Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mr. Roboto?

So after picking up my glasses and wearing them out of the store with glee (despite the fact that it was sprinkling and I had to learn the rather difficult lesson and technique of cleaning them properly...still something I'm learning to's harder than one would initially suspect), we met up with our favorite couple J and O for dinner.

Despite what one may think of Helsinkians and the emptiness of the city, for whatever reason, on this particular night, everyone and their mother decided to come out for dinner! Guess the turn of cold weather, the rain, the upcoming elections...something just made everyone turn to each other and say, "let's go out for dinner tonight." Every restaurant we went to (and we went to at least three) was fully booked and crowded. We couldn't get a table no matter what we did, no matter how long we waited.

By this time Hong Kong P had decided she'd had enough. Grumples McGrumpy Pants was coming out of the woodwork and food was going to be needed stat before nights were going to be potentially ruined.

So we went to an old standby. A place we knew would not have a line and would have delicious food. We went back to Domo.

Good ole Domo.

Though perhaps not the speediest of restaurants, it is definitely dependable. And the food is good, albeit expensive. Don't expect to spend less than 35euros here and walk out full. You won't.

Especially when you're with foodie friends. Food friends who love wine. And food. And everything.

And thus our feasting commenced. Everyone ordered several things off the menu because we'd been waiting to get sustenance for such a long time. I am guilty as charged.

First order off the menu? Deep fried eggplant with sweet miso sauce.

What I expected was diced eggplant with gooey sauce all over it. What I got was something...different.

Hilarious. And literal. I had no idea you could deep fry an entire eggplant in its wholeness. But apparently you can. And it's still amazing. It was extremely tasty, though admittedly the sauce, served in this way, was a bit overbearing. I'm glad I decided to bite the bullet and pay the extra 1,50euro for a bowl of rice (something I'm a bit loathe to pay everytime because it seems an unnecessary cost). I was already paying 13euros for this hilariously simple eggplant dish so...yeah.

I also ordered a sushi roll which came a bit later, hence my reasons for completely forgetting to photograph it. Apologies for my terrible photodocumentation skills, as always. But basically I can tell you it had shrimp tempura, avocado, and roe on it. The rest? I do not remember. Needless to say I ate it all and it was delicious.

We also ordered a bottle of riesling for the table, which was luckily on special for 27euros a bottle (very reasonable for this town). Wine is not something I typically think of when Japanese food comes to mind but whatever, I'll take it. None of us was particularly in the mood for sake, so wine is the next best thing (other than plum wine, which was also on the menu but not on can guess why we all went for this instead).

And for dessert? My favorite. The green tea panna cotta:

Just as gloriously smooth and velvety as last time. It had no pansy this time, which I was actually slightly relieved at, but it did have a little raspberry and some sort of berry, which was delightfully cut in half. My dinner mates tried to order a chocolate cake which was new on the menu, but alas it was so popular that they had run out of it! Instead profiteroles were ordered (something I've actually never really seen in person...they look like little cut cream puffs...I had oddly assumed they would look like cream-filled rolled up pancakes)...professions of disappointment were had. Sadness indeed.

But alas another delicious dinner was had at Domo, and service wasn't even that slow this time. I'd have to say, improvements since last time.

I did end up paying a whopping 38euros for my dinner (we split the wine, my 13euro eggplant, another 12euros for my sushi roll, and 6euros for the panna cotta), but it was worth it. 

Sigh, Helsinki. You rip me of my money, but for the sake of good dinner company and the feeling of fullness...I'll pay.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Got them glasses!

After waiting a seeming eternity, my glasses were ready. I received the text on Wednesday, much to my glee. I immediately sent out the email to my girlfriends, anxious to see if they had likewise received their texts of confirmation. Within an hour or two all of them confirmed receiving their texts and the FB event was created - we were going to get them glasses on Friday (the first free evening we could leave work early enough to still make it to the shop before it closed...6pm apparently is a luxury for several of me ~_~).

So on Friday we marched out from work, taking the bus with smiles in our hearts, despite the gloomy rainy weather intent on squashing our mission of picking up our new glasses.

We arrived at the glasses store with 20 minutes to spare before the store closed (I'm sure the staff there absolutely loves us).

Inside, Finnish Irish T was trying on her frame alternatives - she needed to specially order two different colors to complete her order. We stood by her as she tried on each pair in turn, carefully considering the alternatives and their possible consequences. Such is the weight of every decision regarding eyewear. We all understood the gravity of such a situation.

I, on the other hand, chippered with excitement as the man went back to retrieve my already-completed glasses. In my excitement last weekend, I had completely forgotten what they looked like. Several of my friends had asked me what they were like and the only thing I could say to them was..."have you ever had that experience where you just met someone you really like and you can't remember what their face looks like?" Everyone I asked said no. Apparently that's not a common phenomenon. Well, for me it is. Sometimes when I meet someone new who I really like I don't really remember what their face looks like. Or I'll remember it not exactly right. Of course I'll remember the essence of the person, but the details will be wrong.

(A quick side story as a case-in-point: met this guy once who I immediately hit it off with. We started texting and set up a date. I was pretty sure in my mind that he looked like Shia Labeouf. (You know, that kid from Transformers). When he came to pick me up for our date, I opened my door and instead I found someone who was the tall young thin version of Liev Schreiber (guy from The Manchurian Candidate)...which was totally fine because I think he's equally hot...but generally speaking these two guys look not so alike.)

That's what it was like with my glasses. I had even given them a personality name. And even that didn't help me. It was between two final pairs at the end. A pair of tortoisehell glasses I named Sexy Librarian and the pair I went with, which I named Cute Retro Girl. I went with the latter, but for the life of me I couldn't remember what they looked like or what color they were. I vaguely had the impression they were green or maybe yellow. That was it. I knew they were made of plastic instead of metal or any other material, and that they were roughly squarish instead of round...but zip past that.

So boy was I excited when I finally got to the store to see what they were like in real life. It was like coming back to try on a dress that's been tailored to fit my body but I've forgotten all the details that make it great.

And great is what they were. I put them on and all my fears melted away. Yes, I chose the right ones. Even with my skin looking like crap because it was 5 degrees C outside (read: blotchy and unhappy), my glasses fit. And I could see perfectly for the first time in a year.

Naturally the legs needed to be adjusted a little so they would fit my ears/head/noggin, etc, but that took the guy maybe 5 minutes and then poof! Like they were made just for me. Because they were.

And glory be. I wear them everywhere. I'm such a dork. But I love them. Best 290euros I've spent so far (well, that's debatable, but I feel very happy about them, anyway).

Check out my sweet specs:

They are indeed both green and yellow. And I do look like a retro person from the past. The other day I caught my reflection as I was walking home and I realized that I look like someone from the 60' this:

But obviously I could never be as cool as Michael Caine. Never. His kind of class? Eternal.

So back to my turning blind. I said I would cover my prescription, once I understood it more. As my company does apparently cover the cost of lenses, I asked the guy at the shop to copy down my prescription for me, since this is part of the documentation I need to turn in to get reimbursement. As he copied down the numbers, I once again realized that I know nothing of this system. As a child with up-until-now perfect eyesight, the only measure I had been told is something relatively referred to as "distance measure," i.e. 20/20 sight. This is the layman's version of saying something like, "what I can see at 20 feet, normal people can also see at 20 feet" When someone has exceptionally good vision, they are usually something like 20/15, meaning they can see something at 20 feet that normal people would need to stand at 15 feet to see. And when your vision is slightly worse, it's something like 20/30, meaning you need to stand at 20 feet to see what most people can see at 30 feet (meaning you need to stand closer). Etc etc.

Well apparently this measure is not used commonly around the world. After asking the man at the shop if he could translate the numbers he was writing down into this system, he sort of looked at me confusedly and said they didn't use that system here and that I could go on the web to maybe translate it. He knew enough to say I was one tick away from perfect (like one measure away) and that I was slightly more nearsighted. That was about it.

