Health and Wellness Feed

Chewing the Fat... About Fat

Demofat

Trigger warning: If you're a vegetarian, or the type of person who likes sausage but doesn’t want to see how it's made, you might want to skip this particular post. Today I'm handing the blog over to ol' dusty buns (AKA Anthony Valterra, the other half here at the Dragon Flower Farm). He's going to talk about how to render fat. 

Here's Anthony:

First of all, why render fat? Well, fat is a substance that the human body is accustomed to absorbing. In fact, if you take in too little fat, it can have numerous deleterious effects on your health. It can lower your hormonal levels, make your skin dry, encourage you to overeat, mess with your body's natural temperature regulator, and cause mental fatigue. Now, that does not mean you have to eat animal fat. But if you are a meat eater anyway, it is certainly one of the easiest ways to make sure you are getting enough fat in your diet.

Rendered fat is fat that has been heated so that it melts the fat and makes it easy to separate the usable liquid fat from the proteins and other “waste” materials (although those materials don’t need to go to waste–more on that later). If you are rendering pork, the rendered fat is called “lard,” and if you are rendering beef, the result is called “tallow.” The process is the same, but just for clarity’s sake, we are going to be talking about making tallow. 

Tallow makes a fantastic frying pan lubricant for cooking just about anything. It also is great for providing a bit of flavor and helping the cooking process in a slow cooker, or "Crock-Pot" (which is a brand name, and we actually use one of those). You can bake with the rendered fat, season your iron skillets with it, and even make candles. It is high in vitamins A, D, K, and E and can be stored in a cool, dry shelf (refrigeration is not necessary although in the summer months when every place in the house is hot, we will toss our tallow into the back of the fridge). 

The first thing you need is a large chunk of cow fat. We buy organic, grass-fed beef in 1/4-cow quantities from a local rancher. When we make that purchase, the rancher throws in the fat for free. But we go through the fat faster than we go through the beef, so we end up buying single bags of fat separately between beef orders.

Pictured below is the last one-fifth of a $28 purchase, the last round of rendering we did from this chunk of fat.

Fat

As you can see, the fat comes in a large mass. It can’t be rendered in this state as the liquid fat needs to be able to pass easily through the fiber and protein holding it together. In a perfect world, if I had a meat grinder, I'd first grind the fat and then render it. But I am still looking for a good cast iron hand-cranked grinder, so until then, I just dice the fat into small cubes.

Cutfat

Our Crock-Pot holds five gallons, and I typically render about 3 or 4 cups of fat in a batch. I suppose you could render more, but the process of getting the fat out of the Crock-Pot is tricky enough with this amount. More would be a bit too much of a process for me.

Here is the Crock-Pot full and ready to go. I don’t put anything into the Crock-Pot with the fat. I’ve seen some sources that recommend a bit of water, but I have not found that to be necessary.

Crockfat

I start the Crock-Pot on high and set the timer for about two hours, but in reality, I check the pot about every 30 minutes and give the fat a quick stir with a silicone spoon that can handle high heat. This will be the first of a number of warnings that fat can get really hot and is very slippery! Those are two of its wonderful qualities. You can cook with very high heat with tallow or lard and it will smoke very little, and it creates a great non-stick surface. However, those qualities can make it exceptionally dangerous to work with. So be very careful that you have heat barriers and that you handle everything like you would a slick water eel.

Rendering

Once the fat has given up some of its liquid, and you can see it in the bottom of the Crock-Pot, you can turn the heat to low. Now you can check on it about every hour. You are waiting for it to separate into two distinct parts. First the clear liquid–that is the tallow; second, the brown, crinkly remains–that is what we are going to call “the crackling.” Once the crackling is uniformly shrunken and brown, you have probably pulled as much tallow out of it as you can. Turn off the Crock-Pot and unplug it. Now comes the tricky part.

Funnel

You’ll need a jar that you can seal, and I highly recommend a heat-safe funnel. To be very safe, I recommend that you put the jar with the funnel into the sink and have the Crock-Pot next to the edge of the sink. Everything is very hot and very slippery. The Crock-Pot, tallow, the crackling, and the jar itself will be hot and coated in fat. Using a heat-safe ladle, ladle the crackling out of the Crock-Pot and into a heat-safe container, leaving the liquid tallow behind. I use a second spoon to squeeze the crackling to get as much tallow out of the crackling as I can. 

