Sunday, July 27, 2014

FINLAND: THE FOOD


I’ve been waiting for this day since I found these recipes. And it comes after I finally filed for my LLC with the state to start my proofreading and editing business.  Now, I’m just waiting for my debit card in order to get started.  So, its somewhat of a celebratory meal. It’s just that these recipes are perfect for fall weather when it’s 40 degrees and not 82 degrees in July. Maybe it’ll bring on the cooler weather. (Actually, we’re supposed to drop 10-20 degrees by tomorrow, so I believe it’s working.)

Small but mighty.  
The first thing I started with is a rye bread called rieska.  The preparation was rather simple: mixing together rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt, then adding in butter and buttermilk.  After I formed it into a ball, I laid it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  I put it in the oven for about 40 minutes. My bread seemed a little small. I suppose I could’ve flattened it out a bit. I wondered if I should’ve made three more since I’m not sure if the rest of my family will get any.  But really, it was surprisingly big enough.

I completely underestimated how good this was. It would go well with a strong cup of coffee. 
After this, I made a Finnish blueberry pie called mustikkapiirakka. First, I cut a ton of butter (like, a stick and a quarter) into caster sugar.  Caster sugar is something new to me, but it’s basically just superfine sugar preferring in baking and in drinks since it dissolves in liquid better. Then I beat in one egg and added in some vanilla extract.  I didn’t realize that I was pretty much out of vanilla, so I threw in what I had and added a little almond extract.  I sifted in some rice flour and baking powder and mixed until it was consistent. And since I forgot to get a pie tin or tart tin, I used a round springform cake pan instead.  I spread the crust dough on the bottom and up the sides as well, smoothing it with my fingers. A pint of fresh blueberries filled the bottom.  In a separate bowl, I mixed sour cream, buttermilk, more caster sugar, an egg, and some more almond extract (or vanilla if I had any). Once I stirred it until it was smooth, I poured this on top of the blueberries and baked it for 30 minutes. At this point, I lowered the heat and kept it in for another 30 minutes. It wasn’t as sweet as I thought it was going to be, but it was more of a natural sweet.  I LOVED it.  I have a feeling there won’t be any left for my breakfast, though.  Maybe I should hide the rest. That’s what I have to do to keep my husband from eating all the chocolate, and I’m moderately successful at that.

Paradise topped with potatoes. 
The main meal for today is merimiespata, or Finnish beef and beer stew. I used a casserole dish for this, and put a layer of sliced and salted potatoes in the bottom. Then I added a layer of browned stew beef (sautéed with salt and pepper), topped with a layer of sautéed and sugared onions, followed by another layer of the potatoes. I poured in a bottle of beer (I couldn’t find any beer from any Nordic or Baltic country, so I used Leffe Blonde from Belgium.) and added enough beef stock to cover the potatoes. After adding a bay leaf, I put it in the oven for two hours.  This, by far, was one of the most awesome dishes I’ve made.  I picked a good beer to make this with; it wasn’t overpowering to the dish.  And it was definitely worth the wait. I’m certainly going to pull this recipe back out when it gets colder. 

All of my favorites together. 
I truly enjoyed writing about Finland. Besides the fact that I think the Finnish language looks kind of hard and their words seem as long as German words, I think I would really like to visit Finland one day.  Maybe in the summer, though.  The food we ate today was delicious, and yet, there weren’t many spices that went into it. Outside of the blueberry pie perhaps, it was generally simple to make but full of flavor.  I think these recipes are good to file as ones using only a few ingredients. For a country that I knew only a little about, Finland is now on my long list of countries I want to visit. 

Up next: France

Saturday, July 26, 2014

FINLAND: MUSIC AND DANCE


In Finland, the older folk music form is based on the ancient poem collection called the Kalevala. The form consists of a type of chanting or “poem singing,” which is centered around a trochaic (one long stressed syllable followed by a short unstressed syllable) tetrameter (the first five notes of a scale). The lyrics are alliterative and sung about heroes. These songs were not written down; the singers performed these from memory, either as a solo or with a chorus.



Pelimanni is a type of tonal Nordic folk dance music that was also performed in Finland. Generally, pelimanni relied on the fiddle, clarinet, harmonium (a type of reed organ), and accordions. The polska, polka, mazurka, schottische, quadrille, waltz, and minuet all use the pelimanni style. There is also a type of rhyming sleigh song called rekilaulu that regained popularity in the 1920s, much to the chagrin to the church (although I’m not sure why).