So I did some more investigation on the web. I found no such easy translation. I'll take his word for it.

But I did find a good explanation for what my prescription meant. Here are what my actual numbers are:

Left eye:
S: -0.25
C: -0.25
Axis: 90 degrees

Right eye:
S: -0.25
C: -0.50
Axis: 40 degrees

According to Web MD (naturally the most reliable source of medical information on the web...this is me being totally sarcastic, btw), this means I have astigmatisms in both eyes, and that I am slightly nearsighted in both eyes (because they're both negative). I also have a ridiculously light prescription. Everyone who has tried on my glasses and/or seen my prescription numbers has basically laughed at me.

Well, this is what I get for knowing what perfect is like and seeing the decay. What can I say? Once you've seen perfection, perfection is what you expect and desire.

My biggest example of this is using the bus or the tram in the morning. When I walk out of my apartment in the morning I have the option of using the bus or the tram to get to the major bus station that takes me to work. When I cross the street I am slightly closer to the tram stop by maybe 5 feet. Both of them have signs that tell you how long it will be before the next tram or bus is to arrive. Both of these signs use orange LEDs. These are incredibly hard to read and they're quite small (not to mention that both of these signs, when I cross the street, are about 20-30 feet away). Without my glasses, if I squint hard enough, sometimes I can barely make out what the numbers are and guess how long either the bus or tram is before coming. But basically it's a guess. I can't actually tell. I've guessed wrong before, which is frustrating (though in real terms it probably only costs me...maybe a max of 5 minutes extra commute time). With my new glasses, I can see both signs clearly, and voila! Problem solved. The world is perfect again.

And thus the case for my glasses is solid. :)

So, all you naysayers of my silly little prescription, I believe my reasons are sound.

I now walk around with my glasses on almost constantly. I can see the details on the farthest trees again. Pretty sure these glasses were worth every penny.

I can see the world clearly again.

Mottos for life

So my best friend sent me an email the other day, asking me, on behalf of a developmental psychology class she is taking, what two of my life-balancing sayings/mantras are. She was asking this of all of her adult friends, and, apparently being counted as one of those, I was important enough to be questioned.

It didn't take me long to write mine down. Generally mine are always in mind and pretty straight forward:

  • It is what it is.
  • You only live once, no regrets about not doing.
But it did make me think: what are other people's? What are yours, dear readers? Would you care to share them?

Her psychology class did bring up some interesting thoughts for me, for the rest of the day (which I then promptly forgot, due to my horrid old age and general busy-ness).

The other one that resonates with me a lot of the time: it does what it needs to do. But that has to do with my buying habits, rather than my life stance. I still almost put it down.

If you have something to share, please do. :)


Monday, October 29, 2012

Just your average Saturday

It was just your average Saturday:

  • going to the eye glass store, finding out you're going partially blind from the cold and low-light conditions of your new place of living, then picking out sweet new frames.
  • eating at a Mexican restaurant (in Helsinki, Finland, of all places) and getting nostalgic about foods you've missed, but at least feeling full for the first time in months.
  • drinking chai at a new restaurant opened by two fellow countrywomen while noshing on cupcakes from an adorable cupcake store.
Later that same average Saturday, I had a birthday party to attend. It was our friend's, Chinese Canadian E's, birthday this past week.

Now, Chinese Canadian E is actually a very special person. For a lot of reasons. Let me outline the ways this person is...unique:

  • Despite moving back to Helsinki for the first time in years (he'd been living in Tampere, Finland for the past several years), he's actually been in his apartment for less than a month (cumulatively) for the four months that he's been renting it.
  • He actually lives in a hotel room in Copenhagen 5 days of the week.
  • His company pays for half his rent and all of his Copenhagen hotel.
  • He gets a per diem on top of his salary (which is quite high, I understand).
  • He gets a transportation allowance every month that he needs to stay under in order to get a 150% bonus at the end of the year (yes, that's right, 150% bonus).
  • Something like 75% of his salary and expenses are completely tax-free.
  • He has a level of security at the Canadian border that rivals some seats of the government and possibly secret agents (that's actually not a lie).
  • He apparently has a skill that was so valuable and unique that the clients his company is doing business with refused to sign the contract unless he specifically was on the job.
  • Even though he's Canadian (and not European), they waited several months to get the visas in order to make sure he could actually do said job (many companies are not willing to stall a job in order to do this...and they still paid him in the meantime).
  • Despite the fact that he's Chinese, he actually doesn't know how to use chopsticks and has never eaten dim sum (this fact was the one that actually stunned me).
  • He has had two potential career paths in his life - what he does now, or professional hockey player. After losing almost half of his face and half of his teeth in a game and needing reconstructive surgery (several times), he decided to go with what he does now (something something computer genius).
  • He parties with rockstars when he's in Copenhagen. Every week. Several times a week.
  • Strangely, I've only known this guy as a sort of dorky guy who wears suits all the time who gets drunk a lot and talks about hitting on women all the time.
Anyway, it was his birthday. So we were going to celebrate.

What did he bring to his own birthday party at his (basically empty) bachelor pad apartment?

Champagne, of course.

But not just any champagne.

Because he goes through Copenhagen's duty-free at least once a week on his way back to Helsinki (where he stays the weekends), he decided he would just spend the money and buy himself...

vintage Cristal.

Just because.

So, we had vintage Cristal.

A bottle from 2005. It was wrapped in its own golden box.

Needless to say, it was more than enjoyable. I don't even have words to describe what it tasted like. Diamonds in the glass? Fantastic?

The one thing I will say: after we were finished with the bottle (which, at duty-free, costed somewhere around 200euros), we decided to pop open his second bottle of champagne, which was a Moët & Chandon.

Very classy stuff also, all things said and done.

But we all tasted it...and for the first time ever in my didn't taste that good. Moët & Is that possible?! Apparently it is. When you've had it right after vintage Cristal.

Someone had brought a bottle of cava as part of the celebration and we all laughed about what that would taste like after the Moët & Chandon. We didn't bother opening it to find out. Instead we just theorized that whatever would happen next, we should keep this from slipping any further, and decided to go out. Different alcohols were consumed instead, none of us brave enough to buy skumppa for the rest of the night.

Like I said, just your average Saturday.

What a day. O_O

Friday, October 26, 2012

Going to Brooklyn for coffee

...or chai, in this case, since I don't drink coffee. (Sorry, JBL).

After the most fulfilling meal I've had in months (read last entry on Burrito Love), me and the girls headed to one of the cutest spots in Helsinki: the Brooklyn Cafe.

This adorable little place was opened up by a pair of African American sisters from Brooklyn (obviously), and has been doing splendidly well since its grand opening almost a year ago. Apparently they opened it based off of a love for coffee, cake, and chocolate (all good reasons to open a coffee shop, according to what is sold there).

Wanting a place to sit, talk, and enjoy some cupcakes that had been purchased earlier in the day by American J at Mormor Cupcakes (such a sweetheart!), we gathered into this little cozy place and found a hilarious place to fit our group: split amongst the table in the window (and I do mean in the window, since Hong Kong P and I were literally sitting on cushions at a table in the window) and next to the window.

A little awkward to say the least, but we made do. What we really wanted was to enjoy cupcakes and warm beverages (being another biting day in Helsinki, go figure), and with that mission accomplished, we commenced.

I, being the unfortunate non-coffee drinker of the group, ordered a chai latte and delighted in its falltime spices. Glory be the chai that is made with whole milk and fresh mixed spices! This was the perfect way to go..just look at that beauty!

The rest of the girls ordered lattes (of the normal variety), since that seems to be the standard here. We all commented how fresh and strong the drinks were - a toast to awesomeness!

And then the cupcakes came out. Look. At. That.