IMG_0152

Once you have emptied as much of the crackling out of the slow cooker as you can safely manage, you can start ladling the remaining liquid into the jar. I can get the vast majority of crackling out of the Crock-Pot, so it is fairly easy for me to get just liquid into the jar with no tiny floater of crackling. But in the end, you will likely need to use a cheesecloth over the funnel so that you can get the last of the liquid separated and into the jar.

Cheesecloth

Be super careful. Have I mentioned how hot and slippery fat can get? If you knock over the jar, don’t try to grab it. Just let it be, and take the loss. No use getting burnt over spilt tallow. Don’t splash cold water on the jar–it will likely break from the temperature change. Carefully put the lid on the jar (not real tight as the fat is cooling and will cause a suction) and use oven mitts or other protection. Everything will be very slippery–the jars, the slow cooker, your utensils, the funnel, likely the counter that everything is sitting on. Be careful.

Once it cools, it looks like the tallow you can buy in jars at the store. Here's ours, in repurposed sauerkraut jars.

Done

This is what we got from about $6 worth of fat: one 25-ounce jar full and another half full. Call it 37 ounces. On the open market (or Amazon in this case), beef tallow for consumption goes for about 58 cents per ounce, so for $6, we made about $21.46 worth of tallow. Not bad. And what about those cracklings?

Cracklin

Weirdly enough, they make a decent snack food. They look much more appetizing when they are dried out–sort of like pork rinds. For me they are not like potato chips where if you eat one you have to eat the whole bag. A handful of cracklings with some salt, and I’m pretty good for a long time. But they are, essentially, fat, which is very filling, so that is not really surprising.

Rendering your own fat is a good thing that can save you a great deal of money and provide a very useful cooking ingredient. But remember: everything is slippery, everything is hot…

OK, now I can hear the problem with that phrase!

By the way, here's the Crock-Pot that we use.

You Might Also Like:

Born-Again Meat Eater

That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat

Take a Cue from the Spanish Lifestyle

 


Kick Up Your Heels on the Fourth of July - Literally!

Assembly2
Installing my new FeetUp. Easier than IKEA furniture, and more sturdy!

Exciting news: That FeetUp Trainer I mentioned in this post about why you might struggle with headstands is now a whopping 33 percent off! Yeah, that knocks fifty bucks off this cute little yoga inversion prop.

As you can see in the photo above, I took advantage of the sale and snared one for myself. It's a great deal, so I wanted to share it with you, too. PLEASE NOTE: WE DON'T RECEIVE ANYTHING IN EXCHANGE FOR THIS POST OR FOR THE SALE OF THESE PROPS IF YOU GO AND BUY ONE.

Not that I didn't try. Before this great sale popped up, I had contacted FeetUp hoping to get some sponsorship for a post about their prop. They were cool and receptive, complimenting me on the inversion post and offering a $10 off coupon code for blog readers.

They wouldn't do more, however, like provide a free FeetUp in order to review it or any other compensation in exchange for coverage on the blog, because we haven't met the threshold they established for sponsorships, which is 10,000 followers on Instagram. Our Insta follower count is just shy of 500.

Oh, well. I get it. I mean, we're small potatoes in the world of sponsored content–we haven't made anything on this lifestyle blog and continue to put time, money, and resources into it really as a labor of love. I was totally cool with the $10 off coupon code for blog readers and a likewise small discount on the FeetUp for me, so I could order one to test out. I was just about to fill out the sponsorship form that FeetUp sent me...

Box
It came in a really big box, which the cat loves, but is surprisingly lightweight.

But then I saw this super sale pop up, and I realized FeetUp's own sale was a way better deal (like five times better) than the one FeetUp was willing to give me in exchange for coverage on the blog. So. I. Politely. Declined.

I asked them how long the sale would last so that I could schedule this post around it, and I didn't get an answer. The sale used to be valid on Amazon, which is where I purchased mine, but today as I write this, that's no longer the case. It is, however, still for sale on FeetUp's own website, and they're offering free shipping, so act fast! As this will post tomorrow (Sunday), I'm just hoping it doesn't end tonight. The site doesn't say anything but that it will end "soon."