Finnish dance was influenced by dances from France and Poland as well as others from Germany and surrounding countries. The oldest dances were the minuet and the polska. These could be danced by couples or modified as a circle or chain dance. Quadrilles (more or less a French-adopted English country dance) also made their way to Finland. Even though these dances originated from other areas of Europe, Finland adopted them and made them their own. Purpuri are long ceremonial dances, which are actually made up of several smaller dances, especially the ones listed above. Essentially, there are three different areas of Finland, all with their own variations and folk dances: the Swedish-speaking areas in the east (closest to Sweden), Karelia (the area in the southeast near the Russian border), and the rest of Finland. The 1970s saw a boom in the interest in folk dancing, which waned in the 1980s. But it’s common for people to go through these waves of attention to it.



The Sami (also called Laplanders) are an indigenous group that lives in the northern part of Finland. (Actress Renée Zellweger’s mother has Kven [Finnish peasants who relocated to Sweden] and Sami in her ancestry). One of the well-known styles of Sami music is their spiritual songs called joik. At times, it can be similar to Native American music. Hip-hop artist Amoc is known for rapping in the Inari Sami language, which is spoken around the town of Inari. I’ve listened to most of his album Kaccâm. I really like it. He makes good use of strings in the accompaniment. It’s pretty catchy.



Helsinki and Turku were the cultural hotspots of Finland during the 1800s. A German composer Fredrik Pacius wrote the national anthem (“Vårt land/Maamme”) as well as the first Finnish opera. Jean Sibelius – one of my favorite composers – wrote one of his most famous symphonic poems, Finlandia, which played an important role in the fight for independence. It was rewritten with added lyrics, making it an important national hymn. It actually had to go by different names to keep it from being censored by the Russian government during occupation. The classical music scene in Finland was quite substantial. Many notable composers, musicians, and singers came out of this tradition. Opera has especially been a forte in the 20th century.



Rock arrived in Finland in the 1950s, and punk rock followed about 25 years later. One of the early rock bands that had the most influence is Hanoi Rocks. I listened to the album Up Around the Bend: The Definitive Collection.  Their sound shifts from 1980s hair band to 1980s punk rock. They influenced other glam rock bands such as Def Leppard, Poison, Mötley Crüe, and Guns N’ Roses. They were active from 1979-1985, and again from 2002-2009.



One rock band I found is The Rasmus.  Their music sounds a little like Linkin Park (minus the rap, just the rock). I kind of like them, too. And they sing in English. Another rock band I came across is Indica. This band’s lead singer is a female, and they sing in Finnish. Maybe it’s the tambourine that occasionally comes out, but it sounds like a little happier rock, I think. Anna Eriksson’s album Kaikista Kasvoista is pretty good. It has more of a pop-rock feel to it.



The band Apocalyptica is categorized as “cello metal.” This is a new term for me. (I’m wondering why there isn’t a French horn metal yet. I should make this happen.) But apparently, this is basically metal with a strong cello (and occasionally other string instruments) section. I kind of like it. I know I’ve talked smack about metal before, but it’s slowly growing on me. Of course, it’s growing on me at the speed of a glacial retreat, but still.  One heavy metal band I listened to is Amorphis.  Even though they span various styles of metal, they use sections of the Kalevala as inspiration for their lyrics. I’ve always had a problem with what’s called “growling vocals” or “death growl” in metal music, but apparently there are vocal techniques you can use to not totally blow out your vocal chords. (I once had a composition professor who did that.) And this technique goes back to the Viking days. Who knew?



My cousin introduced me to the band Korpiklaani, a folk-metal band. I wasn’t so impressed with one of the folk-metal bands I listened to when I was doing Estonia, but I like this band. They have a hard skateboard punk beat to some of their songs, although a lot of their songs makes me think of Gogol Bordello tripping on acid. I liked the album Manala that I listened to. (It's available through iTunes for $11.99.) They certainly changed my mind about folk-metal.

Finnish musicians aren’t just about rock and metal. There is a small hip-hop culture as well. One rapper I came across that I like is Amoc, who I mentioned earlier. He uses strings and mixes a jazz-blues-soul-funk with standard hip-hop behind his music. And as I mentioned, one of the things that make him different is that he doesn’t rap in Finnish, but in Inari Sami, the Sami variety that is spoken near the town of Inari. He’s pretty good. I listened to the album Kaccâm and was fairly impressed. It’s also available on iTunes for $9.90.



