Wednesday, December 26, 2012

tSH goes to Norway: Oslo

Our first stop: the capital of Oslo.

Hilariously most of the things I'd heard about Oslo were negative, despite the highly positive reputation of Norway itself. Oslo, most said, was an incredibly boring city that had no sights or other things of wonder to see. I did have a friend who lived there for a few years with her boyfriend, and she seemed to like the city, but unfortunately she had recently moved back to California, so I no longer had her as a contact and she obviously didn't love it enough to stay long term (well, more than a few years).

To be honest, I have no idea why people would have said such a thing. My impression of the city was definitely positive. What we (Hong Kong P, German K, and I) all talked about as the tram whizzed around the city, was how much more alive and accessible it was in comparison to Helsinki. Perhaps this is why we had such an optimistic view of the city: we were comparing it to our own small town (well, relatively).

Funny thing is, Oslo is actually very comparable in size and scale. It has a population of slightly over half a million (a bit over 600,000 people) and though the actual surface area of the city is a bit bigger, it really didn't feel like it (like the main parts of the city were all walkable or otherwise accessible via tram or other easy public transportation).

Yet somehow, it felt lighter, easier, more friendly. No one said hi to us or otherwise made more contact, to lead us to that conclusion, but we felt it. This was a more open city. It just was.

After visiting Tourist Information we decided the first place we should go, while there was still daylight (since despite being more open they still had the problem of the sun setting around 3:30pm, like we did), was the outdoor statue park, Vigelandsparken. Apparently well worth the visit by any person asked, it was a little outside the main part of the city, to the northwest, accessible by a tram stop right outside its gates.

Well, alright then.

We got there with little problem (though admittedly we missed our stop and had to go back one stop in the other direction) and took our time browsing the statues (made out of various materials).












It was beautiful, but also absolutely freezing. For whatever reason it was -12C that day, and just standing out there, even in our full winter gear, was painful. The wind was slightly blowing, which made it worse. Taking off our gloves to take pictures didn't help. Only one of us had the new Nokia 920 (which allows you to use the full touch screen with gloves on), but even with gloves on, it was rough.

Needless to say, we didn't stay long. We hopped back onto the tram and took the long way back into the city to defrost a little. It took about an hour for the painful sensations to leave my fingers and toes. My nerve endings were so angry with me.

Next we stopped for several hours for lunch, but I'll cover that in another entry.

Holiday hiatus

Hope everyone's been having a great holiday season. As expected, I've taken the appropriate step away from my computer (though not from electronics as they've become the candy of my life...in the good way and the bad way).

Anyway, as one can imagine, I will be taking a short hiatus from posting as I travel around for the holidays. Posting will resume once I am back again and have some semblance of a schedule again.

Until then, enjoy this leading post into the adventures of Norway and I'll see you on the other side of 2013!

Glad we all made it and all the prophecies of doom were thusfar, incorrect. ;)

Happy new year everyone!
tSH

Friday, December 21, 2012

tSH goes to Norway

Where did I go to next, you wonder, after those 30 hours in Helsinki?

Why to Norway, of horse, of course.

I was fancy free and on holiday again, as luck would have it. I should plan this lifestyle more often - work one day, take four off.

In all actuality it was Finnish Independence Day on Thursday and it only costed me one extra vacation day to get a four day weekend, so the girlfriends and I (read: German K and Hong Kong P) booked a trip to nearby Norway to see some hot Norwegian man action (this is not quite literal, but the plan to assess how attractive the male population was was actually discussed when deciding where we should go for said weekend). Loud discussions about the hotness levels of the males around us were in fact, embarrassingly had. Surprisingly alcohol was not even usually involved.

We had a pretty breakneck plan down in the books, to ensure we could squeeze as much awesomeness into the four days we had off (you can tell that all of us travel fairly often, minus German K, and had specific ideas in mind). Our itinerary went a little like this:

Day One: Fly to Oslo from Helsinki at the ass crack of dawn. See the city all day before meeting up with our couchsurfing host (I will explain the couchsurfing in a minute). Sleep in Oslo.
Day Two: Wake up again at the asscrack of dawn to make our train from Oslo to Bergen. Supposed to be one of the most scenic train rides in the world. Arrive in Bergen in the afternoon. See city all day before meeting up with couchsurfing host. Sleep in Bergen.
Day Three: Wake up once again at the asscrack of dawn to make our flight from Bergen to Oslo to Tromso (there is no direct flight from Bergen to Tromso, so we had to back track and wait at the Oslo airport to go to Tromso, which is really far north). Get to Tromso at noon. Meet with couchsurfing host at airport. See Tromso. Sleep in Tromso. See Northern Lights.
Day Four: Wake up at a normal time (finally). See Tromso. Make flight in afternoon back to Oslo, which then connects back to Helsinki. Land around midnight. Go to work next day.

That was our master plan. We didn't actually have any plans within any of the cities themselves (and none of us did almost any research beforehand to find out if there were any specific sights to see in each city, though Hong Kong P did bring her iPad), but we did have the most ridiculous travel plan of all time. And we were going to do it. In four days.

Now, a word about couchsurfing. During the planning stages of our trip (which took place in a conference room, at work, during an allotted meeting time...hilarious as that sounds...don't worry, it was only an hour and we were actually pretty professional about it...it was the only time we could actually squeeze in to plan anything because both me and German K were working overtime the entire time up to the time we left minus the times me or Hong Kong P were out of the country), it became clear that Norway was going to be expensive. Already known to be an expensive country (read: they use Norwegian kronors instead of the euro (any country that refuses to use the euro actually has the money to refuse...like the Brits with their pound, the Swiss with their francs, or any country with kronors/crowns), by the time we booked things were not exactly cheap.

