Their house was so huge I thought I wouldn’t be able to find my way around it. I started to entertain the idea that this family had in fact more than a baby and two older kids: children kept appearing from the most unlikely places and there was something eerie about their presence. Finally, they left me in the bedroom to unpack and settle in.

Being by myself made me feel relieved. I was so tired I could’ve gone straight to bed, but duty called, so I started to place all my items on the bed in an orderly manner to get a full sight of them and decide how I’d organize them in the closet. I put my laptop and my tiny iPod shuffle on the desk. I carefully studied the wardrobe: I wasn’t sure whether I should put my winter underpants in the mid-right compartment or in the one below it. This was going to take a while…

And then, it happened: the two older kids came to my room, completely naked, and started to jump on the bed, making an unavoidable mess with all my clothes and other personal items. As if that wasn’t enough, they even started throwing things around, including my treasured iPod. I had one clear goal in mind: to get rid of them. I thought if I put them back on the floor they’d get the hint. They didn’t. I was clueless about what to do. As a kid, I wouldn’t have ever dared to open some stranger’s bedroom door, let alone come in and start making a mess with their stuff. Sure, this was play, but they also knew they were being annoying and malicious. Kids aren’t that dumb. And then, it hit me. Being an au pair meant living at my workplace. As it turns out, the kids couldn’t be switched off during my off-duty hours.

The parents eventually came to remove their little goblins out of my chambers, leaving me alone again. This time, however, relief wasn’t what I was feeling. I looked out the window, and all I could see was thick, daunting darkness. There was nothing out there, nothing but a frozen lake covered in a thick layer of snow which the moon stained in a blue hue. I could hear a whistling and whooshing sound, but the trees were standing completely still. No one else lived there, no one but whoever lived on the other side of the lake. I could see some light coming out through the windows of a tiny house, but it could’ve very well been a ghost in there. I felt an inner sense of agitation when I realized I was alone in the middle of nowhere, left to the mercy of two strangers. I felt trapped, and then the panic set in.

Illustration by Lauri Kinnunen

Introduction

In February 2010, when I had recently turned eighteen and graduated from high school, I decided to travel to Finland for the first time to work as an au pair. I was originally planning to work with the family for seven months, from mid February to mid September. As usual, things didn’t go as planned. I left the family in May, after having been with them for only three months, and moved to an apartment in Helsinki, where I stayed until I had to go back to Barcelona to start my university studies.

During the three months I lived with them I gathered a collection of anecdotes that had no relevance on their own, but together left a bad taste in my mouth. I thought I would turn some of those not-so-positive moments into funny stories in hopes of making at least one person laugh. So, without further ado, here are six stories for you to enjoy.

Extreme sports

The premise for my au pair job was that the stay-at-home mum was busy taking care of their new baby, so someone had to take care of their three-year-old boy and six-year-old girl.

One fine winter morning I was told to take the kids outside, same as every day, no matter how cold it was. They liked to ride a plastic sled down a short hill next to the house. Sometimes we would play hide and seek between piles of snow. But this one particular morning they spotted snow-covered, frozen stairs that went from the terrace located on the second storey to the yard, and decided to use them as a slide.

Seeing the potential calamity that could unfold, and considering that if anything were to happen it would be my fault, I decided to inform their mum about her kids’ genius intentions. I had two options: I could either go inside the house and look for their mum, which would involve leaving the kids on their own to do something remarkably dumb, or I could stay with them and yell her name at the top of my lungs. I chose the latter.

When she finally heard my yelling, she came to see what the matter was. I explained with worry what her kids intended to do, and she simply told me to let them play, to which I replied that if anything happened to them, it wouldn’t be my responsibility.

They climbed up and slid down the stairs over and over again. I can’t recall exactly how it happened, but I ended up on the top of the stairs myself. I’m not sure how I managed to get back down alive, but I do remember being stuck for ten minutes building up the courage to take the leap. Meanwhile, the kids stood down there looking and laughing at me. I sat there looking at their tiny mean faces, and I tried to examine the frozen, slippery surface, trying to find any dips and bumps I could use as footholds, but I was soon forced to face reality: I looked at the horizon, closed my eyes, and tried to slide down the stairs as graciously as I could. When I was lying face-down in the snow I gave myself a pat on the back for at least trying.

Naked all day long

It was the end of March, and the entire family and I were going to spend a week visiting the mother’s family, who lived in a small town close to Oulu. The car ride was going to take more than eight hours, so the mother decided to travel by train with the baby. She left early in the morning, and the father, the two other kids and I would be leaving in the afternoon, when he came back from work.

