Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Finnish Tango is the Dance Therapy for the Soul


You may be surprised that in my view, out of all the Nordic people, we Finns are the most passionate.  That strong emotion is a Finnish national characteristic may be a little known fact also because, as a people, we are most apt at hiding our passion – until we hear a tango piece.

If you’re in a dance restaurant, or at a summer dance in Finland, you’ll notice that the floor will be empty until the first tango is played. We Finns love moving along to this slow, staccato beat. With serious, concentrated faces, you’ll see the couples move swiftly, and expertly, along the floor. The Finnish tango is danced with close contact in the pelvis, upper thighs, and the upper body, with frequent dips and rotations. In the Finnish tango feet stay close to the floor, with no kicks as in the Argentine tango. The lyrics in the Finnish tango are important, as is the accordion, which has a prominent place in the score.

The Finnish Tango emerged at the same time as the country gained its independence. Nobody seems to know who brought the first tango music into the country around 1910, but by the 1930’s Finnish musicians started writing their own tango pieces, and after the Second World War, tango became the most popular form of music in the country.

Perhaps it’s the slow, but persistent, rhythm in a tango, which appeals to the Finnish sense of deep melancholy. This basic sense of drama is also reflected in the lyrics of the tangos. The most popular themes are love and sorrow, or longing for something unattainable, such as a warm, far-flung country, or one’s homestead – a distant land of happiness. Tango is not a light-hearted business in Finland.


One of the most revered Finnish tangos, and the one I remember from my childhood is Finnish classic is Satumaa; (Wonderland), sung by Reijo Taipale. This is a tale about a paradise far away, so unattainable that the singer feels he’s a bird with clipped wings. Another tango, Metsäkukkia (Forest flowers) sung by Olavi Virta, is a song about a lost summer and lost love, rediscovered in the spring. Whereas Kotkan Ruusu (Rose of Kotka), sang by Eino Gron, tells the tale of a woman of the night, told with the most passionate words allowable in the 1950’s, when the song was written. Its beat is such that I’d defy anyone listening to it, not to immediately want to get up and dance – or at least tap a foot.

Although the most popular tangos were written in the 1950’s, they were constantly played on the radio when I was growing up in central Finland. As a child, I’d watch my parents and other grown-ups crowd the dance floor when a popular Finnish tango was played at family parties.  My first boyfriend was a passionate tango dancer and taught me the steps, although I think you’d be pressed to find a Finn even today who doesn’t know how to dance a tango.

Many of the tango songs have also been re-recorded many times, and new tangos have been written. Some, such as Kotkan Ruusu, or Suyyspihlajan Alla (Under the Mountain Ash tree) sung by Arja Saijonmaa, became popular in Sweden amongst the large Finnish ex-pat population in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Even today, the Finnish tango, as popular music and dance, is thriving, although it’s no longer the chart-topping music of the post-war era. There’s a hugely popular competition, Tangomarkkinat (Tango Market), started in the mid-eighties and held in the central town of Seinäjoki, where a Tango Queen and King are crowned each summer. The 2015 Tango Market is a five-day affair on 8-12 July, with tango lessons, tango karaoke, concerts and most important of all the tango competition final.

The event attracts more than 100,000 visitors (out of 5 million residents) and the winners of the song competition become instant celebrities in Finland, and often have successful long-term careers in the music business.

So, if you’re near a dance floor in Finland this summer, have a go and get some therapy for the soul!

Information on the Seinäjoki Tango Market can be found at www.tangomarkkinat.fi

This article will also appear in the Summer 2015 edition of the CoScan Magazine.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Dagmar: My favourite Swedish Fashion Label




I found Dagmar last year when I saw this skirt on the naughty-but-nice Net-a-Porter site. Its green camouflage pattern is really flattering, and the zips on the side make it a little more fun than a normal pencil skirt would be. It's also very stretchy, so even on 'fat days' I can fit into it. I've worn the skirt so many times now that I think a lot of people think its sewn onto to me; still it doesn't show any signs of wear and tear. Plus it can just be shucked into the washing machine time and time again.

