Thursday, December 13, 2012


Myself giving an artist's talk at a DAC,
Disability Arts Cymru launch event in May 2012

Someone asked me why I would want to label my art as disability art. I'm sure it all looks quite mysterious to the outside world. Well, to be honest, I'm still not sure how useful it is as the art has to be able to stand on its own regardless, and real practical support is hard to come by. However, it's something I had try out when I realized that there is such a community and tradition in the making. I was clearly no longer able to compete with able bodied artists, and it was not about trying to take an easy route as some people seem to think. Rethinking my approach was a pure necessity, and I gained a few things from this new way of thinking throughout 2012 . Here are some of my points;

Anyone who is disabled and creates art is a disabled artist. They can be deaf, dumb, blind, bound to a wheel chair with spinal injuries from an accident, suffer from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, arthritis or any other disease that is more or less debilitating. I didn't know this until I discovered the supportive community for disabled artists and art here in Wales. Most people encounter some form of disability in their lives so there is no need to think of disabled people as very different from "the normal" human beings. Whether we like it or not illnesses are a fundamental part of our lives. Most people gain from a supportive and positive community even if it's only in a moral and emotional way.

Of course the definition of disability arts is controversial - but I won't go into that as it's all a bit complicated (you can read about various view points on the internet). Some of the disability art reflects peoples' disabilities, but usually it's not expected, or a condition even. Of course, some of my art does reflect these issues and it's seen as a positive thing by some people who help govern these communities. The disability arts in general is basically a community that supports the battle against inequality. Just as people have accessibility issues in the physical world - athletes being a case in point - artists with disabilities have accessibility issues in terms of how they are being treated and what kind of opportunities they have compared to able bodied people. Not least, as in my own case, a matter of not managing on the "normal world's" terms. I'm not sure the support is sufficient in my case though because I'm still considered "too articulate" and have "too great a body of work" behind me (in the Arts Council's rather devastating words since suddenly being good wasn't right). It's terrible politics in the end that govern who gets really useful support.

Outsider artists meet similar criteria, they get help to exhibit their work from charities such as Outside In because their disadvantaged position makes it too difficult for them to compete with "normal" and able bodied artists. In reality, these people tend more often than not to have serious mental issues and even a low mental age, and the art work is more often than not the kind of art that the art world doesn't recognise as valid art. I'm clearly on the fringe of this group of people, and I can see that it's the extremer end of the spectrum that gets most of the attention within this community.

The art world is ruthless, and this is something that has become even clearer to me while in Britain, and it's also something I have decided not to participate in any more. Part of my problem has been trying to push myself beyond my limits to compete with able bodied artists, and it simply wasn't working. I have been feeling burnt out and lacking in the joy of creating. As it was putting me under extreme pressure I decided to join these groups of marginal art. But - having tried it out I'm not sure it's right for me either. It's not so much being part of these groups per se, as being part of anything at all. Sometimes I feel more like an uber-outsider, someone who is always on the outside of everything, including that which is already on the fringes... perhaps it sounds a bit big headed but I simply don't know if I am able to be part of any community for real, so far I haven't found one that would meet with my needs in a really snug way. I continue to support the disability arts and fight prejudice, but other than that I don't know what lies ahead and how I'd like to define my art in the future.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Salmiak, ammonium chloride, has become a favourite export
and it.s missed by most Finns in exile
This is my personal list of foods I miss since relocating to the UK, and foods that foreigners wouldn't necessarily know to look for while in Finland. I hope it will be inspiring!

Unfortunately quite a lot of people heard and believed Jacques Chirac and Silvio Berlusconi when they claimed that Finnish food is rubbish (read more at the bottom). An Englishman actually insulted me at a private view by mentioning this. It really isn't rubbish. Finnish cooking uses good quality ingredients, and may seem simple, but is seductive exactly because it isn't fussy and over-complicated. 

