Friday, 27 February 2015

Books in Prague, travel stories part 1

During the winter holiday I visited Prague for the first time. The trip was also my birthday gift, but we picked the destination together with my DH. We wanted something that was not too far away from Finland (long flights with a mercurial six-year-old are not exactly a relaxing way to start and end a holiday), that was fairly affordable, and where there'd be something interesting to see and do. I must say we picked the perfect place! I had heard that Prague is a beautiful city, but I had no idea just how stunning it is. Old buildings, narrow streets, bridges spanning the river... we spent most of the time just wandering around the old town because we simply couldn't stop – behind every corner, there was something beautiful to see!

We never make detailed travel plans, but we often have a ”might be nice to see” list. This usually contains some of the ”must-see” sights, especially if they've something to do with history, literature/books, or chocolate.

I had heard that the Prague city library boasts an interesting piece of art – a tower all made of books! That sounded like something worth seeing. So there we were, outside the library, when it opened its doors on Saturday morning. The book tower was impressive – not only is it a big pile of books, there are also mirrors placed cunningly inside the tower so that when you look inside, it appears to go on infinitely. And the best part was, there just happened to be a group of musicians dressed in what looked like traditional costumes performing what we assumed were folk songs in the library lobby, right in front of the book tower! We went in looking for one art experience but got two!

The second book-related attraction was something we'd not even heard of and discovered quite by accident. We took a taxi to the Prague Castle area, and the taxi driver asked us if we'd rather go higher up the hill, to visit a monastery there – it's a short walk down to the castle from the monastery and the view is just stunning. He mentioned that there's a library with beautiful old books and manuscripts... and that settled it!

For me, Strahov Monastery, or rather, its library, was one of the highlights of the entire trip. There were beautiful old tomes and ancient manuscripts – the kind that look just magical. I can't imagine how much patience and painstaking work it must have taken to not only write them but to make the beautiful illustrations! They were amazing.

And there were two library rooms straight from a book lover's dream. Just look at those shelves – they were packed with books, it wasn't just one row, it was at least two. And the old globes with their maps, the frescoes on the ceilings, the respectful silence, the scent of old books... There was no access into these two rooms, which was a pity but perfectly understandable (I suspect you had to book a tour and we hadn't prepared for that), and I was content just stading there and looking in. It was quiet and peaceful, I could have stayed there forever.

If you love books and if you find yourself in Prague one day, don't miss the libraries!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Winter is coming... on Valentine's Day

For several years now, I've cooked some kind of a theme dinner for my DH (Dashing Hero) on Valentine's Day. I've done everything-heart-shaped, we've gone medieval and celebrated courtly love, we've partied in togas like the ancient Romans... These days, our daughter joins us, and she's always excited about these events. (We also try to schedule some private time for celebrating later; this year, we had the theme dinner on Friday, and on the actual day, my DH and I went out to eat.)
Now, Game of Thrones seems like an odd choice for a romantic dinner theme, but my DH and I both liked the first couple of books in the series and we've found the TV show very entertaining. Besides, my DH once implied that GoT would be a great idea for one of our dinners... so, why not?
I started by searching for appropriate recipes. I guess one could very well just go and develop them, but I had happened to come across this amazing site, Inn at the Crossroads, which features a large collection of recipes based on descriptions in the books. There are so many interesting ones, it was difficult to choose. However, I wanted dishes that are fairly easy to prepare, or rather, things that don't take a long time to cook or can either be made in advance or found in a grocery store. I do enjoy cooking, but time is always an issue, especially in a household with a small child. Another concern was that the ingredients had to be available in a supermarket in Finland.
The beautiful first course - assembled by a six-year-old!
For starters, we had Greens Dressed with Apples and Pine Nuts (see above). The main course was Honeyed Chicken from Winterfell, with fresh-baked bread (okay, I didn't bake the bread... well, actually I did; it was one of those pre-baked things that you shove into the oven for ten minutes and out comes freshly baked bread). The dessert was Strawberries and Sweetgrass. I had to make a few changes in some of the recipes, mostly because one or the other of the ingredients was simply not available. But since the descriptions in the books, while detailed, didn't list the exact ingredients (at least for the dishes I cooked), I thought adaptation was fine as long as I used ingredients that might well exist in the world of GoT.
Wedding goblets, perfect for special occasions.
I didn't really have much time for decorations etc. but I used the pewter goblets from our wedding (see above) and put together a simple centrepiece of grapes and pears. I debated between linen serviettes and paper ones, but finally went with the latter because the pictures just seemed so fitting. A couple of candles, and the table was set.
Just happened to have some suitable serviettes.
The invite I sent to my DH (click for a bigger pic):
This feast was certainly a success. My DH was surprised, the food was tasty, and we all had a wonderful time.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A day dedicated to reading

This day has been dedicated to reading! No, this isn't just something I came up with, it's an actual event (so to speak) invented by the Finnish Book Foundation. The idea is to dedicate this day to reading and not let other activities (mainly social media) disturb your reading sessions. Sounds pretty good to me! So, without further ado, I'll return to my Kindle and my comfy place on the sofa.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Snowy scenes

These don't really have much to do with anything, but I thought I'd share a few winter scenes from my walk to preschool and back with my daughter. :) I know that some of you aren't very familiar with snow... well, it's very cold but very pretty, as you can see. (Click for larger images.)