So, wanting to stay slightly on a budget and because hotels were not cheap in the slightest, German K suggested and insisted we try couchsurfing.

To be honest, I was hesitant about the idea. I'm not hugely fond of sleeping on people's couches in general and I do feel (snobby or not) that I'm old enough to have earned the right to comfortable accommodations. Plus I was more than happy with paying.

However.

German K was clearly not willing to pay, it would save us money, and there were three of us. This would definitely be the best circumstances in which to try it.

Ah, what the hell.

Couchsurfing, if the term is unfamiliar to you, is basically a worldwide community of people who open up their houses to travelers who want a place to crash. It's entirely free, and is actually against the rules for anyone to accept money for someone staying. There is a recognized website for arranging stays, and people need to have registered profiles in order to get people to stay and in order to stay, at said residences. This is how you find people and they can tell you whether or not they accept your request. People also get ratings, recommendations, and reviews (both as travelers and as hosts).

Oh the glory of the internet age.

Anyway, since it was German K's idea, she volunteered to make an account and get all of the arrangements for it. Awesome. We decided on a few profiles we liked from each city, but in the end left it up to her to judge whether someone would be fine as a host. Also, it ended up depending on whether someone was available for the dates we were going to be there and could accommodate all three of us (since we weren't going to split up...too much complication not to mention not preferable by any of us).

So, after a time, all of the arrangements were set. The trip was planned and off we went.

What will follow is our chronicle of the gorgeous land of the Norge.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The real snows of Helsinki

So I had my little visit home to the States for Thanksgiving and flew back to Finland to be greeted by...

...massive amounts of snow.

Apparently in my absence they'd had the blizzard to end all blizzards. Over the course of maybe 2-3 days they had more snow than people had experienced in a long time. The entire city was not only blanketed, it was piled high. Mountains of the stuff was everywhere. Confusingly so.

I watched from Facebook as people posted pictures of fresh powder plus talked about freezing temperatures of -12C. This is incomprehensible to someone who is sitting in +15C.

So when I finally landed at night in Helsinki, it wasn't that I was shocked, it was that I was literally, and figuratively, blown away. There was a pile of snow in front of my apartment windows. If I opened them, snow would fall in.

"What? This isn't how I left this."

And the funny thing was, I was going to love it and leave it in less than 30 hours.

And that's exactly what I did.

Little did I know I would be leaving it for eternally colder climates, but that was not to be known until much later (well, not that much later).

So, with my tiny stopover in Helsinki (just enough to work from home and unpack/pack another suitcase plus throw some laundry onto the drying racks), I stepped out into the snow again and set off.

WT, on the move.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Last wedding of the year

I was fortunate enough to be invited to another wedding towards the end of this year, and even more fortunate to be able to attend it, considering it was in the States and for all intensive purposes, I was supposed to be in Finland.

Being someone who hates to get late replies, I responded early, saying that unfortunately I would be unable to attend since I was silly and lived in a faraway snowy country. I sent a card with the more gentle herpes of the craft world (i.e. large confetti instead of glitter), and posted my apologies.

Not a day after I mailed the card, however, I was told by my boss that I would need to be extending my Thanksgiving trip (due to my need for a UK visa, as previously explained). I was originally going to get said items during the Christmas trip home to the States, but as logistics would have it, I needed to get it during this trip instead.

Well, well...looks like I would be making this wonderful wedding! :D Whoohoo for otherwise inconvenient work logistics! Finally, working in my favor!

So I changed my tickets and re-responded with a final and toothy "yes."

Wonderful things, weddings. It's taken me a few years to get used to the idea that I'm adult enough to attend such things with grace, and to actually understand that I'm old enough to know people who are old enough to be getting married, but alas, I've come to this stage in my life. With it comes a certain amount of joy, and always, admittedly, a little bit of teary-eyed weepiness that I'm too Asian to like to show in public. Call it a fear of showing emotion, but eh, it's hard to cry in public for me.

This wedding was one of those blessed affairs where they make you cry a little before making you laugh about something beautiful. This couple is adorable together - always finishing each other's sentences, cute to behold, and making you think that you better get on this stuff before you're old and alone. Oye, as if this world wasn't hard enough to live in. ;)

Anyway, the wedding was beautiful and I just wanted to give a little shoutout to them. It's rare still that I go to weddings and as much as I want my people to find their people, I do kind of hope that it stays this way for at least a few years longer. All this love stuff makes me feel awkward and emotional.

This is still a spreckled hen, exploring vast and unknown territory. O_O

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dear Finn

As some of you may know, when I left San Diego I gave the city a persona, so as to better address it as a whole and the experiences I'd had with it. It was like a boyfriend that I'd had a long and lustrous relationship with, but alas, it wasn't working out and I'd decided it was time to leave. The name of this boyfriend? Randy Ego (say it outloud with "Ego" sounding like "eggo" and you'll get it).

When I came to Finland I started dating a new city, Finn. Finn Landia. We've been dating about a year now and things have had their ups and downs. I've learned his mysterious and silent ways and tried to unlock the secrets behind every blank and unemotive look I've been given. Mostly I've taken this in stride, but alas, I must say, overall, things have not been working out as I'd have hoped.

So, it is with bated breath that I announce that I am dumping Finn for someone else. Who is this mysterious new city that I have started to court, much to Finn's dismay?

The name's Don. Lon Don.

Yes, that's right, dear readers. In the new year I will be leaving my beloved city of Helsinki and making for greener pastures in the eternally loud and busy city of London. I will still be working for the same company, doing relatively the same thing...but more. There's no other way for me to put it.

I will probably be moving sometime around February, though the date is not set (I need to do a lot of arrangements beforehand, as is to be expected).