Here I am wearing my Dagmar skirt, posing with the Moomin troll.
This is why I like a lot of Swedish brands; even H&M - which after all is a value fashion brand - makes items that last a lot longer than their British or Spanish counterparts. I''m not naming any names, but you know that irritation when  a t-shirt turns bobbly or stretched after just one wear and wash. Or when the label tells you that a simple skirt of shirt needs dry cleaning - or worse still - the label says 'Do not wash'. What is that all about?

Swedish House of  Dagmar is a quirky label, designed by three Swedish sisters. Tall, blonde and beautiful, I'd have to hate them, would they not produce such fun an wearable clothes.

The three beautiful and talented sisters
 behind the Dagmar label
One of their most important fans is the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria, so once again I'm wearing clothes favoured by Royalty. I must be getting old.

Princess Victoria wearing a Dagmar dress.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Easy Vegan Food: Lentil, avocado and mint salad

When my daughter said she was going to be Vegan for the whole of January, I was a little shocked, but then thought it would be fun to try it out. After the meat excesses of Christmas, it'd do me and the Englishman good too to cut down on animal fats.

Trying to be healthy in January is a bit of a tradition in our household anyway - we cut down on alcohol and eat more greens etc. For a few years we even managed to be completely dry (alcohol-free) in January. But somehow that doesn't happen any more...

Anyway, I've flirted with vegetarianism for years, though only completely managing to eat a meat-free diet for about six weeks in year dot, when the Englishman was away at sea. He jokes that I am part-time vegetarian who enjoys the occasional rare (blue, actually) steak. True enough, that.

So...you might have noticed it's now March and I'm writing about easy Vegan recipes...the diet suited Daughter so much that she decide to remain animal-free for the foreseeable. But I would be lying if I didn't admit to sometimes tearing my hair out, trying to think of what food to make for all of us.

(By the way, before I get complaints from the other people in my household - I don't by any means carry the burden of providing the family with sustenance every day - we all enjoy cooking and take turns).

Luckily for me, my sister, The Great Cook, came to stay with us in January. Her daughter is also recently Vegan, so she had a great many recipes under her hat. But because my Big Sis has been working in the food trade for all her career, the recipes she cooked for us seemed terribly complicated.  When Big Sis left, I felt completely at loss on what to cook for Daughter and the Englishman. Because we are all so busy, I didn't want us to have our evening meals separately - the recipes needed to satisfy meat eaters as well as Vegan Daughter.

So I turned to vegetarian pasta dishes, but after a while this too became a little monotonous. Slowly, however, we've together as a family built up a repertoire of simple supper dishes which you can throw together when exhausted from work and the London commute, and I thought I'd share with you some of these easy Vegan dishes.


Lentil, Avocado and Mint Salad

I made this salad up last night out of ingredients that I found in the cupboard, and it tasted so good that I thought I'd share the recipe with you.

I love puy lentils, and they, like avocado, are a rich in numerous essential nutrients, such as fibre and protein. This recipe was just enough for three hungry people, and I served it with baked sweet potatoes.

Ingredients:

150 g Puy lentils
2 ripe Avocados
1 red onion, cut in half and finely sliced
150 ml red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon - juice and rind
sprigs of fresh mint

To serve:

I head of little gem chopped
a handful of watercress
Salt and pepper to season

Method:

Wash the lentils and place in a saucepan. Cover with plenty of cold water and bring to boil. Cook on  allow heat for abut 40 minutes (or according to packet instructions).

While the lentils are cooking, place the slices of the onion in a bowl and pour over the red wine vinegar so that the slices are just covered. The onions are gently pickled in the vinegar while the lentils are cooking - they need at east half an hour. You'd be amazed how lovely and mild the red onion becomes in such a short time.

When the lentils are soft with still a little bite to them, drain them and place back in the saucepan (off the heat). Pour over the olive oil and squeeze over the juice of the lemon and grate some of the rind in too. Season with salt and pepper.

Because I was serving baked sweet potatoes with the salad, I had to wait for about ten minutes for them to cook, during which time the lentils cooled slightly.

