Spring, finally!

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Spring has come with full speed in May. Flowers are blooming and nature is full of different shades of green. Birds start singing in the early morning hours..

Today I decided to make a visit to the Suomenoja, to see the various water birds that live by the sea bay.

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There were plenty of bids nesting within sight from the towers that are built for the birdwatchers.

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Although I went to see the water birds, it was actually couple of muskrats that eventually stole my attention 🙂

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Muskrats look so cute! One of them almost crossed paths with a coot.

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The nature by the bay was also very pretty, with flowers..

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After the white winter it feels good to have so many colorful flowers around!

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Nature with its animals is the best entertainment, there is always something going on ..just go and explore!

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Snowshoe hiking in the forest

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I had my birthday this week and got these great snowshoes as a birthday present. Of course I had to try them out! Snowshoes are designed so that you can fit your own shoe inside, and the snowshoe will support you on the snow so that you don’t sink into it. There are metal spikes on the sole of the shoe to help during steep slopes.

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We went to the nearby forest, same place where we go skiing. There wasn’t a lot of snow left, but enough to make the snowshoes useful. It was a rewarding feeling to walk where ever we felt like walking, and not be restricted by paths made by others. The shoes worked really well, they gave a good grip so going up and down hills was easy.

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Today was a beautiful sunny winter day. The forest was full of tracks and foot prints made by different animals: deer, rabbits, squirrels, foxes.. Forests are full of life even though you don’t always see the animals.

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Also some tracks by fatbike and mountain bike bikers and other hikers.

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Finns are pretty crazy folks, who else go biking into the forest in the middle of the winter, eh?!

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The rocks, icicles and sunlight filtering through the trees into the snow made the forest look really pretty. You could already sense that spring is just around the corner.

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Again, so much happiness gained from a walk in the forest!

Minä

 

Skiing in the forest

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Today my plan was to go hiking in the nearby forest and take my camera with me. I’m glad I changed my mind about the hiking in the very last minute, and decided to go cross-country skiing instead. It was a lot of fun!

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The first downhill slope on skis is always a bit nerve wrecking as I feel like a Bambi on ice, but after some minutes getting comfortable with the skis it starts to feel great. Especially when the ski trails are on excellent conditions, you can really enjoy the slide. It’s very easy to find skiing places in Finland, also in the capital area. There’s a good service called mSki, which tells in what condition the ski trails are. There are possibilities for both classic and skate skiing. You can also try the Nordic walking if you’re not into skiing.

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When I was young, skiing was all we did during sports class at school in winter time. Only if it would be below -25C or terrible snowstorm, we would have gymnastics indoors. At least that’s how I remember it. I was so fed up by the time the elementary school was over, that I swore I’ll never ski again! Luckily that promise didn’t hold forever. As an adult I bought skis, Peltonen, of course. And I rediscovered that skiing was a lot more fun than what I remembered. Of course, that is partly due to the voluntary nature of this activity nowadays, as well as the development of sports clothes and equipment over the last 20 years.. I’m glad to see so many 60 to 80 year old people skiing. And believe me, they wouldn’t bypass me if we were jogging, but on skis I have no chance to those pros who have been skiing before I was even born. And ladies, if there’s anything extra hanging from your arms, cross country skiing will give you the triceps of ballet dancer by the time winter is over.

 

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Blueberry bushes sticking through the snow, reminding that eventually summer will arrive.. Forest is such a great place during winter, too! Beautiful landscape and fresh air, and hot sauna waiting when you get home from the skiing track… what more can one ask for a day off?!

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Ice, ice, baby!

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This winter the snow arrived late, but when it finally came we got plenty of it! It’s been around -15C – -25C (5 F to -13F) already for some weeks, so the lakes and the Baltic Sea have already frozen. It’s time to head to the ice and enjoy the sunlight reflecting from the pure white snow.

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We decided to go to Matinkylä beach, which during summer time is a popular beach for swimming, and turns into place of various winter activities as the weather gets colder. You can have a different experience of the shore by walking across the ice to the nearby islands for picnic. Many people also go there to do cross-country skiing, although in this case, cross-ice skiing.

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And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not try the ice swimming? Just pack your swimming gear with you together with a beanie and gloves, and take a refreshing dip in the ocean! I promise you that you don’t feel cold after coming out of the water, you just need to bear the cold when walking to the ice hole and have enough courage to get into the water.. Not for everyone, but there are Finns who do this daily and claim they never get sick because this boosts their immune system.

