Vallisaari island daytrip

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Vallisaari is an island 20 min by boat from Helsinki market square. It recently opened to general public, after being almost abandoned for couple of decades. The island was governed by Finnish defence forces, and although it had as many as 300 inhabitants in the 1950’s, the last permanent inhabitants moved away from the island in 1996. The island together with smaller island Lonna have become the attractions of this summer in addition to the traditional Suomenlinna fortress.

The Finnish archipelago is beautiful during summer time. It’s hard to resist a ferry trip with the beautiful scenery, followed with a hike on the island. Today as the sun was shining, we decided to see this hidden treasure.

Vallisaari 5 – kopio – kopio

The island has interesting ruins of the old fortress. There are still areas where you are not allowed to leave the path, partly because of nature preserving reasons, partly for risk of old explosives.

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Pathways are well maintained and the surrounding nature is lush.

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There are plenty of butterflies (and bees) around, probably due to the various flowers that grow all over the island.

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There are swans and other water birds swimming nearby the shore.

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The island has a guest harbor where you can arrive by boat, but you need to leave the island by 10 pm when it closes for public. It’s not allowed to stay on the island overnight. The last public ferries leave around 8.30pm. If you wish to continue the summer night at the archipelago, you can go to the nearby Suomenlinna fortress island and catch a later ferry back to Helsinki. With the 7 eur return ticket you can visit Lonna, Vallisaari and Suomenlinna islands. Great value for money if you want to spend a summer day island hopping in the beautiful archipelago.

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The Vallisaari island has one cafe that serves home made waffles and drinks, and there are also many places where you can fill your bottle with fresh drinking water at no cost.

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Mushroom soup fiesta

Isohapero 1Yesterday went to the nearby forest in search of boletus mushrooms. Although I didn’t have luck with those, I didn’t have to come home with empty hands. Luckily there were many russula mushrooms to harvest.

This red beauty in the picture is Russula paludosa (‘isohapero’). In Finnish the name means big, and indeed this mushroom is of good size. The cap is the size of palm so it’s easy to differentiate from the bitter tasting red russulas. This one is of exquisite taste and perfect for a soup.

Punahapero

You can recognize this mushroom by it’s beautiful red color that shifts a bit towards yellow and it’s stem which has a dash of red colour. It’s gills are dense and the color starts to shift from white towards yellow when the mushroom gets older.

Palterohapero

Another good russula for a soup is Russula vesca (‘palterohapero’). It resembles Russula paludosa, but the stem is much harder and thicker.

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Koivuhapero

Russula aeruginea (‘koivuhapero’) tastes good too. The color of the cap varies from olive greem to grayish green.

The mild and delicious tasting russulas make a heavenly mushroom soup. Here’s how I made mine today:

Mushroom soup: Clean and chop about 5dl of mushrooms. Heat the mushrooms in a kettle with some butter and onions. When the mushrooms start to soften, add 5dl of boiling water or vegetable broth and let boil for a couple of minutes. Thicken the soup with some melted cheese (50-250g depending how thick you want it to be), the Valio koskenlaskija savuporo cheese is my favorite for mushroom soups. You can also leave out the cheese and add some cream and flour instead. If you want a smooth soup, you can mix the soup in a blender before serving. Garnish with pepper and herbs. The red colored russulas give the soup elegant rose color (just like in rose champagne). Enjoy!

Sienikeitto

 

How did a fox get a white tail?

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For the past weeks I’ve been mesmerized by red foxes.. It all started by the photographs taken by my buddy from photography school (we nowadays call him the fox whisperer because of his portfolio of fantastic fox photos). He has also other great nature photos, you can check them out in instagram.

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Then luckily an opportunity came to watch and photograph wild foxes. And I totally get it now why someone would wake up at 5am to find these beautiful animals. This beats any reality tv show, anytime 🙂 Luckily this family of five puppies weren’t shy or bothered by people.

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The cubs were eating rabbits, squirrels and birds, brought by their mom. And they were doing what all kids are doing: playing with their siblings!

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There is an old Finnish tale about the white tail of a fox. In short the story goes that a fox went to drink the cream from a churn inside a house, and got the white tail from the cream while escaping. True or not, I don’t know. But these two look like they could be up for such an adventure 🙂

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Rhubarb heaven

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When living in a country with four distinctive seasons, every year has some events that are like milestones for the season changes.. And no, I’m not talking about the ice hockey championships! While rest of Finland has been glued to the TV to watch will Finland bring home the gold medal this year like in 1995 and 2011, I’ve been gardening. My milestone from spring to beginning of summer is the first harvest of rhubarb.

This year summer seems to have started really yearly. It’s not even June and the lilacs are blooming.. Usually that is just before mid-Summer!

As my rhubarbs had survived the winter and started giving harvest, I decided to bake a pie. Rubarb is also great for kisel and compote.

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Turned out I was a little bit overly positive regarding the amount of my rhubarb harvest (as I wanted to make a full baking tray) , but I added on some strawberries. Those unfortunately weren’t yet from my own garden, but hopefully by July I’ll have strawberries growing too. And if not, the markets will offer the sweet Finnish strawberries for sure.

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Here’s the recipe if you want to try:

Rhubarb pie

1 litre of soured milk (‘piimä’)

5,5 dl of organic sugar

11 dl of flour (I used gluten free)

3 tea spoons of baking soda

2 – 3 dl of melted butter

3- 6 dl of rhubarb

Mix all ingredients in the above order, pour on a baking tray and add the rhubarb on top. And if you want, season with cinnamon and sugar. Bake in the oven in 175 degrees celsius for 40 – 60 minutes. The same recipe works with berries and apples etc.

Enjoy with vanilla ice-cream or vanilla custard!

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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.

Metsä

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!

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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
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)