Guest Blogger: James Strange
Southern Cuisine Chef, Connoisseur and Wild Game Hunter
You can take a boy out of the south, but you can't take the south out of the boy.
The first rule of adaption into a new country or culture is to figure out what to eat. Needless to say, there is not a whole lot of spicy food on the 61st parallel. Living in a hotel for two months waiting for my new apartment to become available, I had the pleasure of ordering every menu item from every restaurant in the small town of Imatra, Finland. I must say I did find a few new favorite dishes like borsht soup and grilled reindeer, but I was unable to contain my excitement when I received word that I could move into my furnished apartment.
The first day, I had two objectives: to unpack and to cook my own food. Unpacking actually went quickly. With an air shipment allowance of only 500 pounds, there wasn’t much to unpack, especially since I prioritized my turkey fryer and crawfish boiling pot along with the iron burner as a quarter of my allotted weight.
My next chore would be to get groceries. I had been traveling back and forth to Finland now for four months and the extent of my grocery store trips were to occasionally stop in to pick up some chips and soda. Armed with my empty shopping cart that I procured in exchange for a one Euro coin deposit, I began to transverse the aisles. I realized that this was not going to be an easy task. Nothing was in English! Yeah, I knew I was buying milk because it had a picture of a cow on the carton, but what I didn’t know was if I was buying whole milk, skim milk, butter milk or cream. Fortunately I pulled out my phone and began typing eighteen-character words into Google translate.
- Rasvaton Maito: Fat-free milk
- Valkosipulijauhe: Garlic powder
- Vehnajauho Vetemjol: Wheat flour
- Kananpojan: Chicken breast
- Leppasavu Kenkki: Smoked sausage
- Puuroriisi: Rice
Two hours and 150 Euros later, I had only amassed a handful of supplies. Regardless, I came back to my new digs and made my first home cooked meal ... gumbo.
I realized that there were "southern" necessities that I was not going to be able to buy in Finland. With a trip back to the States already planned, I began to make my home leave shopping list. Number one on the list: Tony Chacheres Creole Seasoning. It was soon apparent that the list I was putting together would require its own suitcase and some creative packing to get through customs.
My trip back to the U.S. was a quick one: five days in Memphis, Tennessee and the weekend at my parents' home in Texas before flying back to Finland. Saturday morning I tasked my mom with copying her recipe book while I went on my much-anticipated shopping spree. First stop was to purchase a suitable container for my precious cargo and then it was off to the local supermarket to load up on supplies. My shopping buggy was full of Tony’s, Italian bread crumbs, Prego tomato sauce, dried kidney beans, fish fry meal, crawfish boil and every spice seasoning I could get my hands on.
With Delta Airline’s fifty-pound checked bag weight limit, I packed, weighed, repacked, and weighed again until I got the optimum mix of supplies destined for Imatra. I anxiously waited at the Helsinki airport baggage carousal. Did it all make it? Had customs removed some of my precious cargo? Would I open the suitcase to find my tomato sauce, beans and seasonings damaged and all combined into a messy stew? To my relief, all of my goods made the transatlantic flight safe and sound.
Armed with the “goods” from home and my mom’s favorite recipes, we have been able to bring some southern U.S. cuisine to the frigid southern part of Finland. Pictured here are a few of my favorites: red beans and rice, shrimp creole, gumbo, jambalaya and jalapeno duck wraps. It has been a pleasure to cook for our Finnish and American friends and enjoy some tastes from home. We are still sampling Finnish food and trying new things, but it's nice to look forward to hot cornbread and a big pot of red beans and rice on a cold winter's night.
They say “home is where your stuff is," and it’s nice to finally have all my “stuff” here.