If you live in or around the city, be expecting to hear from me more! I would love to see some familiar faces in the scary large city that I will soon be calling my new home.

And, just for the hell of it, I am going to present my break-up letter to Finn here...as I feel it is only fair, now that things are official.

Dear Finn,

Thank you for all of the wonderful times we've had together this past year. Unfortunately, I'm here to tell you that I don't think it's working out anymore and that maybe we should both go our separate ways.

Your inability to express anything but cold frustrates me, when I seek nothing but warmth and sun. I thought our differences could be metered out with humor, but it seems you don't know how to react in any way but silence.

I will say that I've enjoyed our time together, during the summer you were a blast, showing me your eternal sunshine, even if it was still a touch colder than I'm used to. Your odd humor certainly is original and I have loved getting to see everything from a different point of view.

But alas, it seems our differences are too great and I can't see a future for us anymore. Had I stayed with you long term it would have meant sacrifices that I was not willing to make, like giving up my love of sunshine, figuring out how to like salmiakki in a real way, and getting used to the fact that real food really just isn't accessible on a constant basis. The costs are just too high. Literally.

Being with you has taught me a lot, about myself, what I want in a future relationship, and where I want to go next. I harbor no ill thoughts of you and will always remember you fondly.

I'm sure we'll see each other around.

Yours fondly.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Escar-gotten!

So the time for our much awaited escargot dinner was closing in upon us. With sunset at 3:30pm, it was already dark by the time we were finishing our lunch and with the disappearance of the sun, the temperature rapidly began to drop (not that it was very warm that day anyhow and it had begun to rain pretty steadily).

Though our reservation for dinner was still about an hour away, we decided to go to the restaurant early to see if they would let us sit. It was dry and warm inside and there was a bar, so at the very least, we figured we could sit and drink if they were too busy.

First off, the entrance to Timbaali, the escargot restaurant, is adorable. There's no other way to describe it. Quaint, cute, clean. Just makes you smile. And all of the snail decor? Ridiculous, but in a way that makes it humorous and quirky, rather than overdone.




We were let inside and shown to a waiting area of arm chairs and dark wood furniture. The rest of the restaurant was bathed in white - glossy white floorboards and walls, white furniture, white bar, white curtains, white tablecloths. Everything was white except for the accents - which were all snail-related in some small way. Snail paperweights. Snail statues. Snail bookends. Everything related to escargots. Even the little decorations they put on the cloth napkins were empty cleaned snail shells. Snails. Everywhere.

They took their theme very seriously.

We were told that our table was still occupied and that we would need to wait. As we were being led to the waiting area we had looked into the various rooms that held diners and noticed several empty tables. Tables that would have obviously fit our party. Thus is the Finnish way - they had reserved one particular table for us, and because that specific table was busy, we would wait. It's pretty ridiculous, and inefficient, but alas, that's just the way they work. I've also seen this at the office. The desire to follow a process is rigid, unbending.

So we waited. For an hour.

Luckily Hong Kong P wanted to share a bottle of wine, so she and I had a lovely bottle of rose brought to our arm chairs and happily sipped as we all chatted about this and that. The time sitting and waiting was not painful. The atmosphere in the restaurant was wonderful, minus the odd note of inefficiency that swirled around us. But we tried not to let that bother us too much - we weren't starving, so it was fine.

Eventually our time came and we were led to our table. We could see the remnants of another party that had just left, but other than that we had the entire room to ourselves. It was oddly quiet - we felt like we had to whisper because no one talked very loudly in the establishment and there was no one else to temper our raucous laughter. We are a bawdy group, there's no denying it.

Time to choose our goodly foods.


The menu opens up to a description about the historical elements of the building (it's on the same site of a restaurant from the olden days, how about that!) and how it used to have its own snail farm but now all snails are imported from Italy. It is the only escargot restaurant in Finland. Fancy fancy.

Once again I noted the abundance of snail decor. It's well-played though, really.


Anyway, to the food. For appetizer I ordered a crayfish broth soup with garlic flowers. Yes, it is understood that this has no escargot in it, but I couldn't resist. It sounded divine.


And it was, it truly was. Imagine lobster bisque but without the thickness. It was like the purest seafood broth I had had - sweet, subtle, and rich with flavor without being cloying or heavy. Little dollop of cream, some froth, and a little roe-covered cracker to boot.

The garlic buds were unexpected. I know they were on the menu but when I was eating the broth I had completely forgotten about them (probably helped by the amazing rose I was drinking). Anyway, when I hit them at the bottom of the bowl I was surprised, and then delighted. They looked like daffodil buds, still closed, and with little nubs resembling something closer to broccoli. Actually, it reminded me a lot of the plants that had been on top of my pig's head terrine in Kuurna the first time I had been there. Luckily a bit less creepy, because it was in an amazing broth, but still, a bit unsettling.

The flavor? Incredible. Like you've roasted garlic and all you've got left is the sweet essence. The stink and bite of the garlic was all but gone. Not even the crunch was left behind - just little nodules of flavor, bursting every time you chewed them, like steamed broccoli. It was beautiful.

A well-played first dish, and well worth it's ridiculous 12euro pricetag.

Next up? The reason we were here: escargots.


Hong Kong P and I decided to order little 6-creature orders of the two flavors we were really interested in - classic garlic in butter and the highly-recommended Roquefort variety. Well okay then.

The one you see above is the traditional garlic. Swimming in melted butter and a ton of garlic, this still remained to be a favorite. You just can't beat something that's been cooked in so much butter and garlic.