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The trick is that you have to get into the water up to your chin, if you only partly dip into the water you’ll feel cold afterwards. But don’t dive, keep your beanie on so that you don’t freeze your head.

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You’ll need the gloves unless you want your hands to be frozen to the railing! You can wear similar kind of shoes that are sold for snorkeling. Would you dare to try this without sauna?!

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Fatbikes are becoming popular in Finland, too. There’s a sport event called Rovaniemi150 which takes place in Rovaniemi city in Lapland, where people either run, ski or bicycle on fatbikes 150km. Mind you, it can be around -30C (-22F) cold there! Competitors have 2 days to complete the race. Perhaps it’s worth the challenge, if you get to see the northern lights while there. Personally, I’d choose the Kakslauttanen hotel instead, and check out the northern lights while warm and cozy in a glass igloo 🙂 That is definitely on my “to do”-list for homeland travels.

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Although the winters seem long and dark, during sunny winter days like today, you’ll actually need sunglasses. Fresh air, frost bites on your cheeks, snow reflecting the sunlight.. and a glass of warm juice from a café when it starts to get too cold. Life is good!

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Peace of mind from national park

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DSC_0074Today I went hiking to national park called Nuuksio which is nearby Helsinki. You can reach the park best by own car, but it’s also reachable via public transport (closest buss stop is approximately 2km away from the Haukkalampi trails). If you arrive by car, you can use Haukkalammentie 32, Espoo in the navigator. And if you come by public transport, you can plan your journey with journey planner. You can visit the park rangers by Haukkalampi and get the trail maps (the trails are well marked with square shape colorful marks by the trails).

DSC_0068 (2)Although today was very cloudy and nature is preparing for the winter and snow, walk in the forest was good as always. I chose to hike the Korpinkierros trail (‘korppi’ means ‘raven’), which is about 8km long trail. There are also shorter trails available and you can also hike several trails if you want to spend the whole day in the forest.

DSC_0001 (2)I recommend to pack some snacks with you, as there are places where you can light camp fire and sit down for a while. It’s a nice experience to light the camp fire and grill some foord, or just warm by the fire.

The trails go up and down hill, some parts have duckboards. There is also a small island where you can camp over night. During the summer when the trees have leaves, it’s a nice hidden place where you can spend relaxing time swimming and camping. The island is connected to the mainland with a bridge.

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This time my goal was just to get some exercise, but there would have been still mushrooms available. I came across people picking Cantharellus tubaeformis (Suppilovahvero) and found some Albatrellus ovinus (Lampaankääpä) by the trail. Nuuksio is a great place for picking mushrooms and berries in the summer and autumn.

DSC_0005 (2)I’m still “old school” when it comes to exercising in the nature, I enjoy hiking peacefully. But Nuuksio is the place to be if you also enjoy a bit more extreme sports. I met several trail runners and mountain bikers too. I definitely recommend a day trip to Nuuksio, you can experience some great scenery!

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Milky-way!

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Lactarius trivialis – Haaparousku

Milk caps, as the name describes, are mushrooms with milk in their caps. Easy name, easy to identify! These are one of the safest mushrooms to begin with, as the milk-like fluid (‘maitiaisneste’) makes them easy to differentiate from other mushrooms. Finland offers plenty of different milk caps, learn a few and you’ll get your basket full in no time. Some of the best milk caps are Lactarius trivialis (‘haaparousku’), Lactarius torminosus (‘karvarousku’) and Lactarius rufus (‘kangasrousku’).

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Lactiarius trivialis – Haaparousku and Lactarius utilis – Kalvashaaparousku

Lactarius trivialis has beautiful round cap, and its gray color shifts to purple or lilac. Its stem is always hollow, like a telescope. It also has very peculiar scent, it’s a mushroom that smells like..well, mushroom! Find it in the forest and smell, and you’ll know what I mean by that. It has very earthly and fresh scent. I’ts one of the most popular commercially sold mushroom in Finland.

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Lactarius utilis – Kalvashaaparousku

Lactarius utilis is a relative to Lactarius trivialis, but it’s color is more pale and it’s often more slimy, making it less attractive to pick as the needles and leaves stick to the cap as if they were glued to it. If you don’t mind a bit of extra work, this is still a good mushroom to pick as well.

