the surroundings, the people. They remain fuzzy and deliciously formless.

I’m tempted to say lychees are my favourite fruit altogether.

In Paris, lychees were my wintery delicacy, something I’d indulge in after long, tiring days at work. I’d buy them in huge heaps from the fruit & vegetable market on my street, where the Moroccan sales men knew me almost by name. (“Bonsoir, mademoiselle Finlande! Ca va aujourd’hui?” – For clarification: my “name” abroad rarely is Sara, it’s “the Finnish girl”, la finlandaise, die Finne. True to form.)

I prefer lychees to rambutans and longans. You know rambutans? They’re like lychees who need a haircut. And longans, they’re like the lychee’s bald old uncle with liver spots.

Usually, I just eat all the lychees I have. Fresh and right away. I have no patience or self-control and, quite genuinely, they really taste best just the way they are. However, if you’re new to lychees, I do recommend experimenting with them a little. Frozen lychees are wonderful – if you’ve ever eaten frozen grapes, lychees have a similar, fine and tender sorbet-like texture without any loss of flavour and fragrance. You can also mix some mean drinks: lychee martinis are usually made with syrup, but a lychee margarita put through the blender will hit the winter drink jackpot. You can even make a salsa with them, or chuck some in a stir-fry.

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Lychee eating also has a long and intriguing history. They’re originally from the mountains and tropical rainforests of southern China (especially the Guangdong region) and they’ve been hugely popular throughout their known history. That seemingly stretches back to around 2000BC. The 1st Century Imperial Court was hit with such a lychee-fever, that the emperor organised a special express courier service with fast horses and the finest riders, who would bring them fresh from the region of Guangdong. Sounds a bit like the Amazon Prime of its time.

In Europe, lychee season is unarguably around Christmas time and continues past New Year. For some reason, lychees tend to be imported to Europe from the southern hemisphere especially during winter, even though they can be found ripe almost all year round. The Chinese and other Southeast-Asian varieties tend hit their peak between June and July.

Sara’s Quick Lychee FAQ!

Ok so, I got these lychees now from the shop. What do I do now?

Are you going to eat them right this second? Yes? Put them in your mouth. No? Put them in the fridge. Don’t take your sweet time, make a snap decision. If you bought so many lychees that you won’t be able to eat them in the next couple of days, freeze them. You can either leave the skin on or peel them. Both work – it depends a bit on how you want to use them once frozen. (Hot tip: they make mind-blowing frozen smoothies/milkshakes for summer.)

I’m going to eat one now. How do I eat it?

As fast as you can, so you can grab another one. But seriously though, there are quite a few ways to eat a lychee and none of them is “right” or “wrong”. The following technique, however, is what I have found to be the most convenient and effective for this magnificent fruit.

  1. Feel the fruit. Gently press it between your fingers. Peak ripeness is when the fruit gives in just a little and the skin hasn’t hardened yet. Yet it’s firm enough that you know it’s not rotting. That’s the sweet spot.
  2. Nip and lift up the stem with your fingernail, revealing the white, translucent flesh.
  3. Start peeling the fruit in a spiral pattern.
  4. If the lychee is particularly juicy – as the often are – I only peel it mid-way and squeeze the fruit out of the shell directly into my mouth. Less juicy specimens, you can peel all the way.
  5. Eat it. Spit out the pit.
  6. See step 1.  

peeling a lychee in a gif

Alternate ending: cut the peeled lychee open either with your fingernail or a knife and remove the pit. Serve in a bowl as a snack, process further into drinks or foods or freeze in a sealed container.

I ate a lychee and it tasted bad and bitter. Eff you, Sara. You lied to me. I don’t like you anymore.

Now hold on a minute! You must’ve had a “bad apple”. See, lychees are special in that they do not ripen after picking. This is starkly different to most other tropical fruits such as mangoes, bananas and even avocados. If the fruit is picked early, it’s almost always bitter and with an unpleasant aftertaste. Unfortunately, this is a risk we have to take: often large commercial growers pick their fruit too early in order to get it to distribution when the prices are at their peak. But don’t give up – just try another!

Oh yes, YES! Sara – you were right. These are amazing. I can’t stop eating them. I’ve already eaten a kilo. Can I eat too many and get sick?

I never have.

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Get yours while you can.

Ps. Canned lychees are horrible, don’t eat them.

Of having yourself a very merry Christmas time

I love Christmas – and yes, what a wonderful time it is. I’m not in my core this positive, optimistic person but, during Christmas, for a brief moment, I become one.

