Sunday, July 29, 2012

Finland Friends

Sometimes the best parts about traveling in a completely foreign land are the unexpected friendships that you make. Corey and I arrived in Finland without knowing a soul, and after one week in Helsinki, came away with a handful of lovely Finns whom we can now call friends.  On our third night in Helsinki, we were invited by the vibrant Kristiina Drews, a friend of a friend, to a public Finnish sauna, followed by a typical post-sauna dinner with her vivacious, energetic and very tall sons, and her amazing sculptor husband, Antero Toikka.

The sauna house along the Vantaa river outside of Helsinki was built in a small village in Northern Finland and was brought to Helsinki in the 1950s.  The sauna, which allocates separate times for men and women to use every evening, seats about 30 people when it’s filled to the brim. Corey and I were shocked at the amount of energy created by the constant inpour and outpour of women (leaving the sauna to jump in the river) and by the sheer heat of that room!  No pictures were taken during the amazing sauna event, but this unique experience is something everyone should try for himself or herself, at least once, if not at any opportunity!

After sauna came “sauna sausage,” a dinner of sausage, potatoes, rye bread, halumi cheese, wine, vodka, accordion, guitar, and a lot of singing, and much more laughter. And after sauna sausage came cardamom coffee, which isexactly what it sounds like; filter coffee with freshly ground cardamom – Kristiina’s preferred way to drink her coffee. DELICIOUS. Why haven’t we thought of mixing these two amazing flavors together before? Genius! This night could not have been more perfect.

The next evening we were again invited for an intimate dinner at home, only this time, it was an outdoor barbeque and the family wasn’t related by blood but buy a common love of specialty coffee. Kalle, the Finnish correspondent and blogger for the Nordic Coffee Culture Blog was head chef and host, crafting some of the tastiest hamburgers we’ve had on this side of the Atlantic. We were joined by Milla from Johan and Nystrom, Niki from Kaffa, and Lauri from Good Life Coffee. The weather was perfect, the food superb, and the company sublime.

Thank you to all of our new friends from Helsinki: The Toikka’s: Kristiina, Antero, Mikko, Kalle (& co.), Lauri, and our favorite Finnish baristas: Milla, Kalle, Nikki, Lauri, and to the friendly folks we met at various markets throughout Helsinki: Jukka, and Line. And thank you Finland, for giving us such a surprising and colorful experience!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Toripojat at Kauppatori

One of the most unique things about Finnish culture is the abundance of market squares and market halls that thrive in the cities. On our first day out in Helsinki, Corey and I, struggling to follow the map in search of cafes we had marked, stumbled into the Kauppatori market along the water. Spellbound by the colorful vegetable and fruit stands, and intrigued by the reindeer meatballs and moose sausage stalls, we grazed the stands for over an hour. Since it was lunchtime, I decided on reindeer meatballs with potatoes and lingenberry jam (amazing) and Corey ordered a bowl of salmon bisque (also amazing, I tried a bite!).

After lunch we continued through the market, and to our surprise, discovered a little cafe stall selling coffee to a crowded line of customers from two steaming percolators and pastries kept warm in two giant pots on a pair of make-shift stoves. Where were we? We asked ourselves.

We seemed to be surrounded by sailors and old men who seemed quite content, so we ordered exactly what they ordered: a coffee and a possumunkki pastry. This raspberry filled, sugar toped, donut-y confection literally means “young pig” (possu) “priest in a monastery” (munkki), although we aren’t quite sure why, since the shape of the pastry didn’t exactly resemble a young pig-priest. Sometimes you just don’t ask questions.

Pekka Havanto, a talkative Finn drinking coffee and eating one of these possumunkkis, explained that the café (called Toripojat) was known as the President’s café, since the presidential office and town hall is located just across the street. Apparently the President of Finland for 30 years, Urho Kekkonen, was a regular at this cafe in the market, and often brought official diplomats visiting from abroad with him.

