"Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars... and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers - for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are."
Ten years ago I would say cooking was not my cup of tea. Ten years later half of my web bookmarks are recipes.
12 tablespoons butter, 1 1/2 sticks 2 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 teaspoon salt 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 cups sugar 2 tablespoons red gel food coloring plus 2 tablespoons water 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa 1 cup buttermilk - HELP! What is this thing? 1 tablespoon vinegar 1 teaspoon baking soda
Cooked Frosting 1 cup milk 1/3 all-purpose flour 1 cup butter 1 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla milk or cream
Preheat oven to 350°. Generously grease and flour 3 8-inch round layer cake pans or 2 9-inch cake pans.
Cake: Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat 1 minute longer. Beat in vanilla until blended. Combine cocoa, food coloring, and 2 tablespoons water; beat into the egg creamed mixture. Combine flour and salt. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk mixtures to the batter, beating on low to medium speed. Combine soda and vinegar in cup and add to cake batter. Spoon batter evenly into the 3 cake pans; bake at 350° for 22 to 28 minutes. Cool on cake racks. Remove from pans and frost tops and sides.
Frosting: In a saucepan, whisk together the 1/3 cup flour and milk and cook, stirring, until thickened; cool in the refrigerator. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla with mixer. Add flour and milk mixture a little at a time (make ahead of cake so that it has plenty of time to cool). Beat well, adding milk or cream as needed. Frost layers, sides, and top of cake.
Finland, tucked away near the top of the world, is a country that few of my acquaintances have visited ALISTAIR ANDERSON Published: 2011/10/14 09:51:52 AM
Finland is a country that few of my acquaintances have visited. It is not that it is dangerous or dead boring; it is just tucked away near the top of the world, and its citizens are not famous for letting the world know how proud of their country they are.
Upon landing at Vantaa airport, in the capital, Helsinki, I am overrun by trees. Hamish, a friend from South Africa, was right; Finland is a giant forest.
As I walk out of the airport, I wonder why I am not wearing shorts. It is as humid as Mozambique in January. Hamish did not mention the humidity, but he had been here in winter. He said it was -30° Celsius.
Having arrived on a Saturday, I spend the weekend visiting beaches and seeing the sites the city has to offer. But I start the first official week of my programme here (it is a business visit) by befriending trees.
Hamish said all he remembered about Finland were trees, trees and more trees. But he did not mention how beautiful these trees were. As much as 70% of the country’s land area is covered by forests. It is full of beautiful green structures and has more lakes than any other country — the combination is spectacular.
According to the website Forest.fi, Finland is the most extensively forested country in Europe. There are about 4,5ha of forest to every Finn, of which there are about 5-million. Aki, a Finn from the country’s embassy in South Africa who has visited Mpumalanga, says he saw many trees there too, but they looked planted for industry. Finland, instead, has maintained its forests, adding some trees, but always trying to make it hard for tourists to tell which are for industry.
It is Tuesday and, following a cruise along the Baltic Sea, my group is visiting Nuuksio national park. We take a bus from Helsinki and stop among — surprise! — some trees. We are going to experience some of the most beautiful forests in Finland. A man in a multicoloured cap, jeans and a lumberjack-type shirt greets us. What hair he has is quite light.
"Hello, I am Pekka and welcome to our forest. We go for a walk and then we drink coffee, OK? Coffee is wonderful," he says.
According to research by Alwyn van der Merwe, Sanlam Investment Management’s director of investments, Finns drink more coffee per capita than any other nation. The average Finn drinks 1,400 cups of coffee a year.
Pekka Väänänen’s company Green Window operates in Nuuksio. Judging by our 30-minute bus ride, one could argue Nuuksio is near the city. But there is no sign of city slickers other than my tour group.
"Don’t disturb the elves," Mari, a Finnish organiser, warns.
"There are elves? Do Finns really believe in magic?" I ask.
"I don’t know what you mean by magic but elves are real. You may just see one," she says.
Nuuksio’s valleys and gorges were created during the Ice Age. I know I will not see mammoths and other creatures from that time but elves — I am now determined to see one.