I will say here that it's been a little while since I've had escargot. Probably a little over a year? Maybe a touch more, it's hard to remember. The snails here, considering they're supposed to be a specialty, were definitely different than any I'd had elsewhere. They were...stronger. Stronger in flavor, luckily not in texture. They were more earthy - they tasted like damp soil. Now, perhaps this is how they're supposed to taste - only a true escargot connoisseur would know, but I guess I'm just used to the type of escargot that sucks up whatever you cook it with and you love it because it tastes like whatever crack you've decided it should taste like. This escargot set had the audacity to want to taste like itself.

For that, I couldn't hate it, despite not loving the taste itself. It was certainly different. And they were incredibly fresh, there was no denying it. Soft and not at all rubbery - like the softest scallop you've ever had in your mouth, almost no give against your teeth. Pleasant where other meats resist.


The Roquefort ones were also incredibly tasty. I love Roquefort cheese (well, there aren't many cheeses I don't like now, to be quite honest), but this one just didn't have the same oomf as regular garlic and butter. There was something missing. Like the Roquefort wasn't strong enough, silly as that sounds.

Hong Kong P and I agreed that if you're going to have snails of this taste magnitude, you have to have something equally strong to eat it with, otherwise the flavor of the snail itself would be overpowering. And maybe some people really love the taste of dirt and damp - it does work in certain situations and food groups (like certain red wines have great earthy flavors...same with cigars from what I understand), but somehow this one didn't seem quite right.

In the end we were really glad that we went with these two sets of snails and not some of the other, subtler ones on the menu - there was one with apples and something else. We were imagining what they would be like and the only word that came to mind was, "weird."

Not too long after our main courses arrived.


I ordered the pork belly with escargot mushroom salad. That yellow cube sitting in the middle of everything? Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) not butter (which is what I took it for when my plate was set down for the first time). It is actually a beautifully cut square of potato. And extremely well-flavored, considering it looks like it's just been boiled. It had the wonderful taste and aroma of something that's been infused with a broth of some kind. Fabulous and subtle, something you would not expect.

The pork belly was amazing - melt in your mouth and fatty to the right degree. I made it last as long as I possibly could. The sauce surrounding it was a subtle reduction of something a little sweet but mostly savory, like balsamic with the vinegar taken out. No harsh flavor notes in it though, all beauty and harmony.

The escargot salad was the most unusual thing there. Mushrooms, escargots, and cooked onions. It was surprisingly mustard-based, but again, not particularly strong-flavored. The escargot were once again overpowering in their dirt-essence, so I tried to eat them with other things to mask this flavor, but otherwise it was quite a tasty side on its own.

The overall package was delightful. Savory spoonfuls of well-crafted epicurean glory. Admittedly it was not the snail experience I had been expecting, but I was not at all disappointed. It's likely I'll not return to this place again, but I'm glad I came.

Snail mission accomplished. I can check this one off the list now. :)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

tSH goes to Porvoo

The next day, somewhat bright and early, it was time to explore a different part of Finland: the gorgeous little town of Porvoo.

I had a visitor in town that particular weekend, and it was my pleasure to set up an excursion to a nearby town that Hong Kong P, German K, and I had been wanting to check out (well, technically German K had already been there, but during the summer, which is much different). Anyway, Hong Kong P and I admittedly had ulterior motives for wanting to go there - there was a very well-known escargot restaurant there and we both really wanted to check it out. Just goes to show to what lengths foodies are willing to go to try something new.

But I digress.

The morning of we packed our day bags and went to the bus station to catch our bus there. Since none of us had actually ever caught buses that went outside of Helsinki or Espoo, we had to guess where our bus was leaving from and ended up tittering amongst ourselves a little while before gathering enough information to find it. But in the end all was smoothly done and we got onto the bus with very little fuss.

Porvoo is about an hour's bus ride away from Helsinki, north east and directly along the coast. It's an adorable little town where you can walk around and see various old sites and go into little shops, that sort of thing. There's no major sight there that people migrate to; it's just a nice scenic town to explore and stop at. It's also considered a fairly large town by Finnish standards (again, this is all relative).

Since there's nothing of particular historical importance for me to discuss here, I'm just going to stop here and give you the gallery of photos I took while there. Apologies if my photos fail to perfectly capture the town's essence, but know that it was one of the cutest towns I've been in in a long time, and I've felt a peace there that I've rarely found in other places.


The Little Chocolate Factory. One of two chocolate factories in the town. This man was hand-dipping chocolates for our viewing pleasure. Homemade hot chocolate was on sale for 1euro a cup.


Beautiful handmade chocolates in the Little Chocolate Factory. You could select a little box of them as you please.


The door to the Little Chocolate Factory.


The tower of the cathedral in town. There are several other small cathedrals scattered around (including a Russian Orthodox church), but this one is the most iconic.


The front side of the cathedral. Dedicated back in the 1300s, took its current form in the 1400s.


One of Porvoo's many cute little cobbled streets.


Hilarious window ad about Santa's official knife factory. Guess if you were naughty this year, you'll know which brand of knife Santa will use.


One of many adorable shops Porvoo has to offer. This one had gourmet food items of all sorts. I literally could not pull myself away - everything inside was cute and so perfectly placed I just stood and stared. It was like being inside of Apartment Therapy.



Waterfront views of houses.



This happens in most European cities I've seen, and I love it. Couples come to bridges and declare their love by closing a lock together and throwing the keys into the water below. The bridge in Porvoo that we crossed was covered in these locks. Most of them were engraved with initials. A promise.


The most gynormous bowl of hot chocolate with whipped cream that I've ever had in my life. This bowl was literally the size of my face. I drank the entire thing because it was so cold outside, which was probably a terrible idea (given my chocolate threshold), but I didn't care. I was on "vacation."


And tasty lunch of ham quiche with tiny side salad. Wonderful lunch stop to tide us over before long-awaited for dinner of escargots.