There are plenty of different gray color milk caps, but they all have their own unique identifiers, such as color to which the milk slowly turns when mushroom is cut (green, gray, lilac) or the scent the mushroom has (fresh, coconat, chicory) and of couse the size and the shape of the cap. It can take you some time to learn them, but Lactarius trivialis is easy mushroom to start with as the hollow stem is easy identifier that most of the gray colored milk caps don’t have. Lactarius trivialis milk turns slowly towards grayish green. Especially when you boil the mushroom, you will see the green color appear. If the color turns to lilac, you have picked Lactarius uvidus (‘korpirousku’) instead, probably you have forgotten to check that the stem is hollow when you picked the mushroom. No harm done as that one is also edible, just different tasting milk cap. Just make sure that you always check that the mushroom you pick as a milk cap really does contains the white milk-like fluid. Lactarius helvus (‘lakritsirousku’) is the only poisonous look-a-like for the edible milk caps. Including this into the milk cap ‘lactarius’ family is a bit misleading, as this one doesn’t lactate at all. Instead the fluid is clear like water and the scent recembels liquorice (what’s what the Finnish name lakritsi actually means).

WP_20130915_030Lactarius torminosus (‘karvarousku’) is a pretty pink and hairy milk-cap. Especially the young mushrooms are very cute. It’s also called woolly milk-cap or bearded milk-cap. The Finnish name ‘karva’ actually literally means ‘hair’. Don’t bother to peel of the woolly cover from the cap, it’s exactly the same edible substance as the rest of the mushroom. These mushrooms you’ll find nearby birch trees, as they live in symbiosis with birch. This is one of the early milk-caps to appear, season starts from July and continues to late September-October. I think it’s one of the prettiest mushrooms we have in Finland! And it certainly wants to be found, as the pink color is not exactly a great disguise in Finnish nature…

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Lactarius rufus – Kangasrousku, growing by the lake house

Lactarius rufus (‘kangasrousku’) has a stronger, more bitter taste than the above two. You can recognize it from the pointy tip in the middle of the cap, and the gingerbread color. It’s quite modest when it comes to living habitat, so it’s easier to find even in dry places. The cap turns beautifully dark brown when boiled, so it’s also visually pleasant mushroom to use in cooking.

WP_20130915_048All of these milk-caps need to be boiled in plenty of water for 5 -10 minutes to remove the bitterness (for best result boil for 5 min and then change the water and boil for another 5 min). In Finnish this type of boiling is called ‘ryöppäys’. Boiling is not only for the taste, but to remove the ingredients that may cause stomach ache or nausea. After boiling these are excellent mushrooms to use. Lift the mushrooms out of the water with a spoon (‘reikäkauha‘) into a collander (‘siivilä‘).  This way the dirt and needles that may have been hiding in the gills will stay on the bottom of the kettle and you get clean mushrooms for cooking.  Rinse the mushrooms with cold water until they are cool and the squize the water off with your hands. You can use the water from the kettle as organic fertilizer in your garden.

My favorite way to conserve milk-caps is to use the traditional Finnish way of salting the mushrooms. Some prefer to ferment (‘hapattaa’) them to preserve more of the taste and the nutrients. Another popular traditional way is to conserve them in vinegar. Mushroom salad made out of milk caps is something we always had at the Christmas dinner in my childhood. The salad is made out of the salted milk caps.

Try out this easy mushroom salad recipe:

2 dl of milk caps chopped into small pieces (boiled, rinced and squized as described above – if you are using salt conserved milk caps remember to soak them in plenty of water to get the salt to tolerable level)

1 onion or leek chopped into small pieces

(1 green apple chopped into small pieces)

2dl of sour cream (‘kermaviili’) or 2dl of cream whipped into thick foam

1 tea spoon of vinegar (try apple vinegar or white wine vinegar)

0,5 tea spoon of salt

white pepper or black pepper

Mix the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper. Serve cold. The taste of the salad gets only better if you let it rest over night in the fridge. The salad goes great with the Christmas ham or turkey and on top of a slice of rye bread.

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Lactarius rufus – kangasrousku (with some tiny tiny white mushrooms growing next to them)

What happens in a mushroom picker course?

