Best of January

1. American Cuisine

‘American Cuisine’ is my favorite Fulbright enrichment activity so far. This event raised of lot of interest already before it took place. Everyone who heard of it – American friends included – seemed puzzled: What is American cuisine? What would we cook? Pizza? French fries? Hamburgers? Would we go to McDonald’s together? Or to KFC? The answer was revealed at the beautiful home of our Fulbright enrichment coordinator in Bethesda on a rainy Saturday. When we arrived to her house, three expert home chefs had been working on the preparations for our cooking session for hours in the most amazing and well equipped kitchen that I have seen in a long time.

The menu consisted of popcorn soup, cedar plank salmon with maple glaze, Kansas City ribs, spicy Southwestern vegetable skillet, summer corn salad with champagne vinaigrette, and finally carrot cake for dessert. For me, the most unexpected item on the menu was “popcorn soup, a fanciful version of a traditional corn soup“. In addition yellow corn, popped popcorn was really used as a key ingredient, not only for garnish. Who would’ve thought? The soup was so delicious that I’m looking forward to making it for my American house mates. None of them had ever heard about it!

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Coming from Finland where smoked salmon is nearly a staple, another highlight was getting introduced to cedar plank salmon. Back home, alder chips or juniper twigs are most commonly used for smoking though, not cedar, and I had never heard of plank cooking. It turned out to be a pretty simple yet brilliant Native American technique to prepare fish on a piece of wood that gives the food a subtle smoky flavor. A key learning was that planks made out of untreated cedar specifically for cooking purposes are widely available in American grocery stores. Another great tip was to use greens of scallions under the fish to have some air circulating between the fish and the plank. Finally, I also learned that a giant golf umbrella is a handy tool for barbecuing in heavy rain…

Like advertised, the event was “a relaxing day of preparing, cooking, eating, and talking about good American cuisine“. Thanks to all the preparations made by the chefs, for the rest of us the session was indeed very relaxing – an eating class rather than a cooking class! Learning about the history, evolution and cultural context of American food was fascinating. And not only did I learn about American food, but also cuisines of Brazil, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan from our small but super international group.

2. Liberty Mountain

After taking a bus, the metro, another bus, two planes, a train, a bus, three more trains and finally a cab with my huge snowboard bag on my way back from Finland, I was determined to use the equipment as soon as possible. The opportunity arose already during the first weekend after my return as I managed to sell the idea of a day trip to Liberty Mountain to two friends from the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

We spent the sunny Sunday morning navigating towards Gettysburg. As a result of missing a turn somewhere in Pennsylvania, we first ended up to a small town called Waynesboro instead. The timing for getting lost could not have been better, though: Frank’s Pizza, clearly a favorite among locals, opened for lunch exactly when we randomly parked in front of it. Some 15 minutes later the restaurant was packed, but we were already happily working on our lunch special consisting of two giant “New York style” pizzas (that were enough for dinner, too).

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Eventually we also found the Liberty Mountain. It was a mountain in the same sense as “mountains” in Finland, but a fun setting for opening the season anyway. A little bigger than Messilä but a little smaller than Himos. A handful of chairlifts and a dozen of slopes with amusing names, such as Dipsy Doodle and Heavenly, kept us busy for a good couple of hours of relaxed riding. And a hot chocolate break on the sunny patio was naturally a vital part of the wholesome experience.

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3. Caps-Sharks (or rather: Sweden-Finland)

When a colleague of mine asked me if I would like to spontaneously join her and a bunch of other colleagues for ice hockey, my first question was “to play or to watch“. The answer – someone might say obviously – was to watch. I had been to an NHL game only once before in Montreal in 2004. I figured watching one every 10 years is probably a good idea, so I joined the crowd heading to the Verizon Center.

The teams playing were the local pride of DC, Washington Capitals, and an enemy from the West, San Jose Sharks. As there was little time for pre-game prepping, I just quickly checked the single most important fact: Are there Finnish players in any of the two teams? Caps: No Finns in Caps unfortunately, but there are two Swedes. Sharks: Bingo! The goalie is Antti Niemi from Vantaa. As there are no Swedish players in Sharks, in my mind the game quickly turned into a Finland vs. Sweden battle.

Despite Caps having more shots on goal than Sharks, Niemi played an amazing game and gave me lots of reason to be proud of my country. He was even selected as the best player of the game. We really got value for our money as the game went to overtime and eventually to shootouts. The last one from Caps who got to attempt to score was the Swede Nicklas Bäckström. As he missed, Finland won. The slogan of Sharks is “Fear the Fin”. For a moment, I thought it was “Fear the Finn”. At least judging based on this game that would be pretty fitting too.

You can find a more professional write up of the Caps-Sharks game here. You might also like a recent article by New York Times about how Finland, a country of 5.4 million people, has produced more NHL goalies than any other European country.

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PS. Finns were giving hard time to Caps also the night following the Sharks game: Pittsburg Penguins bet Caps 4-3 with Finns Olli Määttä and Jussi Jokinen responsible for the Penguins’ final three goals. Earlier in January, Finland won the Ice Hockey World Junior Championships in Sweden. What made that win even sweeter was that the final was against the hosts. Let’s see what happens in Sochi… Hopefully some exciting and eventful games between Finland and Sweden – and Finland and USA!

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