Porvoo, you delight.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reindeer Games

Inevitably the come of winter brought with it a rash of farewells. Goodbye to sunlight, to warmth, and in this case, also to good friends.

This particular friend had decided she'd had enough of the Finnish cold and was moving back to her home country of gloriously sunny, warm, humid, Indonesia. A higher position and the comforts of her native culture awaited her, and so, the decision was made.

The night before she was to fly out she held a farewell dinner and party to see everyone one last time. We all gathered at Ravintola Zetor, a slightly older restaurant in the middle of town, as it was the only restaurant she could find on a Friday night that had tables open that could fit a group large enough for our party (26 people RSVPed to say goodbye).

Being studiously on time (call it adopting the Finnish way (hell, at least I wasn't 15 minutes early, which is the true Finnish way), an antsy-ness to get out of the office, or just being the traveling partner of always-on-time German K), I was granted the pleasure of being placed at the table of prominence with the guest of honor. Our group fit over three tables, so this was quite a feat.

Conversations about her impending move commenced and chats with other people at the table about everyday life buzzed and as we waited for others to arrive, drinks were ordered.

As previously noted, there is a distinct fog of Christmas to the air, since Finland has nowhere to place its sentiment anymore, now that there are no more holidays between now and the most celebrated event of the year, so glรถgg is now on every menu in the city. Having only had the non-alcoholic version of the beverage in America a year or two back, I decided I should have the real thing that night, and promptly ordered myself a mug:


Think of it as a very awesome mulled wine that also has almonds and raisins boiled in it. Spiced, sweet, and decently alcoholic. A wonderful wintertime treat when the wind and cold is blowing outside. Warms you right up. I think I drank this mug down in 15 minutes. It was one of those nights. I had the instant glow of someone warm and content. Om nom nom.

Not knowing much about this restaurant beforehand I was a little shocked seeing its menu for the first time.


Like a really large, thick, Finnish newspaper. It had fake articles on the front (unfortunately none of which I could read...except the large title, which translates to "Finnish food number 1!") and then the inside is an extensive list (in as many languages as any of us required - English, Finnish, Swedish, German, French, etc) of their menu items. Appetizers, mains, desserts, drink recommendations...anything you could possibly want was on that menu. It was kinda awesome.

What did I order, you ask, from a restaurant boasting about its love of classic Finnish food?

Uhh, the reindeer of course.

And there were several renditions of reindeer for me to choose from. Fancy that!

There was reindeer filet, reindeer saute  and reindeer something else (I've forgotten...sorry, old person moment).

I considered the differences between the filet and the saute. It was about 6euros difference in price and one came with roasted potatoes versus mashed potatoes.

Hmph.

Although I love mashed potatoes a tiny bit more than roasted potatoes (most of the time), it seemed wise to me to spend the extra 6euros and have the higher quality cut of reindeer meat. One was presented to me like a steak, the other in strips. I'd had the ground up reindeer meat available in heaps of gravy before (which is as easily findable as your local Ikea), and somehow the flavor of the meat disappears as you cut it onto smaller and smaller pieces.

Well, okay then, it was decided.

I even got asked how I'd like it to be cooked. Rare, please, of course. Wave it over the flames and give it to me. Blood on the plate, anything that allows it to be in as close to its natural form as possible.


And voila, tastiness was presented to me not too long later. Roasted root veggies, lingonberries, mushroom and wine reduction sauces, and those cute little roast potatoes. I should have known that Finland would have better roast potatoes than anywhere I've been; it's been true everytime I've had their potatoes, and this time didn't disappoint.

And was the meat rare? Ehhh. But it was the closest thing to rare I've gotten since living here. And that's saying something.


Now, avert your eyes if you don't want to read about my love of rare meats, but I feel like this was my first true taste of reindeer meat (minus that glorious experience of eating baby reindeer heart, which is still unparalleled, in my opinion). I've had reindeer salami, ground reindeer, and some sort of reindeer saute before, but this was a pure reindeer steak. Meat meat meat, pure and simple.

And it was beautiful. Reindeer tastes like no other meat I've had. More like blood than beef. Like it has more iron content, though unfortunately this piece of meat had no actual bloody juices coming out of it. Disgusting as it may sound, I think this is a wonderful flavor; it really is quite pleasant. Not too salty, not too sharp; just a subtle overall blood flavor. Not even really that tangy.

The texture is also very unique, and was very similar to the heart meat. Sort of like a cross between a softer steak (like filet mignon, though perhaps something slightly tougher than that, not quite that soft) and ahi tuna. Really nice to muddle over and chew on because it isn't that chewy. Soft, without being rubbery.

I was actually very content with this dish. Really flavorful (especially the combination of sauces), and all of the additional bits (such as the roasted veggies, berries, and potatoes) were very complementary. It wasn't particularly fulfilling, despite the fact that it was pure meat and potatoes, which was surprising, but it was quite tasty.

And per their recommendation on the menu, I ordered their strong lingonberry wine to go with it. They actually had a lot of wine pairings on the menu, none of which I'd seen before - cloudberry, huckleberry, sea buckthorne berry? Are these even real berries or is someone just doing a poor translation job? (I've looked them up for your enjoyment and yes, it does seem that all of these are in fact, real berries and could indeed be made into wines, should someone choose to do so). I knew about cloudberry and huckleberry already...but sea buckthorne berry? Just kind of ridiculous.


The verdict? Extremely alcoholic. Not much flavor of lingonberry, just generic juice flavor...though it was difficult to detect given how much alcoholic vapor this beverage was giving off. Still enjoyable, since the steak and veggies/sauce was so flavorful and powerful on its own, but jeez. A real wineglass of this stuff and most people would be toast. I guess that's why they only give you a tiny glass of this "strong" wine. Nuff said.