Pekka explained that this market square is like a second home for many Helsinki residents. “I come to the market every two weeks to eat fish and then have a cup of coffee and then a cone of ice-cream. I always come to this café,” he said sternly. In response to my question what is Finnish café culture? He said, “We wake up in the morning and must have our cup of coffee. Coffee is a normal, every day routine. It has no luxurious element. Just like bread and butter, you have your coffee.” This "no frills" attitude was very apparent at Toripojat, and although the décor and menu were more than simple, this place seemed to attract everybody – locals, tourists and presidents.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Farmors Cafe

Hello Finland. Or “Hyvää päivää”, as it’s said in this country.  Neither Corey nor I have been to Finland before, and as of yesterday, every aspect of this country seemed completely foreign to us. Everything from the language to the public transportation system made us feel as though we were out of our element and far away from the familiarities of Stockholm, which we had come to call home for the last three weeks. That feeling dissipated quickly as our ferry docked on the island of Hiittinnen and we walked a short distance, along the flower covered path to the village of Högsåra, and finally arrived at Farmors Café.

A sense of  being at “home” came over us immediately, as we filled our hungry tummies with fish soup, feta salad and hot coffee. We breathed in the fresh island air, and exhaled a sigh of relief.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day, so we sat at one of the picnic tables on the outdoor veranda. We were truly in heaven with a view of the garden, sheep and the rabbits; surrounded by playing children and friends eating and drinking together.

Farmors café is family run by Mother Ylva, Father Mats, and daughters Alexandra and Amanda. Most of the employees are childhood friends of Alexandra and Amanda who also grew up on the island. We met the adorable Amanda as she was running around the café barefoot – just having woken up from a long night of baking and ready to go again.  This is the busiest time of year at Farmors cafe, as July brings boaters docking on the island and guests from all over Europe to the café.

It wasn’t long before the history of the house was shared with us over coffee and conversation with Mats and Ylva.  The house, some 300 years old, has been in the family for generations. It was always used as a “Lill Stuga,” a place where grandparents retire to after moving out of the main family house, a tradition common in Finnish culture.  Mats’ grandparents were the last to live in the house fulltime before the house turned into a summer cottage. This summer cottage became Mats and Ylva’s favorite place to be, and when their daughters were young, they often entertained guests who came to visit, serving coffee and cakes that Ylva baked.  “The café naturally developed,” explains Ylva. “It started small and then grew and grew, and now we have 15-20 employees along with the entire family here during the summer.”  Mats, a sea pilot and professor by trade,  drove us around the island so that we could closely inspect the three giant wind-turbines that power the island. In fact, Hiittinnen has the highest ratio of wind-turbines to residents. Högsåra has a population of 50 during the year, and triples during the summer with the influx of summerhouse visitors. The café runs on energy produced by the wind-turbines, so not only is this café idyllic, but it’s green too!

Back at the café we were invited to coffee and dessert; an assortment of blueberry, strawberry, caramel and carrot cakes and a giant meringue covered in whipped cream, strawberries and mint leaves. The food and cakes at Farmors Café were overwhelmingly delicious and beautiful. All of the pastries were sprinkled with edible flowers or summer fruits, most of them grown in their own garden. “We only serve food we like to eat ourselves,” said llva, and they don’t put any money into advertising. Somehow, miraculously, people find out about this café on this tiny island in the Finnish archipelago and somehow, thankfully, we did as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Friends of Adam

I am on a constant search for delicious gluten-free goodies since I became gluten free three years ago. It’s easy at home, when I can cook and bake myself, but in Stockholm; the land of cardamom buns, it’s a bit tougher to find sweets to enjoy with my delicious coffee. That’s why I was overjoyed to discover FriendsOfAdam, a gluten free bakery just a few blocks from our friend Jen’s Apartment (and our temporary home) in Sodermalm. Karin Moberg, the founder, left her corporate career to open FriendsOfAdam after her son was diagnosed with celiac, on the assumption that “Everyone should be able to eat good bread.”

