Doing life right, at home and away

Category: Me

Of Himmeli-tradition coming to life in Leipzig

“You have reveled my joys and mourned my sorrows, and you have always been there quiet and delicate, when I have needed to contemplate.” 

– Jalmari Sauli / Himmeli: Tales about the nature and children of nature (1928)

I’ve held two of my Himmeli-workshops now and it’s been an absolute wonder. I’m so happy and grateful for the heaps of people interested in Himmelis and Finnish crafts tradition. I did not expect it to be so well received. Furthermore, I’m absolutely impressed by the craft skills my students have had: crafts are definitely not dead! 🙂

And to any new readers: oh, what am I even talking about – what is a Himmeli? Why, it’s a traditional Finnish hanging mobilé ornament and holiday decoration, of course!

Himmelis are 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.

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. However, Himmelis are not strictly tied to any specific event or celebration, and the ornaments were also popular at wedding celebrations (hung above the head of the bride, a ”bride’s crown”), housewarming gifts, as well as decorating many a Midsummer. Last, but by no means least, they also hung above cribs to bless and soothe small children.

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Of Laskiaispulla & Shrove Tuesday – or Fasching

Laskiainen / Fasching / Shrove Tuesday is here! That can only mean one thing: Laskiaispulla, a novelty Finnish pulla delicacy. What is a “pulla”, you may ask? Why, pulla is a Finnish culinary staple: a baked bun.

For Shrove Tuesday (or Fasching, if you’re German), we make a special variety where the bun is cut in half, filled with raspberry jam or almond paste and decorated with whipped cream. It’s a top notch pulla, I tell you.

Finnish Laskiainen is not as wild as in other countries (like Mardi Gras or Karneval), but we Finns celebrate it in our own way. It’s customary to go sliding with the whole family and friends – and eat these buns, of course.

As there’s no snow in Germany, let’s focus on the buns 🙂

The recipe has three parts: making the buns, making the almond paste and then putting the buns together.

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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. 

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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 techno parties and local beers

The title says it all. Some unexpected Finnish techno in Leipzig and a few new friends? Musti has a dog sitter and I’m ready to stay up past midnight.

Trying out a few local beers, too. Both recommended!

Don’t wait up!

local leipzig beers


Walking off the ferry

Of leaving the island (and crossing back to the continent)

Every adventure will eventually come to an end: from the Scotland back to Germany via Brighton and Dieppe, and whatever other places, again. Took trains, more trains and even more trains.

Went on the ferry, only got a little sea sick, traumatised the dog – the usual overland/water travel experience!

Dealing with more trains ahead, trains on trains, because we like trains so much, we got some trains in our trains.

Xhibit - yo dawg trains in trains

Feels weird going back, but it’s definitely time. I’m missing the cats like crazy.

truffle shavings

Of cooking with a truffle

As you might remember, I have transported a jar of rice (with a truffle in it) from Strasbourg to Karlsruhe to Portsmouth with me. W’s dad is so into cooking it has actually been a little hard to push for a meal WE can cook!

fresh truffle shavings

Today though, we managed to negotiate for a lunch spot, so it was obvious that we were going to finally use the truffle. I had spent a good deal of time figuring out what would be the best way to use it. I wanted something easy and simple, yet hearty as it was to feed five people. I also wanted it to be sort-of foolproof, without too many bells or whistles – as truffle on its own is already rather exotic – ideally something that doesn’t require acquired tastebuds. Compared to other truffle types, such as Black truffles (French Périgord) and White truffles (Italian Piémontese), which practically need to be consumed raw, Meuse truffle puts up well with heat and cooking. However, I wanted to rather enjoy the raw taste of the product.

I decided to go with a truffle risotto – by just topping the delicious risotto with thin shavings of raw truffle. Risotto is such a basic, beautiful thing, filling and hearty, yet serves as base for a variety of other complex flavours.

I was still a little worried about having stored the truffle in rice, but upon taking it out from the rice jar, the truffle seemed to be in perfect condition and was still strongly scented and very aromatic when I shaved off a sliver to taste it.

A simpler than simple risotto for showcasing the flavour/aroma of a Meuse truffle:

You need:

  • Risotto rice
  • Olive oil
  • Salty butter (50-70g)
  • Vermouth (preferably) or white wine
  • Finely diced onion (shallots or normal ones, 2-3 according to taste)
  • Finely chopped garlic (to taste)
  • Finely chopped celery (which we didn’t have as we forgot to buy some – but it belongs to the perfect basic risotto recipe)
  • Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 liter stock, approximately (chicken or vegetable, for example – though I would definitely recommend home made stock but sometimes you have to rely on stock cubes – like we did here)
  • Parmesan or other flavoursome hard cheese, plenty of it
  • Truffle (obviously)
  • Parsley to garnish

1. Heat the stock in a pot. In another pan, heat the olive oil and butter, add the onions, garlic and celery, and stir them until soft, careful to not let them brown or burn. Turn up the heat and add the rice.

2. This is when you can’t leave the stove for even a few seconds. Keep stirring the rice, so it doesn’t get any colour on it. Pretty soon the rice will start to look slightly translucent. This is your cue to throw in the vermouth or the white wine – all the while keeping the rice moving at all times. The rice will suck up the wine quite quickly – keep the rice moving and breathe in the wonderful aromas.