Finland also has their fair share of trance, techno, and electronica DJs. One of my favorites is Darude.  I loved the song “Sandstorm.” I’m also a huge trance and techno fan, so of course the album Before the Storm (where this song is from) piqued by interest. To me, this is the perfect album and perfect kind of music to work to. I also listened to JS16’s Stomping System album. I think I liked most of the songs on this album. A couple of the songs were used in the video game, Dance Dance Revolution. JS16 is also a produced; he produced Darude’s hits “Sandstorm” and “Feel the Beat.”



Up next: the food

Thursday, July 24, 2014

FINLAND: ART AND LITERATURE


Finns have certainly made their mark of distinction in the field of architecture.  And certainly, Finnish architects have been influenced by both Sweden and Russia.  Spanning nearly 800 years, Finnish architecture excelled in several different styles, such as Art Nouveau, Nordic Classicism, and Functionalism.



Early form of buildings was called kota, a type of hut or tent covered in fabric, moss, or timber. Later, buildings were built primarily of timber, using a variety of construction techniques. Saunas were also an important structure as well. Church construction added a level of difficulty in comparison with home construction: large windows and larger scale; many churches were built using a “cross plan,” in other words, in the shape of a cross.  Stone was generally used for castles and a few churches. By the end of the Middle Ages, other buildings began using stone as well. The mid-18th Century brought along the Neoclassical style.

Auditorium at the Univ. of Technology by Alvar Aalto (Helsinki, Finland)

Two of the most prolific modern architects are Alvar Aalto and Eliel Saarinen. Alvar Aalto was recognized as a prolific artist in many mediums: sculptures, paintings, furniture, textiles, and glassware. His architecture spanned from Nordic Neoclassicism in the beginning to functionalism and then monumentalism, with some experimentation mixed in the transitions.

First Christian Church by Eliel Saarinen (Columbus, Indiana)
I didn’t realize that there is a closer tie to architect Eliel Saarinen.  Not only did he design several well-known buildings in Finland, such as the rail stations in Helsinki (Central) and Vyborg and the National Museum of Finland, but he later moved to the United States and kept designing. The city of Columbus, Indiana (known for its architecture) is the city where my parents grew up, and I still have a lot of family there. Eliel designed the First Christian Church, while his son Eero Saarinen went on to design the Irwin Union Bank, the Miller House and Garden, and the North Christian Church. Eero would go on to be more famous than his father by giving us the St. Louis Gateway Arch, Dulles International Airport, and many other buildings.

North Christian Church by Eero Saarinen (Columbus, IN) -- I was fascinated by this building as a kid. 

Early Finnish literature was either written in Latin or in Swedish.  The majority of literature at this time was law and government records, and religious texts. The first work to be translated into Finnish was The New Testament, translated by Mikael Agricola.

The 19th Century was a busy time for those collecting folklore stories. Folk stories and fairytale collections were quite popular in Finnish-language literature. Many of these stories came from Karelia, an area in eastern Finland that was at one time considered the essence of Finland but later was taken by Russia as the spoils of war.  The Finnish Literary Society is to thank for the collection of many of these folk stories and poems, published as Suomen Kansan Vanhat Runot (Ancient Poems of the Finnish People). Altogether, it is 27,000 pages in 33 volumes. However, the most famous collection is Kalevala.  It’s an epic poem, often viewed as a representation of Finnish nationalism. Aleksis Kivi’s novel Seven Brothers was the first novel written in Finnish, published in 1870. 



After Finland gained independence, Frans Eemil Sillanpää became the first person from Finland to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, often writing about civil war. Väinö Linna followed the same theme in his novel The Unknown Soldier. The movie adaptation is broadcast on television every Independence Day, making it a tradition for many Finns. In the 1950s, poets began taking on the styles of American and British poetry, as well as translating Latin and Greek epic poetry into Finnish.  Notable poets of this time period include Paavo Haavikko, Eeva-Liisa Manner, Eino Leino, Otto Manninen, and Pentti Saarikoski. 

Because Swedish is still spoken by a sizable amount of Finns, there is also a section of Swedish-language literature here as well. The poem “Our Land,” written by Johan Ludvig Runeberg, was considered more or less of a national anthem, well before the official declaration of independence. Perhaps, one of the most well known Swedish-language works published in Finland are the Moomin books by Tove Jansson. What also makes this unique is that it’s in the form of a comic book (it was actually a series of nine books produced between 1945-1993.). Another Swedish-language children’s author from Finland is Irmelin Sandman Lilius. She’s also written books for adults (including several biographies), translated works, and has worked as a reviewer.



