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Q&A with Phyllis Kalajian of Nordikreations

By Kristina Reilly, Arctic Circle Finns

Phyllis Kalajian, based in Indiana, is a self-taught jewelry maker and designer who finds inspiration in her Scandinavian roots; she is half Norwegian, a quarter Swedish and a quarter German. Kalajian’s pieces are available on Etsy as well as at the Finnish School of New York’s annual Christmas Bazaar tomorrow, December 1st (83 Christopher Street in Manhattan). Look for them at Finland Center’s table.

The artist herself, Phyllis Kalajian.

The artist herself, Phyllis Kalajian.

Q: What sparked your interest in making jewelry and connecting that with your Scandinavian heritage?

A: I’m a single mother and have two beautiful grown children, Michael and Cheri. When they were younger, I had them enrolled in a local Swedish culture group. The children’s group performed at many Scandinavian functions, including the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World exhibit. The Swedish culture group is what got me interested in all things Scandinavian. As far as creativity goes, for as long as I can remember I had to be creating something, from sewing to making jewelry to designing props for the performances put on by our Swedish group. I also have a regular day job, but only because I have to pay the bills. Now my remaining free time is consumed by jewelry making.

Q: How did your idea for Nordikreations take shape? 

A: I have been creating Scandinavian jewelry for about eight years. It started as a fundraising initiative for our newly formed Swedish club for adults. I thought we could all make and sell some Scandinavian jewelry. However, when I brought the samples to one of our meetings, no-one was interested in making them; they wanted to buy my jewelry instead.

Q: Many of your designs really capture the spirit of Finland. Where do you get your inspiration and ideas?

Lakka earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

Lakka earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

A: In the beginning I only had a few designs. Then people began to request particular items and I started doing research to figure out how I was going to make them. Doing a little research on one item would lead me to another, and then to the next. I sometimes spent so much time reading about traditions and customs that I lost track of time. There are so many beautiful things in the Scandinavian culture: the jewelry, the folk costumes  and the artwork, both ancient and contemporary. I think Scandinavians have an inherent creative side.

Q: Which pieces do you like working on the most? Do you have a favorite design?

A: My favorite look is the Viking Knit earring, and the piece I love working on the most is the newest one I’m creating. I love thinking of new ideas and then trying to find the right pieces to create them. When I put the pieces together and it looks like I’ve successfully visualized something, I’m really happy. If I could afford it, I wouldn’t charge anything for my jewelry. If one of my pieces becomes special and meaningful to someone else, that gives me a good feeling and I want to create more. I also would like to say that I have met some of the nicest people through my jewelry making.

Q: What’s next for Nordikreations? 

Viking Knit earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

Viking Knit earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

A: I’m working on more bracelets but haven’t listed them yet. The holidays are really busy for me, so I haven’t had time to take pictures and list the bracelets on my site. I’m using only the same colors that Viking women used. I’m also thinking about making bracelets with Scandinavian colors. I use memory wire, so there is no clasp; it just winds around your wrist. There are a couple of ideas for viking earrings that I have in my head. I will be making a Viking Thistle Brooch earring, and I would also like to make viking Runes out of black beads.



Tastes of Finnish Christmas

By Jaana Rehnström

At Christmas time, Finnish expats tend to get nostalgic and begin missing their mothers’ (or grandmothers’) cooking. Finnish holiday recipes are easy to come by, but not always the ingredients.

Fortunately, there are people in the New York area who can help. If you would rather avoid the extra hurdle of cooking, contact Tuula Malmi (, who runs a catering business out of her house in the Bronx year-round. She is a master of traditional Finnish cuisine, and can also be hired for upscale events. She used to cook at Estonia House, and her customers included kids from the Finnish School during the years in which they met there.