"The special quality of Finnish food and foodstuffs derives from the good taste of the food, its vitality providing properties and its straightforward and honest methods of production./.../ Finnish food gets is flavours from the pure environment. The Finnish soil, waters and air are the cleanest in Europe, enhancing the taste of the ingredients. Our northern climate allows our farmers to use far less chemical pesticides than do their counterparts in other countries./.../ We are pioneers in the preparation of products that maintain health and well-being levels. Many of the food materials are health-promoting in their nature. Nutrition research in Finland is internationally recognized at a high level. This allows us to provide you with the food that increases levels of vitality.(Food from Finland)

I'm of course not a food writer per se, but after a couple of years in exile I have started to crave some Finnish food. Not surprising, of course. What is surprising is that there are so many foods to miss that don't have an equivalent in the U.K. My dear husband has adopted a lot of dishes, and whatever we can make, we make. Much as I love Britain I have been disappointed with its food culture (especially here in Wales - I'm sure London is fantastic!). Even imported fruits and vegetables seem to be better quality in Finland, which may be due to the scale of the import. So... This is my testimony of the excellency of Finnish food (as found in your ordinary supermarket). We are not meat eaters (apart from eating fish) so I won't go into foods using reindeer, moose and bear.

1. Bread
- Rye bread (sour dough) and other kinds of flour.
Well, rye bread made from sour dough is that product everyone misses, but what is lesser known is that there are other kinds of flour and a wealth of different kinds of products made of these. They are easily available in supermarkets. Rye is that flour Finns have used for so many different kinds of products, and I will mention each of them separately. In Scandinavia, they even make house paint out of it! We have a rich bread culture, and you often find that bread is sweet and sour. Martin has made malted "archipelago bread" a few times with reasonable success. There are, of course, many rye crackers, the most common is also commonly available in the supermarkets in the UK ("näkkileipä", fi). Try the dried rye bread from sourdough that has nettle ("nokkos-", fi)  in it, it's great!
This has the shape of traditional rye bread
This compnay, Linkosuo, has delicious rye based products.
Apart from that and wheat, we have oat and barley. You can find lots of crackers, pasta, biscuits and other products made from rye, or a mixtures of flours and seeds. There is also the classic rieska bread, which you really want to buy in Lapland. It's a soft flat bread (similar to what you find in Sweden) and should be made from barley flour in order to be truly authentic.

"Finnish cuisine is very similar to Swedish cuisine. The overarching difference is the preference for unsweetened foods. For example, while traditional Swedish rye bread includes plenty of syrup and spices, Finnish rye bread is unsweetened and even bitter." (Wikipedia)

You can get these flat rye rolls at the
air port
- Multi seed crackers
I used to be able to get Finn Crisp multi seed sour dough based crackers here in the U.K. but they have all but vanished! I have now only seen them in Waitrose. If you want a Swedish cracker, try the big round flat breads with butter and cheese.

Buy this from Amazon!
Vaasan Täyshyvät 5 täysjyväviljan -näkkileipä (200g)
Multi seed crackers are kinder to the sensitive stomach
than bread made from sourdough

1. Mämmi (Fi) or memma (Sw)
This peculiar black cold porridge is made from rye flour and malted flour simply called memma flour, and pomeranssi (Fi) (dried orange peel made into powder). I have carried memma flour and pomeranssi along with me and inspite of a very long and tedious process, have successfully made my own. We eat it at Easter. Malt is also used for an almost alcohol free beverage called kalja, traditionally had with lunch or dinner. At Easter, people also make Pasha, which is a quark based sweet food from Russia.

Preparing and eating memma
(photo copyright V-M Carpelan)
2. Sweet bakery products
- Buns
The Finns traditionally eat wheat buns in the early morning before going out to milk the cows. What is special about Finnish buns is the "clean" taste. In Finnish bakery products, you don't usually taste margarine the way you do in France. The consistency is not sticky like it is in British products. The buns are simply very airy and can be delicious when fresh and combined with cinnamon or (my favourite) quark with vanilla. In Finland, you can get vanilla sugar, which can be handy. You also get powdered cardamom which is a great addition to the dough.

Ginger bread
Well, Finnish ginger bread is delicious because it's rich in different kinds of spices. It's as simple as that. I like to add some pomerans into mine. You can get it in the shops all year round but it's really a Christmas food. Nowadays, the Swedish gingerbread "Annas pepparkakor" are available in the UK, and they among the nicer ones.