Up next: music and dance

Monday, July 21, 2014

FINLAND: HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS


New Year’s Day.  January 1. New Year’s celebrations are huge and celebrated in larger-than-life fashion. Cities and towns and organizations will hold their own fireworks displays. Some people choose to celebrate at home, but others attend huge New Year’s parties held in bars, clubs, or restaurants; or even gala New Year’s balls. Some of the informal parties may include smörgåsborg of simple hot and cold dishes and desserts accompanied by tea and coffee (yes, please. I’ve traditionally served Brazilian feijoada on New Year’s Eve, but I may try smörgåsborg this year.). Champagne toasts are common at the strike of midnight. Large crowds gather in Senate Square in Helsinki to bring in the New Year.  One tradition is the casting of the tin. People will get a small piece of tin and have it melted and cast in the shape of a horseshoe, a symbol of good luck.  And of course, there are a lot of “predict the future” superstitions that are said and adhered to as well.



Epiphany.  January 6. This is the day that Western Christians often attribute to as the day when the Three Wisemen (or Magi) visited the baby Jesus.  Other Christians celebrate this day as the day Jesus was baptized and the marking of Jesus’ first miracle during the wedding at Cana. Churches may hold special services or events for this day.


Good Friday/Easter/Easter Monday.  Varies. In Finland, Good Friday is extremely solemn. Traditionally, many activities were banned on Good Friday (although it’s somewhat relaxed a little these days): you didn’t visit friends or laugh too much or dance; lighting a fire to cook was forbidden too, so you would make a lot of food the day before to last for a few days. Holy Saturday used to be thought of as the day that witches would come down from the mountains, so bonfires would be lit to ward them off. Easter Sunday starts off with Easter egg hunts for the children. Instead of the Easter bunny leaving chocolate eggs, they believe a cockerel [a young rooster] leaves the eggs instead (which sort of makes more sense than a rabbit).



May Day. May 1.  May Day in Finland is related to the pagan celebration Walpurgis, also seen as a spring holiday. And for those who love calm and quiet, this holiday may not be for you. The night before, people head to pubs and restaurants, bringing the party aura with them to the streets. Wild hats and masks are donned, along with balloons, pom-poms, noisemakers, and horns. It’s almost like a Finnish Carnival. And of course, there’s always my old friend and enemy: alcohol. Pickled herrings and fritters are commonly eaten on May Day. This day is doubly celebrated as Labor Day, a day to celebrate the worker.

Ascension Day.  Varies. This is the day Christians believe that Jesus ascended into heaven after being resurrected.  The day falls 40 days after Easter. Some churches hold a special service to formally extinguish the Pascal Candle (or Easter Candle). Some churches even bless fruits and vegetables on this day.

Pentecost.  Varies. Also called Whitsunday, this day is 50 days after Easter, or 10 days after Ascension.  This day marks the end of the Easter season and is celebrated as the day that the Holy Spirit presented itself to the disciples. It’s also a common day for baptisms.  In some areas of Finland (as well as Estonia), eggs are also dyed at Pentecost, because hens often don’t lay their eggs until around this time.



Midsummer Eve/Midsummer Day.  Varies. This holiday is a celebration of the hopes for a good harvest and for light (the farther north you go, the sun doesn’t set in the summer at all). Since the old days, bonfires were lit the night before to ward off the evil spirits and to hope for good crops. People will set up their outdoor parties around these bonfires, including dancing and eating. The Midnight Sun myth is often retold: a young maiden picked seven flowers on the longest day of the year and put them under her pillow, and when she slept, her future husband showed up in her dreams. And everyone takes the traditional swim at night in the lake or sea. This holiday has now been moved to the Saturday that falls between June 20 and June 26. It’s not an official holiday, but it’s very important to the people of Finland.

All Saint’s Day.  Varies. Traditionally, this has been a feast day honoring all of the saints. It’s also treated as a day to visit the gravesites of loved ones and to take care of the grave.  Normally held on November 1, it has been moved to the Saturday that falls between October 31 and November 6.



Independence Day.  December 6. This day celebrates Finland’s declaration of independence from Russia in 1917.  The day starts with the official raising of the Finnish flag at Tähtitorninmäki in Helsinki as everyone else displays their own flags around their home.  A large presidential reception, held at the Presidential Palace with nearly two thousand guests, is broadcast on television. People will also visit war memorials if they can, or watch the TV broadcast of the movie The Unknown Soldier. Family and friends gather together to share traditional foods.

