Posts Tagged With: ex-pat

24\7? Forget it!


One of the things I’ve had to get used to living in Finland is that grocery stores actually CLOSE.  6pm on Saturdays. Closed on holidays.  I can always tell when there’s a holiday the next day because there are 20 times as many people at the grocery store, and they’re buying…milk and bread.  God, I wish I was kidding about that.  But there you go – it happens in Finland, too.  One time, I was behind a guy with nothing in his basket except 12 cartons of milk and 6 loaves of bread.  Hand to God.

The store closing for a day shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but I’ve learned not to trust the meat here in Finland more than a day.  I don’t buy meat until the day I’m going to use it, because if I buy it the day before, it tends to be…yucky.  So I have to do extra planning when there’s a holiday, maybe make a casserole the night before so we can have leftovers, or plan on frozen pizza.

Last weekend was Easter Weekend, and here in Finland, both Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays.  Oh, and Easter Sunday, too, of course.  So three days of grocery store closures over the course of a 4 day weekend.  Luckily, we went out of town, so I didn’t have to do the Mass Pre-Holiday Grocery Trip.  However, I ran into a bit of an issue.  Stephen’s work sent out an email with the store hours, what would be closed, what would be open, and when.  According to this email, the stores would be open from 12-6 on Monday.  So, I figured we’d get home from our trip on Sunday evening, grab some take out, and I’d go grocery shopping on Monday.  No biggie.

Except (you knew that was coming, right?).  Except I drive to the grocery store and find it closed up tighter than…well, something closed up tightly.

There are a few gas stations that have a small grocery store inside, so I drove over to one of those (the one that was a little bit further away, because I knew it was bigger than the one closer to where I was).  I walk in, and find…the grocery part closed.  Oh, but there’s this other tiny little grocery on the other side of the gas station that’s open.  It’s probably about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide.  And there are about 25 people inside.  What options do I have?  None.  So I go in and see if I can figure out something for dinner.  Chicken.  Tortillas.  A quick mental inventory and I knew we still had some shredded cheese at home. Tacos it is.

So now I’ve got another issue, and that is, I won’t have the car again to go shopping until the weekend.  There’s only so much I can carry home with me while walking, and that does not include milk, soda, big cereal boxes, or (the most important item, as we were running out) toilet paper.  So this week ended up being one of those weeks where I visit the grocery store every day to get the stuff I would have otherwise gotten in one trip, and making Stephen stop on his way home to buy the bulky/heavy stuff.

Oh, I know, I need to quit my bitchin’.  The truth is, I like that stores close here.  I like that holidays are exactly that – holidays when no one has to work (except those in gas stations and kebab restaurants).  I like that there’s not “May Day Mania” and “Epiphany Extravaganza” sales.  It goes with the whole slower pace of life.

As long as I can plan for it… (whoever sent that erroneous information at Stephen’s work – I’ve got my evil eye on you.)

New in my zazzle store:  Took this great picture last week with my new zoom lens, on a morning when the trees were all frosty from the cold.  At the top of the picture is the Church of the Holy Cross in Old Town Rauma; colorful Finnish homes in the foreground.

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

King Cake – Personal Kitchen Challenge #13

It was recently Mardi Gras season, and you know what that means?  King Cake!  In the past, I’ve made “fake” king cake (canned cinnamon rolls formed into a ring), complete with baby, but I’ve always really wanted to make a real King Cake for the season.  Oh, but that required yeast!  And kneading!  So much to get wrong!  However, at this point, I’ve had plenty of yeast and kneading experience, so I was willing to give it a go.  And a gathering of friends just before Fat Tuesday was the perfect opportunity to do so.

First problem, of course, is deciding on which recipe to use.  There are a million versions of King Cake – cream cheese filled, jam filled, raisin filled…oy.  I decided on this recipe, because it seemed somewhat simple.  Except…raisins – Yuck!  I left those out! (Cue my husband’s outrage…)

Second problem – Did you know you can’t find half-and-half in Finland?  The first time I went to the store, I forgot to look up the translation.  I had to go back to the store the next day, checked the Finnish Food Glossary and got the translation:  kermamaito.  But I couldn’t find it at the store.  So I went online and asked around.  And apparently, half-and-half doesn’t exist in Finland.  So I made my own…after deciding which of the four substitute amounts I found online to use.