Northern Rye makes traditional and non-traditional Karelian pies and other goodies, and they now sell them in two stores on Manhattan’s East side and several places in Brooklyn. Check out and contact them at

Nordic Breads makes the best Finnish sourdough rye bread on this side of the Atlantic. Their products are available at Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays and Saturdays (8 am to 6 pm), at Stuyvesant Town Greenmarket on Sundays (9:30 am to 4 pm), and at New Amsterdam Market on Sundays (11 am to 4 pm). In addition, Nordic Breads is represented at Whole Foods and other markets in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can also order the bread by mail; just order a package and freeze what you don’t consume immediately. Very healthy and yummy!

Rice porridge, topped with cinnamon, is a perennial holiday favorite.

Rice porridge, topped with cinnamon, is a perennial holiday favorite.

Here are a few tips for aspiring cooks:

Want to make riisipuuro (traditional rice porridge served around Christmas)? Be sure to use sushi rice (“sticky rice”). Want to make kiisseli (kissel dessert)? Potato flour can be hard to come by, but try Jewish stores, or Sockerbit on Christopher St. between 7th Avenue and Bleecker Street. They also have vanilla sugar (used in many Finnish dessert recipes) and a good selection of candy by Fazer – Finland Center members get 10% discount on that!

Also check out the Norwegian Seamens’ Church at 317 East 52nd Street. (between 1st and 2nd Avenues). They carry cloudberry jam, black currant juice and great Scandinavian cheese….at steep Norwegian prices, however.

Want to make rahkapiirakka (quark pastry)? Schaller and Weber, the wonderful German food store on 2nd avenue just south of 86th Street has quark; also the Russian stores in Brighton Beach carry it. Lingonberry jam can be found at many of the aforementioned stores and of course at IKEA – this Swedish giant also stocks other essential foods such as herring and Kalles kaviar. And for the best Scandinavian coffee: I’m sorry, but you have to order it from Gevalia (I haven’t found a Finnish brand available in the U.S that is equivalent…and it’s quite expensive).

Lastly, for the best gravlax I will share my own recipe, adapted from the New York Times (who probably stole it from some Scandinavian): Start two or three days before the event at which you want to serve it:

  • 2 lbs salmon fillet, cut into two pieces of equal size

  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1.5 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper

  • 1 bunch of dill, chopped

Place one fillet on a large piece of aluminium foil. Mix the spices and  spread over both fillets. Add the dill to one of them. Flip the other slice quickly over the other one (face to face) and wrap the foil around it tightly. Wrap again with saran wrap.

Place the piece in the fridge and (this is important) place a clean brick or another weight on top. Turn the piece every 12 hours. Some juice will seep out so keep it in a Pyrex dish or an equivalent. When ready to serve, discard the dill, cut crosswise in thin slices, and decorate with fresh dill and lemon slices.

Feel free to comment and add your own culinary tips!

Happy holiday munching!



Finns in New York: Saara

Our blog series offers a peek into the lives of the local Finnish community. Today we meet Saara who resides in Upper West Side and has a thing for expensive shoes and vintage stores. Saara is also an aspiring photographer and she can be seen in many of our events with her camera taking some great shots for our albums. Check out Saara’s blog Diamonds and Pearls and she can also be found and friended here.


Q: How long have you lived in New York?

Since October 2008.

Q: Why did you move to New York?

I love big cities. It was a natural move after living in London for seven years.

Q: What are your three favorite places in the City?

Central Park, Soho, and South Street Seaport.

Q: Favorite restaurant? 

Koi at Bryant Park Hotel.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

Housing Works thrift shops for those vintage treasure hunts.

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

Go to Broadway shows and nice restaurants. Wandering around the city.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

Diversity and possibility. You can do anything you could possibly think of at any given time.

Q: What do you miss from Finland?

Sauna, family, and friends.

Q: Describe New York in three words

Vibrant, diverse, and exciting.

Q:  Describe Finland in three words

Clean, quiet, and safe.



Finns in New York: Niina

Our blog series offers a peek into the lives of the local Finnish community. Today we meet Niina who was interning with Salmagundi Club and volunteering in our West Village office for three months during the last winter season.


Q: How long did you live in New York?

For about three months

Q: Why did you move to New York?