I had been working there for a month and a half, but that was my first time completely alone with the kids. The father had given me clear instructions: when he got back home, the kids were to be dressed, with a clean diaper on, pooped, peed, hair-brushed, teeth-brushed, and fed. When the father came back home, however, he was faced with his two untamed children, who had been running around the entire day without clothes, unwashed and with their hair resembling a bird nest.

I can’t tell you how many persuasion strategies I tried, but they would not, for the love of Pete, put their diapers on. Instead, they thought of their nappies as toys, so I had to put them out of reach and let their butts be exposed to clean, crisp Finnish air.

Fortunately, their dad wasn’t angry at all. In fact, he told me he had zero expectations of my capability to be alone with the kids, which I didn’t take as a personal critique, but as a sign that he knew his children very well.

Running wild

Every once in a while the mother wanted to go shopping in the nearby town, and she would leave me with her kids in the playground so that she could be alone with her baby. They quickly overgrew the park and one day decided to explore the uncharted wilderness beyond it, which involved jumping over a fence into a heavily snowed field.

That winter is known for having had heavy snowfalls, and even though Finns are experts at skillfully removing snow from roads and walking paths, snow is never removed from forests and other areas with lots of trees.

So there I was, looking at them from the other side of the fence, blaming whoever designed the park for not having been able to design something that would keep kids interested for long enough, and wondering how I was going to get them back. I tried to convince them to come back with well-thought arguments on how alluring the swing looked like, but for some unexplainable reason that didn’t work and they preferred to keep running around with the snow up to their chest.

Luckily for me, no one was there to watch me climb up and down the fence. Once I was on the other side, submerged in the snow up to my knees, the hunt began. First, I went after the three-year-old boy: he was the smaller one and thus easier to carry. Then, with him on one side, I chased and caught the six-year-old girl. I carried them like a pair of heavy potato sacks to the edge of the fence. It wasn’t an easy task, but I finally managed to get them both back to the playground just in time, thirty seconds before their mother appeared down the road in her car. She found us playing on the slide as if nothing had ever happened.

Illustration by Lauri Kinnunen

If you bite my butt I can’t make lunch

The following two stories illustrate the great influence older siblings have over the younger ones.

As mentioned in the previous stories, I was never home alone with the kids, because their mother was always there with her baby. This was mostly a positive thing, given that the two older kids were not used to interact with people other than their parents and they were a difficult pack to take care of. In other words: I was there to lend a hand but had no authority over the children whatsoever. This made being alone with them a difficult task, especially when things had to get done, such as that time we had to get ready to travel to Oulu, or the time the mother had to take the baby to the doctor’s and I had to make lunch.

Now, I made lunch almost every day, so this was nothing new to me. Usually, during lunch-preparation time, the mother would sit at the kitchen table and talk to me, read some stuff, take care of her baby, or prepare baby food, while the kids would stay in their toy room until lunchtime. The mother was there to make sure her two kids wouldn’t do anything dumb.

This time, with the mother and the baby gone, the energy in the house felt weird and I could tell something was off, but I brushed it off because I couldn’t hear a single sound. My inexpertise in parenthood caused me to mistakenly believe this was a good sign, so I proceeded to chop an onion with the largest and sharpest knife when, all of a sudden, I noticed a breathing sound behind me. One second later, two sets of milk teeth sank into my butt.

As the sensible, rational human being that I am, I understood the potential threat of the situation and stopped chopping onion right away. I tried implementing every strategy advised by any “How to deal with children” manual, but nothing worked. As soon as I would get back to cooking, I would feel a stinging pain in my butt again. To be honest, there was nothing that could be done. The older girl knew she was being nasty, and she’d encourage her little brother to continue, who thought the entire thing was just a friendly game.

Given that the only plausible solution, that is tying them up in a chair, seemed too aggressive, I stopped cooking altogether. As a result, when the mother got home, lunch wasn’t ready yet and I had to explain to her how it was impossible to cook when her kids were, quite literally, a pain in the ass.

It’s raining sand

As I explained in the story Extreme sports, I had to spend time outside the house with the kids every day. During the winter months that was okay, provided they didn’t have any silly idea such as using frozen stairs as a slide. Snow was fun to play with, on, behind, and even below. But then came spring, and with it the temperature started to rise and, as a consequence, the snow started to melt, and what I thought was a huge pile of snow revealed itself as a pile of sand that had been covered with snow. At first, I didn’t give it a thought, but soon enough I started to notice the kids were drawn to it, so much so that our daily outside activities involved playing with the sand.

