Shortly after getting settled in at mökki and placing our glasses freshly relieved of their properly garnished welcome-beverages in the sink, we prepped for the true Finnish experience: Round one of sauna. This would be of a wood fire heated varietal. We packed a medium sized tote with the proper sauna necessities, donned our suits and headed down to their newly finished sauna. Yes, you read that right, we donned our suits…sigh, we are Americans and as such have an odd stigma about nudity of which our friends were completely understanding. Typically, if the sauna was occupied by solely Finns, it would usually be birthday suits around.
Addendum: It would also be completely not odd. No nervous peeks about the room, their bodies are their bodies, and sauna is sauna.
Addendum II: Sauna is not a sex house full of sexness, it is a room with a purpose just to set the record straight. It is far more uncomfortable to sweat like nobody’s business IN a pair of trunks than to kick it nakey. Just saying…found that out the hard way.
We did three rounds of sauna in all. The heat, the sweat, the abrupt cold of the lake as you plummet from the end of the dock; the relaxation of drinking a beverage in nature with nothing else to say but, “yep.” The structure built from repeating this cycle clears your pores, cleans out your sinus and renews the mind. One can become attached to the nature of Finland very quickly. But alas, you work up a mighty hunger from the whole thing. So we headed back to the cabin to get going on dinner.
Our dining experience at mökki began with an exquisite evening meal in Heini and Iiro’s Scandinavian naturally lit dining room. The two of them are both planners in general, so naturally the food section of the itinerary was just as extensive as the activity portion. They took our six day trip as a bit of a contest; a challenge to see how much Finnish cuisine and variety they could fit into the time frame.
For the first meal, Heini put on a show! My favorite parts of the meal were learning the difference between cold vs. hot smoked salmon, trying Reindeer steaks for the first time, and draping that lovely cut of meat in a “musta torvisieni,” or black trumpet mushroom sauce. This sauce in particular, happens to be one of Heini’s favorite condiments. So to say she has perfected the recipe is an understatement! In Finland, the meat is fresh, and so is all the produce.
The conversation nearly as tasty as the food itself, we stayed at the table long after the food was consumed chatting about cultural differences, observations, curiosities and travel stories. Our bellies full, and our bags fully unpacked, we headed to bed as exhaustion crept up on us perfectly synced with the pace of the slowly setting summer suns of Northern Europe. Travel has an inherent melatonin about it, that cannot be avoided. Consciousness faded quickly for us both, and I got to sleep just as fast as C…which never happens!
My alarm was set for the crack of dawn. Day two was to be an experience outside anything I’d done before. I come from Bismarck, ND and so the making of bonfires (big and small) is a part of my upbringing. I love making fire, though I’m certainly not a pyro by any means, I’ve done this sort of thing quite often. That said, I’d never done a fire quite like a Finn setting up a smoke sauna.
It is basically a game of Tetris. Tetris, because you can never quite get all the lines filled in perfectly and even though there are a few gaps, you just have to keep moving along and try and get close to make it to the next level. And there are many levels. Three to be exact. You load up the firebox once. Go back to the house for a 50-60 minute nap, to allow the wood to burn down into embers. Come back once it has burned down, stoke the coals, and load it up again. And Repeat. After the final round, the wood is allowed to burn down for quite awhile, and that is when you go get the other chores and tasks of the day finished.
The whole process of setting it up felt like a rite of passage! After round one we napped. After round two we lounged about. After round three, Heini took it to a whole other level. She began making us “korvapuusti,” our breakfast dessert of sorts. The most similar thing we have like it in America is a cinnamon roll, but it’s its own thing entirely. She adds a bit of cardamom straight into the dough, before adding the cinnamon and sugar in the spaces.
She formed each of them by hand, though it does look like they came out of a machine since she makes them quite often. Heini informed us that these are the quintessential food that would “taste like home.” Iiro isn’t crazy about them, so she’s adapted the recipe to sub out the cardamom for chocolate chips, which he loves. In making a batch of each, I’m still not sure which I prefer…I just know I want more!
Our mid-morning brunch had familiar elements I’d associate with breakfasts anywhere, while also being ripe with completely new-to-me, completely Finnish additions. It was bits and pieces of so many good tastes. As one who loves to snack, loves antipasti, and adores eating any meal that comes in multiple segments…I was in heaven. Blueberry muesli (freshly picked berries mind you), an assortment of other freshly picked berries, rye bread (which, if Finland had a national bread, it would be rye), cold-smoked reindeer, “metvursti” (which is a basically a smoked salami-style meat), local cheeses, mämmi with vanilla sauce, “rahka” and “viili” with jam.
It was all delicious! Except… for the mämmi…which is basically like coco-wheats, except sub out tasty cocoa, and sub in a large helping of rye. The vanilla sauce helped, but it was a one and done for me. Iiro didn’t mind in the slightest, as it is the portion of the brunch he prefers most. Less from us, meant more for him! Viili resembled…well, goo. Literally, it seems like a shame to eat it, because it’s quite mesmerizing to play around with. They’ve gone ahead and gotten very scientific about dairy in Finland, adding this culture, removing that element, adding extra protein, while removing nearly all of the fat! The dairy aisle in Finland isn’t a dairy aisle, it’s a dairy four aisles.
Now rahka. Rahka on the other hand, is the best dairy product America has never had. Greek yogurt is good, sure; but honestly, try strawberry rahka and then let’s talk. Seriously, I’ll wait. Just kidding I won’t, because unfortunately Finns make some of the world’s best products, however, they market them quite marginally…so mostly just Finns know about this stuff! So, I’d basically be waiting until you went to Finland. Such a shame, because a spoon with rahka on it is one of my favorite kinds of spoon.
With our stomachs feeling contented, the sun half-cocked in the mid-morning sky we got ready for our first full day in Finland. Excited for all of the new experiences, beautiful nature in store for us, and loads of good conversations to be had on top of delicious dishes…we knew we were about to get started on a worldview growing trip. A trip we’ll never forget.