EVERYTHING they bake is delicious. From the weightless cardamom cookies to the perfectly textured Danish rye bread, to their own version of the Swedish cinnamon buns, to their melt-in-your-mouth muffins (the kind that are light and buttery, unlike the usually dense and heavy gluten free muffins one finds) – I was in heaven. Oh, and their flat bread and crackers are perfect too.  As Corey and I packed for Finland today, I slowly ate my last slice of fruit-and-nut bread thinking that I wouldn’t have this feeling – the feeling that I’m eating “real” bread for a while again. But, who knows, maybe I will discover other amazing gluten free bakeries in the other Nordic countries?! After all, we’ve only seen Sweden.

Tack so mycket, FriendsOfAdam, for filling my tummy with love!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Foreigner Fika

After so much discussion about the Swedish term 'fika', and after seeing it in action at L'Oreal, and in all the cafes we have been visiting, Sam and I decided to give our own a shot. Now, it might not have been the most traditional of fikas, but it was wonderful all the same.

On a beautiful Sunday, we invited a few friends over to Jennifer's garden to share the afternoon with us over coffee, cardamom bulles, and a few unconventional items...

Give one a try! You won't be disappointed.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Coolest thing since sliced bread....

Oh wow this is cool.

This is so cool.

Okay all you bread makers out there (Ben Heller I am looking at you), have you ever tried to make sourdough? Well, if you have, you know that it is a process not for the faint hearted. Much like Kombucha, sourdough bread requires a mother, or a 'starter' that needs to be cared for.
(Why don't they call it sourdough pet?)

Well...what happens if you have to go on vacay? If you are lucky to be a Swede, and you get a month off for vacation every summer (I know), then this is quite a problem for your little sourdough pomeranian.

No fear! Urban Deli Bageriet is here! They have set up a 'Sourdough Hotel' where you can drop off your little guy while you are away, and they will take care of it, and if you are lucky, use some of it for their own bread. How cool is that?!!

Beyond the hotel, they have a great cafe that serves a plethora of good food and good coffee. They also have a sandwich bar so you can compliment their amazing bread with some cheese, meat, or vegetables.

So cool.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kaffe Verket at Snickerbacken 7

Sam and I had a difficult time finding Kaffe Verket. We walked up and down the main shopping street in Stockholm; Birger Jarlsgatan, for about an hour, searching for Snickerbacken 7. On the verge of giving up, we glimpsed a white bicycle advertising our destination, somewhat intrigued and very relieved, we promptly turned left to follow the arrow.

A few months ago, before arriving in Scandinavia, we came across this cafe on Emma's Design Blog, and have been keen to visit it ever since we arrived in Stockholm. Although it was hard to find, the space, the coffee, and the food were worth the search.

What I found so incredible about Snickerbacken 7 is the architecture (I wonder why..). It was constructed as a horse carriage stable in the late 1800's, then served as a garage, then an office space, and now is part cafe, part meeting area, and part commercial space. Quite transformative to say the least...

Kaffe Verket is the first thing you experience upon entering the structure. The space has 'modern' elements while also allowing the historic architecture to breath. The cafe focuses on making quality coffee and food, which you can catch a glimpse of while standing in line. The pastry display is extra beautiful, and we were drooling over everything on their lunch menu; the 'pulled pork glassnudlar with sugar snaps and mango salsa' was particularly eye catching (and I'm a vegetarian!).

What's so special about this cafe is its interaction with the space it inhabits. There is a very public feel as you come off of the street, and into the entryway of the building, where the cafe exists. Then, once you grab your coffee and croissant, you walk down the hallway littered with brass table tops, and feel the walls a bit closer and the light a bit dimmer as you enter the back room where there is a large table for groups to eat, or people to meet. From there you can peruse the two lovely shops that occupy this space, or just take in the coziness and sit for a bit.