While I'm both impressed that FeetUp was so responsive at first and feeling somewhat less in love after they weren't so helpful with the follow-through, I'm still super excited about my new FeetUp trainer.

It was unbelievably easy to put together (like IKEA flat-pack furniture, but with way better assembly instructions), is made from good quality materials (wood, metal, a lovely vegan faux leather), and feels very sturdy. I'm both naturally curvy and, especially after 25 years of yoga, pretty muscular, and I felt completely supported by it on my first couple of inversion tests.

FeetUp

I want to practice with it for awhile before giving a full review. I'll post that later on, with some pics of my awkward glorious inversions (!). But I wanted to let y'all know about the super sale in the meantime. Only the white/light wood version qualifies for the sale, but you get a nifty pose sequence poster along with it. It's a great deal.

Sure, a hundo is a lot to spend on a yoga prop, and maybe you could get something like it for cheaper. But it's important if I'm going to turn myself completely upside-down on something that that thing be made of quality materials and feel like it can support me without issues. I practice yoga daily, so for me, it's a good investment in a prop that will get a lot of use. Just yesterday, I inverted for a few minutes after a long bout of desk jocky-ing, and I felt renewed by it.

If you take advantage of the sale and get your own FeetUp, tell me about your impressions in an email, and I'll include them in my review, either with or without your name attached, just let me know. You're welcome (but not required) to send pics, too!

You Might Also Like:

The Real Reason You Can't Headstand

Why You Shouldn't Compare Yourself to Yogi Superstars

Should You Practice a Set Yoga Sequence, or Free-Form?


Dragon Flower Farm: What We're Keeping

Butterfly_lilac_sp2019
Not all ornamentals are thugs.

I've spent a good deal of time talking about what we had to extricate from the Dragon Flower Farm, i.e., invasive plants like honeysuckle vine, winter creeper, and autumn clematis. Yes, in certain moments, it's felt like nothing more than the tragic tale of what the botanists call "disturbed" areas in nature. But not everything onsite when we bought the house in November 2017 was "undesirable." You might be wondering what we're planning to keep. Here's a list by category.

Flowering Shrubs

Let me start with the lilac. 

Oh, my God. Do we love our lilac. Lilacs naturally stir a romantic, traditional feeling in the heart, I think, without feeling overly fussy or too precious the way some classic ornamentals can. And, as pictured in the photo above, our venerable old lilac has no trouble attracting pollinators during its dramatic show of springtime blooms. 

Lilac_blossoms

It's the focal point of the garden in spring, providing a lovely backdrop for our seating area (and some semblance of privacy), with a heady scent of lilac wafting into the house when the windows are open. 

Lilac_backdrop

I once had a white lilac, when I lived in Tacoma, but this lilac-colored lilac really takes the cake. Speaking of cake, you can decorate cakes with the lilac flowers, as some people do. The blossoms are edible for both humans and animals. Here you can see Chaco chomping down the sugary goodness.

Chaco_lilac_sp2019

Our lilac has been allowed to sucker out into a rangy bush shape, but this spring after the blooms faded, I cut it back with as much tough love as I could muster. It's a bit more tree-shaped now, but it will likely always be more bush than tree. Either way, it provides gorgeous cut flowers for inside, and this year, it bloomed precisely on time to play a role in Easter decorating, which was nice since we hosted the fams this year.

Lilac has other uses as well, which besides its beauty make it a candidate for keeping around. You can of course fashion sachets for your linen drawers out of the blooms, but they're also used to make syrups, teas, and candies. Got another use for lilac that I haven't listed? Tell us in the comments below.

The other ornamental bush we've kept so far is the rose, which we're told is likely the 'Knockout' rose variety. It's a bit of a statue, in that few insects are drawn to it, but it's a big, healthy bush, and rose petals do have a wide variety of uses, from rose water to tea.

Rose_sp2019

Alas, this one doesn't produce many rose hips, but at least it has all those other uses, besides being gorgeous and fragrant.

Self-Sowing Natives and 'Weeds'

We noticed early on that a large number of ferns were thriving in two shady areas, and we had them ID'd by the Audubon Society as native sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis). Unfortunately, the bulk of them were interwoven with honeysuckle vine and winter creeper, two thugs we needed to eradicate, so we had to cover over the ferns with our mix of cardboard and mulch meant to make anything underneath die off. This biodegradable mulch method worked great, and to our great joy, the sensitive fern, and NOT the two invasives, came bursting right up through the mulch. So we saved the native fern and destroyed the nasties.