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.  December 24-25. Lapland in northern Finland is known for their reindeer, so it comes as no surprise that Finnish children know Santa Claus must be a Finn.  It’s said that he descends from the top of Mt. Korvatunturi near the town of Savukoski.  And of course, they know that Finnish children are the first to receive their gifts on Christmas Eve. For the few weeks before hand, families will decorate their homes, make all kinds of desserts and savory treats. One tradition takes place in the city of Turku; the Declaration of Peace is read just after the cathedral bell strikes noon. After lunch on Christmas Eve, many people head out to the sauna in the afternoon. Dinner is a selection of roast or pork, vegetables, sweets, rice pudding, and mulled wine. Gifts are handed out on Christmas Eve (a tradition we adopted in my family so that the grown-ups can sleep in Christmas morning), and Christmas Day is spent at home with family.



St. Stephen’s Day.  December 26. St. Stephen is the first Christian martyr. One tradition on this day is to take sleigh rides drawn by horses through the streets. An older tradition is having parades for the forthcoming brides, which is why it was also a popular day to be married. Now, there are dances held at restaurants and dance halls as a modern continuation of that tradition.

Every Sunday. All Sundays are considered official holidays but not so important as the others. When the government reduced the workweek to 40 hours per week, Saturdays were also considered a quasi-holiday as well. Shops can be open on Sunday, but usually on a shorter schedule (from noon to 6pm or so).  Finland also has a number of Flag Days, a sort of de facto holiday where you display the flag.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, July 20, 2014

FINLAND: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


My first experience with anything Finnish was the Finnish camp Salolampi at Concordia Language Villages in northern Minnesota (a group of total immersion language and culture camps).  I worked at the Japanese camp (Mori no Ike) for three summers in my early twenties. During orientation and other events, we would gather with all of the other camps and a few times; I met with some of the people who worked at Salolampi on occasion. I was fascinated with the northern European camps (Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and Finnish camps). Maybe I can go back one of these summers and work in their kitchen as a baker or something.

Salolampi, the Finnish camp of Concordia Language Villages. 


The name Finland goes back to references found on three rune-stones. It’s believed it was named after a tribe of people called the Finns. The Finnish word for Finland is Suomi, believed to be a Proto-Baltic cognate for the word for “land.”



Finland lies in northern Europe, just east of the Scandinavian states (Denmark, Norway, Sweden) and north of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). It’s bordered by Sweden and Norway to the west and north, Russia to the east, and Estonia to the south (and across the Gulf of Finland). This makes Finland one of the northernmost countries. In fact, only one world capital is farther north than Finland’s (and that’s Reykjavík, Iceland). Finland is the land of lakes and islands: it has over 179,000 islands and 188,000 lakes (take that, Minnesota and your ten thousand lakes.) Ice Age glaciers and their retreat formed many of these lakes and the flat, gravelly hillsides seen in much of Finland. Mountains are found in the far northern areas of the country, known as Lapland, which lies in the Arctic Circle. With nearly 86% covered in taiga forests and wetlands, Finland is one of the most forested countries in Europe. 



Archaeological evidence suggests that settlers moved into Finland sometime during the Stone Age (around 8500 BC). During the mid-1200s, Finland fell under the rule of the Swedes. At this time, only the peasants of the southern portions of the country spoke Finnish, while the northern regions spoke Sami. Those of the upper crust of society and government spoke Swedish. After the Reformation, Finland converted to Lutheranism. During the 1700s, Finland was literally caught in the middle of several wars between Sweden on one side and Russia on the other. In 1809, Alexander I took Finland in the name of Russia, where it remained a dependency until they declared their independence in 1917. Finland fought a couple wars with Russia during WWII, resulting in the ceding of three areas.  Prior to hosting the 1952 Summer Olympics, which brought many international visitors, Finland generally had an agricultural-based economy. It really tried to remain neutral in the Cold War, dominated by its neighbor Russia. During the 1980s, Finland made several changes regarding its economy and regulations, now making it one of the most stable countries in Europe and in the world.



