How I arrived at Laura's dinner table is quite funny. We met in Antwerp at a Hospitality Club meeting. Later we had drinks in Leiden (where my parents live), at a nice bar, the WW. But only when we called to set a date for the Finnish dinner, did I find out she lives two houses down from my parents! I have actually played football in the park with the boys Laura is taking care of as an au pair. They are quite a lively bunch and it was impossible to make them sit straight for a photograph, as you can see.
Laura tells me the meal she made, Makaronilaatikko, is a great favorite with children. Basically, it's just macaroni with ground meat, bell pepper, and a thick layer of cheese on top. Laatikko is Finnish for casserole, a.k.a. a dish baked in the oven. I'm surprised to see the boys smother it in ketchup, but according to Laura this is not a problem. Adding ketchup to everything is very Finnish, as well as eating reindeer meat, and drinking lots of milk, even with gourmet food or in restaurants.
After a while the parents, Patricia and Pieter, arrive and have their heated up version of the macaroni. Then they head upstairs to put the kids to bed. Laura and I go downstairs where she has her cosy room. She has her own bathroom as well, but is missing out on one Finnish amenity: the sauna. In Finland every family has their own sauna within the bathroom, and she would usually go three times a week. To slough off dead skin cells and promote circulation, you hit each other with birch twigs. Sounds kind of like sadomasochism to me, but I guess that's part of the fun.
As I take a better look at Laura's duvet cover, I see it is a Marimekko design. One of the few Finnish companies I know, besides Nokia and...Finlandia vodka.
Laura tells me Marimekko products are going through a revival, especially bags with the Unikko design. When she was an au pair in Brussels, all the other Finnish au pairs (more than twenty), had versions of the bag. Laura herself has one "official" bag, and one her sister made from Marimekko fabric. Plus a bag for toiletries and a pencil case. I ask her to pose with all of them and it makes for a colourful picture.
Marimekko and Laatikko are easy to recognize as Finnish words because they have those double vowels and consonants. Pronouncing words like tuli, tulli and tuuli correctly is quite a challenge for foreigners! They all mean something else; fire, customs and wind respectively...
Another interesting fact is that the current Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, is a Conan O'Brien look-a-like. She was re-elected on January 29, 2006 and O'Brien, whose comedy show is very popular in Finland, even aired a couple of mock Halonen campaign ads. Too bad the picture at left misses colour, it's especially the pale skin and red hair that is supposed to make them look so alike.
(The original post about this meal is from March 01, 2006)