The older girl probably noticed that sand is one of my least favorite things in this world, so she, being consistent with her mischievous nature, inspired her little brother to throw sand at me. At that point, I was already quite fed up with her. I had been living with them for three months and was planning on moving to Helsinki as soon as I found a room and another job, even though the plan was to work with them for seven months.

The first time I tried to react as if it was a game, so I gobbled down my hatred for sand and I threw some at her as well. The little boy seemed to enjoy it, but her reaction told me this wasn’t a game. She didn’t like having sand thrown at her, which meant she told her brother to throw some at me with the only purpose of being annoying.

For three consecutive days, our outside time didn’t last any longer than five minutes, and it always ended up in me carrying the kids like potato sacks, much like in the Running wild story. Because I was done having to deal with the kids, I didn’t even try to change the situation. Instead, I simply carried them back home. The third time I showed up with the kids, their mum told me I was fired.

Given that I didn’t know how to tell them I wanted to move out, getting fired made me feel more relieved than hurt. In a way, they did the hard job for me. As an au pair, I was allowed to stay there for two more weeks, but I didn’t see the point in staying so I left that same afternoon and moved to Malmi with a Catalan-Finnish couple who were kind enough to let me stay at their place until I had to go back to Barcelona. They even helped me find a job at Rautakirja.

Becoming dinosaurs

Judging from the previous six stories, one might think being an au pair meant living in constant chaos and frustration, and while there’s some truth to this statement, I also had lots of fun every now and then.

To tell this next story, I need to give you some background on how my brain works. To put it simply: I don’t function well under supervision, no matter what the context is. Given that my job involved having the mother, aka the boss, at home all day, my performance as a nanny was quite poor, because she watched me all the time interacting with her children.

Sometimes, over lunch, she would tell me that I don’t talk to or play with the kids enough. So afterwards we’d go to their toy room to play with them. It wasn’t a complete disaster, but she expected me to be lively and talkative to kids who couldn’t understand English, and the idea of having to say random stuff without getting a response in a language different from my mother tongue, with the added bonus of being listened to and watched by my boss, felt so awkward it simply didn’t work.

At that time, I didn’t realize I only had observation anxiety, and instead, I thought I was terrible at my job. Fortunately for me, there was one day a week I’d be left alone with the three-year-old boy when the mother would take the girl to her dance classes and she’d stay downtown with the baby until she’d have to pick her up.

Right before leaving, she’d tell me she had put on a movie for the boy, so he wouldn’t bother me while I was reading for my upcoming university entrance examination, and also because she thought it would be pointless to ask me to play with him for two hours. At first, I didn’t pay any attention to him, but eventually he got bored of watching movies by himself and came out of his toy room pleading for attention. I looked at him warily: I was used to his and his sister’s malicious plans. This time around, however, he looked harmless. We looked at each other in the eye and all I could see was pure kindness. And then I understood: it was his older sister who influenced him to act stupid. They made a terrible team. But the boy, alone and without his sister’s mischievous ideas, was like an angel.

Something clicked in me and I realized we were all alone and this sudden wave of courage came over me. “I could do literally anything right now”, I thought. So I walked closer to him, got down on all fours, and roared. He immediately understood what was going on and roared back at me. We spent the entire afternoon running around the house, shouting, laughing, and playing a dinosaur-like version of hide and seek. When the mother got back home and asked him what we had been doing, he said: “We screamed”. In fact, we didn’t exchange a single word, but we were still able to communicate with each other, play, and have a blast.

That was the day I learned I work better when I’m left alone to do things my own way without supervision.

Final words

Even though spending time with the kids isn’t the part I enjoyed the most about being an au pair, I still had a great time and do not regret having made the decision to come to Finland. After I panicked on the first day I started to look for flights back home, but thankfully my parents persuaded me to stay for at least two weeks.

Being an au pair took just a tiny portion of my day, and while it was my least favorite part of the day, I can say with confidence that I enjoyed the other parts. I loved playing with the baby, and I’m proud of having made him more sociable. Because the family lived quite isolated (from a southern european point of view), the baby didn’t have much contact with the outside world and was only used to his mother, who thanked me for having been persistent with him and not giving up as soon as he started to cry every time I approached him. Eventually he felt comfortable with me, and apparently this helped him be more comfortable with other humans as well. I’d have been more than happy if my job had been to take care of the baby and not the two older kids.