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A good way to start mushroom picking safely is to attend a mushroom picker course. Mushroom picker courses usually last 2-3 hours and you will learn 2-4 mushrooms and their possible look-a-likes. Some courses are aimed for just learning the mushrooms, some are aimed for obtaining ‘kauppasienipoimija’ card, a certificate which proofs that person has been trained to pick and prepare certain mushrooms classified as ‘commercially sold’. Certificates can be given only by trained mushroom advisors (‘kauppasienineuvoja’ or ‘keruutuoteneuvoja’) or trained inspectors (‘keruutuotetarkastaja’), who verify the quality of nature products such as berries, mushrooms and wild herbs. You must be minimum 15 years old in order to get the card.

herkkutatti2Finland has an Act for mushroom selling, which relies on the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira’s list of recommended mushrooms. Evira also gives guidance on how some of the mushrooms need to be prepared. If you intend to sell mushrooms e.g. to restaurants or grocery shops, you will very likely be asked to provide mushroom picker card as a proof of sufficient knowledge on the mushrooms. This is part of the shops’ and restaurants’ internal safety controls. After all, there are thousands of different mushrooms growing in Finland, of which some are deadly toxic. Therefore it’s very important, that only the edible and easily recognizable mushrooms are offered for sale or used in preparing food.

The structure and content of the mushroom picking courses can vary depending on the organizer, aim of the course and the attendees (mainly the level of their experience). Commercial mushroom picker course usually starts with short theory part, that briefly explains the basic things about mushrooms such as

  • structure of a mushroom
  • where to safely pick mushrooms
  • how to pick the mushrooms and how to clean them
  • basic preparation guides for cooking
  • basic rules about selling mushrooms and related tax exempts
  • emergency first aid in case of reactions to mushrooms.

sienikurssi2Usually during the same day or previous day the trainer goes to the forest to seek for the mushrooms in order to make sure, that attendees have enough mushrooms available for training purposes (this is usually the most time consuming part of the course preparations). Trainer then selects the most suitable available mushrooms and presents real examples to the training participants.

Picture from a training (all of them got their cards, well done!)
Picture from a training (all of them passed and got their cards, well done!)

Once the theory part is covered and attendees know what kind of mushrooms to search for, the group breaks to search for the mushrooms for 10-15 minutes. All mushrooms are brought together and inspected by the trainer. In case there are any wrong mushrooms among the harvest, those are pointed out and removed. Also the quality of the mushrooms is checked and quality deficiencies are explained. After that, a second round of picking is done. On the second round there cannot be any wrong mushrooms and the quality should be on required level. If these criteria is met, attendees will receive their cards with the relevant mushrooms marked. The trainer will keep a record of the people trained, their picker ID number (given by the trainer) and the mushrooms trained. Once you have the card, you can get further marks on the card by evidencing your knowledge to any mushroom advisor or inspector (so you can learn independently too if you like, as you already have the basic knowledge).

2 – 4 mushrooms may not sound like a lot, but the aim always is that when you attend the course, you will be then able to independently safely pick those mushrooms. If you are a beginner, learning more than that in couple of hours may get confusing. It’s better to learn 1 – 2 really well, than 10 poorly. You can steadily build your mushroom knowledge over time and depending on your taste preferences. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your calling and one day become advisor or inspector yourself?

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You’re the apple of my eye

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There are very few things in life that bring as much immediate pleasure as picking fresh apples from the apple trees. The beautiful shades of red and green and the fresh scent and taste of cinnamon apples is what I remember from my childhood Autumns. Although apple trees don’t usually grow wild in Finland, there are many households who have organic apple trees growing in their garden. At the moment the grocery stores have good variety of domestic, organic apples.

WP_20151011_001 (2)In my childhood my Mom used to make juice out of apples that we got from our garden. She would use a juicer called ‘mehumaija‘, a kettle like equipment that steams the juice out of apples and berries. After the juice was steam ready, the remaining flesh of the apples were squashed into pulp and stored in a freezer. I used the pulp with breakfast cereals or porridge and also for baking apple cakes for Christmas. Nowadays the new type of juicers allow to make fresh apple juice on daily basis if you like. I recently learned, that it’s possible to buy a share of an apple tree from an apple tree farm. I have not tried this myself, but it sounds like an interesting idea, if you don’t have an own garden. Organic apples are the best, because then you don’t lose any of the great vitamins as you don’t need to peel the apples before eating them.

A typical dessert in Finland is a baking made out of oat flakes, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and apples. The ingredients are mixed and baked in the oven until apples are soft and oat flakes and sugar are crispy. This tasty treat is then served with whipped cream, vanilla custard or ice cream. A very nice comfort food indeed (and upgrades easily many ordinary cafeteria lunches).