(Seriously, how the hell would I ever make it here if this was pre-internet?)

So I put it all together, let it rise, and threw it in the oven.  The recipe said for 30 minutes – I wanted to pull it out at 10 because it looked brown enough to me.  I let it go, but I did pull it out 5 minutes early.

Of course, I had to color my own sugar – not my first attempt at that, it was easy enough.  And since I didn’t have a baby (left those in storage), I used a Worther’s Originals toffee.  Hey, beggars, choosers.

The final product:

King Cake 1

King Cake 2

I made King Cake from scratch!

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.


Categories: Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Homemade eggnog – a forgotten Personal Kitchen Challenge!

Homemade Eggnog

Homemade Eggnog

Oh my gosh, you guys, I completely forgot I did this challenge!  At Christmas, I had a real hankering for eggnog.  For whatever reason, I thought we couldn’t get it here…I didn’t even bother to look.  Instead, I decided to make my own!

Most recipes for eggnog call for raw eggs, which I don’t really have a problem with.  However, I was planning on serving it to others, and the last thing I wanted to do was chance getting other people sick from raw eggs!  So I followed this recipe from Epicurean Mom, which calls for the eggs to be par-cooked.

You guys, this eggnog was so freaking good!  I just wanted to drink all of it myself and not share.  But I was good, and filled a 2 liter Coke bottle (cleaned, I swear) to take to Christmas dinner with friends, and kept the rest for us.  Everyone loved it!

As it turns out,  they do apparently sell eggnog here in Finland, as someone said they saw it at the grocery store.  But I don’t care – I’ll be making another batch (or two!) of homemade eggnog this year.

Categories: Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

What I didn’t know a year ago

Hard to believe we’ve been in Finland for a full year now!  We’ve experienced winter, spring, summer, and fall.  We’ve survived through the short daylight hours of winter and the long daylight hours of summer.  We’ve enjoyed new surroundings, new friends, and new experiences.  And I’ve learned a few things this year.

  1. I’ve learned what -25°C feels like.
  2. I’ve learned to think of temperature in degrees Celsius.
  3. I’ve learned that I’d rather it be -2°than +2°
  4. I’ve learned that using centimeters is a lot easier than inches when sewing hems.
  5. I’ve learned how to sew.
  6. I’ve learned how to make pancakes and biscuits and bread from scratch.
  7. I’ve learned that the Finnish language is beyond me.
  8. I’ve learned to live without a clothes dryer, a dishwasher, or a garbage disposal.
  9. I’ve learned that finding washcloths is nearly impossible in Finland – apparently they don’t use them here.  Ikea’s kid section to the rescue – those are the only ones I’ve found!
  10. I’ve learned that not tipping is hard to do.
  11. I’ve learned how to play Mölkky.
  12. I’ve learned how much I love the opportunity to live in Finland.

I’ve learned much more than that, of course, but that’s a pretty good list.  I look forward to the next year, the experiences that still await us.  We’re planning trips to Latvia, Italy, and Germany (for Oktoberfest), and I also hope to go to Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Sweden.  Until then, some highlights from the last year:

Highlights from our first six months.

Our trip to Ireland.

Attempting to learn Finnish.

A trip home and to Mexico.

Thanks for reading – I love being able to share our lives with you!!


Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Flour Tortillas – Personal Kitchen Challenge #10

I keep hearing how easy tortillas are to make.  I remember once, probably 20 years ago, making homemade tortillas using a store-bought mix – and they were terrible!  Super thick, very dry, with tons of flour coating both sides.  I’m sure it was user error, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that tortillas were difficult to make.  But I figured, let’s try it again.

Problem 1 – Most of the recipes I found included lard or shortening, neither of which I can get here.  I’ve substituted butter for shortening before, but wanted to see if I could find a recipe that didn’t include those ingredients.

I found this one, which used Olive Oil.  I love olive oil, so decided to try it.

Tortilla dough swimming in oil...