I also liked hanging out with the parents, especially on Friday nights when we’d have dinner and the father introduced me to lonkero, a Finnish alcoholic drink I liked to drink lots of and now, ten years later, have trouble understanding how that ever happened. Every second Friday we’d make sushi, which I had never eaten before, and that alone makes coming to Finland worth it. Sometimes I made them Spanish and Catalan dishes: I even went through the impossible task of cooking paella in Finland. And of course, I tasted many Finnish dishes and pastries. I’d have never thought adding cream and dill to a soup made out of salmon was a good idea, and I remember how surprised I was the first time I ate a laskiaispulla: I had never tasted cardamom before and had no idea what was going on in my mouth.

When we visited Oulu during Easter, I got to work for two days at the children’s grandmother’s small bakery. Not only was it a lot of fun, but I also got to take home some Finnish baked goods for free and I ate them all by myself without an ounce of regret. That trip was probably the best time I had during my au pair months. Not because of the free pastries and buns, which of course were an added bonus, but because I was on a holiday and I got to interact with new people and forget about the kids. The mother’s family was warm and welcoming and I had a great time with them. One night I got up at 1 am to pee and saw the parents and the mother’s siblings eating, drinking and playing cards. I asked them why they were eating so late at night, and they told me to join them. I was hesitant at first, but that night I learned to love some Finnish classics, such as Fazer blue chocolate and rye sourdough crackers with butter and black pepper fresh cheese. We stayed up until 5am talking nonsense but having a blast.

Probably the best part about having experienced one of the coldest and snowiest winters Finland has ever had was walking in the snowed forest all by myself, taking in every scent and sound, such as that made by the talitintti (great tit). Its titutitu or titituu twittering is a characteristic trait of the Finnish nature landscape during winter, and listening to it makes me feel like I’m wandering in a snowy forest.

Illustration by Lauri Kinnunen

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Let’s talk about Finnish winter, the season that brings out the whiny, annoying inner child in people, and when everyone acts as if their day-to-day life was a matter of mere survival. I’m here to tell you that Finnish winter isn’t meant to be survived, but, rather, enjoyed. So next time the temperature starts to drop in the middle of September, just be chill and maybe read a book about hygge if you’re desperately out of ideas. This isn’t Game of Thrones. There’s absolutely no reason to worry about the fact that winter is coming, and here’s why:

1. Cold weather
Buildings in Finland are built to stay warm thanks to central heating and efficient isolation. It might be -20 °C outside, but your house will always stay warm. Even though it’s freezing outside, which shouldn’t be an issue if you’re dressed appropriately, you know you’ll soon get to a warm place. Knowing that cold is temporary makes extreme temperatures manageable. In fact, the only place where I’ve suffered from cold weather is Spain, even though it never gets anywhere near as cold as in Finland. Even when it’s just chilly, the air is so humid that it gets to your bones and it makes you shiver. Then, you know that there’s no warm place awaiting for you, and you’ll have to endure until the next morning in a cold bed. Temporary cold, no matter how intense, is not perceived as a negative sensation.

I actually enjoy taking the piss out of my relatives and acquaintances every time they ask me about Finnish weather. I’ve been in Finland for eight years and I visit my home country only once a year for Christmas. In every get-together with people I hardly know, someone has to ask me, as if they had suddenly realised I’m also in the room: “Oye, y por allí arriba debe de hacer mucho frío, ¿no?”, which roughly translates to “Hey, it’s quite cold up there, isn’t it?”. Honestly, if all you have to ask about Finland has to do with how cold it gets, you might as well say nothing. Some of them ask this every single year, as if they had forgotten that it does indeed get cold in winter. I love answering things like “I’ve never felt as cold as in Spain”. Sometimes, I like to exaggerate and say it doesn’t get above -30 °C for six months straight. Other times I like to mess with them and say that what people think of winter in the Nordic countries is just a myth and it’s actually quite warm year-round. On the other hand, and I’m digressing here, this question is much better than the recent “Well, it’s probably not that hard to study Swedish philology (Finland’s second national language) since you already know Finnish so well. They’re quite similar, right?”.

2. Snow
No matter how much snow there is, roads and railroads always stay clear, and sidewalks are covered in gravel to make walking safer. Even the airport stays open: watch this video to see how the staff at Helsinki Airport keeps the runways safe. The world doesn’t stop just because frozen vapor is falling from the sky.

Walking on icy sidewalks is probably the only thing you need to worry about. Helsinki isn’t always below zero, so sometimes the snow melts to turn back into ice when the temperature hits the freezing mark again. The gravel keeps people from falling over, but it helps to be careful. A good thing to keep in mind is that university lectures or work are not more important than your own health, so don’t run to the bus stop. It doesn’t matter if you’re late to uni: most lectures are completely useless anyway. It doesn’t matter if you’re late to work: unless you’re a surgeon, they can probably do without you for half an hour.