3. "Whipped porridge" and kiiseli
There are two kinds of whipped porridge. One is made from rye, and and the other from a product made from wheat, semolina or "manna" (Fi). Both are made with lingon berry juice and sugar. I have brought a bottle of pure lingon berry concentrate along with me and will try and make the former one of these days. "Kiiseli" is a form of compote. It can be smooth and made from berries, or have bits of dried fruit (prunes, apple rings, apricots and pear rings) in it. The fruit is simple boiled with sugar and thickened with potato or corn flour.

4. Sweets
There is a rich culture of sweets in Finland - in fact there's an incredible choice in the store. Apart from traditional Finnish sweets there are many sweets from all over the world such as Parisian pastilles, London drops, English All Sorts, wine gums and even halva.
- Liquorice
Liquorice ("laku-" or "lakritsi-") fi) is typical, and it has a soft taste. There are many kinds, my favourite being a bit like British Ponterfacts (my husband is still looking for real traditional ones for me to compare). British liquorice is usually bitter, it tastes of black treacle. Having been brought up on Finnish liqourice which is made from a syrup that is a bit thicker than golden syrup, I really don't enjoy what the British have done to the poor liquorice... I have, however, found Finnish Panda liquorice in the UK, and it's alright, though not necessarily my favourite.

This peculiarly Finnish sweet was originally bought at the pharmacy - it's ammonium chloride! It's in fact the same as smelling salt! We love it - a Finnish rock star even came up with the idea of mixing it with vodka, and this is a best selling souvenir!
Yes, the Finns eat and produce. This is due to some immigrant back in the 19th Century who decided to start up a Finnish halva factory. They now also make other sweets.
Wiener Nougat
Ok - I'm simply not a fan of chocolate (which we do have in Finland - diary products are of high quality and so is the chocolate). But this particular traditional sweet by Fazer is a kind of nougat with almonds, and not very sweet. I like it better than chocolate.

5. Cloudberry Jam
This expensive jam is made from an orange Arctic berry that you don't get in many other countries. It's traditionally eaten with something called "bread cheese" which is a thick chewy cheese, traditionally made from a cow's first milk.

6. Fish
- Grav lax
It's easy to make yourself. I recommend going on the Silja Line ferry to Stockholm and enjoying their well presented smorgasbord in order to find out about a range of fish based dishes!
- Pickled herring and anchovis
My mom won Martin over when she presented him with homemade pickled herring for Christmas. It just goes to say that the way we make it, well it's the best. You can buy assortments of pickled herring in the supermarket. If you wish to make your own, you buy fatty Icelandic herring from the supermarket. You can also use Baltic Herring for a different taste. Meanwhile, as we can't get the fish here in the U.K, we have to go and raid Ikea for some! In Ikea, you can also get Scandinavian style sprat or anchovis, which has a different taste to that in the UK. It's used with scrambled eggs on toast or in a potato gratin (oven casserole) ("Jansson's frestelse", Sw).
- Smoked Baltic Herring, "böckling (Sw)". Buy these at the market!
Fish cakes
The reason Finnish fish cakes (with salmon or char, by Apetit) are so good is that the taste is pure; they aren't full of potato as Norwegian ones, and they aren't breaded as the British ones. In the UK, a lot of food is covered in greasy batter. Fish and chips is great, but just not too often!

7. Vegetarian mock-meat
I'm a sucker for the Swedish Hälsans' vegetarian products, especially their hot dog - style/Frankfurter sausages. Last time I visited I found that they had come out with a new type of slightly spicy sausage, "Chorizo" style. It's divine! A simple creamy sauce with some soya sauce is all that is required, perhaps with rice.

8. Dairy products
- Generally speaking, there is a great range of diary products of all kinds, and they are nice and fresh tasting. There are many desserts and snacks. For cooking, you have a whole bunch of different fermented products ranging from cooking yoghurt, quark, creme fraihe, smetana (Russian style creme fraihe, especially nice with bortsch), and so on. Whenever it says "HYLA" or "vähälaktoosinen" it means that it's safe for people with lactose intolerance. For parties, this is what people usually use since so many people suffer from this ailment (around 20 % or more).
Valio kevytviili
Most foreigners find the jelly like "viili"
(as a snack or for breakfast in lieu of yoghurt) a bit odd. 

