Tastes of Finnish Christmas

Rice porridge, topped with cinnamon, is a perennial holiday favorite.

By Jaana Rehnstrom

At Christmas time, Finnish expats tend to get nostalgic and begin missing their mothers’ (or grandmothers’) cooking. Finnish holiday recipes are easy to come by, but not always the ingredients.

Fortunately, there are people in the New York area who can help. If you would rather avoid the extra hurdle of cooking, contact Tuula Malmi (tuulamalmi@aol.com), who runs a catering business out of her house in the Bronx year-round. She is a master of traditional Finnish cuisine, and can also be hired for upscale events. She used to cook at Estonia House, and her customers included kids from the Finnish School during the years in which they met there.

Northern Rye makes traditional and non-traditional Karelian pies and other goodies, and they now sell them in two stores on Manhattan’s East side and several places in Brooklyn. Check out www.northernrye.com and contact them at ryes@northernrye.com.

Nordic Breads makes the best Finnish sourdough rye bread on this side of the Atlantic. Their products are available at Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays and Saturdays (8 am to 6 pm), at Stuyvesant Town Greenmarket on Sundays (9:30 am to 4 pm), and at New Amsterdam Market on Sundays (11 am to 4 pm). In addition, Nordic Breads is represented at Whole Foods and other markets in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can also order the bread by mail; just order a package and freeze what you don’t consume immediately. Very healthy and yummy!

Here are a few tips for aspiring cooks:

Want to make riisipuuro (traditional rice porridge served around Christmas)? Be sure to use sushi rice (“sticky rice”). Want to make kiisseli (kissel dessert)? Potato flour can be hard to come by, but try Jewish stores, or Sockerbit on Christopher St. between 7th Avenue and Bleecker Street. They also have vanilla sugar (used in many Finnish dessert recipes) and a good selection of candy by Fazer – Finland Center members get 10% discount on that!

Also check out the Norwegian Seamens’ Church at 317 East 52nd Street. (between 1st and 2nd Avenues). They carry cloudberry jam, black currant juice and great Scandinavian cheese….at steep Norwegian prices, however.

Want to make rahkapiirakka (quark pastry)? Schaller and Weber, the wonderful German food store on 2nd avenue just south of 86th Street has quark; also the Russian stores in Brighton Beach carry it. Lingonberry jam can be found at many of the aforementioned stores and of course at IKEA – this Swedish giant also stocks other essential foods such as herring and Kalles kaviar. And for the best Scandinavian coffee: I’m sorry, but you have to order it from Gevalia (I haven’t found a Finnish brand available in the U.S that is equivalent…and it’s quite expensive).

Lastly, for the best gravlax I will share my own recipe, adapted from the New York Times (who probably stole it from some Scandinavian): Start two or three days before the event at which you want to serve it:

2 lbs salmon fillet, cut into two pieces of equal size
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1.5 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
1 bunch of dill, chopped

Place one fillet on a large piece of aluminium foil. Mix the spices and  spread over both fillets. Add the dill to one of them. Flip the other slice quickly over the other one (face to face) and wrap the foil around it tightly. Wrap again with saran wrap.

Place the piece in the fridge and (this is important) place a clean brick or another weight on top. Turn the piece every 12 hours. Some juice will seep out so keep it in a Pyrex dish or an equivalent. When ready to serve, discard the dill, cut crosswise in thin slices, and decorate with fresh dill and lemon slices.

Feel free to comment and add your own culinary tips!

Happy holiday munching!

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Q&A with Phyllis Kalajian of Nordikreations

Lakka

Lakka earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

By Kristina Reilly, Arctic Circle Finns

Phyllis Kalajian, based in Indiana, is a self-taught jewelry maker and designer who finds inspiration in her Scandinavian roots; she is half Norwegian, a quarter Swedish and a quarter German. Kalajian’s pieces are available on Etsy as well as at the Finnish School of New York’s annual Christmas Bazaar tomorrow, December 1st (83 Christopher Street in Manhattan). Look for them at Finland Center’s table.

Q: What sparked your interest in making jewelry and connecting that with your Scandinavian heritage?

A: I’m a single mother and have two beautiful grown children, Michael and Cheri. When they were younger, I had them enrolled in a local Swedish culture group. The children’s group performed at many Scandinavian functions, including the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World exhibit. The Swedish culture group is what got me interested in all things Scandinavian. As far as creativity goes, for as long as I can remember I had to be creating something, from sewing to making jewelry to designing props for the performances put on by our Swedish group. I also have a regular day job, but only because I have to pay the bills. Now my remaining free time is consumed by jewelry making.

Q: How did your idea for Nordikreations take shape? 

A: I have been creating Scandinavian jewelry for about eight years. It started as a fundraising initiative for our newly formed Swedish club for adults. I thought we could all make and sell some Scandinavian jewelry. However, when I brought the samples to one of our meetings, no-one was interested in making them; they wanted to buy my jewelry instead. 