Finland’s capital city, Helsinki, lies just across the gulf 50 miles north of Tallinn, Estonia.  With roughly 1.4 million people in the metro area, Helsinki was chosen to be a World Design City and has also ranked highly in best cities and most livable cities lists. The name Helsinki was given to the area where the first settlers landed, named after the Hälsingland Province in Sweden where they came from. I was surprised to see that the average temperatures rival those of Chicago. (I keep trying to convince my husband we should move to Helsinki, because the weather is similar. He’s a native Chicagoan, and he’s still not convinced.)

The Angry Birds theme park in Tampere, Finland.

Due to the large forested areas in Finland, timber, paper factories, and agriculture are important sectors of their economy.  However, their northerly locale creates some difficulty in growing an array of crops because of the shorter growing season.  Technology and information-based jobs are also rising in Finland. The open-source operating system Linux was created by a Finnish software engineer; the phone app Angry Birds was also developed in Finland as well as Nokia phones. Some of the world’s largest cruise ships were built in Finnish shipyards.


About 75% of Finns are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the largest churches in the world. In 2013, a little over 22% reported not following any religion at all.

Hei = Hello


In Finland, not only does Finnish have official status, but Swedish as well. In Lapland (the northernmost region), the Sami language also has official status there. Finnish is one of the few European languages that are not part of the Indo-European family of languages. The Finnish language is closer to Estonian and Hungarian than it is to the Scandinavian languages. You’ll also hear Russian, Estonian, Somali, English, and Arabic in the minority areas. The most popular foreign languages studied in school are English, German, and French. 

One of my favorite Internet memes.

About a quarter of the country lies above the Arctic Circle, which means that in the summer there, the sun does not fully set for nearly 73 consecutive days (sometimes called the “midnight sun.”).  In the winter, it doesn’t rise at all for close to 51 days in a row. Finland boasts one of the best educational systems in the world and one of the best healthcare systems as well. Finland’s press has also been ranked as one of the freest in the world. These things alone are probably what helped to rank Finland number two in the Gross National Happiness report by The Earth Institute. Much of their cuisine is based on fish and vegetables. They generally don’t eat as much red meat as other countries, but it is on the rise. However, the dish I chose uses beef, so call it what you will. It still sounds amazing. And I’m hungry just thinking about it.

Up next: holidays and celebrations

Sunday, July 13, 2014

FIJI: THE FOOD


It’s warmer in Indianapolis than it is in Suva, Fiji. But that’s not stopping me from eating their food.  It’s been a fairly good week for us: I’m finally going to be able to get my proofreading business up and running, and we got a heck of a deal on a used vehicle yesterday, so I’m on a roll!  And what better way to celebrate than to eat Fijian food. 

There are no words for this. Divine would be an understatement. 
The first thing I made today was babakau so that we could have something to snack on while we waited for the rest of dinner.  I mixed my flour, yeast, and sugar together with some warm water until it became dough consistency, letting it sit for about 20-30 minutes to rest. I rolled the dough out so that it wasn’t too thick or thin, about a quarter to a half-inch thick and cut it into triangles. It’s really humid today, so the dough kept sticking and stretching. No amount of flour was keeping it from doing that it seemed. But I manage to separate them, deep-frying the dough pieces until it was golden brown. I saw several different options or suggestions on how to eat it, but I went with butter and jam (I had blackberry and mango jam). I thought about chocolate syrup, powdered sugar, or Nutella. These were extremely good. It somewhat reminded me of a fried scone.

The biggest surprise of the day. I didn't think I would like this as much as I did. I stand corrected.

Today’s main dish is palusami.  It calls for taro leaves, but come on, this is Indiana. I definitely had to substitute for that one. I used Swiss chard for this. I love red or rainbow Swiss chard; it’s such a beautiful plant.  I removed the stalk from the chard and dipped them in hot water to make them more pliable (it didn’t help much though). In order to cover any holes or tears, I doubled up on the leaves and placed them in a ramekin as opposed to making it in my palm. I first placed some coconut cream (which was hard to find; it’s not the same as coconut milk or cream of coconut, but I did find it in the Vietnamese/Thai section of the international grocery store), followed by some canned corned beef (I really needed to add more) and topped with diced tomatoes and onion and a little salt, topped with more coconut cream.  Then I folded up the leaves around it like a little parcel, using toothpicks to keep it shut as best I could. After wrapping the whole ramekin up in tin foil, I placed them on a cookie and baked it at around 350º for 30 minutes. The original recipe calls to put each parcel in a covered dish, so I amended it a little. It also said this can be served either cold or warm; I prefer warm. The flavors of the corned beef and the Swiss chard were new to me, but it was so delicious.  It just needed more corned beef. The odd thing about coconut cream is that it comes in a block, life tofu but not as firm. When I think of coconut, I think of something sweet, but this was not really that sweet at all.