Tortilla dough swimming in oil…

After letting it sit for 30 minutes, I came back to discover a very wet roll of dough surrounded by a pool of olive oil.  I figured that was a bad sign, but decided to forge ahead.  I cut the dough into equal peices, rolled them out (I don’t have a tortilla press), and used the cast-iron as suggested to cook the tortillas.


The verdict?  Not…great.  Not terrible, but not something I want to make again.  They came out rather flavorless, a little brittle, and were not really great to use for burritos.  They actually reminded me a lot of the mandarin pancakes I made a while back.

Mexican food in Finland is…not great.  Finding Mexican food seems easy enough – there’s half an aisle dedicated to salsa and tortillas and tortilla chips and spices.  But one of the key ingredients – Monterrey Jack Cheese – doesn’t exist here.  I briefly considered trying to make my own, but I couldn’t even get the ingredients I needed to make my own.  I went to the local health food store, and the owner was incredibly helpful, even calling a local cheesemaker to find out where I could get the ingredients, but one or more of the chemicals or whatever (either the calcium chloride or the rennet tablets) do not exist here.  So I made do with kermajusto, a soft white cheese, for a while.  Lately, I’ve been able to get real, honest-to-God red-wax yellow cheddar at the market (harder to get than you might think!), and I’ve been doing about half and half of the cheddar and the kermajusto.

Even with the wrong cheese, salsa that never seems quite right, and store-bought tortillas, the Mexican food I make at home is fifty times better than the “Mexican Food” they serve in the restaurants around here.  Still, I’d love to make my own tortillas, tortillas that taste great.

I figure I’ll try making tortillas one more time, using a different recipe.  Anyone have any winners?  How about you, Tracie?  I know you make your own, care to share the recipe?

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

Categories: Food, Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Slow cooking without a crockpot – Kitchen Challenge #8

We didn’t bother moving any of our 3 crock-pots over here (yes, 3, sm/med/jumbo), because we knew the power conversion from the US to Europe wouldn’t work.  To my surprise, slow cookers don’t exist in Finland.  Completely unable to find one.  What’s a girl to do?

I started looking into ways to cook slow cooker recipes in the oven.  I figured it had to be the same concept, right?  I figured it would be about the same amount of time, but I had no idea what temperature I should set the oven at.

Internet to the rescue!

Well…sort of.

I looked around at several sites, but found varying advice.

  • 2 1/2 hours on high in the crockpot = 30 min at 300 in the oven
  • 300 in the oven for 2 hours less than the crockpot time
  • 250 in the oven for the same amount of time as in the crockpot
  • 3 hours on high in the crockpot = 1.5 hours at 325 in the oven
  • 7 hours on low in the crockpot = 2-3 hours of simmering on the stovetop

I also found varying suggestions to keep the liquid amount the same, to reduce the liquid amount by half, by 1 cup, by a can…

In addition, to slow cook in the oven or on the stovetop, a Dutch oven is highly recommended.  Yet another thing I don’t have.

So I experimented.  I did a pork roast for carnitas in the oven, in a stainless steel pot.  It turned out…okay.  I think I had it in at 300 for approximately 4-6 hours.  Next I tried a beef stew on the stovetop (same pot).  I kept the heat on low for about 3 hours.  The meat never really got tender.

In other words – not much success here.  I though about buying a slow cooker from (which offers free shipping to Finland – Bonus!) but at this point, it just doesn’t seem worth it, to buy a new slow cooker I’ll only use for another year.

What I really want is a Dutch oven.  Scratch that.  What I really want is this:

Finnish Sarpaneva cast iron pot, sold by Finnish Design Shop

Finnish Sarpaneva cast iron pot, sold by Finnish Design Shop

You would think that living in Finland, I’d be able to find this fairly easily.  Not so much.  And it ain’t cheap!  So I’ll just keep filing away crockpot recipes for future use, and look forward to getting my crockpot out of storage when we move back to the States (and buying a Dutch oven).


I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

Categories: Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Thanksgiving – Personal Kitchen Challenge #9

(Did I mention I’m behind on my PKC posts?  Like, by 2 months?)