3. Lack of sunlight
You can buy a lamp that radiates artificial sunlight and take vitamin D supplements. I don’t personally use any of those since I don’t get the winter blues anymore, but I admire the human capacity to compensate for the lack of sun during autumn and winter.

So, we’ve tackled the cold weather, the sometimes-overwhelming amount of snow, and the lack of sun, which are the three things people complain about during winter, both Finns and foreigners alike. Funnily enough, all of those three things are already taken care of. Our ancestors had to survive winter, but today all we’ve got left to do is enjoy it. As an example on how to do it, see the picture below:

Image by Lauri Kinnunen, edited by me

Let’s overlook the fact that I’m holding that tree as if it were my friend, although I do like it way more than I like some people, and let’s focus on the matter at hand. This blog post’s title is “How to survive the Finnish winter”, but we’ve already established that there’s nothing to survive. Instead, I’m going to give you some tools to make the most of this underrated season. This picture was taken on the island of Iso Vasikkasaari in March 2018, and I got there by walking 1.5 km on water.

It was my eighth winter in Finland and my first time walking on the frozen sea. Why? Because I didn’t know it was safe, or even possible. Sometimes my boyfriend would go for a walk and then tell me he had arrived at this café by sliding on the frozen water. I thought he was insane. It turns out it’s perfectly safe: the thickness of the ice is measured and updated on weather databases, walking routes are indicated by snow removal machines, and further from the coastline roads are opened for car traffic. If the ice is thick enough to support heavy machines, walking on it is perfectly fine. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t be careful. Look out for caution areas on the internet and the news (they usually advise against walking on specific areas if the ice is not thick enough) and do not leave the ground if there is no one on the sea. In the picture above, there is an entire family behind me walking on the ice, but there are other activities that can be done on frozen water: I’ve seen people skiing, skating, kitesurfing, windsurfing, pulling a sleigh with kids on top, etc.

This should teach us that not knowing or understanding something doesn’t mean it’s dangerous or bad. Our ignorance is not an excuse to deem the unknown as intrinsically bad.

Everyone in Finland lives near nature. Usually, small forests are at a walking distance, but bigger nature areas are within only a half hour drive. For example, Oittaa is an area in Espoo located on the shore of the lake Bodom. Its outdoor centre is known for renting gear for winter activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, which can be done both on the lake or in the forest surrounding it.

I didn’t particularly enjoy cross-country skiing. I already tried it in 2010 in Oulu and this time around wasn’t much better. I used to downhill ski in the Pyrenees every winter during my childhood and teenage years, and while some people might think they are similar styles, they have nothing to do with each other. As someone who is used to hard ski boots, putting on soft fabric ski boots that attach to the ski only by their tip felt quite unsafe. I fell backwards twice and I was extremely afraid of taking the short and gentle hills. I really admire people who have the ability to cross-country ski at very high speeds. Even if this style of skiing wasn’t my thing, I’m still glad I tried it. I spent a nice day outdoors and because the rental shop also had snowshoes, I got the idea of going back the following week and try snowshoeing, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

After being outside in the cold nothing feels more comforting than taking a sauna bath. Most buildings in Finland have a sauna, but these are not as fun as they are in nature, where you can step out of the smoke sauna and go for a skinny dip at the lake, or if you’re not brave enough, you can wash with buckets of water.

Helsinki has some public saunas next to the sea that, in the winter, offer the possibility of swimming in an ice hole (called avanto in Finnish). The only downside to public saunas is that it is sometimes mandatory to wear a bathing suit. The newest place I know of is Löyly. Löyly literally means the steam that rises from the sauna stove after throwing some water to it, which is something other countries attempting to do Finnish sauna do not understand. Water has to be thrown to the stove to create steam. Otherwise, sauna becomes a dry, unappealing experience. Another place near Helsinki with a public sauna is at the lake Kuusijärvi.

After sauna, it is typical to eat grilled sausage with honey mustard, but this is only possible when there’s a fireplace available. If you’re at home, the best you can do is prepare some soup beforehand and eat it after sauna, if you manage not to fall asleep on the plate. My winter favorites are borscht soup, a sweet and savory dish with beetroot as the main ingredient; burbot soup, which is similar to the typical salmon soup eaten in the Nordic countries; and reindeer soup. You can find other soup recipes in my website Paleo Spoon.

I hope this blog post gave you a new appreciation for winter, or that at least it made you understand a bit better those who enjoy it. So, next time you’re at uni or work complaining about the weather and someone decides to open up their heart and share their unpopular opinion, please don’t look at them like their native planet is Neptune. I understand someone could think that about me, but not on the grounds that I have a preference for autumn and winter over summer.