3. Once the rice has sucked up the liquid, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. The secret of good risotto is to keep it slowly simmering, so the rice cooks evenly throughout. If kept boiling on too much heat, the risotto will cook way too much from the outside, but the grains will have a hard core. So: turn down the heat to a simmer and keep slowly adding ladlefuls of stock. Stir and turn thoroughly, and allow all the liquid to be absorbed in the rice body before the next. After 15-20 minutes, check if the rice is cooked and if the seasoning is balanced. If not, keep adding the stock in the similar manner. When ready, the rice should be soft and lovely, but with a bite – we’re not trying to make porridge! Taste the rice — is it cooked? Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.

4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and parmesan (or equivalent). Allow the risotto to sit under a lid for a couple of minutes. This will let all the liquid and flavours to really set and results in a wonderfully creamy, perfect risotto.

5. Eat.

For this truffle risotto and serving – we just shaved some thin truffle slices, chopped parsley and a pinch of black pepper on top of the risotto. Ta-daa!

It was delicious.

I also generally try to be economic in my cooking: as little leftovers as possible and maximise repurposing – be it boiling bones and vegetable cut offs for stocks, or making truffle oil with the leftover truffle! We chopped – extremely finely – the end of the truffle we could no longer use for the risotto and put it in a jar with extra virgin olive oil. It needs from a few days to a week to properly infuse it.  Works great with pasta and salads. Another possibility is making truffle salt: also chopping it fine and mixing it with rough sea salt, himalayan salt, etc. Seal it in a jar for some days so the truffle bits emit their remaining aromas in the salt. Enjoy with everything.

(A tip from a friend: for super fancy margaritas, use truffle salt to salt the rim of your margarita glass. I hear it’s insanely good.)

Orkney ferry dog

Of Sarajevo souvenirs

Beside enjoying really long train journeys and exploring balkan food culture, there was a real reason for my recent visit in Sarajevo…

This guy:

(We have a dog now!)

We’re calling him Musti. That’s Finland’s most classic dog name.

A pile of cats

(I still nap with the cats, though.)

Leipzig forest in the evening

Of autumn (and my favourite poem)

Autumn has arrived. I think it might be my favourite season. We took a long walk with Musti through a very foggy forest to the pet shop.

Sorry it’s only in Finnish, but below is a favourite poem for my favourite season. One day I will try to translate it (with some help from W). How do you translate “the chest of the reeds” or “rain playing on the lake” anyway?

Kaksi vanhaa, vanhaa varista
nuokkuu hiljaa pellon aidalla.
Ruskea on rinta kaisliston,
taivas harmaa. Sataa. Syksy on.

”Kurkikin jo lähti”, veljelleen
toinen virkkaa niinkuin itsekseen.
Pitkä hiljaisuus. Jo toinenkin
”niin maar; lähti”, sanoo takaisin.

Sitten vanhukset taas vaikenee.
Järven pintaan sade soittelee.
Sukii siivenselkää toisen pää.
Toinen joskus silmää siristää.

Höyhenihin niskat kyyristyy
Sataa. Hiljaista on. Hämärtyy
yli pellon mustan kynnöksen.
Tuntuu riihen tuoksu etäinen.

Kaksi märkää, vanhaa varista
nuokkuu aatoksissaan aidalla.
”Täytyy tästä…”, toinen havahtuu,
lentoon verkkaisesti valmistuu.
”Käyhän taaskin tarinoimassa.
Oli oikein hauska tavata.”

Lauri Pohjanpää

The snow-covered Austrian Alps

Of the natural geography of cities

I’ve been thinking about the natural geography of cities quite a bit. Especially having lived in three different cities and visited many more, you start to notice things and see what you’ve always taken for granted.

Being from Helsinki, I grew up near the sea. The sea was a given, a basic birth right that held no special significance until I moved away. I’ve come to realise what kind of a privilege I had had for my whole life.

In Paris, the Seine provided a little air hole, some sense of space and distance, a view – if not to the horizon, the unknown, then at least further than the end of the street.

In Karlsruhe, for a long time I felt something was a little “off”: an unidentifiable feeling, an anxiety, sometimes a bit like I was suffocating. One day, while on a quick day trip to Heidelberg, I realised what was causing it.

Karlsruhe is the ultimate landlocked city, with no water or changes of altitude. I realised that I had never lived in a city like that before and that I was not adapting very well. In Karlsruhe, you never get the possibility to disconnect from the city, to see out into the distance. You never get to see the landscape, the bigger picture, the horizon. You’re not prodded to marvel at nature, the humanity of it all. You don’t get to feel small, or to disconnect from your life and your position in it. Maybe this is an escapist viewpoint, but I cherish it none the less.

You know that part in Amélie, when she is looking over Paris from Montmartre, wondering how many couples are having an orgasm at the same time? That. In Karlsruhe, you never get to do that.

Amelie thinks orgasms

I’m writing this from the train back to Germany from Zagreb, and a big portion of the journey is through the Alps of Austria. Quite breath taking, really – endless, massive, several-kilometers-high mountains with a white snow coating and a fog curtain gently resting near the peak. Deep, long valleys with alpine towns, one after another. At one point we were so high, that the whole scenery, houses, everything – was covered in a bright white snow blanket, glimmering in the sunshine of the early morning.

The Austrian Alps, seen from the train

Sarajevo is also surrounded by mountains, the Dinaric Alpes (though they also have the Milijacka river), and it got me thinking if maybe mountains are even better? In sea shore cities, you have to go to the sea in order to appreciate its wonders. However, in many cities surrounded by mountains, you can see them from most places in the city. I can’t really describe the feeling it gives me, seeing the rolling hills, the forest, vineyards or houses on the hill, from everywhere you are.

Anyway, wherever I decide to settle, there had better be mountains or sea, or at least a big river. Or both. Or all of the above.

Leftover Balkan food for breakfast

(I also had some leftover pita for breakfast.)

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