Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Entertaining With Kathi' Food Column ~ April 26, 2007

Did You Know You Have Cousins In The Lapland?
By Kathi Dameron

“Did you know that you have cousins in the Lapland?” my dad would say with a hint of mystery and intrigue in his distinctive booming voice, as he referred to my mom’s side of the family. Lowering his tone just an octave he would add, “they dance with reindeer, I’m told.”

While I was growing up, my quiet and reserved mother never talked much about her Finnish heritage or the Arctic region where the sun does not rise on the winter solstice, nor set on the summer solstice, and she certainly never painted images to me of her family dancing with reindeer. Perhaps being a first generation American born to an immigrant father and his worldly American wife, was at the crux of my mother’s reason for keeping this faraway land at an emotional distance.

But in recent years, my dear elderly mother and my two older brothers have come to embrace the land of the midnight sun.

A world away from the shores of Helsinki, Finland my oldest brother, John, a blue-eyed, rocky mountain resident, with the heart-breaking and rugged good looks of a western playboy, felt a call to retrace the shrouded roots of our blood.

“I’ve met over fifty of our cousins in our age range!” John e-mailed me from his Scandinavian sojourn.

Now Finnish inspired gifts have become a new way of life within my family.

Both brothers seem to enjoy sending me Finnish cookbooks on the traditional gift giving days.

My favorite thing about these books is the old memories they stir for me. They remind me of the primitive wooden plates that once graced the kitchen wall of my childhood home. A gift to my parents, these hand-painted folk art treasures with the words “auta itsesi” and “hyvaa kafia” were in essence the philosophy of my grandfather’s lifestyle in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where old world hospitality reigned supreme for him with his Finnish sweetheart-grandpa’s favorite wife, Katie.

Vacationing in the U.P. as a child was always an adventure, especially a culinary adventure. Katie was an incredible cook. Coffee time was her art. “Auta itses” or help yourself and “hyvaa kafia” or good coffee were proverbial expressions

With Mother’s Day quickly approaching, an idea is born. I’m going to roll up my sleeves, tie on my apron and do some baking. Mom will be receiving a homemade batch of Finnish cardamom cookies from me this year alongside a collection of assorted coffee.

Cardamom is a popular spice used in Scandinavian baked goods. It has an unmistakably intense aroma and unique taste.

Upon revisiting the pages of these new cookbooks from the international shelves of my culinary library, I hunted for a recipe that would travel well. Cardamom Rusks, a recipe by Taimi Previdi, from her book, “The Best of Finnish Cooking” might just be the ticket for mom this year. I’m getting a head start on this project.

I hope to find some Finnish literature to send to my mom, too. For even though my mother who always colored inside the lines and never spun tales of her Father’s faraway Finland, she would share nightly her love of literature and reading with my brothers and me, when we were growing up. Next to the gift of life that she gave us, I count this gift – this gift of reading as a most cherished and priceless gift. While it costs so little, just a portion of an hour or so a day, over time it adds up to something so priceless. Something that regardless of what happens in the world can never be snatched away from the recipient. Those stories lodge deep in the subconscious mind, building an appreciation and curiosity for the magic of literature and the mystery of life.

How To Host An Old Fashioned Finnish Coffee Party
Five times a day, Grandpa and Katie laid out the old-fashioned coffee party table during my family’s visits. That was their culture. My daddy thought it was too much of a good thing, but I loved it! Nowadays, I would have to agree with my dad. Too much sugar is not a good thing, but for a very special occasion, an Old-Fashioned Finnish Coffee Party is a lovely way to entertain visiting family and friends.

1.Bake up a dazzling collection of sweet confections.

2. Invite family and friends to stop by and partake of the treats.

3. Prepare a variety of sugar-less open-faced tea sandwiches.

4. Brew plenty of strong coffee and serve it with sugar and cream in small dainty demitasse-sized cups. Include milk, tea and mineral water.

5. Lay out your prettiest table with fine lace, old-world serving pieces and a bouquet of cut flowers from the garden.

6. Share stories, enjoy inspired conversation and engage in competitive, yet friendly old-fashioned family games.

(c) 2007 Kathi Dameron

Photo Credit: Jason Nelson and SXC

Kathi Dameron is a former caterer and event designer. She owns Kathi Dameron and Associates and is seeking a full-time career as a program producer. See my resume.

(This is my unedited version of my April 25, 2007 "Entertaining with Kathi" newspaper food and entertaining column. Columns are often shortened so that they can fit into the space allotted. While the newspaper does a great job of editing, the editing process removes some important parts of the story. Those are the realities of newspaper publishing. The best solution obviously would be for a food writer to limit their text to a lesser number of words so nothing gets cut out. Maybe if I have time later I'll come back and highlight the parts of the story that were used in the column. Well John, you got your wish and the editors cut out that you were a playboy!)

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