Being girls we cut them in half so people would be able to try more variety than one, and even being a non-lover of sweets, I found them cute and tasty. I had a half of the pink one (surprisingly not that sweet, but instead creamy and nostalgic), and part of the white-frosted one on the bottom left (which was oddly, lemon meringue...would not have guessed that).

As we sipped and snacked, I looked around at this adorable coffee shop, imagining that I was somewhere else other than Helsinki. It's not that hard to do, given the decor of the place:

According to Hong Kong P, Helsinki is becoming the new Berlin. I wonder who is saying that...

Anyway, it was wonderful to be somewhere absolutely new. Several new places that day, actually. It did feel like another city, not that I had a problem with the city the way it normally is.

This has actually pushed all of us to explore more new places, more often. Despite it being expensive, I think it would be worth it to see what Helsinki really has to offer.

I'm pretty sure it's going to be beautiful.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Burrito love!

Do you remember the time you had your first burrito ever?

Neither do I.

But I do remember the first burrito I've had in basically 7 months! (The last of which was the Flaming Hot Frito burrito from Taco Bell. ...which was absolutely amazing! had Flaming Hot Fritos, rice, and warm nacho cheese in it. Need I say more? :D...).

Glory be the friend (American J) who follows the foodie trends of Helsinki, and who, after several hours (yes, you read that right) of glasses shopping, thought that we should have lunch at a new Mexican restaurant that just opened up. It's called Cholo.

It serves delicious Mexican street food. In a restaurant.

After I ordered my carne asada burrito (with my mouth I also ordered a delicious for realz sugar Fanta), American J ordered her burrito and the guy asked where we were all from (since clearly we were American). Turns out one of the owners is from Arizona and the other is clearly from actual Mexico! They were delighted by our North American accents and hilarious to say, I think we all felt a little more at home. :)

Awesome it be, though under normal circumstances it would not be, they were so popular that day that they had run out of everything but burritos! And only certain flavors of burritos were available (not that it really mattered because they were all still delicious flavors anyway): queso fresco, carne asada, and chicken. I was foolishly trying to order carnitas (my favorite type of Mexican meat), so the guy threw me a bone and gave me a sprinkling of carnitas in my burrito, despite the specialty meat being normally reserved for their tacos (which they were clearly out of).

The place was small but after waiting for only a minute or two a tiny table in the back opened up and we were able to squeeze into it (there were four of us). And after chatting for maybe another 15-20 minutes, our bounty showed up, warm in its Chipotle-like glory:

Yes, I know it is slight sacrilege or somewhat like being in league with the devil, but I do actually miss Chipotle and Taco Bell, despite them being completely unauthentic. There's just something about being able to get a completely filling burrito at any time of day that just rings true with the human soul. Or maybe just mine.

In any case, as soon as our food arrived, our table went silent. Mouths were full of food, there was no time for talking.

And gloriously, they came with homemade salsas:

The red one is a roasted salsa and was deliciously spicy and tasted of cilantro (despite showing no visual evidence of such a thing), and the green one was, naturally, salsa verde made from tomatillos. I smothered my burrito in both as I gobbled it down. It was heaven. Absolute food heaven.

Despite my love of fine dining, there really is nothing like chowing down on home food. Not that I'm Mexican, but comfort food is comfort food. And I was getting comfortable. Really reminded me of San Diego. Maybe that's what it was - feeling good about food again. Even if it was only for 45 minutes (yes, it did take me that long to eat the whole thing...yes, I did eat the whole thing...despite the fact that it probably weighed the same as my forearm).

I mean, how could you not love a face like that? Black refried beans, rice, guacamole (which had real lime in it!), lettuce, pico de gallo (I loved them just for that, it was so refreshing to have real salsa in there), melted cheese, my carne asada plus sprinkled carnitas...ah, all wrapped up in a hand-toasted flour tortilla.


Yes, I devoured it. And it was amazing. I didn't even feel particularly full afterwards, my body needed it so much. Craved its very existence in my being. It was incredible. I heartily thanked the chefs afterwards...they had certainly made my day. If not my month.

Apparently they also have a sister restaurant, Patrona (there is an accent over that "o", similar to the wondrous tequila that I smuggled back to Finland in my suitcase...all two liters of it from Costco...). It is a real sit-down restaurant, reservations required. Clearly will need to be checked out...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Spectacled Hen

Yes you read that correctly.

It will no longer be the "spreckled" hen, it'll be the "spectacled" hen.

When I first moved here at the end of March I jokingly wondered aloud whether the cold would do many things to me:

"1) wondering if my eyes will somehow be permanently damaged from being nakedly exposed to the cold, 2) thinking that my fingers will get frostbite even though I'm wearing glove liners and gloves with my hands in my down jacket pockets, 3) projecting how I might actually come to look my age against my Asian genetic structure because the cold makes my facial skin age faster."

Well, it seems at least that #1 and #3 seem to be correct, despite my best intentions. I have been identified as my real age (though still not by bouncers...they must be chronically tested as that subset of the population who is terrible at guessing ages..or are only there to flatter women who want to be mistaken for younger versions of themselves), and well, my eyesight is in fact, going south.

I don't remember if I actually published on this theory or not, but I certainly told my family once I moved here that I noticed that an unreasonably high percentage of Finns did in fact, wear glasses. And I mean strong glasses (their eyes are always slightly magnified as you look at them, which hilariously gives them a sort of bug-eyed appearance which is rather endearing). I immediately drew the conclusion that this must be due to the cold (hence my exclamation about my eyes being exposed to the naked cold, other than the fact that I did in fact worry that my vitreous humour would somehow be damaged by the cold...knowing something about eye structure), but also the incredible low-light situations they are faced with during the winter. I mean, how else could such a high percentage of a population have such bad eyesight? Sure, genetics, but how did they get to that point in the first place? O_O

Oh yes.

Anyway, my theory aside (which I think is at least worth thinking about), it seems at least for me, the data still points to this theory being true: my eyesight is in fact, getting worse. And yes I have noticed it getting remarkably worse since I've arrived here.

So, having noted this decline (and wondering what to do about it), I made an appointment with my doctor at my work site and had a chat about what my options were. Foolishly thinking that maybe I needed to be referred to some sort of eye specialist or something, I talked to my doctor about what I needed to do next. She simply said, "uh, you go to an eye glass store and the optometrist examines your eyes." "So there's no referral?" "No."

Well then.

My doctor also decided to tell me at that point that while we were talking she noticed I did not, in fact, have a lazy eye. Um, thank you...Doctor.

After realizing that I would need to find an eye glass store to go to, I remembered that my boss had some pretty sweet frames and called upon her help for recommendations (she having lived in Finland most of her life). She recommended a great private store with good prices, and I looked it up. Right in town. Yes.

I brought the subject up with several of my girlfriends during lunch one day and it turns out several of them needed glasses as well (one lost her only pair, another needed a new pair, and Hong Kong P...well, she just wanted glasses, despite having had Lasik a few years back...something something stylish).

So I did what any person would do. I made a Facebook event to go to the glasses store. Glasses shopping, clearly the newest trend.

And we went this past weekend. It was to the place my boss recommended, called Trend Optic.

Super cute place with friendly staff, I immediately went in and asked to make an eye exam appointment, since I needed to know how bad my eyes were before starting to shop for frames (I came in with Hong Kong P and while I was talking she had already started her perusing).

Turns out they had a slot open right then and there so I went in and got my eyes checked. As soon as he put down the first lens to see if I could see better through it, I knew I was going to need something - it was clearer. I could see clearer with the aid of something else. Damnit. I knew something was wrong. I just wasn't willing to fully admit that maybe it was actually true. I'd had 20/20 vision all my life.

As we progressed through the exam though, I started to feel a little better about things. Since Finland did have such a high prevalence of glasses wearers (read: glasses, not contacts...again, my theory is it's too cold here so contacts are actually unusable during the winter months...might damage your eye or something), they probably know what they're actually doing here. And would be able to tell the minute differences between someone who has actual eye sight problems and someone who, for example, just has something scratched and can't see correctly because of that.