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Our house was full for the whole holidays – of both people and joy, but also Christmas music, singing, chatter, several languages, laughter and animals running around in circles, like crazy.

I don’t get to see my family all that often and, of course, the same goes for W. We’ve been alternating holidays every year: last year, in the UK with his family and, this year, my family came to Leipzig.

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Our Christmas menu was faithful to the Finnish traditions. I had prepared the pickled herrings almost a week earlier and my family brought the gravlax with them from Finland. Heaps of waxy potatoes were boiled. Spirits were bright CLEAR. (That’s the tradition – vodkas or equivalent with the fish starters.)

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Of autumn hobbies and picking mushrooms

All mushrooms are edible. But some, you can only eat once.

– Old Finnish proverb

I’ve been holding on to this post for quite a while but somehow struggled to get it finished. Today I went out with Musti and found such a nice mushroom harvest, I knew I had found the last pieces to this puzzle. I had to finish it.

So, I go to the forest quite often.

Some nice green forest in Leipzig

I don’t actually consider going to the forest exceptionally calming per se – I just like it that there are no other people there. I like the feeling of temporary, fleeting isolation. If you go deep enough, you can almost not hear the motorways.

I go all year round, but autumn is my favourite time – there are no longer so many mosquitos, it’s not that hot – the air has that crisp autumn smell – and, if you are lucky, you can find mushrooms.

Sara in the forest with Musti dog

Top Samuji (2015) // Jeans H&M (2015)

Picking mushrooms is in Finland like a national hobby: when autumn arrives, every social media channel fills with pictures of mushrooms, foods made with mushrooms and a lot – I mean A LOT – of the conversation with people revolves around these special fruits of the forest!

Chanterelles on a wooden chopping board

Plus, mushroom hunting is incredibly fun! The joy of the discovery, the warm satisfaction of feeling so capable and self-reliant is almost intoxicating. Here we are back in Finland, a few years ago, when we found so many black trumpets, we still eat them to this day! The smiles tell it all.

Apparently mushroom hunting is not as common elsewhere as it is in Finland. Ever since I moved abroad, I have not found a single mushroom hunting buddy! I’ve found that a lot of people are, first of all, confused about identifying mushrooms but also not sure what to make of them and how to really get started. So, I’ll gently take your hand and hold it through the basics of mushroom picking: presenting 3 + 1 of the easiest mushrooms to pick in central Europe and a couple of nice easy recipes to complete your first foraging adventure!

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Of himmelis and craft traditions

Edit / December 2017: I have, since writing the post, acquired tons of more information on himmelis and their history! I’ve been making himmelis througout the last couple of years and have become quite the maker myself 🙂 While Pirjo obviously remains a master class Himmeli-artist, I’ve actually recently started to hold workshops of my own. Check them out!

As a committed craft lady, when my mother asked if I was interested in taking part again in a himmeli-workshop, I jumped at the chance. I don’t think we ever had one in our home, but himmelis are familiar to every Finn – from story books, Finnish folklore and most importantly – our grandmother’s homes.

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Oh what am I talking about, you may be thinking – what is a himmeli? Why, it’s a traditional Finnish hanging straw ornament and holiday decoration, of course!

Though the name of the ornament is of Germanic origin – in both Swedish and German “himmel” means “sky” or “heaven” – the himmeli is undoubtedly considered the quintessential traditional Finnish Christmas (Yule) & holiday decoration. In Finnish, himmelis have also often been labeled “straw crowns”. As established as they may be in Finnish culture, in the interest of full disclosure: some versions of himmeli-style ornaments have also been made throughout Eastern Europe, just with different names. This includes the Polish pajaki chandelier and Latvian puzuri. They have some of the same features as the Finnish ones, but they do look very different!

Anyway, regarding the Finnish himmeli: they are in today’s Finland often Christmas/Yule ornaments but more specifically tokens, symbols and charms to ensure happiness, riches and a good harvest for the follow year. They were often hung above the dining table before Christmas and stayed out on display until Midsummer and even throughout the year. Sometimes multiple himmelis would dangle in different rooms of the house: that’s when you’re really trying everything to ensure a good crop!

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Of autumn dusk in Plagwitz (and football)

Back in June, I remember literally asking my friends what a “Juventus” was. Now, weirdly enough, I go to a football match every now and then. I have a small team pin on my coat. It’s slow but sure development. Funny, hah?