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is difficult enough as it is, but it’s made particularly hard when you have a small kitchen, a European oven (small!!), and no access to Stovetop Stuffing, Pumpkin Pie filling, or canned cranberry sauce.  To add to those challenges, I’ve only ever cooked a turkey once in my life, almost ten years ago.

The first and only time I cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving, I had just moved across the country to a new city.  My family drove in Thanksgiving day just in time for dinner, which meant I couldn’t count on my mom to Save the Day.  It was all on me.  I had never cooked a turkey.  I had never made mashed potatoes.  And I decided to make cranberry sauce from scratch.  No pressure.

The day did not start out well – I unwrapped my turkey and went to pull out the neck and gizzards, having read that it was important to do so.  I looked inside the turkey and found…nothing.  Actually, I found no inside.  I looked at it in confusion.  Why was there no inside?  It should be right there, between the legs…….

Where are the legs?

I called my mom, who was somewhere in Tennessee at the time.  “Mom, my turkey doesn’t have any legs.”

“Did you just get a breast?”

I stared at the turkey, completely ignorant.  “I got…a turkey,” I said, shrugging.  Was there a difference?

I’m pleased to say everything turned out well that day – the turkey got cooked, the potatoes got mashed, and everyone was happy…except my dad, who wanted a turkey leg.

We decided to do a big ex-pat Thanksgiving dinner here in Finland, and I volunteered to cook one of the turkeys.  I poured over recipes and techniques – I knew cooking it in the tiny oven would be difficult, but what else could I do?  I read about spatchcocking, and decided to give it a go.  What’s the worst that could happen, right?  (That’s usually my motto in the kitchen, but this time, the worst could be that I give food poisoning to 50+ people and send them to the hospital where the nurses and doctors speak a foreign language.  No pressure.)

For those who don’t know, spatchcocking means removing the backbone and flattening the turkey, breast up.  I dug out my kitchen shears and started cutting, but Stephen had to do most of it, as I simply didn’t have the strength to cut through the bone.  As it was, I needed a new pair of kitchen shears when I was done.  When they say you need sharp shears, you need sharp shears!

The backbone - Ick!

The backbone – Ick!

Besides having a small oven, I have a small kitchen.  Actually, it’s not that small, there’s just no counter space.  I have about 2 feet of counter space.  I use the kitchen table as a prep area.  So this is what my kitchen looked like while preparing food for Thanksgiving:

That space right there, between the fridge and the sink?  That's all the counter space I have.  :(

That space right there, between the fridge and the sink? That’s all the counter space I have. 😦

I made do, though, and got the turkey in the pan with only minimal fuss (although I’m still not sure I actually managed to break the breastbone and fully flatten my turkey).

Spatchcocked turkey, ready for the oven

Spatchcocked turkey, ready for the oven

The turkey turned out beautiful, but the taste was nothing special.  (Someone smoked one of the turkeys, and that was fabulous!)

Beautifully roasted

Beautifully roasted

Along with the turkey, I also made this apple quinoa salad, which was a hit, some pesto pasta salad, a pesto chicken pasta casserole, and (not my) Aunt Lois’s Broccoli Cornbread.  It required Jiffy corn muffin mix, which (surprise) I can’t get here, but I found this recipe online to make your own mix, so I was in business!

Broccoli Cornbread

Broccoli Cornbread

Trying to catch up on kitchen challenges, I promise you’ll see more soon!

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

Categories: Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

DIY Bisquick – Kitchen Challenge #7

I’ve now made pancakes from scratch and biscuits from scratch, so what use could I possibly have for Bisquick, right?  Well, I’ll tell you.  One of Stephen’s favorite foods is Poppyseed Rolls, which his mother dutifully shared the recipe for.  I’ve been wanting to make these for Stephen since we moved here (and God knows he’s been asking me to), but I didn’t have Bisquick, which is a key ingredient.  I figured there had to be a simple recipe for it – flour and baking soda and what else?  Thank you, internet, for providing the answer.

Using this recipe from, I whipped up a batch of Bisquick one Friday afternoon.  I really wanted to surprise Stephen with the poppyseed rolls, so I premixed everything I could, then told him I was planning on making breakfast in the morning.  “Pancakes?” he asked.  “Yep,” I said, as innocently as possible, fingers crossed behind my back.