Sensitive fern_sp2019
Sensitive fern, native to Missouri.

The second native that seemed undeterred by our cardboard/mulch barrier is vine milkweed. This one grows in profusion in the St. Louis area, and I remember it from when I lived here before. I didn't pull it out then, and I'm not going to now, either. Some people seem bothered by it, calling it a garden weed, but the monarchs love it and thrive on it. Given a choice between offending garden visitors by the sight of a so-called weed and giving monarchs and other pollinators what they need to survive, I side with the pollinators. 

Milkweedvine_sp2019

A lot of what we need to do to survive on this planet - and we need those pollinators in order to ensure our future food supply - rests on changing our mindsets about relatively subjective things, like what a garden should look like. If you want your garden hermetically sealed and angled off with a lot of chemicals and gas-powered tools, then have yourself a yard full of plant statues and grass that does nothing for the life cycle other than sit there looking green. But don't you think the vine above is lovely, twining around our solar lantern?

Speaking of subjective viewpoints, we had another so-called weed growing to beat the band this year: cleavers. The Missouri Botanical Garden lists it among their "Winter Annual Weeds," and outlines methods for its eradication. But I'd come across cleavers before, back when I worked at New Dawn Natural Foods, which used to be on Grand Avenue here in St. Louis' Grand South Grand neighborhood, before the regentrification wave changed this funky ghetto into a strip of trendy shops and restaurants. A longtime sufferer of a condition called interstitial cystitis, I took cleavers tea for its known anti-inflammatory properties, specifically related to the bladder. So when we ID'd it coming up in the garden, Anthony gathered a bunch and used it to make a cold infusion. Besides the bladder tonic effect, I noticed the swelling in my feet and hands go down after drinking it.

Cleavers
Cleavers, scaffolding their way over neighboring plants.

The name "cleavers" comes from the seed-distribution method for this plant, which is via hooked burs that stick to animal pelts, or in this case, human socks. Keep at least a few cleavers around in your garden, if only for the botanical fascination.

We are also blessed with a number of sedums, aka stonecrop, of the variety Hylotelephium 'Herbstfreude' AUTUMN JOY. The genus is native to North America, but what's growing in our yard is a cultivated variety, hence the special name here in all caps. Still, they're known for their great value to butterflies, specifically, and are recommended for fall color and pollinator-friendliness by many.

If you have any doubt about the butterfly population's preference for this flower, come on by the Dragon Flower Farmhouse. In late summer and early fall, it's a butterfly festival.

The violets growing in abundance across Dragon Flower Farm make us nearly as happy as the lilac does - maybe even moreso because Viola sororia is another freebie native. Like the sensitive fern, the violets were only too happy about the mulch situation, and no longer having to compete with turf grass for space, they seeded themselves all over the top of it.

Violets_sp2019

Violet makes a lovely, soft ground cover, and the fritillaries in particular flock to it.

Flowering Bulbs

Lastly, we're default-keeping many of our flowering bulbs. I say 'default' because we're not actively trying to dig them up or anything, but we're not going out of our way to save them if they are interplanted with something we really must remove, like winter creeper. (We do put them in pots and give them to friends and family, though. We're not monsters!)

One of the problems with the property is that the blooming was set to all happen in the spring. It's a common problem I've seen in yards planted only with ornamentals. While I will say that we've got a staggered series of blooms throughout the spring, sadly, the only thing blooming any other time of the year is that late summer sedum. This is something we've already started to rectify with our choice of new trees and shrubs, but for now it's heavily weighted toward spring. And what a spring it is!

Crocus sp2019
It all starts with the first crocus.
Daffodils_sp2019
Then the daffodils emerge, trumpeting the arrival of spring.

Oh, did I mention daffodils? If you're paying any attention at all, you know we're daffy about them.

Daffodil2_sp2019
This is a double daffodil called Narcissus 'Tahiti.'

After that, it's iris avenue, with three incredible hues on display in succession. 