 Q: Many of your designs really capture the spirit of Finland. Where do you get your inspiration and ideas?

A: In the beginning I only had a few designs. Then people began to request particular items and I started doing research to figure out how I was going to make them. Doing a little research on one item would lead me to another, and then to the next. I sometimes spent so much time reading about traditions and customs that I lost track of time. There are so many beautiful things in the Scandinavian culture: the jewelry, the folk costumes  and the artwork, both ancient and contemporary. I think Scandinavians have an inherent creative side.

Q: Which pieces do you like working on the most? Do you have a favorite design?

A: My favorite look is the Viking Knit earring, and the piece I love working on the most is the newest one I’m creating. I love thinking of new ideas and then trying to find the right pieces to create them. When I put the pieces together and it looks like I’ve successfully visualized something, I’m really happy. If I could afford it, I wouldn’t charge anything for my jewelry. If one of my pieces becomes special and meaningful to someone else, that gives me a good feeling and I want to create more. I also would like to say that I have met some of the nicest people through my jewelry making.

Viking Knit earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

Viking Knit earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

Q: What’s next for Nordikreations? 

A: I’m working on more bracelets but haven’t listed them yet. The holidays are really busy for me, so I haven’t had time to take pictures and list the bracelets on my site. I’m using only the same colors that Viking women used. I’m also thinking about making bracelets with Scandinavian colors. I use memory wire, so there is no clasp; it just winds around your wrist. There are a couple of ideas for viking earrings that I have in my head. I will be making a Viking Thistle Brooch earring, and I would also like to make viking Runes out of black beads. 

Phyllis Kalajian

Phyllis Kalajian

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Finns in New York: Niina

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Talking design at Marimekko

Fab.com’s Kristian Lazzaro speaks about his company’s aim to make design more accessible.

By Laura Palotie

What inspires designers? Who and what is shaping design conversation today? What is the role of design in cultural exchange and the evolution of society? These questions have surfaced, in a variety of forms, during Helsinki’s 2012 Design Capital year, and on Thursday, October 18th, an international group of designers gathered at Marimekko’s Manhattan flagship shop to share their design philosophies.

The event’s fast-moving format allowed design professionals from eight different organizations to share their thoughts. Each presenter was asked to prepare 20 slides and spend no more than 20 seconds explaining each slide; beyond these requirements, the format was free.

Parsons professor Timo Rissanen spoke of his project promoting sustainability,  15%, which sells plain white T-shirts alongside the fabric scraps created in their manufacturing. The shirts are made and sold at Helsinki’s Amos Anderson museum as part of this year’s Boutique exhibit.

Aamu Song and Johan Olin, whose tiny Salakauppa (“secret shop”) in the centre of Helsinki puts a quirky spin on everyday items, gave the audience a tongue-in-cheek Finnish lesson (the word for “earth,” for example, is “maailma,” which literally translates to “ground air”). Idealist Group‘s creative director Saku Tuominen, meanwhile, spoke about the ways in which design thinking can be the basis for a better work-life balance. 

Kristian Lazzaro of fab.com‘s vintage shop, NYC & Company‘s chief creative officer Willy Wong, Artek‘s design director Ville Kokkonen and Lynn Shanahan, president of Marimekko North America, also described their organizations’ unique approaches to design.

The event was part of the wrap-up of New Finnish Design CITY, a ten-month long project addressing the role of design in urban life through lectures, exhibits and other events. The initiative, which launched in February, was organized by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York and the Consulate General of Finland in New York. Thursday’s event was held in collaboration with Marimekko and Surface magazine.

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City tips for young Scandinavians

By Nea Pakarinen

In late September, Finland Center organized an informational event for young Scandinavians living in New York. The Saturday evening event, which was held at the Finnish Lutheran Church on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, was attended by young people from various backgrounds as well as experts who discussed various aspects related to life in New York. Doctor Jaana Rehnstrom, director of Finland Center, spoke about what to do if you get sick, immigration lawyer Ceridwen Koski gave advice on visas, real estate broker Angelika Kallio talked about housing in the city, and actor and church employee Heli Sirviö offered a few general pieces of NYC wisdom.

I found the event very useful. Not only was it a great opportunity to connect with people from backgrounds similar to mine, but it also offered plenty of useful information, including where and how to get a flu shot, and which visa options are available for young immigrants. 

Yummy Karelian pies and Finnish cheese, as well as Candy donated by nearby Sockerbit, were served. We also had a lively discussion about the great things we had done and seen in the city.

After our discussion we continued with a night on the town, and the following morning we enjoyed a superb Sunday brunch at Smoke Jazz Club, where you can have your eggs with a side of live jazz. By the end of the weekend, I had a number of new friends to explore the city with.