A snow mountain

A weary wayfarer :D

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Review: Fazer Salty Popcorn in Milk Chocolate

Based on what I've seen on Facebook and Twitter, Finnish chocolate lovers couldn't wait to get the chance to taste this latest chocolate from Fazer. Me, not so much. Chocolate and popcorn? I wasn't enthusiastic. The reason is simple: I don't like popcorn. I know! I'm weird. It's not that I hate it or anything, I just never really understood the appeal. So when we went grocery shopping yesterday and I saw that this had arrived on the shelves, I couldn't decide whether to buy it or not. But my husband, who is extremely encouraging (especially when it comes to sampling chocolates; he enjoys the tasting sessions as much as I do) started chanting “buy it, buy it, buy it!” Well, who am I to say no? ;)

The wrapping and the size and shape of the chocolate are familiar from the classic Fazer products. The colouring of the wrapping varies a little depending on the flavour of the chocolate tablet, but part of the wrapping is usually dark blue – I guess in honour of what we could call Fazer's signature product, “Fazerin Sininen” (“Fazer's Blue”). The popcorn version comes in a wrapping that's partly light blue. There's a picture of chocolate, popcorn and grains of salt – easy enough to figure out what's inside. The bar itself is fairly large (well, the normal size for the classic Fazer tablets, 200 grams) and divided into small squares. I don't know if anyone can limit themselves to just one of these small pieces; I've never tried.

The scent is interesting. In some pieces the toasted aroma of popcorn is overwhelming, it immediately makes me think of movie theaters, and I couldn't find the chocolate under it at all. In other pieces, the chocolate aroma is clearly stronger. I guess that depends on the amount of popcorn bits per piece. Anyway, it is not an unpleasant scent and it certainly aroused my curiosity!

And the taste? Let's start with the chocolate. I was not disappointed: it's high quality milk chocolate – and I wouldn't expect anything less from Fazer. That's what I love about Fazer's milk chocolates: they aren't overly sweet and sugary, like some milk chocolates tend to be. And then there's the popcorn. It forms tiny, crispy pieces that are easily chewable (i.e. not too hard). They taste... well, of popcorn! It's that roasted, toasted aroma of corn we're all probably familiar with. And there's a sprinkling of salt, a nice amount but not too much. Everything is well balanced: the smoothness of milk chocolate and the crunchy additions; the sweet richness of chocolate and the saltiness of popcorn.

In short, I was somewhat dubious about this one (“Who wants popcorn in their chocolate?”), but it turned out that after one piece, I wanted more! From now on, I'd like my popcorn in this form. :D

Monday, 2 February 2015

Lindt Excellence Caramelized Pistachio with a Touch of Salt

I expected much from this chocolate: dark chocolate with caramelized pistachios and salt! I may have mentioned before that one of my all-time favourites was Marabou's caramelized almond & sea salt that, sadly, doesn't seem to exist anymore. I hoped that this one, although a darker chocolate, might be a suitable substitute.

The wrapping is pretty, although not extraordinary. The chocolate squares, as in the other Lindt Excellence bars I've tasted, are rather thin but of a nice, generous size.

The scent is rich and chocolaty but lacks any particular characteristics, or at least I seem to be unable to distinguish them.

The cocoa content here is only 47 % which isn't very much, considering that the wrapping claims to contain dark chocolate. Whether that's a bad thing is up to everyone's personal taste – I happen to like both dark and milk chocolate and enjoy this sort of “middle ground” just as well, so I won't complain. The chocolate is rich and smooth, with something that crunches in my teeth. These additions have a great texture – they're crispy but not so hard that you fear for your teeth (in some chocolates, additions, and especially caramelized ones, tend to be terrifyingly hard). However, I can't quite define their flavour. I would probably have guessed that they were some sort of nuts, had I not known them to be pistachios. Neither the caramel nor the salt is easily detectable. They are there, but one has to concentrate to find the flavours. This is probably good if you don't like the sweet and salty combination, but that was the very thing I was hoping to find here.

In short, this did not live up to my expectations, but I'll admit those expectations were rather high. It's still a very nice chocolate, though!