Well done. Well done. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Sture Katten Konditori, in Stockholm’s Östermalm district, is a cafe completely unchanged since its inception. The furniture and décor have been unaltered since the cafés opening in the early 1920s and one can feel the history in every room of the establishment. “Nothing has changed in the café except the cups,” Johan Holm tells me as he sits with his wife and two friends. “My mom used to work up the street from Sture Katten in the 60s and I would spend time here after visiting her at work. Some of my earliest memories come from this place.” After years of living abroad in the U.S., Johan is back for a visit to his hometown of Stockholm, and is comfortably seated in his favorite couch, in his favorite café in Sweden, just a few hours after landing.

Corey and I spent all day investigating the somewhat unkempt allure of Sture Katten.  The blueberry cake with vanilla sauce and dammsugare (my new favorite Swedish pastry) were popular among the patrons, and many made use of the Swedish tradition of Påtår (free refills).  The coffee at Sture Katten is self serve; two hot plates keeping the coffee warm in both of the couch filled rooms.

The story goes something like this: Sture Katten was opened by Anna Skog, a baker and entrepreneur in the early 1900s. Originally, she lived in the house where Sture Katten exists today and the café operated across the street.  At some point Anna asked her landlord if she could bake on the ground floor of her house. He said yes, and eventually the second and third floor became the café and the top floor became her home. Anna was somewhat of a feminist and only hired women to work at Sture Katten. She baked delicious pastries, which are still served today. She was also a meticulous bookkeeper, and the current owner, Marc Ackrame, let us take a look at the Sture Katten books from 1958! Every single item was entered daily in the binder, from eggs to yeast to employees’ wages.

We spent hours in Sture Katten on a warm day in July and observed the many guests; older friends meeting for fika, a grandmother with her grandchildren, families and couples, young and old.  The café draws customers, even in the summertime. “But wait until Christmas,” Johan tells me, “Christmas shopping always ends here, and it's impossible to get a table.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thanks Erik!

While in Gothenburg we got to meet up with a friend, or shall I say, meet a friend for the first time. Our contact with him started via email through the Swedish Consulate in NYC while we were trying to raise funds and awareness for our project. Erik responded to our email, and was one of the first people to show interest in our work.

Also, Erik is a wonderful photographer, so during our tour around Gothenburg the camera got turned on us for a change.

Here are some of the pictures that Erik took while showing us around his hometown.

Thanks Erik!

Also, check out more of his photographs here:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fika at Work

Through our time spent in Sweden we have explored the gathering ritual of Fika; breaking for a coffee and sweets, and its resonance in the Swedish culture. Fika can either happen at home or in the workplace, and can occur as often as everyday, or as little as once a week. With every cultural ritual there is a tendency for its importance to be overlooked, and we have found that Swedes don’t usually recognize Fika as a particularly special event. We, on the other hand, are enraptured with the consistency and normalcy of this habit. The ability to have a small party where you eat cookies and cake, drink coffee, and take a break from work is something reserved to holidays, or birthdays in the US, and is definitely not a daily occurrence. 

Thanks to our dear friend, Rebecca Waller, we were able to join a work fika at the L’Oréal offices in Stockholm. This is what we learned:
·      Fika at L’Oréal used to occur daily, but because of the increase in work load it is now once a week, which makes it extra special.
·      Fika happens every Thursday at 3pm and everyone in the division must be there.
·      The person in charge of buying the sweets and setting up the Fika rotates on a weekly basis and extra points are given to those who bring home made treats.
·      The conversation is naturally kept non work-related and as a result, folks get to know each other on a more personal level.
·      This break from work allows for a much appreciated rest and results in a re-energized, happier group of people.
·      If the sun is out, fika is without a doubt taken outside. If it’s rainy, fika is taken indoors and the tables are pushed together. Fika must always occur at one table.

The fika table we joined on Thursday afternoon offered Canel Bullar (the most popular and typical Swedish coffee accompaniment), cookies and “vacuum cleaners” (Sam’s favorite treat in Sweden!). The sun was shining and everyone was enjoying the pastries, the coffee, and the time spent together. 

Tack så mycket L'Oréal!