W says he finds it strange. In all honesty, I feel that way too. But, as my football-introducing-friend J says, “you don’t pick a team, a team picks you”.

For most of my life, I have had absolutely zero connection to any sport. I have actually never even understood the appeal. Like, what’s the actual point? But the more I’m involved and the more I go to the games – the more I understand, slowly. (I’m still too empathetic though – I always hope everyone gets at least one goal! It must be so sad for them, if they have none…J has told me that this is a completely wrong approach to the whole issue at hand, hah!)

So BSG Chemie Leipzig played against Reichenbacher FC. 4:0. Well done, Chemie.

Sara, your Practicalities blogger

This is me, saying hello!

The home games are in played at Alfred-Kunze-Sportpark, in Northwest-Leipzig, in the neighbourhood of Leutzsch. I tend to go home through Plagwitz, in all calm and serenity on the train, get a beer to-go from the Plagwitz train station and walk back home along the canal. It’s one of my favourite walks through Leipzig.

Plagwitz is an old industrial neighbourhood in the west of Leipzig. It still has something of that vibe to it – even after all the gentrification and development. Though from seeing some pictures, the “old Plagwitz” of less than thirty years ago seems like a completely different world.

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Of housewarming garden parties

We had a housewarming party. Ten things I learned:

  1. The best grills are cast iron.
  2. Try not to let the fire go out if you have hungry guests.
  3. Making your friends perform engineering tasks before the party officially starts is a great way of making everybody mix & mingle. In our case, a sun/rain cover needed to be assembled.
  4. If you want the best taboulé & hummus of your life, ask if your Syrian friend is up for the task.
  5. Avalon also makes a great punch that will gather dozens of compliments.
  6. There can’t be too many light garlands and twinkly lights.
  7. The steak recipe my high-school boyfriend taught me still works.
  8. A little rain won’t ruin a good party! Just be prepared. See number 3.
  9. In the end, you might be so busy hustling with everything that you might not really have time to eat yourself.
  10. And if you are so positively busy with your party – eating, drinking, socialising, laughing – that you have don’t even have time to even put on make-up or comb your hair, it’s a great party!

Food

I’m planning on writing a whole post about BBQ and grills and equipment and such, as the art of BBQing deserves some special attention. So here I’m just gonna share our recipes for the salads and side dishes – which go together with EVERYTHING grilled.

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Of Strasbourg, the city

I actually wanted to some more share photos and write some more about Strasbourg – and Alsace – months ago, but the post kind of kept trailing and trailing. So I grunted and finally decided to take it off the back burner. If you are interested in Strasbourg and are looking for all kinds of travel tips, you should also check out my other posts:

Of eating in Strasbourg – restaurant tips, bars and such!

Of my favourite shop in Strasbourg – name says it all, for buying Alsatian artisanal pottery!

Well, it just so happened that Finland had its governmental elections and, instead of heading to my regular voting spot in Stuttgart, we opted for Strasbourg. The bus ride with ADAC Postbus from Karlsruhe is so cheap it’s almost impossible (10€ return) and only takes one hour. So, you will get a sexy mix of wintery photos and more recent, spring flavoured examples. You should also check my previous post about some eating in Strasbourg for more.

Anyway, to set the mood, here I am enjoying a demi of Bière Juliette from the local Brasserie Uberach on the terrace of Café Atlantico (bistrot-resto-dodo):

Drinking an Alsatian beer in Strasbourg

The author, drinking a beer.

It was one of the warmest days of spring so far and the spring was a bit further along in France than in Germany. The weather was verging on blazing hot and the air was filled with the sweet aroma of Magnolias, which were in full blossom along the riverside and on the backyard of seemingly every house and building.

I really like the city and the region. Alsace is generally a wonderfully curious place. It has such a bizarre history and I reckon its having been ping-ponged between different rulers and empires so many times has left a significant mark. Most visible and recent, though, is the modern German cultural and governmental impact. Due to the whole ping-ponging – especially between Germany and France – Alsace still applies “the local law”, which is quite an interesting arrangement. It lets the region have some of its entirely own, local legislation, operating alongside the rest of the French legal system.

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Of secret missions being completed

My secret mission is complete. It has kept be so unbelievably busy, I haven’t had time for hobbies or blogging or really anything else. You can also look at some photos from my secret mission. 

Double height glass winter garden

So, more Chinese food and more local beers, in Leipzig.

This one here, is “industry beer”. I like the label with a hard-working man in his overalls, chucking one down. We were crossing Die Nonne and felt like we needed some liquid encouragement.

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