What's not to love? If everyone ate this, there would no more war.  
To go with this, I also chose an Indo-Fijian recipe for Fijian potato omelette. I think this is normally served at breakfast, but I think it’s merely a suggestion. I started out sautéing diced onion and spices (including dried mustard, cumin, anise in lieu of fennel [my husbands HATES fennel], cayenne, ginger, garlic, salt, black pepper, and fenugreek in lieu of “curry”). After about ten minutes, I took it off the heat and added it to some peas and potatoes (I had to cook the diced potatoes first).  I beat six eggs in a large bowl, and then added in the vegetable-spice mix into the egg mixture and stirred to coat everything evenly. Adding just a little bit of oil into the same skillet I used earlier and added in the eggs and vegetables, letting it cook on low heat, making sure it doesn’t burn (a perpetual problem for me). It was supposed to cook for 8-10 minutes, but because it was thick, it took closer to 15-18 minutes. The recipe suggested placing it under a grill to finish it, but I’m not even sure what that means. So, I just skipped that and hoped it wasn’t crucial. (That philosophy got me through high school, college, and insurance licensing. And here I am, awesome as ever.) It took a little longer than it said. The top took a long time to get done (maybe this is where the grill was coming into play, perhaps?) When it was done, I cut wedges of omelette and served it as a side dish to the palusami.

The zenith of perfection.
Everything about this meal was good.  It was an excellent combination of flavors, and it was best to eat them together.  My husband and I agree that we need to make these again.  As I was shopping for my ingredients yesterday, I went to grab something to drink for the drive home. And of course, I saw Fiji Water. Seeing how I have never had it simply because of its price, I finally relented only because I was cooking from Fiji today. And after I took my much-anticipated first sip of this expensive bottled water, I realized one thing: it tastes like the cheaper store-brand bottled water I normally get. Well, I hope they’re sending the money back to Fiji and that it’s going towards the people there. Bottled water rant aside, this whole meal was surprisingly really good. Better than some island countries I’ve tried to cook from.

Yes, proof of purchase. 
Up next: Finland

FIJI: MUSIC AND DANCE


Although Fiji is considered part of Melanesia (the group of islands generally closest to Australia and Papua New Guinea), their music tends to include Polynesian (group of islands farther east) styles as well.
Lali drum
Fijian folk music follows the trends of Polynesia. Folk music today includes modern instruments such as guitars, ukeleles, and mandolin (which I’m trying to teach myself to play), but also still incorporates traditional instruments as well.  Lali drums serve several functions, making it an important part of Fijian society.  It was used to call people together, to announce births, deaths, and war.  Lali drums can come in a few different sizes depending on the purpose and timber needed.  Another percussion instrument that may also be found in Fijian folk music is the derua: bamboo tubes of various sizes that are stamped on ground or mats. (I wonder if this is where The Blue Man Group got some of their ideas.)
Indo-Fijian music has a broader array of styles; Indian music has a long tradition, and the Indians who were brought to Fiji brought these along with them. One of the most popular forms is called Bhajans, devotional pieces accompanied by a harmonium (a smaller reed organ called a pump organ) and dholak (drums). (Every time I see the word “dholak,” I think it says “dalek.” My fellow Whovians understand.) Solo dholak players like Sashi Roy and Shailendra Prakash Sharma have developed different techniques of playing and have went on to be successful musicians.
dholak
Qawaali is also a devotional musical form from the northern areas of India and Pakistan that goes back at least 700 years.  In Fiji, there was a lack of tabla players, and they ended up getting together with dholak players and bhajan singers and brought qawaali up as popular musical form in Fiji. It’s become a new style of qawaali which has purists snubbing it, but that’s not stopping its popularity in Fiji.
Another style that has gained popularity is the ghazal, also having its roots in India and the Arab countries. It’s characterized by rhyming couplets and a refrain, expressing the dichotomy of the pain and beauty of love. Mushtari Begum, an Indian residing in Fiji, was awarded the title of “Queen of Ghazal” by the Indian High Consulate in 1973. Cassius Khan, a student of Begum currently living in Canada, is another among the world’s greatest ghazal musicians.