I did not see any elves in any forest but I was still able to be Fox Mulder of the X-Files for a few minutes. I spotted something that looked like a dog with wings and fangs. I was convinced it was la chupacabra, a mythical creature that kills goats in Latin America.
Back in Nuuksio, we are, I assume, halfway through our trip, when Pekka shows us a flower. I am not sure what it is called.
"Give it to a beautiful person. It will bring them luck" he says.
Well, I like my tour group, and the respective Finnish embassies in each of their countries chose well. I am looking around for a pretty person, and many of the girls already have flowers. I give mine to Ekatha from India. "I hope he’s right," I say.
Next, we pick blueberries. Pekka also picks mushrooms, showing us which are edible and which are also edible but with side effects.
"These ones will make your stomach unhappy. These red ones will make you see things and not sleep," he says. "But the blueberries go well with coffee."
It is slightly darker, so it must be nearly 8pm. We have been drinking average-strength coffee. Some people wet their feet in the lake in front of us, while I drink more.
Half an hour or so later, Pekka says the salmon he was smoking is ready. It is the finest I have eaten in my life; so juicy. I hear the food is from restaurant Metsätähti. It’s a Finnish surname. The boys drink copious amounts of wine with it, while the girls go to do something else that also involves smoke — "they go to sauna".
The rest of us also conclude the day by going to sauna, a popular but also spiritual activity in Finland. It is a tradition that came from people wanting to make their bodies stronger for the winters — to build their sisu, or strength of will.
Nowadays, Finns sauna throughout the year. It is a peaceful setting. I do not think intimacy accurately describes it but I feel stripped of stress.
* The writer was hosted by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
I gave birth to the cutest girl in April and she has become my world ever since. I would never imagine that sleepless nights, sore nipples, poop problems and permanent exhaustion could light up my life so much.
They say Nordic countries have two seasons: a cold season and a very cold one. I tend to agree especially when winter lasts painfully long.
This time the very cold season began in October 2010. Long nights, frosty grey days and two-meter high snowdrifts brought me to extremely low spirits. My mode of life was very uneventful, boring and filled with distress. I had a terrible job, health problems, boyfriend blues and dreaded a huge change in the near future.
The Huge Change was a marriage proposal and a move to Finland, the country that dramatically differs from Russia and where I knew nobody but my husband. Besides I supposed the town we were going to live was so small in comparison with St. Petersburg that there would be nothing to do. That was the right assumption.
Anyways, the decision had been made. I moved in mid-February, married in March and began to get settled in Finnish suburbia fighting back boredom and frustration. A tough thing to do.
These days I often recall Francesca (a character from “The Bridges Of Madison County”) who once said: “When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details. You become a mother, a wife and you stop and stay steady so that your children can move. And when they leave they take your life of details with them. And then you're expected move again only you don't remember what moves you because no-one has asked in so long. Not even yourself.”
…And I start to wonder if I am actually capable of leaving the swinging twenty-something life behind and ready to dedicate myself to my brand-new family.
Last visit to gynaecologist's was quite stressing. She nagged at me for gaining 6 lb in three weeks. She believed that weekly gain should be 1 lb max and warned that those extra pounds would hamper in labour.
Frustrated, I called another doctor who said that an average woman gained up to 35 lb during pregnancy and I had nothing to worry about. What a relief!
I also googled how much weight I should gain. There goes the answer:
Based on your pre-pregnancy body size, a healthy weight gain to aim for is:
- Underweight - gain 28-39lb - Normal - gain 25-35lb - Overweight - gain 15-25lb - Very overweight - gain at least 15 lb
A few months back I found out that I was pregnant. What a tearful discovery it was! I told no one but mum. My boyfriend was the second to know after a visit to the clinic.
The first ultrasound showed a little black spot with a tiny white heart. "Meet the baby!" the doctor solemnly announced and my life has never been the same again.
On the way home I purchased a couple of magazines to glimpse into what I'm about to go through. There was a whole new world of healthy life style, proper nutrition, pelvic floor workouts and nappy changing.
How am I supposed to learn all that within 9 months and become a super mom?