Plus, I rationalized to myself, I'll actually be able to see clearly again. This is something I'd been lacking for several months to a year now, so...well, wouldn't I want to see the world clearly again? I mean it wasn't horrible during that time, just not perfect anymore. And it used to be perfect. So I already knew what I was missing.

Calmed down a bit after the initial shock of knowing that I was going to become a glasses wearer (something I'd never realistically considered for myself), I then thought of the silly positives: I can get sweet trendy frames. :D I can add this to my list of accessories.

As my exam was finishing the man wrote some numbers on my file card (which mean nothing to me, I'll have to repost later when I understand what my prescription actually means and he tells it to me officially) and reassured me that my prescription was quite low still. I would only need to wear the glasses when I was in front of a computer (simply to relax my eyes) and whenever I wanted to see more clearly farther away, like maybe when I'm driving a car or walking outside for a distance. Sweet, not an all-the-time thing. I can get used to that.

Done with the hard portion of the visit, I then set to the fun part: frames shopping. And the man was more than happy to help me out with that part. Their store was well-equipped for trendy frames. My boss was not wrong: they were wonderfully stocked.

Just look at the selection! Wondrous! Gorgeous! Frames in every color, shape, creed, style, that you could ever imagine!

I actually found several that I liked, but decided that I really should get one (let's be realistic here). Plus my work insurance only covers one set of lenses per year (and they're the expensive bit), so, I settled on one. The man said the glasses would be finished in about 5 days and they would text me when they were finished. Whoo! (I'll repost when I get them...I actually can't remember what they look like...sad, I know ~_~).

Even after I finished picking out my particular frames though, it was fun to just try on every other frame in the store (not literally, there were hundreds if not thousands). So many different kinds! Oh this opened up an entirely new world for me, and it was amazing. I had something entirely new to think about.

And so did the girls who came with me. It was Hong Kong P, Finnish Irish T, and a fellow American J. They all found frames they liked as well, and coincidentally, ordered theirs also (except for American J, since she had to check out one more store and had an appointment elsewhere later next week).

Anyway, we've all agreed, because of my precedent of the first event, that I will create a second event to go pick up our glasses together! Oh my, what a trendsetter I've become!

...but in all honesty, I cannot wait to get my glasses. The spreckled hen, will soon be spectacled. :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Finnish Flirtation

At some point in time this topic needed to be written about, so, here it is.

It is apparent, even after a little over six months of being here, I have no idea what Finnish flirting is. Take this as a sample of my complete and utter lack of comprehension on the subject:

My friends and I were at Flow Festival earlier this summer. As we were standing in a row, chatting (it was all girls), a man approaches me. He doesn't say anything but looks me in the eye and smiles while motioning for me to move out of his way. I stand my ground, since I'm not really sure why he isn't just going around us (there were only five of us or so there, not a huge amount) and give him the raised eyebrow of, "seriously?" Eventually he goes around us. I think nothing more about it.

A few minutes later my Finnish Irish girlfriend turns to me and says, "uh, you know he was trying to flirt with you, right?" Wait, what!? How does motioning for me to get out of his way somehow translate into flirting?


According to several of my girlfriends (some of them Finnish, others have just been living here long enough to understand the "methodology" behind this godforsaken tactic), anything that actually has a Finnish man approaching you and interacting with you is indeed, fact, flirting.

He's looking you in the eye? Flirting.

He's asking you some question? Flirting.

He acknowledges your presence in some relatively meaningful way? (i.e. he didn't just trip over you and say sorry or some other possibly inane thing)? Flirting.

Crap. I was gonna be in trouble.

So, chewing on this, I stored it in the back of my mind and kind of forgot about it. If Finnish men were this subtle about their flirting habits it was clear I was either going to have to be the aggressor (which generally speaking I have little problems with doing), or I would have to watch really carefully. Time would tell which would win out.

The answer? Neither. I've still not successfully dated a Finnish man here, and seems at the current rate, I won't.

And don't get me wrong, it's not necessarily from lack of trying. I did put in some amount of effort into the thing at a certain time. Then decided it wasn't worth the work. At the end of the day, culture aside, if a guy likes you, he's going to respond. No one should have to put in this amount of effort. Seemed fishy. So I let it go. End of that story.

Well, a horribly opposite situation happened to me a few days ago, to once again prove my ineptness at understanding the Finnish flirtation situation.

I was at the gym, running on the treadmill. This is a common thing and I do it several times a week.

Unfortunately this particular time, a profusely sweaty lady decided she wanted to run next to me. I wouldn't have minded (hey, generally speaking it's a free enough country and people can run wherever they want, sweaty or otherwise), but this woman's BO (body odor) was toxic. We're talking clouds of noxious gas.

As soon as she stepped onto the neighboring treadmill I knew I was in for an unpleasant experience. And there was nothing I could do about it, since I really wanted my run and I'm not a big enough jerk to get off the treadmill I'm currently on to move a few treadmills down to start a new route. I was just going to have to bear it.

And bear through I definitely did. But it was painful. Really painful. Because she decided, of all things to do...sprint laps. Arm-flapping, fast-paced, more-BO-sweat-inducing...sprint laps.

And she kept getting on and off the treadmill to check her heart rate.

As soon as she hit the treadmill, I politely turned my head the other way, which happened to be facing a Finnish man who was on the other neighboring treadmill to my right. I'd seen this guy before - pretty nondescript, really. Tall, maybe 6 foot 5 / 196 centimeters, give or take, brown hair, five o'clock shadow, mid-thigh length shorts, and a whatever tshirt (I think it had a Nike slogan on it or something). Despite the fact that he's always only walking, he gets pretty sweaty and has a hilariously small forest green towel to mop his head. Anyway, he's unoffensive in all ways - doesn't smell, doesn't make any noise, doesn't even really play with his phone. He just walks for an hour and leaves.

Anyway, during this attack of the inescapable deadly fumes, I turned towards him, not having anywhere else to go. Also I wanted to somehow reassure him that the smell was not coming from me (generally speaking he should have already known this - I'd been running next to him for the past 20 minutes and we'd been on neighboring machines in the past...but still...I wanted this person to know that that smell? Definitely not me.). I accidentally caught his eye for a second and looked away. I didn't mean to do it, but it happened as I was trying to turn my head away from the poisonous gas that was seeping in my direction (despite my turning on my machine's air flow).

This continued for the next 20 minutes or so. In an attempt not to catch his eye again, I just looked at his treadmill machine screen, the mirror in front of him, anywhere except his general person.

...but I could tell I'd already made the mistake. He thought I was interested. Because he was turning his head towards me every now and then, like maybe he wanted to talk. Damnit! Not what I meant, guy!

I then silently vowed that no matter how long this girl was going to keep up her malodorous aeration, I was going to run for longer. I was going to continue to run until this guy ran out of his walking time.
Because there was absolutely no way that I was going to allow a talking situation to occur. No sir.

Thankfully his walking routine ended about 5 minutes later. And I still had a good 10-15 minutes left on my run. And the girl with the toxic fumes left about 5 minutes after he did. Oh thank god, peaceful running time again. I let out a stifled sigh of relief.

Apparently this culture isn't going to let me off easy. I can't seem to attract the ones I do want to date and the ones I don't? Wrong signals all the time.

But this particular situation made me many times had I accidentally signaled to someone that I was interested and just not known it? Or the other way around, how many times had I been flirted with and just not picked up on it?

...the wonders of this will never cease.

I've tried to get the DL from my girlfriends about how to tell when a Finnish guy is into you and their unanimous answer has been: he's talking to you.

Thanks, girls...really helpful.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The minstrels of Arkadia

So knowing my love of minstrels, when my favorite bookstore (Arkadia, where else?!) announced that it would be having a small concert of songs of love and lament from the 16th and 17th centuries, obviously I was going to go. Where else would I be on a Thursday night anyway? Working out at the gym? Not this night (though that would otherwise be my probable standby) - I have more important things to do, like watch minstrels.

