Hurray! We’re fast approaching my
90-day binge fest favorite season of the year. Besides the fact that it’s widely accepted that legs don’t need daily shaving anymore, Winter is practically a free season pass to sweet candy, luscious pies, roasted turkeys with all the fixings, bottomless spiced hot chocolates and all kinds of other culinary deliciousness… Not to forget domestic fabulousness like plaid flannel pajamas, wickedly cool decorations, the year’s best movie releases, crackling hearths and overall homely splendor. Let’s admit it, Winter is like the ‘Hyacinth Bouquet’ of all seasons.
Back when I was still
gainfully employed for an adventure travel company in Belgium, a handful of co-workers & I got invited on a 5-day dog-sledding ‘trek’ through the great outdoors in Lapland, in the very Northern tip of Finland… We flew from Brussels to Ivalo and then onwards to Kittala, located at the rim of the Arctic Circle. Upon arrival at our destination, we stopped at what looked like a log cabin and were greeted by a Finnish guide who beckoned us to come inside his ‘mud’ room and promptly fitted us for a bright red thermal monkey suit.
We were instructed to wear this one-piece hooded suit so that only our nose and eyes were exposed. The staff was very particular about making sure we understood the importance of covering up as much as we could. We were told the hairs inside our nose would freeze, but we were reassured to not panic since our own body temperature would prevent our nostrils from freezing shut. Great! We were warned the moisture in the corner of our eyes may – or may not – freeze, causing your eyelid(s) to freeze and get stuck. “When this happens, place your gloved hand over your eye and wait to defrost”, they said, “don’t pull your eyelids, as it may cause injury”. It was -55C outside (minus 67F. MINUS, people!!!). Factor in the wind chill, and I’ve never been happier to carry 50-odd pounds of excess fat on my frame than I was then. As the days progressed, we’d mock and laugh at each other whenever an eye would freeze half shut, and we had a running tally of bets to see who’d be the first one to have both eyes freeze shut. It sounds terrible, but I’ve never laughed harder.
Those 5 days were without a doubt the most beautiful, exhilarating and eventful trip I have ever taken. Besides the fact that one of my colleagues fell madly in love with our Finnish guide and shocked us all by impulsively deciding on day 5 to not return to her husband in Belgium, we ‘yeehaw’-ed our own dog sleds through the most magnificent Winter wonderland ever…
…and we stopped to visit Santa Claus Village.
That’s right, I’ve been to Santa Claus in the Polar Circle. Stuff that in your pipe and smoke it. I know you’re envious! On a side note, Peggy Sue did eventually return to Belgium to resume her marriage, but we never got any detail as to what happened exactly.
Between seeing a nightly spectacle of Northern lights and eating the best cedar plank salmon I have ever tasted, I have many fond memories of that trip, but a foodie favorite of mine was ‘lohikeitto’. It’s a creamy concoction of salmon, leeks and potatoes, and it tastes great so good with toasted rye bread on a cold winter’s day. It’s Finland’s answer to New England clam chowder, really.
Finnish Salmon Chowder
(also known as Lohikeitto… Adapted from a few recipes online)
– 3 Tbsp olive oil
– 1 leek, chopped (white and light green part only)
– 2 carrots, diced
– 3 cups of fish broth or stock
– 1 bay leaf
– 3/4 lbs potatoes, cubed and peeled
– 3/4 lbs salmon filet, skinned, de-boned and cut into small chunks
– 3/4 cup cream (or half & half)
– 1 Tbsp cornstarch (up to 1.5 Tbsp if you’d like the broth thick) + 1 Tbsp of water
– 1 Tbsp butter
– salt and pepper
– fresh dill for topping (or parsley, if you’re dill-hater)
Heat the olive in a large saucepan and sauté the leek until softened. Add 3 cups of fish stock and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and carefully add the potatoes. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Add the salmon and simmer for five minutes. Add the cream and stir to mix. Make a cornstarch slurry with the cornstarch and 1 Tbsp of water, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Add to the soup and simmer until the soup has thickened.
Add the butter and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with plenty of fresh parsley or dill. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, if desired.