Sunday, February 28, 2010


8. Sopan syvin olemus by Anna-Leena Härkönen ("The most profound essence of soup")

"This book is best suited for a person who loves food and is of the enthusiastic type. You may also be a beginner, but you cannot be uusavuton*. As an example, you should be able to construct a sandwich that has some kind of logic - all by yourself. And it wouldn't be bad to know how to make an omelet either. I do not own a mixer anymore because washing the various parts and tinkering around with them really did not appeal to me ... However, I am not at all against technology or progress per se."

Anna-Leena Härkönen is Finland's offer to the army of Gen X-writers: her novels often discuss the mundane life (relationships, mostly) but with an ironic twist. Not to mention that the topic is often dealt with by using copious amounts of black humor and sarcasm.

The cookbook she wrote is tiny, but hilarious. The cover says that the book contains "42 recipes and 687 thoughts", which is an apt description. The recipes are either found by Härkönen in some parts of the world and she is trying to reproduce them as simply as possible, or they are blatantly stolen from her friends because the recipes are so good. And simple.

Simple really is the key word to the book. Although a food lover, Härkönen immediately states that she is by no means a gourmet chef, nor can she cook anything without an exact recipe. She hates instructions such as "cook until beautiful brown" or "add just a touch of salt". "This kind of a communication method is a crime".

Her recipes vary from very simple and supposedly delicious (I have to try them to find out!) Finnish foods to attempts of replicating some amazing foods she has tried abroad. All of the recipes come with a description of how she encountered them, and that is what makes this little cookbook so enjoyable.
Also: who can resist such names as "Hangover pizza", "A Damned Good Sweet Roll" and "The Lazy Man's Lasagna". The latter refers to this myth in Finland that in order to make lasagna you need to make two sauces: one meat-based and one cheese-based, and you ladle them alternatively in between the layers of pasta. Hence, lasagna is made very rarely because it's so laborious. Härkönen introduces the mind-blowing (or, yawn-inducing if you're in any other country) idea that you only need one type of a filling!

Sometimes her writing is a bit grating: being sarcastic is fun to a point. Especially her sections where she talks about "foreign" food and how she has gotten better French food in Finland than in France were painful to read. Maybe because I just recently read discussions where, say, a white tourist tells a Mexican how to make "real" Mexican food instead of what she is making at home. To say that you have better French food in a country other than France just means that... you are not getting French food. You are getting French-style food that has been catered to your (ethnicity's) tastes. Or you are getting food items that people would not eat at a regular meal. This is why white Americans going to Mexico are puzzled at not finding "good" burritos there, or not finding General Tso's chicken in China. I'm also sure that anyone eating at a Finnish restaurant abroad will also be disappointed that, upon coming to Finland, people are not eating bear or reindeer in cloudberry jam, but instead pretty much every affordable place sells just pizza and pasta. Or then people just eat very simple stuff at home. I can just imagine these tourists saying "Wow, I've gotten much better Finnish food in my home country than in Finland - they just can't get it right over there."

Still, there was something endearing with the book's honesty: I'm not a great cook, but I can sweep people off their feet with these recipes ("or perhaps my husband and my friends are gluttons, incapable of any critical thinking"). I think everyone, no matter how neurotic in the kitchen, should be able to cook and take care of themselves.

Being someone who needs another person, or a cookbook, to hold her hand through cooking processes (I partly blame this on having been really stingy in the past and afraid of ruining perfectly good ingredients, so why bother trying...), I can get behind this book. I definitely want to try out some of the very simple sounding recipes that do sound delicious. I'll report back once I have some results.

*lit. "nouveau-helpless", referring to esp. young people who can't even boil an egg because they have been raised on fast food or someone else has cooked for them their entire life

Edited to add: In the past I've half-heartedly taken part in the meme of reading a book a week during a year. This year's half-hearted, themed attempt is to also try to read something by authors representing each of the alphabet! I saw this idea somewhere online and figured, hey, why not. So far the tally is unfortunately pretty sad, because so many of the books I have read (5!) have been written by an author whose last name begins with an L. Ack. I'll keep on adding into this list and link back once either the alphabet is full or the year is done. This should motivate me read some of the books I have waiting at home: they are written by authors whose alphabet I have yet to cover!

Also, I'll go the distance and use the Nordic alphabet. Anybody know authors whose last name begins with Å?

A. Alexie, Sherman. The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
B. Bear, Greg. Mariposa, Beavan, Colin. No Impact Man.

C. Cochrane, James. Between you and I--A Little Book of Bad English.
G. Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink., Gasteier, Matthew. F U Penguin.

H. Härkönen, Anna-Kaisa. Sopan syvin olemus.

L. Larsson, Stieg. The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Loe, Erlend: Naive. Super and Doppler.
S. Saisio, Pirkko. Pienin yhteinen jaettava, Sheidlower, Jesse. The F-Word

V. Vowell, Sarah. Assassination Vacation, Vuorinen, Juha. Tuupovaaran tuijottaja


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