This particular duo of musicians was called White Sparrow, and consisted of an Asian woman singer, Debi Wong, (who is apparently from Canada, as the owner was telling me later...since we were so similar in...some attribute I did not bother to ask about; the owner first thought we might have been from the same country...alas, no) and her instrument player, a Norwegian named Solmund Nystabakk,  who clearly loves his historical instruments (those being the lute and theorbo...but more on those later).

Sadly I only got few pictures because I find it painfully awkward to take pictures of musicians while they play unless you are in a large crowd and masses of people are doing the same thing (plus I was sitting in the front row like a total dork so I wouldn't miss a single bit of it), so you'll just have to imagine with me as I write.

The woman, clearly fluent in Italian and versed in songs of this nature (with some operatic overtones, if I not be mistaken), dove straight into their set, only pausing after three wonderful songs to introduce herself and the man. According to the links sent out ahead of time by Arkadia, they're from the Yale School of Music (so prestigious!) and are actually quite famous on their own. Solmund has known the owners for years though, and likes to do these community concerts just for the heck of it (and all the more power to him, since it certainly made my night).

But anyway, back to the concert...songs of love and lament? Right up my alley! They sang a whole set of gems for us, and in three different languages - Italian, English, and French. I was duly impressed. The English ones were naturally the easiest to follow, for a layperson like myself, but the Italian ones were easy to guess at. Strangely the Italian ones were all laments and the French ones were all about love. ...Hmm...perhaps it was just the selection they chose.

After a few more songs Solmund introduced his instruments (clearly his babies): first he was playing the lute:

...which is really just a small stringed guitar-like instrument that you would imagine any normal bard of the appropriate time period playing. His was gorgeously ornate though (both of his instruments were). I know my picture is crap (since I wasn't actually trying to take a picture of his lute and then he took it away to tune it), but the hole beneath the strings is actually intricately carved out in a wonderful lace design. Fabulous.

And then he switched to a theorbo, which is actually just an extended version of the lute that has more strings to account for a bass octave. The theorbo allowed for singers to play songs entirely by themselves, now having an instrument that had both high notes and low notes. Something something self-sufficient bards. Here is one sitting next to a lute (the lute is on the left):

The thing is huge! I love how this was the more convenient way for musicians to become self-sufficient. Yeesh.

(Btw since I was a super dork and sitting in the front row, as he was playing this particular instrument (and was quite passionate about his playing), I was almost knocked in the head several times. But being one with songs of love and lament and particularly acrobatic, I deftly avoided all such attempts at ruining my otherwise perfectly musical night.)

Alas there was no CD to buy at the end as I hoped, but it matters not since there is a website I can share with you all so you can hear the music (and even video), for yourselves! Please, do check it out:

White Sparrow Music

Another successful visit to my favorite place in Helsinki, Arkadia. One can only wonder what may happen there next! Stay tuned!

Here are some wondrous lyrics from the event that I went to, in case you were interested (there were translations for us at the event):

Finally the beauty that I adore,
makes me aware of her return.
That she wants for me to see again

those eyes for whom I die of love.

But when I see again the beauty that inflames me,
Leave me, my displeasures, lift yourselves from my soul.

The heavens see that her absence,
removes all of my happiness.
Granted by my perseverance,
is the end of my cruel torment.

But when I see again the beauty that inflames me - 
Leave me, my displeasures. Lift yourselves from my soul.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Taking a hosting risk

While my non-familial visitors are few and far between (no worries, this is not a bad or good thing, just keeps me on my hosting toes), when one does come along I need to be prepared. Similar to when JBL visited and I had to think of restaurants on the fly, when my ex-teammate was visiting for a week I knew my reputation as a foodie was on the line.

You see, I have history with this particular coworker, and it was almost all related to food or otherwise fun cultural events. She's a world-traveling sexy Spanish woman who loves trying new things and being exposed to fun, wonderful experiences. The bar was set quite high. And unlike JBL, who is probably a little more on the forgiving side, expectations were high, as she'd been to Helsinki many times before.

So where to take this amazing visitor who loves all kinds of food and experiences?

I went through all the places in my head that I had been so far. As much as I loved them, I quickly eliminated them all. The ones that were a but more daring (such as Kuurna, with its seared baby reindeer heart) were also a bit too expensive. We needed to go mid-range to stay within her expense-report budget, and generally speaking the atmosphere would definitely count. We needed to go some place with ambiance, with pizzazz. Some place with spark.

It was at this moment, when I was mulling over restaurants I'd heard various people recommend to me, that I remembered someone mentioning a particular restaurant with a very high reputation. I just couldn't remember its name offhand (I think this is another symptom of getting old...information seems to slip from my mind like sand through an hourglass). But no matter - the internet is my friend in this particular matter! And after some searching on (the equivalent of Yelp until we recently, finally, exhaustingly, got Yelp here in Finland), I found the name again: Farang.

A Michelin-rated (though note, not starred), restaurant. Asian fusion. Within the right price range. And just two blocks from my favorite bookstore. Therefore a few blocks from my apartment. YES.

I made the reservation for that night and got us a slot at 8pm. Perfect.

Needless to say, it was definitely an experience. Think every chic Asian fusion lounge restaurant you can think of from every TV show you've ever seen and that's pretty much what you've got. It was gorgeous on the inside (which is hilarious because it's extremely nondescript on the outside).

And the food? Fabulous.

You can order the pre-fixe menu or order dishes to share. We were clearly in the sharing party. Plus it's more cost-efficient that way.

We ordered soft shell crab with green mango and mint:

Deep fried to perfection and tangy as hell. A bit salty, to be perfectly honest but still delicious. Almost made you pucker, but in the way where you giggle like a schoolgirl and squint because you're enjoying yourself.

And also the to-die-for crispy pork with palm sugar caramel:

Apparently this is one of their most sought-after dishes. People come into the restaurant just for this dish. It's so in-demand that it's been on the menu for years, completely unchanged. And I can see why. Imagine pork belly (if you've ever had that before), done completely to perfection - the fat is just cooked enough to melt in your mouth, everything is soft and chewy and crispy in all the right ways, and everything is absolutely covered in this slightly sticky but not too clingy caramelized sauce.

Which, btw, they give you more of, along with some amazing vinegar with chilies in it:

Yes, I was definitely a sauce-fatty and I did spread more of both of these all over my rice. And over everything else that was edible. To. Die. For.

And just because we were in the mood for it, we ordered dessert. My coworker doesn't drink so we figured we would spend the money on something else equally devilish.

Since all of the desserts sounded equally awesome and unusual, we just bit the bullet and got the sampler. Hell, why not right? It was adorable too:

Those things that look like eggs on top? Yeah, scoops of homemade icecream.

From left to right:

Leftmost: puffed rice chocolate, peanut milk chocolate creme, topped off with cinnamon ice cream.

Middle: caramelized pineapple with cashew creme and tapioca pearls, topped off with young coconut ice cream (this ice cream was definitely the best).

Rightmost: crispy caramelized banana, peanuts, and banana ice cream over a banana cake. Definitely a huge banana theme going on for that one. But it was awesome. And somehow not overwhelming.

The verdict? Uhh, tasty!

Admittedly I was very full by the end, despite there being only smaller portions of each of these foods. Something about the richness and my normally plain diet...

Anyway, Farang did not disappoint. We talked away three hours of dinner over these fabulous dishes and enjoyed the atmosphere and each other's company.

