Friday, February 24, 2012

Movies, Food, and I'm Sick of Snow and Ice

The narrowest street in Old Town
The weather here has settled into an annoying pattern -- it snows about every day, and for the past week, the temperatures have gotten above freezing, so some of it melts (there's way too much on the ground for it all to melt), then it re-freezes overnight, resulting in an icy mess the next morning.

I still go out every day, and fortunately, some new expat arrivals to Rauma have helped with the winter doldrums. My new friend, Sara, and her husband, Stephen, have been here several weeks, and I have enjoyed showing Sara around. I'm not the new kid in town anymore!

Something that impresses me is the town workers are out every day plowing, putting out gravel, and scraping away ice. They leave huge piles of dirty snow everywhere, but they do cart some of it away every few days. One of the older gentlemen in our apartment building (the one who has a pretty white cat) also is out every day shoveling and throwing out gravel on our steep driveway. I don't know if he gets paid to do this or not, but I suspect he does it just to help out. I certainly appreciate his hard work!

Blueberry Cake
I have continued my baking projects, and I have gotten better at guessing the amount of butter I need for my recipes. I mentioned I found a measuring cup that has U.S. measurements, so that has been great! My latest desserts were a blueberry cake and a marble pound cake. Tom took both to work, of course, and he said they were appreciated.

Marble Cake
Leftover Stripey Jack Cheese
I also have good news on the Mexican food dilemma. The local grocery store got in a cheese called "Stripey Jack." At first, I was all excited, because it was called "Jack," as in Monterey Jack, but it isn't that. It's a mixture of different strengths of cheddar. Still, it tastes really good, pretty mild and similar to Colby. So last night, I mixed up taco meat and put it in soft tortillas, melted some of the cheese on top, and added lettuce and pico de gallo that I made from scratch. The tomatoes grown in the hothouses here are remarkably tasty, but the "hot" peppers in the produce department have no fire. I wonder if they just get dried out from their long journey to Finland. Still, it was so nice to have some semblance of Mexican food here!

The Rauma movie theater
My friends know how much I love movies, and we finally went to the local Rauma movie Theater last weekend to see "The Descendants." One guy runs the theater, and he does everything from selling tickets and concessions to telling us when to go into the theater, to running the projector to cleaning up. The theater itself only holds about 40 people, and you feel like you are practically on top of the screen. The movie cost 10 Euros each, which I suppose isn't too bad. Plus, the movies are still in English and just have Finnish subtitles, so that is a bonus.

Big travels coming up -- I'm heading to Brussels on Sunday for a few days, then flying to Washington to visit Kristen, then home to Concord. Tom flies home a few weeks later, and we are going on our annual trip to Aruba. Yes! Sunny and warm! Beaches! Mahi mahi and grouper! I don't think we will want to return to Finland! But return we must, because Easter weekend, we are heading to a place we both have been wanting to see: St. Petersburg, Russia. Oh, yeah, and Tom has to go back to work, too.

And hopefully, by the time we get back to Finland April 1, all this nasty snow and ice will be gone for the season!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Of Course We Got Stuck in the Snow

Just another afternoon in rural Finland
I know that living in Finland is supposed to be one big adventure. But there are some experiences I could live without -- the deer/elk hitting Tom's car, me falling on the ice, etc. Well, now we have a new experience to add to that category -- our car got stuck in the snow. And I mean really stuck.

Add this to our adventures in Finland 
One of Tom's co-workers told him about this place about an hour and a half north of Pori where you can go dog sledding and snowmobiling. I really want to ride in a dogsled, so we decided to drive up there Sunday to check it out. Of course, we got lost. But the place is in the middle of nowhere, and I mean nowhere. No signs, dinky country roads. We even went back to the little town of Kankaanpaa and got directions from a very nice girl working in a store. Turns out we had been in the right area but hadn't gone far enough.

The scary thing was those country roads were covered with a fresh coat of snow, and it was snowing again. And the snowplows that are all over the highways don't bother with these country roads.

At least we weren't the only ones who got stuck
Since we couldn't tell where the road began and ended, it was very scary. Then, a car comes barreling toward us, and he obviously thought he should have the entire road. Tom edged over to the right to avoid a collision, and we immediately sunk in the snow. And a woman behind us did the same thing.

The jerk in the oncoming car kept on going. One guy stopped, but he didn't have any equipment to help us out. But fortunately for us, the very nice lady who also got stuck spoke fairly good English, and she called someone to come help us. This guy was wonderful. He brought shovels and a tether, and he literally saved us from freezing to death in the middle of nowheresville. It took a lot of shoveling and pulling, but both cars finally got out of the mess.

Getting a tow
It was the fresh snow that was the problem, because you literally cannot tell where the road ended on the sides. And the guy who helped us said don't feel bad, because lots of people get stuck. We were just so thankful that it happened during daylight hours and that the temperature was in the 20s and not below zero like it had been last week.

We were still about 10 kilometers from the alleged dog sled place, but we were so stressed out about driving even further into the unplowed tundra that we turned around and headed back. Plus, it would have been almost dark it we had stayed around another hour, and we certainly weren't going to drive through there after dark.