The creamy version, "kermaviili", is however a great alternative to sour cream, 
as it's similar but a bit less sour.
- Creamy cheese
This is a cheese which is a bit softer and fatter than Edam or Gouda, but equally "bland". We like it on bread with great Finnish butter... there' something very simple about that kind of sandwich (sure you get tired of the fact there aren't that many different cheeses to choose from but it's the same in the cheddar dominated Britain). Try the really cheap Co-op cream cheese from S-Market.
- Ice Cream
Oh how I miss Finnish vanilla ice cream! It's smooth, white and creamy... mmmm.... The best brand in my opinion is Ingman, and a basic package isn't expensive. 

There is a chain of ice cream stalls in the city, called "Spice Ice" by Ingman. My absolute favourite is vanilla flavoured soft ice with a rather dark chocolate topping (or dip, rather). Be aware that you can get lactose free ice cream (HYLA or "vähälaktoosinen" (Fi), "låg laktoshalt" (Sw))! You can also get a variety of tofu ice creams, but in my mind they have become less attractive due to added sweetness. 

9. Beverages
- Liquers
There are numerous liqueurs based on berries, for instance cloudberry, but my favourite liqueur is the Swedish "punsch" (punssi in Finnish). It's smooth and pleasant. If you don't mind sweet, you could fry banana, add it to ice cream, and pour some punsch over it. If you want something really interesting, you should try salmiak vodka! 

- malted drinks
I already mentioned the malt based kalja. Beers are generally not very bitter and may seem bland to the British, though the Finnish seem to like it. 
- stomach friendly coffee
The Finnish drink a lot of coffee, and strong (not quite what you get in the UK...). Not surprsingly, the company Paulig has invented a stomach friendly variety, which is very tasty. Drink it with muscovado sugar and double cream... mmm!
The label for stomach friendly coffee.
Pirkka (the own brand of K-supermarket) also makes one.
- tea
The Finnish drink a lot of tea, but not so often with milk. Therefore, scented teas are greatly appreciated. It's common to have a cup and a sandwich at 9 pm, a few hours after dinner. This is something that is easy to bring home as a gift. At Easter you can find Easter flavoured tea, and at Christmas various different types of tea with a Christmasy flavour!

"Tea Heaven" contains a selection of bagged scented teas by Nordqvist
Christmas teas ("joulu tee", fi) are common during the festive season

Find out more about the Finnish cuisine here.
Read about similarities between Finland and Greenland in The Telegraph.

The International point of view... (from Wikipedia)

In 2005, Finnish cuisine came under heavy fire from two leaders of countries renowned for their cuisine. The Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi claimed that "I've been to Finland and I had to endure the Finnish diet so I am in a position to make a comparison." Berlusconi started his anti-Finnish food campaign in 2001. He went on: "The Finns don't even know what Parma ham is."This followed the initial decision by the European Commission to establish theEuropean Food Safety Authority in Helsinki. On July 4, 2005 French PresidentJacques Chirac claimed that "After Finland, [Britain is] the country with the worst food." [5][6]

After Jacques Chirac's and Silvio Berlusconi's critiques, some international food reporters answered:

"Chirac and Berlusconi are wrong! Finnish cuisine is much more international than I expected. I have eaten very good food in wonderful restaurants, visited market places and enjoyed in good cafeterias. Cheese is very good in Finland. I also love Finnish cloudberry and smoked fish." (Ute Junker, Australian Financial Review Magazine, Sydney,Australia)

"Food in Finnish restaurants is extremely good. Especially I love Finnish salmon, mushroom soup and desserts. I have also got very good Finnish wines. The worldwide reputation of Finnish cuisine isn't very good – but it should be!" (Liliane Delwasse, Le Figaro, Paris, France)

"I have eaten only good food in Finland. Food in Finland is very fresh. Bread, berries, mushrooms and desserts are very delicious. Finnish berries (especially cloudberry), salmon, cheeses and reindeer should be available in London, too." (April Hutchinson, Abta Magazine, London, England).

Finnish pizza chain Kotipizza won the 2008 America’s Plate International pizza contest in New York, while Italy came in second. They named their award-winning smoked reindeer pizza Berlusconi as symbolic payback for the critique Finnish cuisine had received from the Italian prime minister earlier.[7]