The funniest thing about the entire experience? Where we were seated! We noticed that we were next to a gorgeous wall that was filled with cookbooks (Farang cookbooks, unfortunately all in Finnish):

Our waitress then let us know that after I had called to make the reservation for a table of two, they had sat us here purposefully. It seems normally when couples come to eat together they don't speak to one another (a Finnish thing, she joked, despite being Finnish), so they provide additional reading material for people to look at because they don't speak with each other! Might as well have something for them to look at and buy if they're not going to converse. O_O

Kind of hilarious. Well, my coworker and I showed them better. The only reason we noticed the books was because we took a break from talking and were actually looking around and commenting about the decor of the restaurant (delightful). Never again, my friends!

And soon after we finished our night of magnificent eats. Good recommendation, person who mentioned this restaurant to me several months ago! Glad I finally got to try it.

Next on my tasting menu: finally getting to a Michelin-star restaurant. Oddly, I've never made it to one.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The changing of the colors

Ruska. The changing of the colors (otherwise known as "the turning of the seasons" or some translation of the sort).

Having lived in places where this typically doesn't happen, it's a bit shocking. Seeing leaves change from green to red to orange to's incredible. Of course I'd seen pictures of such a thing but never before experienced it for such an extended period of time.

Luckily for me this month of October has been mostly dry. I'd heard horror stories from coworkers and friends of Octobers and Novembers where everyday has been rain, rain, rain. Sounds dreadful. Add to that the impending darkness and you've got yourself a mix for grumblings. Much grumblings. Especially from someone who is used to full days of sunshine year round. And constant temperatures of 23-25C. Not to mention the fact that the fall is usually when temperatures get warmer, not colder. Call me jaded, but mostly I still consider this weather bullshit. It's freaking cold. Last night's low? Freezing. Really: 0C, 32F. Literally, freezing.

But I digress. Seeing the changing of the colors has been breathtaking. Noticing the leaves that fall off just a little bit more everyday as I go to work (I can't see them when I come home from work as I've been working late like a chump but also the sun sets half an hour earlier each week...that's how fast we're losing light in this part of the world). It's also getting quiet again - people are going out less and less, except for the occasional big thing (like last week from Wednesday to Sunday it was Stockmann's Crazy Days, i.e. Hullut Päivät - where things go on "crazy sale"...a crazy sale to a Finn is something that is 5% off...I'm not kidding).

Fall is here. Winter is coming. There's no denying it now. Soon it'll be snowing (everyone hopes for that white Christmas, regardless if you're here or not...which I fully intend not to be), and I'll likely be writing about how I nearly avoided death on the way to work (from freezing, slipping on ice, or any other number of dangerous obstacles that are on my path from apartment to work place).

But it's okay. I moved here so I could experience something new. Something different. And that's definitely what I'm going to get.

Welcome to the hinterlands, spreckled hen. You're about to meet your maker person.

Breaking down and being lazy

This is probably the only time this will happen, but I will fully admit that I have succumbed to the will of the lazy and bought myself dishwasher tablets.

...after the initial success of using the dishwasher and seeing how convenient my life could possibly be without needing to manually wash my dishes every time, my eyes sparkled with the grandeur of how much more time I could have for other things, like scrimshaw, reading, or possibly even sleeping (that last one is the most heavily debated of that list).

In any case, I admit, with a small amount of shame, that I have joined the party of the lazies. I now do not always wash my dishes by hand. The dishwasher is now being used on a semi-regular basis.

Lord have mercy, what will be next? O_O

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sushi me how?

When a fun friend up and asks you if you want to make sushi at their house, in a land that seems to have little to offer in the way of exciting and/or inexpensive food, the proper response is a clear and well-enunciated, "Hell yes."

Such was the situation when our good friend, German T, invited us all over to his wonderfully sprawling (at least in comparison to our tiny tin can apartments) house in the middle of the suburbs to make sushi. We were also celebrating his birthday, in which he was turning an age which he refused to tell us. This seems to be a common trend, especially amongst our somewhat "elder" friends. Oh wait no, it's just a common trend. Period.

Anyway, on the appointed day we all gathered our ingredients (as events taking place at any person's residence require you to bring at least something, given the expense of this country - in this case an ingredient that could be used in said sushi-making experience, booze that you could share or would be drinking yourself, and if you wanted to, a nice bottle of red for the birthday boy), and made our way to the middle of nowhere that is otherwise known as suburbia. German T happens to live out near the zoo island (yes, there is an island where the zoo resides...but unfortunately he only lives near that zoo island, not on the zoo island, as I've once made the mistake of thinking).

The house was packed with people I knew and some unfamiliar but still wonderfully friendly faces. And the sushi making commenced. Admittedly it's been a few years since I made my last sushi roll (maybe two?) but it was just like riding a bicycle - I remembered pretty quickly how to do it, and I'm happy to say that by the end of my second roll I was teaching others how to do it as well.

Look at how pretty rolls can be!

There were multitudes of ingredients because everyone pitched in and brought something - cucumbers, mango, krab (the kind made from pollock), fresh sashimi-grade salmon and whitefish, every flavor of cream cheese you could imagine, carrots, avocado, even some of the Japanese ingredients that are a little harder to find (like marinated teriyaki gourd). They even had makings for nigiri sushi and other fun things like inari pockets (the deep fried marinated tofu pouches, one of my favorites, plain and simple as they are).

Needless to say people were supposed to (and did), make their own rolls and contribute to the communal sushi roll smorgasbord. By the end we had four large platters stacked high with everyone's different creations:

It was a beautiful sight to see. There was also other food to be had - seaweed salad, edamame, pickled ginger, and some other fun things that had nothing to do with Japanese cuisine like ha gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) and siu mai (I guess the general translation would be wrapped meat balls?).

And what do you do with all of the ingredients that weren't used in the rolls but are still good by themselves? Like the extra sashimi-grade salmon? Uh, you slice that stuff up and serve it anyway!

And man was it heavenly. If the Finns know how to do one thing absolutely right, it's how to get fresh salmon, year round. This was absolutely amazing.

And thus the stuffing of faces commenced. I don't think I've been this full in a long time.

People also brought fun things to drink, since it was a themed night. Several bottles of specialty sake were opened and British F, unfamiliar with Asian drinks, brought an assortment of nonalcoholic drinks she wanted to try out. Hong Kong P and I were laughing at everyone's faces as they tried things we'd been drinking since childhood - grass jelly (which is understandably creepy if you've never had it before...I mean, how can a black-brown drink with little chunks of equally black-brown jelly floating in it seem appealing to someone who's never had it before?), chrysanthemum tea, sugar cane juice, aloe vera, and mangosteen juice. Surprisingly it was a Chinese Canadian in our group who found them the most repulsive. He later admitted that he was basically a redneck though and despite appearances, should not be considered an Asian (turns out his was the only Asian family in his entire town, which only had a population of 5000 in a very remote part of Canada).

The party went well into the night and a good time was had by all. Food kept pouring out of the kitchen, and even though people were way past full all of it was just too good to stop eating. Wasabi peas, rice crackers, an assortment of Fazer chocolates (the classic choice of Finns and famous for its recognizable gold/blue or pink wrappers).

Oh German T, you know how to throw a delicious food party. There was so much food brought to the house that they ended up giving some of it back at the end of the night as guests were leaving. I got an avocado and an unopened container of flavored cream cheese (I can't read the Finnish but it looks to be some sort of green onion and black pepper any case, it's absolutely delicious).

I also technically got a cucumber, but as me and some of the other girls went out later that night and it needed to be stored for coat check, it was lost in the shuffle (put into someone else's bag and therefore went home with someone else). Many jokes of the variety, "is that a cucumber in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" ensued. There is now a hilarious bunch of inside jokes that have everything to do with going out on dates and having enormous amounts of produce in one's bag. One of the girls ended up seeing a guy she knew at the club we were at later and she did indeed have to explain awkwardly why there were two cucumbers in her bag (one of which was mine). Just goes to show - you never know what might happen in a county like this where you don't always have the convenience of going home first. Hilarious.

And so another good weekend event has come and gone. Memories of glorious sushi will continue to linger with me...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Definition: Spreckled

This topic of conversation came up last time I was home I believe. What is the definition of "spreckled" and is it in fact a word?