Luna had a coat like mine!
I didn't get to see the sled dogs, but at least I met the lady's very fashionable dog, Luna. And while we were waiting for rescue, a man in a buggy with a horse trotted by -- definitely postcard-worthy.

But most of all, we once again experienced the Finnish hospitality. Before we moved here, I had read that Finns were not outgoing and reticent to talk to strangers. That is totally untrue. Most Finns have been very friendly and helpful. Lucky for us!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Baking Stress

Back home in the U.S., I like to bake occasionally. I didn't think I would do much baking in Finland, though, so I didn't ship any pans, ingredients or a mixer. If I had only known...

Tom works with a lot of French expats, of course. And lately, some of them have been bringing in delicious French goodies to share -- croissants, crepes,  financiers (little cakes). I finally got him to bring me one of the treats -- the unbelievably tasty chocolate financier. It was so perfect -- crusty on the outside, moist on the inside. Even after sitting on Tom's desk all day wrapped up in nothing but a paper towel, by the time I got it, it still was terrific.

The bad part of all this is that the French kept asking Tom when he was going to bring in some "American" goodies. Talk about pressure! How do you compete with financiers??

The closest thing I found to chocolate chips
I decided to make chocolate chip cookies. Not totally American, but I would put M&Ms in them, which is totally an American candy.

Baking in Europe obviously is an art. But for an American trying to make an American recipe, it's not easy. First, I had to buy a mixer. Thirty-four Euros. Spatula. Pans. Parchment paper. And finding ingredients? Very difficult. There are about 60 different kinds of flour in the grocery stores here. You can't find "American" ingredients like chocolate chips, decent marshmallows (the no-name ones on the American aisle at the City Market are nasty), sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder.

Then there are the measurements. I had to convert my American recipes to European measurements. For example, the package of butter I bought was 500 grams. I needed one cup of butter for my cookies. I calculated that one cup of butter would be a little less than 240 grams, then just cut the slab of butter a little less than half. See what I mean -- not exact. Had to do the same thing with the flour and the sugars. I was really worried the batter would be a disaster. By the way, after all this, I found some measuring cups at the Pic 'n Pay that list U.S. measurements as well as European. What a lifesaver!

As for chocolate chips, forget those. They don't exist here. I could either chop up a bar of chocolate -- not a bad idea, really -- or use a bag of crushed up chocolate that I found. I used that and M&Ms.

The oven is set to centigrade, which is not that difficult to convert. But our oven is really weird, with settings we still haven't figured out, even after six months here. I baked the cookies and kept an eye on them the entire time.

Fortunately, they turned out okay. Not perfect, but they were acceptable. Best of all, Tom said they disappeared minutes after he put them out.

But now, everyone at the office says this needs to be a regular thing -- so what am I going to bake next? Financiers? I actually have made those before with a pan I bought at the famous cookware store, E. Dehillerin, in Paris. But that pan is back in North Carolina. Besides, I need to make something else "American." My daughter suggested Lemon Bars, which only uses normal things like lemon, eggs, flour, and sugar.

Anyway, here's the recipe for the M&M cookies, if you would like to try them. But note the recipe lists U.S. measurements.

M&M/Chocolate Bit Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. hot water
3 cups baking flour
About a cup of chocolate chips, chopped up chocolate or chocolate bits
As many M&Ms as you want

Cream butter and sugars with electric mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla flavoring. Dissolve baking soda in hot water and add to mixture. Add flour, beating just until mixed (do not overmix). Stir in chocolate bits and M&Ms.

Put layer of parchment paper on baking sheet and drop large tablespoons of dough onto paper. Top with additional M&Ms. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, but watch carefully. Do not overbake. Cool on rack or plate. The number of cookies depends on what size you make them.

Friday, February 3, 2012

So This is What Cold Really Feels Like

It finally got too cold even for the ducks
Yes, I have changed the title of the blog. I never really liked "Travels With Pam," so I thought about it and decided on "The Expat Life." My web address is now my name (it wouldn't let me use The Expat Life as my address), so bookmark

Crampons so I don't fall again 
People back home keep asking me if the weather here in southwestern Finland is as bad as it is in Eastern Europe. Well, it definitely is cold here, but not nearly as bad as it is in Serbia. We have had below-zero temperatures all this week, but thankfully, it has been sunny. The forecast for next week is calling for temperatures in the 20s (Fahrenheit), so that is a real heat wave for February!

The icy sidewalks of Rauma 
I have fallen two times on icy sidewalks here. It is not fun, let me tell you. And it's not as if I was walking carelessly. I probably walk slower on the ice than anyone else. But last Friday, I fell so fast I didn't even have time to brace myself. Needless to say, I am still in pain. I'm still going out for walks, but now I put metal crampons on the bottom of my shoes or boots. They are a pain to put on and take off, but hopefully, they will prevent more falls.

It is so cold that even the ducks have left. I walked downtown today, and the canal is completely iced over. There used to be a small patch of water for the ducks, but now that's gone. I don't know where the ducks went, but I'm sure they'll be back when it thaws. I'm kind of sad that they are gone.