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My blackberry spot

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Smultronställe is a Swedish word that refers to a rather hidden, hard to get to place that holds sentimental value to us.

The term is composed of two words: smultron, which means wild strawberry, and ställe, which means place or spot. Thus, smultronställe literally means a place where wild strawberries grow. The village in the picture above is Ejulve, located in Aragón, Spain, and it’s a smultronställe of sorts, but because there are a lot of blackberry bushes in the fields surrounding the town I thought calling it my blackberry spot would be way more charming.

As a kid, I used to spend a few weeks there during the summer with my grandparents. Even though I don’t come from a big city, Ejulve was the only place where I was allowed to play on the streets with other kids without parental supervision. I particularly remember playing with skateboards by going downhill on the steep streets, or simply walking around while having some merienda, such as a bocadillo with fresh, mild goat cheese or jamón serrano, both produced in Ejulve, or a delicious peach from Calanda. We also had the bad habit of sitting in front of someone’s front door to eat pipas, aka sunflower seeds, and then leaving the ground covered in all the shells we had spat out.

Summer is the only season when most houses are occupied, mostly by children and their grandparents, who emigrated in their youth to Catalonia, Valencia, or the capital of Aragón, Zaragoza. I rarely visited Ejulve during winter: it can get really cold and I didn’t like sleeping under a dozen blankets. My grandma’s house is really old and it’s not built to be energy-efficient, the only heating methods are a wood-burning stove and a gas heater. During the last decade or so my parents have been renovating it: now it’s still as energy-efficient as it was before, but at least the house looks super cute and hyggelig.

Ever since I moved to Finland in 2011 I’ve visited my hometown only during the winter holidays, and my boyfriend and I have been visiting Spain together every winter since Christmas 2014. Spending a few days in Ejulve has become one of our favourite traditions, which means we’ve had to rely on wood and pine cones to stay warm. Thank God the military service is mandatory in Finland and Lauri knows how to chop wood. To be honest, I prefer to stay there during winter instead of summer. It’s actually quite funny when people express their astonishment at the fact that we like Ejulve during winter as well, unaware of my unpopular preference for cold weather. And quite frankly, I prefer to stay there when the town is almost empty. As I mentioned above, summer is the only season when most houses are occupied. But during winter only around 200 people live there, which is an excellent recipe for -relative- calmness. In fact, Ejulve is the only place in the world where I’ve been able to listen to the sound of silence.

Cold weather also calls for soup. As I already mentioned in the blog post where I talk about my love for autumn, I’m a sucker for all kinds of soups. One of our all-time favourites is my mum’s cuttlefish and potato stew, shown in the picture below. You can find this recipe in my new website Paleo Spoon, where I compile all the recipes I mention in this blog.

Another recipe that works wonders to stay warm and alive is onion soup. Not only is it a nourishing and comforting meal, but due to the considerable amount of onions, it will make you really gassy, which will ensure the bed stays throughout the coldest of nights.

Chorizo soup is a great way of consuming this sausage: its smoked paprika taste infuses the broth and the combination of chewy meat with mushy potatoes and savoury broth is heaven-like.

Duck pot roast is perfect for when you feel like eating something both sweet and salty: duck meat pairs perfectly with the sweetness from dried plums and apricots, and the addition of cinnamon takes this dish to the next level.

Cream of potato and parsley is excellent to have a meatless meal. The potato gives this soup a thick consistency and parsley adds an interesting layer of taste.

Lamb stew makes for a simple but delicious meat soup when you have access to a butcher. Farmers in Ejulve grow their own sheep and pigs for meat and goats for cheese. The connection between consumers and animals grows closer in such small communities. Farming, butchering and selling are done by just one entity, usually a family. This means that when you go to the store to ask if you can get some lamb meat for the next day, the seller will tell you who will kill the animal and when. Then, they’ll ask you which part of the animal you’d like to get. This also allows you to ask for body parts that are usually not available in big supermarkets, even though in Spain one can get pretty much anything anywhere. There might be some people who have already ordered their share, so you might have to take what’s left. This whole thing makes you more aware of the entire process involved in the consumption of meat.

In Ejulve, lambs are pasture-raised, which means that they are free to run and eat grass from the vast fields that encircle the village. Sometimes, however, meteorologic circumstances prevent the sheep from having access to pasture. In February 2018, for example, there was a big snowfall that kept us isolated for a few days because the road that leads to the town was blocked, which caused a slight shortage of food supplies, such as produce and freshly baked bread. Despite winter being quite cold, snow doesn’t take too long to melt. This time, however, there was so much snow that the pasture fields were covered for days and sheep had to be kept inside. This meant that someone had to manage to go through the snow and get to the barn to feed them, which was per se challenging enough.