Add the avocado flesh, cut out with a small spoon into roundish shapes, to the lentils (Though it doesn't really matter what shape you make them). Mix gently with the lentils and add the fresh mint, finely chopped. (If you can't wait for the lentils to cool, add the chopped mint last on top of the salad, otherwise it'll quickly wilt & turn dark mixed with the hot lentils).

Spread the chopped little gem lettuce onto a plate, and pile the lentils and avocado on top. Arrange the watercress around the lentil mixture, and finally drain the red onion slices and arrange around the dish.

And enjoy!

Monday, 23 March 2015

I'm going to be part of an Indie Author Fair!



Independent Bookshop Opens Doors to Independent Authors

Foyles on London’s Charing Cross Road, is playing host to The Indie Author Fair (IAF) on Friday 17th April 2015. Part of the London Book Fair Indie Author Fringe Festival, run by The Alliance of Independent Authors/Indie ReCon, the fair is organised by Triskele Books - and I'm going to be part of it! 

The Indie Author Fair will showcase the talent and enterprise of many ALLi members at Foyles, London’s largest indie bookstore, with the support of London Book Fair’s Book and Screen Week.

I will be there with copies of The Englishman and and Coffee and Vodka. Both books will be on sale at a special price of £5 (normal price £7.99)

The fair will take place from 16.00–19.30 and is free to the public with drinks reception, goodie bags and personalised signed copies of all the books (including mine, obviously), so please pop by and say hello!

Friday, 6 March 2015

Lunch in Paris and the frustrations of Eurostar delays

On our last day - a Sunday - in Paris this January, Big Sis and I decided to have a long leisurely lunch close to the hotel before our scheduled departure on Eurostar back to London later that same afternoon. The trains had been cancelled the day before due to a lorry fire in the freight tunnel, but all seemed to be in order when we sat down to enjoy our aperitif or a glass of champagne (we were in Paris after all).

But then I had the fateful text: "Your train has been cancelled".

What to do? I tried to telephone the number on the text, but was told the queue was 1/2 hour long. "There's also plenty you can do online," said the friendly Eurostar lady on the automated message, so I decided to enjoy our lunch and see what I could do on my laptop later.

I'm glad I did, because when a couple of hours later I telephoned again, it took over 4 hours to get through to change our booking (and no, you couldn't do it online). By that stage we'd rebooked our lovely room at the Crowne Plaza, and were resigned to another night in Paris. (What a hardship!)

But before we knew about the frustrations of Eurostar delays, we concentrated on (what we thought was going to be) our last lunch in Paris.

As soon as we'd stepped into the Astier we liked the look of the place. Traditionally French, the service was friendly and extremely courteous. There were delicious-looking meals being enjoyed all around us, and looking at the menu, we had great difficulty in deciding on what to have.


Eventually Big Sis chose the marinated herring to start, while I had the pumpkin soup, which was topped with cabbage and bacon bits. Both were  absolutely delicious, but better was to come.




We both had St Jacques Creme Laitue, or scallops in lettuce cream sauce, something we'd spied being enjoyed by a neighbouring table. The scallops were cooked to perfection, and the creme sauce was light and very, very tasty.


By pudding we had to say no to cheese, something which I'm now regretting back in London, where cheese is routinely chilled to a much too low a temperature, and hence often tasteless. (I know these are probably European rules, so differently applied in different countries.)


But when our friendly waiter showed us the pudding menu, and I spied the words "Baba au Rhum", I convinced Big Sis that we should share one. And my, was I glad we did. The dough in the baba was light and fluffy, the rum poured over it deliciously boozy, but still sweet enough, and the Chantilly cream as light as newly fallen snow.


We'd arrived quite late for our lunch (at two pm), and as we were finishing our Parisian feast, the tables around us were emptying. In spite of this, at no point were we made to feel that we were imposing on the staff, who by now must have been there beyond their working hours. When I asked what time they closed, the answer was a shrug "Whenever it suits you".

A Gallic shrug can sometimes be so comforting.

Restaurant Astier
44, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud
75011 Paris