Overall it was a very tasty and fun dinner, despite the sad reason for it. Everyone was having lively conversation about something or other and because we were across three different tables at some point in time there was a sort of duck-duck-goose rotation from one table to the next so you could catch up with other people.

As we made our way out of the restaurant to go to a nightclub and finish out the night with a bout of dancing and merriment, we all noticed that the back part of it had turned into a club. Many in the group had warned us that this restaurant was known for its unscrupulous middle-aged clientele, and to be careful as we passed through. I could immediately see why - as soon as our group of young and nubile persons started to make our way through all older people's heads turned around and stared, like a group of starving refugees staring at a freshly cooked pile of sausages. It was slightly horrifying. More than one girl was stopped by an older gentlemen (or several) on the pretense of invitations to dance. Not so polite declines were given. We made our way out as quickly as possible after that. No need to linger in a place we clearly do not belong. Time to get back to our people.

And I'll stop chronicling our night here. We went to Bar Loose afterwards and had a great time dancing to oldies (of the musical variety, not of the age variety) and said our farewells. Another night in Helsinki, accomplished.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Concerns of the bloggy variety

Hello readers,

It has come to my attention that this blog occasionally gets a rash of anonymous comments that are spam or otherwise disruptive. You probably don't notice them because either I delete them or the system deletes them, but nonetheless I get notice of them everytime they're posted.

I know some of you are registered anonymously for various reasons (and I've been told these reasons, so thank you for that) but would any of you object to me putting back on stricter security measures? It makes me uncomfortable that these things are being allowed to happen and I'm not that happy with having a completely open site, despite the anonymity that I try to maintain.

If you have issues please let me know, otherwise I will likely beef up security once again to stop getting these types of interactions.

Naturally if my putting on security measures interferes with your reading of the blog after the fact, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Thanks,
tSH

Monday, December 10, 2012

The drunk poet

With our mood growing ever so cheery after our fine evening at Kuurna, we decided to head to Liberty or Death for a nice drink before calling it a night. After all it was Friday, and what better thing to do early in the evening than have a nice cocktail?

So we headed onto the tram and went to our new favorite drinking hole...the cute speakeasy with dim lighting and a penchant for nonexistent seating.

We arrived there, fashionably early, and actually found three seats at the bar (one of us having decided it was late enough to go home and do nothing).

The drink menu having changed, we took awhile studying the new menu before deciding on some new drinks.

I chose The Drunk Poet. First off, because it contains one of my favorite drinks (port, naturally), and second, because of the fine quote that was attached to it:

"I went to the worst of bars hoping to get killed, but all I could do was get drunk again"

Well, here's to you, Charles Bukowski/The Suicide Kid. I'll drink to that/your honor.

The drink was once again, amazing. The taste of raisins in my mouth, mixed with bitters and something stronger. I've got to take bartending lessons (this almost happened in my life, unfortunately work got in the way).


As the night wore on and we noticed an astonishing number of mustaches in honor of Movember (yes, they even recognize that here in Finland), we asked the bartender for his recommendation of drinks. Hong Kong P, having turned down his original recommendation of a ginger martini, asked him what an orange drink he was making had been before. He replied, steely: a ginger martini.

Embarrassed at her interest in something she had excused as boring before, she admitted defeat. It was astoundingly delicious. I also ordered one. Think of the freshest lemonade you've had, mix it with some ginger, and poof, you've got yourself one zesty cocktail.

We laughed long into the night before calling it and heading home. Another successful time at Liberty or Death.

Though we didn't get to try any more of the signature cocktails on the menu, I thought I'd share them with you anyway:

The Genteel Punch
Our housemade punch packs a gingery spiced punch to drive away the bitter cold outside.
Genever/Kings Ginger/Carpano Antico/Sugar/Spice

The Time I Lost My Cat
Every once in Awhile you lose something you love, well one of us kind of lost his cat, this is for all of those things you have loved and lost.
Hendricks/Creme de violet/Galliano Authentico/Bitters
-> I almost also considered getting this one. Because it was just asking to be tasted.

The Italian in Paris
A marriage of two greats, in this cocktail we try to marry some French flavor with Italian style.
Grappa/Luxardo/Chamarel/Aperol/Bitters

The Last Argument of Kings
The King of France Louis XIV had this phrase inscripted to his cannons in Latin. We here at Liberty or Death think he probably would have done a better job if he would have had the same inscription in his cocktail glasses.
Calvados/Xante/Cynar/Chartreuse/Bitters

Tortuga
The capital of Pirates, buccaneers, and pirvateers from all corners of the world. Tortuga was situated in Haiti. For the Tortuga cocktail we drew inspiration from the weird and wonderful combination of white fruity rum, tasty bourbon, and some spicy pimento liqueur.
Makers Mark/Rum/Pimento/Bitters

The Witch in the Woods
A bewitchingly intriguing combination of fresh blackberries and the well-balanced floral notes of Hendrick's Gin.
Hendricks/Creme de Mure/Lemon/Egg White/Bitters

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Returning to Kuurna

My birthday, 2012.

That was the last time I'd been at Kuurna, and it was almost 6 months to the day that I was returning. I couldn't have been more thrilled.

Unfortunately this visit had the unfortunate side note of me having a very odd throat issue (known by my team as "The Silence" since I could only croak out words every few minutes and with much effort), but luckily when eating good food, well, it's not much of a problem. Silence is considered unnaturally golden in this country anyway.