As I’m a big fan of pies (which you have probably figured out if you have read my previous blog posts 🙂 ) my specialty of course is an apple pie. This below recipe has sealed many friendships when I’ve lived abroad. Nothing brings people together like fresh pastry, especially when you’re a student with limited budged. Probably the best compliment came from an Italian friend, who said the pie was just like what his Mom would have baked 🙂

You’ll need:

InstagramCapture_8feaa377-5e26-4241-9df9-f9cd9261a1fb1,5 dl organic sugar

3 dl flour (wheat or gluten free)

2 tee-spoons of baking powder

vanilla powder or vanilla sugar

75-100 g of butter

200g of sour cream, preferably ‘kermaviili

3-5 dl of apple slices

cinnamon

Mix the dry ingredients together, pinch the butter to the flours with your hands and last add the ‘kermaviili’. Butter the pie tin and spread the dough evenly. Press the apple slices into the dough, sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top and bake in the middle of the oven for 30-45 min at 175-200 degrees Celsius. Enjoy with vanilla custard or ice cream!

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Lingonberries

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This Autumn nature has really pampered us in Finland with berries.. First a great harvest of blueberries and raspberries, and now lingonberries.

WP_20150830_005Lingonberries are firm red berries with quite strong acid taste. Some decades ago children in the country side would pick these berries for their school in the Autumn, so that the school cook could prepare food for them. Although my generation didn’t have to do this any more, I still remember the lingonberry mash that was served with the liver cassarole at school lunch.

A great snack or dessert is whipped porridge, ‘vispipuuro‘. That is a dish made traditionally from lingonberries, but you can also use cranberries or red currants, even strawberries. This is something every Finn has tasted for sure! You can try this easy recipe at home so you can leave the prepared convenience food to the stores:

Cook 7dl of water with 4dl of lingonberries for 5-15min. Season with 1dl of organic sugar and 1/4 tea spoon of salt. You can then either filter the lingonberry peel off with a collander, or puree it with a blender. Add 1,25 dl of semolina and let boil for 5-10min. Let the porridge cool down for a while and then whip it fluffy with mixer. Keep it in the fridge and serve as a snack or a dessert with milk.

WP_20150830_026If you are not a fan of porridge (which I bet you will become if you try the above recipe), why not try an arctic drink? This takes more preparation time, but it’s worth the wait and you can impress your friends with a home made liqueur. Layer of 3dl organic sugar and 1l of lingonberries into a bottle, and pour 5dl of vodka on top of them. Close the bottle, shake it and then store it in a dark place for a month. Shake the bottle every now and then. Filter the berries out before serving as a drink (you can use the lingonberries e.g. with caramel ice cream as a dessert).

So as you can see, lingonberries are a great berry for healthy morning smoothies and porridges to not so healthy desserts and drinks. The berries contains plenty of vitamin C, so your body will thank you for eating lingonberries!

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Forest rubies

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WP_20150815_037Last weekend we decided to head for the lake house, also known as summer cottage (kesämökki), as the Finns call it. Of course the idea was not only to relax by the lake, but to also explore the nearby forests for mushrooms.

I packed my basket and grabbed a kitchen bowl from the cottage, just in case I would find berries along the way. It turned out, that I never quite made it to the forest.. As the sides of the cottage road were filled with raspberry bushes, with the branches bent from the amount of berries.

WP_20150815_020I was freaking out a bit to push myself through the raspberry bushes and accross the ditch between the road and the forest, as I forgot to pack rubber boots along. It’s better to wear rubber boots as there may be vipers enjoying the warmth of sun, on the rocks and tree stupms. While in nature, it’s good to be humble and keep in mind that you are entering the food chain, and not always the top of it. However, I soon forgot my worries, as I got mesmerized by the sea of ripe raspberries all around me, like being surrounded  by precious rubies. (And no, there were no snakes in sight anywhere).

WP_20150815_023 (2)I also found some wild red currants, growing among the raspberries. Most likely blackbids or other common “berry thiefs” have been enjoying the currants from someone’s back yard, and then spread the seeds into the neighbouring forest. For me this was of course lucky discovery, as the red currants have plenty of vitamin c and they are excellent for a Finnish dessert called ‘vispipuuro’, a whipped porridge which is made out of semolina and berries such as currants, lingonberries or crandberries.

InstagramCapture_12b5b732-c73a-49f9-8f0b-c803ab25e1d3In the end, I never made it to search for mushrooms but I got more than I expected. My bowl run out of space before running out of berries.. I put some of the berries into freezer to enjoy them during winter, and some we enjoyed fresh, while relaxing by the lake 🙂

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