Farm animals aren’t the only ones to benefit from the fields that surround Ejulve. Those fields grow the best dried herbs I’ve ever smelled or tasted. I say dried because that area of Spain is particularly dry, and the variety of herbs that grow there are much drier than what you can find in a rainier region, and much more fragrant, if I do say so myself. Such herbs include lavender, with which my mum loves to make bouquets to decorate the house and freshen up the air; thyme and rosemary, which are great to add to soups and infusions; and last but not least, my favourite: pennyroyal, a type of mint plant. Brewing this herb will make your entire house smell lovely. Whenever I make myself a cup of pennyroyal in Finland, its scent instantly takes me back to Ejulve. Its taste is rather bitter, but it goes really well with honey which, you guessed it, is also produced in Ejulve.

One of the best things to experience while staying at my grandma’s childhood home is to climb to the attic at night, which my parents skillfully renovated three years ago, open the skylight and gaze at the flickering stars whilst sipping some pennyroyal tea and listening to the sound of silence.

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At the beginning of January, I spent a week in San Sebastián with my boyfriend, and I had one clear goal in mind: to eat as many bowls of Basque fish soup as it would take to figure out the recipe that I want to share in this blog. Below you can see my smile of accomplishment.

Image by Lauri Kinnunen, edited by me

Another reason for my broad smile might have been that the most common weather in the Basque Country is a sky full of clouds and constant rain. For more details on my aversion to sunlight, please refer to my previous post.

Frankly speaking, things didn’t go according to plan. I’m known for having an exceptional sense of smell and taste. This time, however, employing my culinary reverse engineering skills didn’t deliver the expected results. But please don’t stop reading quite yet. Unaffected by the surprising failure, I decided to plough ahead unrelentlessly and apply a rare, unconventional method - friendly inquiry.

Apparently, it had not occurred to me to google using the key words basque, fish soup, and San Sebastian. Instead, I had to kindly ask the waitress to give me a clue on how to find this soup recipe on the internet. She told me to search for “Sopa de pescado a la donostiarra”, which literally means “fish soup the San Sebastián way”. Donostia is San Sebastián’s Basque name, and the ending -tarra is the suffix used to create a demonym in the Basque language, which is used as well in the Spanish language to refer to people from San Sebastián and other Basque cities.

This soup is part of the traditional Basque cuisine, and almost every restaurant has its own version of it. The internet is also full of different versions of the same recipe. I did my research and tried my best. It did not turn out exactly like my favorite restaurant’s soup, but it was nevertheless a very good soup. You can find the recipe here.

Once work had been done, it was time for play (not that eating fish soup and other delicious things wasn’t fun). This is not a travel blog, so I’m not going to go through and share our schedule. But, just to share a fun fact, we decided to get out of the city and explore the coast, with its cliffs and flyschs. We went to see the Flysch Cliffs and the Saint Telmo Chapel. We were lucky enough to spot some rays of sunshine. We were told by some local foks that this only happens every 7.34 years (this fact might not be 100% accurate, I can’t find any good sources). It only lasted for a few seconds, but I was quick enough to capture this phenomenon. See below:

Amazing, isn’t it? This might be one of the very few times I call myself lucky to see the sun.

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The Perks of Autumn

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So here’s the thing: I don’t like the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that it exists. Everybody knows this star is essential to life on Earth. What I mean is that I don’t enjoy the rays of the sun reaching my body, specially my head and my eyes. Direct sunlight can actually make me sick, usually in the form of a bad migraine. Summer and hot weather in general are, simply put, not my cup of tea.

It should come as no surprise that every year I get really excited when summer is over and autumn is rolling in. And considering I live in Finland, where summer lasts one day, that says a lot about me.

I know all people go crazy when autumn is around the corner. After all, autumn is, together with winter, the most hyggelig time of the year. But no one seems to enjoy themselves when the cold weather, darkness, heavy rains and snow come around.

I’m a student at the university of Helsinki. Almost every day, before the class starts, people like to comment on the weather (smalltalk isn’t particularly exciting here). They always seem disappointed unless it’s sunny and warm. When it’s sunny outside and they comment on how great that is, I just nod along, because I get where they come from and I don’t want to interfere with a negative comment about how unnecessarily bright the classroom is (seriously though, there’s no need to open all the blinds). Not to mention that in Finland it’s frowned upon to avoid sunlight exposure. But when they complain about the lack of sun and heat, I try to remind them that there’s still beauty out there. There’s a lot of forest around here, so misty mornings make walking to the bus stop and waiting for the bus a transcendental activity. It’s also awesome to wake up to freshly fallen snow, specially when it’s unexpected, like in the middle of May. Also, has anyone paid attention to the way tree leaves change color and cover the ground? There’s literally no reason to complain.