Purple_iris_2019
First these royal purple beauties...
Yellow_irises_arranged_sp2019
Then a big mess of yellow bearded irises. 

There are probably about 100 yellow bearded irises on the property. I love to bring them in the house for cut flower displays, but Chaco ate them and threw up, so they had to be taken outside, as they're toxic to cats. Some were growing up through winter creeper and honeysuckle, so I dug them out, put them in pots, and gave them to my sister to distribute amongst her neighbors.

Wine_colored_iris_sp2019
The last iris to bloom is a rarer, wine-colored variety. Definitely a keeper.

Deciding the fate of plants is a heady sort of power, and we don't take it lightly. We've armed ourselves with resources and support from the St. Louis Audubon Society, Wild Ones, Missouri Botanical Garden, the Missouri Native Plant Society, and others. We reserve the right to change our minds and admit to feeling conflicted about some plants. For example, we have ornamental azaleas in the front, and while we wish they were useful Ozark native azaleas, they're not. They'll bloom themselves silly, and not a single flying insect will even take notice. They probably need to go, but who wants to rip out an old, sturdy bush like that?

Thanks for your interest in our Dragon Flower Farm project. By the way, now that I've written this, I'm wondering if we should have called the place 'Viola Sororia' instead. What do you think?

You Might Also Like:

The First Trees and Shrubs

A Natural, Native Privacy Screen

A Disturbing Fence Reveal!

 


Our Top 5 Travel Necessities

Suomenlinna
You can see a bit of the Infinity Neck Pillow here, draped over one shoulder in the 'down' position.

One of the reasons I decided to devote this whole week on the blog to Helsinki is that as a travel noob, I often felt overwhelmed when trying to find basic information online. A lot of travel blogs seem to cater to seasoned travelers, and since, as I reported on Monday, less than 5 percent of Americans travel overseas, that approach doesn't seem to make sense. I thought a more detailed, simplified breakdown would be more helpful. It also allowed me to give a deep dive on Helsinki, which I think is pretty rare, but I rather get to really know one place than go on a dizzying whirlwind tour of too many.

Anyway, for this last post in the series, I thought I'd share the top 5 travel necessities that have made the trips much easier for me. I highly recommend all of these products, and if you get them, please do so from the links below to help support this blog. Thank you.

They're all equally great, so this list is in no particular order.

Forest & Meadow's Jet Lag Formula

I suffer from terrible jet lag, as I've mentioned on the blog previously. When I flew to Copenhagen last year, I tried to adjust slowly a week ahead of time, by wearing a watch set to Copenhagen time and psyching myself out that it was actually that time. This is enormously difficult, as your body tends not to buy the ruse - 'What are you talking about? Go to bed NOW? It's totally daylight.' But my jet lag WAS mildly better on that trip, so the effort wasn't for nought. 

Still, I knew there had to be a better way, so I asked my herbalist, Amanda Jokerst of Forest & Meadow, if she could craft a formula to specifically counter the effects of jet lag. She's been helping me with a host of conditions due to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), and I've been impressed by how much more helpful her "doctoring" has been for this issue than the years of frustration I've experienced via the Western medicine route. Amanda was intrigued by the request, and she came through valiantly, with a formula that gave me my mildest jet lag yet.

Jet lag formula

Amanda is offering all Cat in the Flock readers a 15 percent discount on the formula, so feel free to give it a try. All you have to do is email her at this link and mention Cat in the Flock. Soon she'll have an online store where you can purchase her array of organic herbal formulas. But for now, email will work.

Infinity Neck Pillow

I can't say enough good things about this neck pillow/scarf hybrid thingee. It's basically a möbius strip of fabric, like an infinity scarf but with some soft filling to give it a pillow-like feel. It has multiple uses. When you double-wrap it around your neck, it allows you to rest your head comfortably in any direction. I've experienced my best in-flight sleeping with this on. It also provides excellent lumbar support if you fold it once and place it between you and the plane seat.

It's an added layer of warmth both on the plane and off; I was really happy to have it on during the freak snow on Suomenlinna. Northern Europeans wrap enormous scarves around their necks, so wearing the Infinity Neck Pillow, you'll look like a local. It can seem a bit bulky during everyday wear if the weather's nice, but if you want to keep it with you without feeling like you're wearing a whiplash collar, just string it across your body. This way, it's rather stylish, and you'll totally fit in.