Generally speaking, no, it's not considered a real word in the English language.

"Speckled" is, but "spreckled" is not.

Let me explain.

I chose "spreckled" for many reasons.

First and foremost, because it seemed easier and smoother to say, rather than speckled. Somehow speckled gets caught in the mouth and spreckled seems to flow off the tongue. I like it better.

After having that conversation with my family though, I looked it up. It appears that symbolically, I had chosen a very interesting word.

When this word, "spreckled" is used, it apparently means mottled, stained, dirty. Sometimes it refers to the little bits of dirt that get caught (for example between a cat's paws when they are trying to clean themselves, the description being, "the cat tried to lick the spreckles from between her paws").

According to urban dictionary (one of my favorite sources of reference), it refers to the pieces of spit that fly from a person's mouth when they speak, especially when angry.

So if we put this into imagery, I'm a stained hen that's been yelled at.

I guess that's somehow fitting, haha.

And here I'd been imagining some sort of country hen walking around with boots on this entire time. Who would have thought!

Monday, October 15, 2012

More Towards Nothing

...a photo gallery.

Literally, that's what this photo exhibit was called. And it was brilliant.

One of these weekends I finally got off my lazy bum and instead of spending the afternoon recuperating on the couch with a book or a movie (something I love to do because Fridays and Saturdays are usually quite planned and spent "out," whatever that may mean for that given weekend), I went to do something I'd been meaning to do: see something in the city.

This particular weekend I went to a photo exhibit that was open free to the public called, "Helsinki: More Towards Nothing."

I still love the title just for what it is.

There is a long description on the website, talking about this particular collection of photos, but basically it's this: "an exhibition showcasing some of the best photographs published on the Helsinki Street blog as well as works that have never been seen before. All the photographers involved in the collective share one thing in common: a fascination and love for Helsinki. Why go look for the exotic in other parts of the world when the exotic is right here. Helsinki Street wants to show us that, for a photographer, the most vivid experiences may well come from aimlessly wandering the streets of one’s own home city."

Plainspeak: photos of people around Helsinki doing common things.

The hilarious catch about these photos: they're taken from the most hilarious perspectives.

Take this as an example (apologies the photo is small, at the time I was dumb and didn't think to take pictures of the actual photos themselves...I was in polite company):

Absolutely hysterical! Just a guy, walking down the street, face planting into the sidewalk with suitcases. It was this photo alone and a glowing recommendation from a girlfriend that made me want to see this exhibit, and this was the last weekend to see it before it was closing and changing into something else, so I think you can see why I seized the opportunity.

There were some other classics as well, like drunk girls shielding themselves from the rain with their clutches, a man who looks headless because he's bending his head down to throw up against a wall (an extremely common site here), a car that looks like it has a beard and is smiling because it's covered in snow in just the right ways.

The exhibit was glorious. It made me see a side of Helsinki that I've always known was there. And yet never bothered to photograph. (Well, generally speaking I've failed at photographing this city at all, but if I were to, these would still be things I would somehow miss).

Here are some more examples (painfully stolen from the exhibit's website, again...apologies for the photographic fails):

The wonderful thing about seeing this, also, was that I recognized a lot of the places. I'm becoming that person. And that made me smile (both on the inside and the outside).

Really happy to have caught this exhibit while I had the chance. It was only up for a month and a half and it took me until the last weekend to get to it, but I'm glad I made the time, last minute though it was. My world would have been a slightly different place, having not seen it.

Thanks Helsinki, for showing me yet another side of yourself. :) I look forward to seeing more.

More Towards Nothing

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dishwasher success!

Now, using a dishwasher wouldn't normally seem like such a hard thing to do, right? They were invented to be a convenience to your do something that you would normally have to do manually. So you wouldn't have to dirty yourself and could put something somewhere and it would magically just clean itself.

Somehow this practice has never really become part of my routine.

Despite my obsession with washing machines and dryers (read earlier entries on my tears of sadness over no longer having an American dryer), dishwashers are something I never really got into using. In America or otherwise. I just like doing my own dishes.

First off, I never really generate enough dishes to call for a dishwasher. I'm a single person, living in a tiny apartment. I don't cook much at home anymore, since my big meal is subsidized lunch at work (where someone else very awesomely takes care of my dishes by taking them away on a motorized conveyor belt). And I don't actually eat much anymore (this is my own fault). So, not many dishes.

It is perfectly true to say and admit that I don't wash my dishes everytime as soon as I use them. I am a lazy bum in that regard. Sometimes dishes will sit for a day or two in my tiny sink before I get to them. But invariably I will get to them sooner rather than later, if anything because there's no space in my tiny apartment to keep things stacked. I need to use that sink for other things. So, dishes get washed.

However, there are certain occasions where stuff just needs to get done and I just don't have the time.

And this is where the dishwasher finally comes in.

About 6 months after living in my apartment, I was faced with one such event.

I had my girlfriends over at my place before we were going out one night, and we generated enough dirty glasses for me to not want to hand wash them all. Seems perfectly reasonable. I didn't want to try and figure out the machine right then and there, so I left the cups and glasses in the sink to soak overnight, and left them to deal with until the following morrow.

Next morning I put them into the dishwasher (something I've finally learned how to do after years of observation in other people's houses...I kid you not, this took me awhile to figure out...something about the strategy of placement). Luckily this time wasn't that difficult though - though my dishwasher isn't that large, there weren't THAT many dishes, so, well, it wasn't that full.

I put the little soap tablet into the dish on the door, and proceeded to try to close it.

Stupid thing wouldn't shut.

Now, I had found out, from my San Diego townhouse, that sometimes dishwashers have this design flaw that they won't allow you to close the soap door until it's been switched to the official "done" position. So I pushed the door up a little ways and made sure it was in the correct place. Still no luck.

Some amount of sailor mouth was definitely starting to creep in.

Nope, that little door definitely not closing. I started trying to force it close. Pray it closed. Magic it closed with my powers of concentration.


About 15 minutes later I was just playing with it and it magically decided to shut on its own. No explanation. Apparently just takes a stupid amount of finesse. Nothing special about it, just finicky. I hate dishwashers.

So, closed the entire thing up and looked at the options on the switchboard:

Thankfully not in Finnish. In pictures. And fairly clear. Yes, I want to wash my dishes, not pots this time. #3 please.

Ah but wait! This is Finland. Nothing is complete without needing to turn on the water. Which is on the faucet of the kitchen sink (naturally...).

Remembering this (essential bit), I turned the handle to the opposite direction of where it was currently sitting, since the owner of the apartment was the last one to have tested the dishwasher (like I said I hadn't used it since I moved in), and he said the dishwasher had worked fine. Everyone and their mother had warned me that you always leave the water in the "off" position because otherwise your apartment floods or monsters come or other some such terrible thing happened.

(This is the little handle in the way it had been sitting all along. I turned it so it was parallel with the faucet...which makes sense in normal water flow control handles).

I then closed the door to the dishwasher, turned it to #3, turned on the machine, and left to watch a movie in the other room.

I couldn't hear the machine going, but I just assumed it was the quietest dishwasher ever. My washing machine is pretty quiet, maybe it's one of those ultra low-sound ones because they (correctly) assume that you live in a tiny apartment and don't want to disturb your neighbors with your sounds of living.

But I began to get a little suspicious. About two hours later the dishes still weren't done. And the knob kept getting stuck in various places of the cycle. If I turned the knob a little, it would continue, but generally speaking it wouldn't go on its own. And I know the owner had told me that it had worked just fine.

Eventually the thing was done.

I opened the door.


the dishes were still dirty.

Apparently no water had gone through.

Not only had my machine done absolutely nothing, it had released my little soap tablet, which rolled down the door of the closed dishwasher, and gracefully stuck to one of my dishes.


And now I had to handwash the entire thing because everything had been steamed on.