I got up the next morning and closed the kitchen door so that he could watch TV without me disturbing him with the noise (at least, that’s the impression I gave – I just didn’t want him to see what I was doing!).  I made the rolls, praying he wouldn’t come in, cut off the raw ends for him (as instructed…no, really, it’s part of the recipe, “save the cut off end pieces  for Stephen to eat raw”), and popped the rolls into the oven.  Then I carried the raw ends out to him with a smile.

Yeah, I’m an awesome wife.

Poppyseed rolls

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

Categories: Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

Christmas wasn’t quite right


Once, 9 or 10 years ago, I spent Christmas alone.  I was alone in a new town, 1500 miles away from my family and friends, and couldn’t get time off from my new job.   I figured it would be no big deal, it was just another day.   Boy, was I wrong.  I swore I would never spend Christmas alone again.  Of course, I wasn’t planning on moving to a foreign country…

Luckily, we went home earlier this month, and we had an early Christmas with our families.   It was nice to see everyone and open gifts, and see genuine joy when someone opened a gift I had picked out just for them.  But at that time, I hadn’t really gotten into the “Christmas spirit,” so it wasn’t quite right.

We didn’t do any decorating for Christmas in the apartment – we didn’t bring any decorations, and I didn’t want to buy anything just for our time here.  It seemed kind of a waste.  The town put up a couple of big trees, and the streets were lit with lights, but not many homes had visible decorations – no driving around and looking at Christmas lights this year!

Christmas decoration in Old Town Rauma

Christmas decoration in Old Town Rauma

Most of our friends were traveling for the holidays, but there were three of us American couples still here.  We decided to have a big Christmas Eve dinner.  There’s a tradition in Finland to light candles in the cemetery and put them by the headstones, so before dinner we took a walk to the local cemetery to check it out.  It was very beautiful and peaceful, all the candles lit and illuminating those who are gone.

Lit candles by a headstone

Lit candles by a headstone


Cemetery illuminated by candlelight

Cemetery illuminated by candlelight

Christmas morning, Stephen had some gifts to unwrap, but I had gotten my gifts when we were with family earlier this month, so I didn’t have anything.  That didn’t bother me though – what truly bothered me was not seeing loved one’s faces light up on Christmas morning as they opened a gift that made me think specifically of them.  Sure, I had seen that earlier this month, but it didn’t coincide with Christmas Day.  It’s silly that that little thing makes a difference, but it does.

I think I’ll go ahead and do some shopping now for Christmas next year, so I can decorate.  Maybe that will make it feel more festive.  And next year, we need to skype while our families open gifts, so I can see the joy on their faces.

Categories: Finland | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An American Thanksgiving in Finland

The holiday season is here, which makes being an ex-pat a little more difficult.  Without family and friends nearby to celebrate with, Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a bit sad.  So the best thing to do is plan a big party!

There are quite a few ex-pats here in town, working for The Company, so I checked around to see if anyone would be interested in having a big American Thanksgiving and renting out a place to do it.  The response was overwhelming.  We ended up having about 50 people, including a lot of the American ex-pats and some people of other nationalities who got to experience our traditions.  We had a ton of food, including 4 turkeys, and the location we rented was lovely.  It all went off without a hitch, and everyone was glad to have the chance to get together and celebrate.  There’s already talk of renting the space out again next year for a Fourth of July party, when we’ll be able to take advantage of the good weather and abundance of sunshine to enjoy the large yard included in the rental!

Did I mention yet how much food there was?  We kept having to add tables and move the dessert table down (then add a table to that) because there was so much food!  We had pretty much all the standard fare – besides the turkeys, there was mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, stuffing, pumpkin pie, deviled eggs…the list goes on and on.

It was great to get together with new friends and celebrate Thanksgiving in a big, traditional, ex-pat way!

Only a portion of the buffet table(s)!

Only a portion of the buffet table(s)!

Our decorative turkey, put together by a Brit!

Our decorative turkey, put together by a Brit!

Enjoying the meal

A portion of the dessert table!

A portion of the dessert table!

I’ll be blogging about the Thanksgiving Kitchen Challenge soon, so stay tuned!

Categories: Finland, Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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