 Fochier Carryon Spinner Suitcase

I've never been one to invest in luggage - that's always seemed like something more for rich people, I guess. I used the same midsized bag I'd purchased in high school on my J.C. Penney discount for a couple of decades - until it literally fell apart during a trip in 2008. I found myself stranded at my sister's house without luggage, so I "splurged" on a wheelie bag at Target. That bag has kept both me AND my husband in luggage ever since, and we still use it.

But one bag isn't enough for both of us, so we have to supplement with backpacks or crossbody packs, and my scoliotic spine just isn't keen on traveling like a pack mule. Plus, I've noticed while traveling that people with spinner bags seem to be moving through airports like la-de-da, while my unidirectional wheelie bag is bulky and awkward. So, I splurged on this carryon spinner, and I haven't regretted it for a second.

The soft shell gives the bag sturdiness, the handle seems a bit stronger than the average, and the wheels stood up to Helsinki's cobblestone streets. There is a TSA lock, but I'm skeptical about how secure they are. I went for turquoise, my favorite color, but there's a wide range of hues from which to choose.

Mad Hippie Cleansing Oil

One of the annoying aspects of travel these days is the big dilemma of how to fit all one's toiletries into a plastic quart bag. Of course, you can't fit everything, so you have to pick and choose. Is it more important to have toothpaste, or facial cleanser? Can I find a travel-sized deodorant that doesn't make me smell like baby powder all day? These are the questions that try women's souls.

Artboard_1_1024x1024

But coming to the rescue is this incredible cleansing oil. Ostensibly, it's a facial cleanser. But I found it had other uses: I added it to my bath, and I massaged it into my cuticles and even my hair. The fact that it both cleans and moisturizes means that it earns its space in that quart bag. Mad Hippie, you're so sane!

Plug Adapters

The first time you travel overseas, the fact that other cultures use different types of electrical plugs will kind of astound you. I devoted a whole blog post on the subject after my first trip abroad, to Barcelona. But now it's old hat for me, and I've got a great supply of adapter plugs to use when I go. Thankfully, my E/F type worked in Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Helsinki, so I've only ever had to have these. But definitely check out what the setup is in your destination land, because wherever you go, things could plug in differently.

I hope this roundup of travel aids is helpful to you. Safe and happy travels!

Other #HelsinkiWeek Posts:

That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat

5 Cool Things to Do in Helsinki

Heading to Helsinki? Here's What You Need to Know

Thinking About Taking Your First Trip Overseas? Try Helsinki


That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat

14D79C9A-2F64-4452-AD8C-CBC9C598B5DF

We came back from Helsinki raving about what an awesome quality of life Finns have, and we'd like to give you a rundown of the three main areas that make it so. Finnish style is both Old World European and cutting-edge modern, and that's reflected in the cuisine, physical activity, and design.

Food

Notably scarce in Helsinki society: junk food and fast food. Once we left the airport, we really didn't see too many fast-food restaurants. There are a fair number of Starbucks cafes, which is not surprising, given the coffee-centric culture, and I don't know, maybe a Starbucks looks like a cool, exotic American place to get a coffee if you're a Finn. We avoided them, because why? 

There were also a handful of Subway restaurants, which bewildered us at first until I realized that Scandinavians are all about the sandwich, so to embrace a Subway footlong isn't beyond the pale. I did wonder if they eat it with a fork, though, as sandwiches are open-faced and consumed that way throughout Scandinavia. We went to a "Mexican" restaurant once during our stay, and our tacos came with a set of instructions for how to eat a taco (1. fold, 2. pick up with your hands, 3. eat). I figured that was due to the practice of eating open-faced sandwiches with a fork as well. The rice and beans were actually split peas and white rice, so there you go. Finnishized Mexican food.

There's a lot of soup in Finland, maybe because of the cool climate. We tried salmon soup three different ways during our stay, and the one at Story Cafe in the Old Market Hall was the best.

Salmon soup
A typical Finnish meal, with salmon soup, hearty bread, rhubarb crumble, and "overnight oats" also with rhubarb. They are big on rhubarb in Finland. Overnight oats is a grain porridge, a breakfast staple.