Here are just a few city tips I gathered from the attendees:

What are your favorite places in the city? Share them in the comments section.

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Finns in New York: Kristina Reilly and Nina Kulmala

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Our blog series offers a peek into the lives of the local Finnish community. Today we meet Kristina Reilly and Nina Kulmala, founders of Arctic Circle Finns. The organization puts together art and fashion events, upscale happy hours and charity benefits around the city. 

Q: What brought you to New York?

Kristina: I’ve been in the States since 1997, but was originally living on the West Coast. I was working as a flight attendant when I met my now-husband, who’s from Brooklyn. I relocated to New York, and we now live in New Jersey.

Nina: I was 2 when my parents decided to move from Helsinki and start a new life on Long Island, New York; my father started a construction company there with his brother in the 1970s. As soon as I graduated high school I packed my bags and headed to New York City, where I attended The Fashion Institute of Technology in the mid-1980s. The city has been my home ever since.

Q: What inspired you to start Arctic Circle Finns of New York?

Kristina: Even though lots of great Finnish organizations already existed in New York, we felt that there wasn’t anything for the younger generation – especially for second-generation Finnish-Americans. Since we both had extensive experience as event planners, several of our friends asked us to set something up, so we did! I’m a former travel agent and specialize in setting up corporate events. I also worked as a charter flight coordinator and planner contracted to NASCAR.

Nina: I felt like there was something missing in the Finnish community. My parents were very active in the Finnish Cultural Society of New York, which had a lot of members back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As a kid, I recall attending many social events with my parents, including beauty pageants, church events, comedy shows and dinner dances. My father was even a drummer in a Finnish band. So, having grown up in this kind of an environment, I began thinking that there was nothing out there now for the younger generation of Finns. We need more social events to help keep our culture and language fresh. On that note, the most important inspiration is to practice the Finnish language. There is nothing better than speaking with fellow Finns that have the same interests as you.   

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

Kristina: Between working and spending time with my family – we have two kids and two dogs – I don’t have a lot of spare time. My husband and I like camping and hiking in New Jersey, going to the beach, spending time with our friends, trying out new restaurants and traveling whenever possible. I also work as a promo model.

Nina: I try to keep busy all the time, and when I have a free moment I am usually thinking of new projects. I have a great day job in a law firm, but to balance out my life I look for creative projects. For instance, I am the general manager of an off-off-Broadway theater company, Hotel Savant, and volunteer for organizations such as DOT429. I also love to go out dancing and shopping; I like vintage clothes and accessories.

Q: What are your favorite places in the city?

Kristina: I like Brooklyn and Downtown Manhattan. However, I prefer to spend my free time in New Jersey. We have fabulous beaches, beautiful scenery and quaint old towns.

Nina: I never get tired of seeing the New York skyline. I have recently been rediscovering NYC by visiting neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Williamsburg, SoHo and The Bronx. There are a lot of great restaurants and sites in this grand city. For example, I recently attended a fabulous, 1920s-themed garden party in an old Italian “palazo” in the Bronx…only in New York.  

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living here?

Kristina: Being able to reconnect to Finland. When I lived “out West” I didn’t know any other Finns. Now Helsinki is just eight hours away. Most of my friends are Finnish, and we have a strong Finnish community here.

Nina: It’s the most eclectic city I know. You can move from the Upper East Side to the Village, and feel like you are in another world. It’s a place that is always evolving. I like the opportunities this city can give you.

This Thursday, September 13th, Arctic Circle Finns and Finland Center are co-hosting a health and beauty event at the Nygård flagship on Times Square. Connect with Arctic Circle Finns on Facebook, and email ACFinnsNY@hotmail.com with event requests.

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Real Finns wear Nygard

Since opening a Times Square flagship in December of last year, Nygård Fashion has been popular among the Finnish community of New York. It is often said that Finnish women think of clothing in a very practical manner – considering Finland’s climate, can you blame us? It can be a challenge to put together an outfit that looks stylish in the office and at dinner afterwards, doesn’t break the bank and is flattering on women over 25. 

Nygård offers a solution to this practical dilemma with personalised wardrobe consultation. At the flagship, Jodi takes a good look at you, asks a few questions and handpicks a number of outfits. She also shows her customers how to create a new wardrobe with just a few pieces. 

On September 13th at 6 pm, Nygård and Finland Center Foundation will cohost a Nordic health and beauty event at the Times Square flagship. In addition to presentations on food and wellbeing, the evening will include a runway show that showcases Nygård’s latest fall fashions. 

Guests who purchase a Finland Center membership during the event will receive a voucher for a free fashion consultation. In addition, all Finland Center members receive 10% discount every time they shop at Nygård. RSVP to the event by emailing info@finlandcenter.org.

Here is a sneak peek at Nygård’s fall line, donned by Finnish models.

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