To be honest, I only found out about my love for autumn three years ago. I think it’s because we’re ‘supposed’ to like summer. So much so, that as soon as the first leaves would start to fall off the trees in the middle of August, I’d freak out. But then one autumn, being mindful of my own emotions, I paid attention to that warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach that I get every autumn. And it was then that I realised that I, in fact, love this season. Now I kinda lose it when summer gets closer, but that’s another story. I might write a blog post about things that I like about summer that don’t require roasting myself under the sun.

So, I’ve made a list of of the aspects of autumn I enjoy the most, for those of you that dislike autumn, and also for those that already love it but simply enjoy reading about how other people perceive things. These ideas are rather obvious, but you might get another insight on why they’re great.

1. Nature


As I mentioned earlier, autumn turns nature into a fairytale. So, wake-up early and go for a walk around a misty forest. Or maybe go and pick up colourful leaves to take some nice pictures. I even made a very short stop-motion video with them (you can check it out here). You can also use the leaves to make some DIY fall decorations and get the hygge going.

2. Seasonal produce

Image taken by Lauri Kinnunen, edited by me

Autumn brings to this world some of my favorite fruits and vegetables. Here are some:

  • Squashes: butternut squash (to use in cakes or somewhat elaborate soups), hokkaido squash (to make a simple pumpkin-potato thick soup).
  • Chestnuts: either roasted or used in soups.
  • Persimmons: I like them so much that, when I was a kid, my grandpa planted a persimmon tree on the backyard of my grandparents’ house. Be sure to get the right ones, though. Nowadays you can find unripened solid ones that for some reason don’t taste bad. The good ones are very giggly and delicate: they feel soft to the touch, as if there were jam underneath their thin skin.
  • Apples: Finnish apples are a delicacy. They’re tiny little sweet and sour balls of joy. I didn’t appreciate apples at all until I moved to Finland.

3. Warm beverages


I don’t really drink coffee or tea, so when it comes to hot beverages I have two options: herbal infusions or hot chocolate.

Some weeks ago my mum sent me some mint tea she picked up from my grandma’s hometown surroundings. The village, Ejulve, is in Aragón, Spain. Lots of aromatic dried herbs grow there, including rosemary, thyme, lavender and mint. When I made myself a cup of mint infusion, my whole apartment smelled like Ejulve. And it’s not like that place smells like mint, but that smell had something very unique that brought lots of childhood memories. But you don’t need to go to any remote place to pick up your own aromatic herbs. It’s enough to pick you favorite tea, add some honey to it (or not) and drink it being aware and grateful for the moment.
I’ve also recently made a Paleo version of the classic Chocolate a la taza, aka Spanish hot chocolate. Check out the recipe and give yourself a treat!

4. Soups


Soups are my absolute favorite thing to eat. I’ll have soup anytime. Even during summer, when it’s hot and normal people eat refreshing stuff, I’ll still have my bowl of steaming hot soup. Autumn and winter are so great, that I can enjoy soups without regreting it afterwards. I’m going to share many soup recipes in this blog, which I’m going to post on PaleoSpoon, my recipe website.

5. Self-pampering

pamper Image taken by Lauri Kinnunen, edited by me

Self-care shouldn’t be something you do only during autumn. But during the dark months of the year it’s good to pay some extra attention to yourself. At the beginning of this blog post I mentioned I enjoy autumn and winter due to the lack of sun. But that doesn’t mean I’m not affected by it. Finland starts to get pretty dark in November. Mornings are dark and the sun sets at 3 in the afternoon, and to me, 5 p.m. feels like bedtime. Whenever I have the time, I like to take this early tiredness as an opportunity to have a slow evening. I like to put a face mask on and relax. I’d take a bath if I had a bathtub, but I don’t. So I just sit on the toilet and read a book for lack of a better option. Tip: I know the idea of sipping some tea while having your face mask on sounds appealing, but do a favor to your digestive system and just don’t.

Disclaimer: there’s obviously no need to look like a creature from another realm to relax. This was just an example of one of the things I enjoy doing when it’s cold and dark outside.

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Author's picture

Tània Sierra

I’m a 28-year-old Catalan woman based in Helsinki, Finland.


FI / SV > CA / ES
Literary Translator