Meke is a word that encompasses all styles of traditional dance. Traditionally, these dances were only danced by people of the same gender: men-only dances and women-only dances. However, some of the dances from neighboring countries in the South Pacific use both men and women, and these also made their way into Fijian culture.  Music is highly incorporated into the meke. The dance uses wide energetic movements with both the legs and arms, including jumping and clapping. It definitely takes a certain amount of athleticism and balance to be able to do it correctly. If you are a fan of the show Survivor, meke was performed during the season it was filmed in Fiji. 
Some of the popular artists these days are Karuna Gopalan. His music is highly influenced by reggae with some shading of funk and rock.  Sung in English, the topics of the songs are the typical subjects you find in Caribbean and African reggae: social struggles, making your life better, living life, love (both lost and found). I’m a huge fan of reggae, so I really liked his music.

Another musician I found is Michelle Rounds. I listened to the album Michelle Rounds & Her Amazing Friends. The music panned from hip-hop to soft rock to reggae. Most of her music is sung in English, but a few of her friends sing/rap in other languages that I haven’t quite been able to figure out what it is. Some of the songs are hit and miss. I like some, but others are ok. She specializes in jazz and blues. (She's NOT the same Michelle Rounds who married Rosie O'Donnell, as I figured out.) 
Emosi Lomata’s music has elements of reggae and soft rock. The quality of the songs that I was listening to was sometimes too soft to hear. Maybe that’s a Spotify problem. But these songs weren’t doing anything for me. There wasn’t enough to draw me in. I’m kind of indifferent.

I also listened to Seru Serevi’s album Gunu Peni.  Based on the song titles, I believe he may be singing in Fijian. His style seems more like folk rock, reminding me a little of a Fijian John Denver. His song “Vunimaqo” is a remake of Jimmy Buffett’s “Volcano.” I laughed out loud when I figured this out.
Up next: the food

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

FIJI: ART AND LITERATURE


The earliest form of art found in Fiji is pottery.  Men typically excavate the clay used for pottery, but for the most part, the women are almost solely the potters. They will often have to work the clay by adding sand, kneading it, and letting it dry to get it to just the right texture needed to form pottery.  Unlike other cultures, Fijians do not glaze their work; instead they take certain plants and rub it onto the finished product to give it a varnished look as well as a waterproof quality.

By the time a girl growing up in the village reaches the age of ten, she will be taught mat and basket weaving. Palm fronds or pandanus leaves are usually used for this because of their abundance on the island. These mats are vital to every home: it’s used as floor coverings, bedding mats, fans, and baskets.  In fact, they are so important to the home, the mat’s quality and quantity are included in the “wealth” of a family and often given as gifts at weddings, funerals, births, and other special events.

A type of cloth made from stripped bark from trees is known as masi or tapa. Mostly from mulberry trees, women will take this bark, strip it, soak it, beat it to a pulp (literally), and roll it out, like paper.  This fabric is then used for many purposes, such as ceremonial wear, wall decorations, wall decorations, tablemats, handbags, etc.

Woodcarving is also an important art in Fijian history, albeit a declining one. One of the most important pieces of woodcarving in Fijian society was the war club. It was a highly decorated instrument that not only doubled as a weapon, but as a symbol of authority and used in ceremonial dances. Today, yaqona bowls (also called tanoa) are some of the most commonly carved works of art.

In many countries that were under European rule, they were also introduced to art in a modern, European sense. And many of these countries also go through a period of revival of the traditional arts, especially when they are granted independence. It wasn’t so with Fiji. The main reason being that they never stopped pursuing their traditional art forms. And while there may be Fijian painters and sculptor actively working and creating European-style art, traditional arts still won out over European-influenced styles and techniques overall.

Fijian literature didn’t get started until just before they separated from Britain. The University of the South Pacific wasn’t founded until 1968, when Fijians had the opportunity to learn creative writing and literature courses were available. Before this, Fijian literature mostly only existed as stories passed down by word of mouth. Soon after independence, publishing companies and literary magazines popped up around the islands. Literary societies started promoting not only their own writing but also literature of the Pacific Islanders in general. Much of Fijian literature is either written in English, Fijian, or in Hindi (and some poets even mix languages).

Some of the well-known authors from Fiji include Raymond Pillai (short stories), Subramani (short stories, novels), Pio Manoa (poetry), Vilsoni Hereniko (playwright), Satendra Nandan (poetry, novels), Sudesh Mishra (poetry), Larry Thomas (playwright, director), and Joseph Veramo (novels, short stories).
Up next: music and dance