Back to my main point: Finns eat healthier than Americans. Probably not surprising, but the quality of the food is higher, too, with fewer processed food options and much, much less sugar and salt. They're big on bread and cereal; the national food is rye bread. But hold the usual overload of sugar and salt we Americans add to these foods. I find it interesting that the food cultures in European cities tend not to be gluten-phobic, as the U.S. is increasingly becoming. (A popular snack is Karelian pie, a rye pastry filled with rice porridge.) But neither is their bread processed with loads of fillers and chemicals and made from GMO wheat. Rather, bread is usually baked fresh, with just a few high-quality ingredients. Our hotel, for example, offered a daily brunch featuring sourdough rye baked early that morning. 

Yesyesyesdinner
Though the Finns like their meat, which ranges from bear to all manner of fish to reindeer, you CAN eat here as a vegetarian. Here's one of our favorite meals, from the veg restaurant Yes Yes Yes: Halloumi fries with pomegranate, arugula salad with hearts of palm, avocado-pistachio dip, and naan bread.

Meat and cheese are staples, too. Again, rather than dropping these items from their diets, Finns generally prefer to craft them from local ingredients, close to the source, rather than processing and adding preservatives and additives. I've noticed that I've been able to eat a much broader range of foods when I'm in Copenhagen, Barcelona, and Helsinki--all cultures that share this emphasis on high-quality, locally sourced food. (I've written about my experiences in Barcelona here.

Exercise

Finns are a lot less sedentary than Americans. Helsinki is a highly walkable city, with pedestrian-only streets common, along with plenty of walking and bike paths even on high-traffic streets. Beyond that, the Finns take great pride in their physical activities, with an active culture around swimming and using the sauna (Finns super-love to get naked and sweaty, and this is an occasion for a sandwich, too!) as well as a plethora of winter sport options. 

Finns are pretty wild about jooga (yoga). Apparently one of 12 undeniable proofs that you're married to a Finn is that you "yoga breathe in the passenger's seat." 

Jooga

We witnessed many Finns opting to take the stairs, which were more accessible than they are in America, where it seems in a lot of buildings they're only provided for emergency purposes. Our business associates, who've spent a good amount of time in the U.S., remarked that they always gain "at least 5 kilograms" when they travel to the States. They attributed it to the car-centric culture, types of food, and portion sizes. Which is not to say that Finns are New York-skinny; they're not. Finnish women, from what I've seen, look like healthy Midwesterners!

Exercise sort of blends in with the lifestyle, too, rather than being something designated as separate and requiring special clothing, a scheduled time slot, or a specific place to do it. Finns walk everywhere, and they walk fast, in regular clothes. Which doesn't mean they won't stop for a glass of wine in the middle of that activity.

Cafeursula

Design

Maybe it's not as direct a quality-of-life issue as food and exercise, but the place where form and function meet is definitely important to Finns. Things must not only work well, but they must please the eye as well. Conversely, if they're only pretty but not at all functional, Finns don't want any part of them, either.

Case in point: HVAC ductwork. The below circular art piece--I mean heating vent--is all over Helsinki. This one's from the aforementioned veg restaurant, Yes Yes Yes. 

Ductwork

What's remarkable about them besides how cool they look is that they seem to work a lot better than the ones we have here in the States. The little baffles circulate the air, rather than aggressively blowing it in one direction. You know that problem where you sit down and then have to move because the vent is spewing right in your eyes or making you too hot or too cold? Never happened to me in Finland.

Besides the HVAC, that triple-Yes restaurant was a triumph in fresh interior design, from the gorgeous patterned wallpaper to the simplicity of the retro pitchers and bright, happy colors.

Wallpaper

There's a love of domestic objects here, and a common theme of bright, uncluttered, natural interiors, with both an organic sensibility and clean lines. The natural world is a focus, whether that's how plants are displayed inside or in the design themes themselves, like the magical coffee mugs our hotel used, designed by Finnish firm Ittala

Ittala

I've shared my love of Finland here on the blog this past week, and I hope you'll experience it for yourself. Tomorrow, I'll list my top 5 travel accessories, and tell you about a very special discount, too!

You Might Also Like:

5 Cool Things to Do in Helsinki

Heading to Helsinki? Here's What You Need to Know

Thinking About Taking Your First Trip Overseas? Try Helsinki