Seated in the warmth and glow of one of my favorite restaurants, I relaxed. It'd been an unnaturally taxing week - with work, with personal problems, with a life spent in a country that values silence and stillness, and it had begun to wear me down. I could not think of anything I'd like to do more than sit in a glorious restaurant, surrounded by beloved girlfriends, other than to be doing the exact same thing, in an entirely different location...hopefully somewhere warm, exotic, and completely far away.

But I digress. Kuurna would do just fine for now and it was where I was, so I sat happily.

The menu, of course, had changed since I was last there. Unfortunately this season (the season of near-winter) saw with it a lack of unusual ingredients (guess killing baby reindeer in the middle of the winter is an atrocity), but that's okay:


It still had a list of things that were appealing and selecting items from each category was a decision that was difficult to make. The additional add-ons for each category were as follows:

Appetizers:
Perch tartare
Filet mignon tartare

Entrees:
Pepper steak

Dessert:
Cheese plate

I actually went against what I would normally get (blame the sickness, the hard week, or just feeling out of my element) and went with the waitress' suggestions. Well, with most things anyway.

First off, the steak tartare. I had forgotten that I'd already ordered this before at this particular restaurant, but after trying the perch tartare off of Hong Kong P's plate we all agreed that I'd made the right decision anyhow:


Gloriously raw, flecked with onion and other crunchy bits (my guess is pickles or some other pickled veggie), and with a raw egg yolk. Can't get enough of those raw egg yolks. People may be disgusted by the consumption of raw meat (in this case German K was more than disgusted as she ate her perch tartare), but I was in heaven. There is just something about consuming raw flesh that is so...well, natural. Yes, call me vulgar but there really is nothing like it.

Finnish Irish T went with the borsch soup and probably outdid us all. It was creamy (with its dollop of sour cream), homey, and fabulous. In all practicality I probably should have gone with that...but well...raw beef. You're never going to get me away from raw beef. And raw egg yolks. Just try.

For the entree I went with the waitress' recommendation and surprisingly got the non-meat entree: the risotto with caramelized Jerusalem artichokes. Sounded like something I wouldn't get, so, alright:


Creamy, smooth, and covered in greens that had been drizzled in very fine extra virgin olive oil and a light vinegar (little sour, not sweet). The artichokes themselves were to die for (yellow, thin, small, sweet, with a little bit of earth to them, like a rutabaga), but the risotto itself was just okay. Maybe I'm just not made for grains. I did finish it, but mostly because I felt like it was what I was supposed to do. Delicious, but not what should have happened.

We all tried each others' dishes. Hong Kong P went with the pepper steak, and it was clearly where it was at. I'd ordered pepper steak at other places before but this was top notch. Rare on the inside, covered in a creamy pepper sauce that was more cream and butter than bite, and the entire thing surrounded by fries and potatoes (that, I thought, was a bit overkill, but whatever). Fabulous.

The other two ladies ordered the braised perch (yes, perch again). Strangely soup-like, it was in a white sauce that was devoid of cream. It actually reminded me of an Asian dish I've had before...kind of like tom kha. A bit of spring onion, carrot, and very mild. Sort of like stew but not hot (temperature-wise). Finnish Irish T commented to the waitress about the temperature of the food - delicious, but oddly not right.

Btw all of this was being washed down by one of the best red wines I've had since coming here. It was an expensive bottle (at 66euros a pop), but it was worth it after the week we'd all been having. We actually tasted two bottles before deciding to go with the more expensive one. Being sometimes a bit of a wine snob (yes, it's true), I tried the less expensive bottle (44euros) and even though it was from the Rioja region of Spain (a place near where I studied abroad...studied food science and technology, no less), I just couldn't do it. It just didn't taste right; it was too young. I turned it down. I apologized to everyone at the table and said, it just wouldn't do. We all joked that we would need to eat bread for the rest of the week since it was breaking the bank, but well, when split amongst three other people, it really isn't so bad. Live a little.

And dessert.

Despite what you might think, I didn't go with the cheese plate. My heart just wasn't in it this time. I asked the waitress what she'd recommend and immediately she recommended the warm chocolate cake. Ah, my love, sorry, that's on my no-list. She then scrambled to suggest something else, and alas, I alighted on the cranberry soup with caramel. Interestingly festive choice.


It was gorgeous. Holidays in a bowl. Tart cranberry soup (thin, not thickened), and a dollop of the creamiest caramel fluff I'd ever had in my life. Clearly the things of pure butter. Heaven. It was divine.

Our table actually made the rounds and ordered everything off the dessert menu - Hong Kong P got the warm chocolate cake (very much like a chocolate lava cake, which was fabulous, even I will admit), German K got the cheese plate (all of them were fantastic, my favorite being the stinkiest foot-smelling cheese of them all...really, quite exceptional), and Finnish Irish T got the chanele cake with apple terrine (cute little donut of a cake with an apple gel next to it...also quite good).

We ended up laughing and joking so long that we knocked ourselves into the second dinner round (Kuurna has two sets of dinner reservations - the early and late shifts...we were in the early shift). We were politely shooed out soon after the clock struck 8pm.

Having another wonderful experience at Kuurna, we put on our coats to leave.

Thanks Kuurna...even though your ingredients weren't of the exotic kind this time, you still have yet to let me down.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The return to the consulate

Wednesday, 9am. Gusting winds, falling snow, black ice on the sidewalks.

Needless to say it was not a pleasant journey back to the consulate that Wednesday morning. I was happy just to get there alive and without broken limbs, no joke. I have a feeling this winter is going to be very grumbly.