Grumbling about how this was clearly not more convenient in my life, I handwashed the entire thing and called it a day.

It wasn't until several weeks later, faced with the same situation, that I decided to try my luck with the dishwasher again. This time I was suspicious. Even though my landlord had kept the water control handle perpendicular to the faucet, I had my doubts. Maybe the water engineer for this particular sink was a douche and installed it against the normal code.

So I tried my chances again.

And thankfully, came out with an entirely clean load of dishes! Dish cleaning success!

If I had had to actually handwash these dishes again, I would have called it quits on the dishwasher. Thank god this worked out.

I can now potentially move to the next level of living lazy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

My first Finnish crayfish party

And hopefully not my last.

For as many years in college as I can remember, during a certain unspecified time of year, when I happened to be at Ikea, I would notice that they would start selling crayfish party packs. In America this means a plastic pack that contains paper table decorations, conical party hats, paper bibs with little crayfish printed on them, and maybe some streamers or something of the like. Since the product came from Sweden, I had no idea what the concept was behind it, but generally speaking I liked it. Anything that revolved around large group gatherings and the consumption of seafood sounded pretty damn fine to me.

So when my friends started talking about the real basis of these things, which was, uh, real crayfish parties, I got super excited. Apparently they're a really big deal here and in Sweden (more so in Sweden, but equally here...though for different reasons). In Sweden they're a big deal because people love getting together and socializing and eating good crayfish (because they're in season). These parties usually happen in September because that's when crayfish are doing something in particular (mating?), and that's when they're abundant and delicious or something of the nature.

In Finland crayfish parties are also celebrated. But for an entirely different reason. Not being the wholly social type, they center around the fact that you can get away with drinking. A lot. In fact it's just another excuse for getting people together and drinking. But not necessarily having to socialize while doing so. In fact they've created ways to continually drink without having to say a word. Let me explain:

In the Finnish tradition you drink a shot of snaps (which is basically vodka) every time you finish eating a crayfish.

This means your food to drink ratio remains at an all-time low. And your mouth is pretty much always full.

I think you can see where this is going.

Crayfish are also exceptionally expensive, if you're eating at a real restaurant. So it's clear they're not taking advantage of the overabundance/fact that crayfish is "in season" or whatever. Interesting.

Anyway, like I said, just another great reason to drink, or something something.

So when Finnish French chef F said he would be hosting a crayfish party at his restaurant, I was all for it. Not that I'm interested in the Finnish aspect of crayfish parties, but I was definitely interested in checking out what all this nonsense was about. And since our group happens to be a very motley crew of foreigners, I knew we would be having fun either way. Plus I had heard stories of previous year's crayfish parties and they sounded...interesting.

A previous group leader (let's just call him...Gene), was very set on ousting anyone from any future leadering and set the bar last year at 70 crayfish. Yes that's right. He consumed 70 crayfish in one sitting. It's a bit disgusting, if you think about it. He decimated an entire community of crayfish. Entire generations, gone, at the hands of this one Canadian. 

There were also the other typical stories: people getting so drunk they needed stitches, etc, but those are the ones people whispered behind their hands at various parties or when they wanted to warn you against dating someone in the group, so I'll not mention those here.

Anyway, clearly I was going to check this out.

I arrived with German K on the appointed Saturday and was immediately taken aback by how adorable the decorations were (I think you can tell I'm a total sap for this entire thing...sigh, I miss the ease with which America allowed me to throw decorated dinner parties). Just look at this table:

Knowing people were likely to get quite drunk (people bring their own alcohol, as it's so expensive here, but also this is an occasion centered around alcohol and seafood), French Finnish chef F also made lots of side food (something that is uncommon in the Finnish version of this event). So tasty!

And of course, the spotlight of the entire event: crayfish. Glorious glorious crayfish. 

These were the frozen kind, to keep costs down, and aren't as big as the normal ones you can get in Finland, but being expats, we cared not. We were here to chow down, have a good time, and spend time with good friends.

...silly enough, though I love seafood and all of its creatures (for consumption), I didn't know how to eat a crayfish before this party. I definitely had to be taught. A general walkthrough of how to do such a thing:

  1. Twist the body where the tail meets the upper body. It should come apart in your hands. You can choose to suck the juices from the bottom of the upper body or not at this time (I decided not to - it looked hairy and I dunno about anyone else, but who knows where that bugger has been, generally speaking).
  2. You can throw away the upper body at this part unless you're meticulous enough to get the meat out of the tiny claws (not tiny in comparison to the relative size of its body, but small in comparison to the amount of meat you'll get for all your trouble). I was hella lazy.
  3. Squeeze the tail between thumb and forefinger, as though you were giving the tail a finger hug from the waist down.
  4. Remove the segments one by one until you can slip the tail from the shell.
  5. Voila! Tasty meat is now yours to consume.
Surprisingly not difficult. But also a very small amount of meat, for what you're doing. Whatever, these things are delicious!

I was definitely a shameless fatass.

Full plate of deliciousness. I finished 12 little crayfish. Not so bad, I'd have to say. And I didn't even freak out once (being around that many appendages can get to you after awhile...especially if you start to think too hard about what everything is...and how that's one whole creature you're ripping apart, limb from limb).

Our group, thank my lucky stars, did not follow the one-snaps-per-crayfish rule. First off, we would have all been passed out under the tables by 9pm, but second, it's just way too expensive. Since we went with the cheaper crayfish, they were super plentiful, and we didn't even finish the tray of them that had been put out.

Plus there was so much other amazing food to eat that it wouldn't have been a fair fight. Two types of green salads (caesar and something with grapes), shrimp potato salad, some sort of rice, not to mention multiple quiches, pizza breads, and a homemade banoffee pie (man those things are the devil, I absolutely love them).

The wine and snaps were flowing all night and we partied straight into the wee hours. Well, sort of. After this we helped clean up and then headed into town to dance off all of the great stuff we had just eaten. What a great way to end the night!

Finnish crayfish party, I'd have to say - you did not disappoint!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

To celebrate a very special birthday

Your sister only turns a certain age once in her life (what a nonstatement, haha). But that once needs to be celebrated. And deserves a special gift.

Such was my thought as I was twiddling my thumbs one day in my apartment, and I couldn't decide what I should get her to celebrate such a momentous occasion. Deciding it should be something from Finland, I thought of all the possible unique Finnish things I could get her:

  • Reindeer jerky?, it'll be confiscated by US Border Control/Customs and then I'll have nothing. That'll never work.
  • Reindeer leather products? Well, the only thing I'd want to buy her that's made of leather would be amazing boots or something of the sort, and considering nothing's reasonably priced here that'd likely cost me an arm and a leg...considering both of those are pretty meager offerings right now because I'm half starved by the price of food here, I'm pretty sure that's out as well.
  • Salmiyaki? Hm...pretty sure she had that when she was here and deemed it salmi-yucky. Damn.
  • Salmon? Same problem with Customs as mentioned before.
  • An amazing hooded woolen cape? Well, that would require a boat trip to another country, plus it's not typically Finnish...and to be realistic I think I would enjoy that a lot more than, again, I think that's a strike out.
  • I think I'm out of ideas.
After this line of thinking went on for another 45 minutes or so (it could have been shorter or longer, it's really hard to tell sometimes with the light here), I gave up.

Ah, hell, I'll just make her a scrimshaw.

So scrimshaw it was!

The only problem was inspiration and an appropriate meaning. My scrimshaws always have meaning behind them (or at least that's what every artist will tell least the ones good at bullshit...which is every GOOD artist, hah).

I'll not be explaining the story behind this one, because it's personal, and between me and her, but anyway, here is what I decided to do (after some trial and error...much error):

Glory be the scrimshaw, yarrr!

Man I totally need to find a steady supply of bone...(yes, that was one of the many terrible jokes that came up when I presented her with the gift a few weeks later...just thought I would share).

Time to befriend some hunters.