I was happy to make it to the building, warm and safe in the reaches of my country, especially after reading my Facebook newsfeed that morning of Obama's impending win in the polls. Finally, at least part of my future secure. Though I couldn't (or didn't plan well enough to) vote, this was one thing I felt a little better about, though I will admit that I feel ashamed not having participated. There were many other props and things on the ballot that I hadn't known about (after talking with my parents) that I would have wanted to vote on. The three strikes rule. The death penalty. Sex offender labeling rules. It's funny none of my friends brought these issues up with me; the biggest one they wanted to talk about was GMO food labeling (which is important, I don't disagree). Perhaps it was a difference in county, but I kind of doubt it. To each their own I suppose, and everything is important to someone.

I got to the consulate and waited in the warm depths of the waiting room, finally at ease with its glass domains instead of full of anxiety. There were also less people this time, despite their systems being up, and people were helpful and friendly - when names were called we all looked each other in the eyes and repeated the names, making sure people heard them and knew they were being called. I also helped a family coming out of the elevator who tried to get in the locked door, explaining the procedure to them so they wouldn't wait feeling confused and rejected. I guess it was just a day for humanity. Everyone a little more at ease now that decisions had been made.

Despite the fact that I was only there to pick up my passport, hopefully with extra pages in it, I ended up waiting about an hour. Guess they weren't doing priority/easy procedures that day. I guess I also technically didn't have an appointment, so was probably called when someone finally had the time to track down my floating passport, likely placed carelessly in some file somewhere.

In the meantime I continued the Nat Geo I had put down the day before, finishing it completely. I read about the last known cave tribe (they're located in Papua New Guinea...oddly a culture I've been taught about in college...several times). They had a statement to the world: we will stop hunting and living in caves if our government will give us a medical center and two schools. That's all they wanted. Their numbers have dropped from the hundreds to the tens in the last years. They're a nomadic people. They still die from diseases that we've wiped out decades ago.
The Last Cave People

Other articles were also really interesting - I read that because of the changes in marriage patterns autism is on the rise. Asperger's syndrome, a more functional type of autism, has been found to be perhaps more prevalent in certain industries - for example in scientists, engineers, and other careers that tend to draw people who enjoy systems, patterns, and don't necessarily require a high level of social interaction. Since these people are around other people of like-mind, in recent years they've tended to marry more and therefore have children who carry on in similar fields. A study was done by Simon Baron-Cohen, a famous professor who studies autism and other related subjects, specifically on this trend. It was fascinating. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Not all agree though, and when I tried to find the article to share with you on the Nat Geo site, it seems it's either been pulled or otherwise not published online. So I've found a similar article that debates the idea.
Tech Autism

I read and saw glorious pictures of the new capital of Khazakstan, Astana. Due to the price of oil and its wealth, the entire capital has been built completely new. It has been dubbed "Tomorrowland" because of its futuristic architecture and grandeur. It's so rich that it has a completely climate-controlled area that can house 10,000 people.  Here is a link to the photo gallery that I was looking at:
Astana

There were other articles as well, but perhaps my brain can only store so much before it gets washed away by other things, like work. Or the fact that I almost slipped on black ice that morning. Twice.

I picked up a TIME magazine and was flipping through that, reading an interesting article about something (seems my old age has caught up with me again) when I heard my name being called.

I walked up to the first window and was passed my passport through the slit in the window. Inside was slipped a receipt showing that I had paid for it today. I looked inside. Yep, extra pages. Though instead of what I thought would be a neat sewing job, oddly they'd just been taped in. Kind of ganky, if you ask me. Luckily there was a certificate attached saying that my passport had been amended on this date for this passport number, and it had an official number...so looks pretty official. I think I'll keep the receipt around for the next few times I travel though, just to make sure. Never can tell. Might get stopped and asked what kind of fraud did I think I was trying to pull. Especially because the extra pages are in the style of the newer passports and I still have an old style passport (read: no RFID tag in it).

In any case, my time at the consulate was done and it was time to leave. The guards once again helped me into my coat, though this time there was no chit chat. Guess when things are running smoothly they have no interest in knowing what's going on inside. Business as usual.

You know I read somewhere that despite popular belief, being in your country's embassy/consulate does not count as being on your mother soil. Listverse of misconceptions, #11 (yes, this is another nerdy blog that I read sometimes). It is still indeed the soil of the country you are in, though special priviledges are afforded the staff there (though not you, as a citizen of the country of that embassy).
Listverse

Despite that, it did feel like going home, even for a little while. Or perhaps I was just misplacing some feeling of comfort. Either way, felt nice to get something done. Another one, off the list.

Keep on traveling, world traveler.

Well, maybe we're back...

Heh, perhaps my other message about being back was a little premature.

After posting it, I realized that yes, it's true, I am back to work, but only sporadically over the next month. You see, since taking this job (in Finland and before I relocated), I actually hadn't taken any of my vacation up until this point. Which means that I have almost a full year's worth of European vacation to use. Which means...it's all getting squished and used up at this point. :D Yay for me, not so good for the blog and work and consistency.

What does this mean exactly? Probably less regular posts (despite usually having a healthy backlog to share) and a lot of adventures that I've yet to write about (something something falling behind because I go offline when I'm on holiday).

To give you an idea of what my schedule is like in the next few weeks:
Flying back to Helsinki today after spending the last few weeks back home in California.
Spending a day in Helsinki working from home before flying off to Norway for four days (vacation).
Back to Helsinki for less than 24 hours then four days in Berlin (business trip).
Back to Helsinki for five days then back to the States for winter holidays.
Not back to Finland until the around the 8th of the new year.

Yep, gonna be one of those four-country whirlwind kind of tours over the next 2.5 weeks.

Anyhoo, this means that likely I'll be falling off the consistent grid a little bit, so apologies for that in advance. I do still have some things to post and will try to continue to write consistently (there are many things I need to document and otherwise humorize ^_^), but it's possible I may slip.

So, without further ado, I will continue.

Thanks,
tSH