This has always been a place where I want to live and that’s why I came to do my internship here. Love the City

Q: What are your three favorite places in the city?

West Village, Fifth Avenue and SoHo

Q. What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?

There are so many good restaurants but one of my favorites is The Smith in East Village

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

No, but Woodbury Commons and Garden State Plaza drives me crazy

Q: What do you like to do on your free time?

Jogging in Central Park and spending time with my friends in a good restaurant, nam!

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

To meet interesting people from all over the world

Q: If you were to describe New York in three words, what words would you use?

Exciting, experiential and enormous!

Q: What words would you use to describe Finland?

Cold, Cool and Clean



Talk design at Marimekko


By Laura Palotie

What inspires designers? Who and what is shaping design conversation today? What is the role of design in cultural exchange and the evolution of society? These questions have surfaced, in a variety of forms, during Helsinki’s 2012 Design Capital year, and on Thursday, October 18th, an international group of designers gathered at Marimekko’s Manhattan flagship shop to share their design philosophies.

The event’s fast-moving format allowed design professionals from eight different organizations to share their thoughts. Each presenter was asked to prepare 20 slides and spend no more than 20 seconds explaining each slide; beyond these requirements, the format was free.

Parsons professor Timo Rissanen spoke of his project promoting sustainability,  15%, which sells plain white T-shirts alongside the fabric scraps created in their manufacturing. The shirts are made and sold at Helsinki’s Amos Anderson museum as part of this year’s Boutique exhibit.

Aamu Song and Johan Olin, whose tiny Salakauppa (“secret shop”) in the centre of Helsinki puts a quirky spin on everyday items, gave the audience a tongue-in-cheek Finnish lesson (the word for “earth,” for example, is “maailma,” which literally translates to “ground air”). Idealist Group‘s creative director Saku Tuominen, meanwhile, spoke about the ways in which design thinking can be the basis for a better work-life balance.

Kristian Lazzaro of‘s vintage shop, NYC & Company‘s chief creative officer Willy Wong, Artek‘s design director Ville Kokkonen and Lynn Shanahan, president ofMarimekko North America, also described their organizations’ unique approaches to design.

The event was part of the wrap-up of New Finnish Design CITY, a ten-month long project addressing the role of design in urban life through lectures, exhibits and other events. The initiative, which launched in February, was organized by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York and the Consulate General of Finland in New York. Thursday’s event was held in collaboration with Marimekko and Surface magazine.



City tips for young Scandinavians


By Nea Pakarinen

In late September, Finland Center organized an informational event for young Scandinavians living in New York. The Saturday evening event, which was held at the Finnish Lutheran Church on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, was attended by young people from various backgrounds as well as experts who discussed various aspects related to life in New York. Doctor Jaana Rehnstrom, director of Finland Center, spoke about what to do if you get sick, immigration lawyer Ceridwen Koski gave advice on visas, real estate broker Angelika Kallio talked about housing in the city, and actor and church employee Heli Sirviö offered a few general pieces of NYC wisdom.

I found the event very useful. Not only was it a great opportunity to connect with people from backgrounds similar to mine, but it also offered plenty of useful information, including where and how to get a flu shot, and which visa options are available for young immigrants.

Yummy Karelian pies and Finnish cheese, as well as Candy donated by nearby Sockerbit, were served. We also had a lively discussion about the great things we had done and seen in the city.

After our discussion we continued with a night on the town, and the following morning we enjoyed a superb Sunday brunch at Smoke Jazz Club, where you can have your eggs with a side of live jazz. By the end of the weekend, I had a number of new friends to explore the city with.

Here are just a few city tips I gathered from the attendees:

What are your favorite places in the city? Share them in the comments section.



Finns in New York: Kristina Reilly & Nina Kulmala


Our blog series offers a peek into the lives of the local Finnish community. Today we meet Kristina Reilly and Nina Kulmala, founders of Arctic Circle Finns. The organization puts together art and fashion events, upscale happy hours and charity benefits around the city. 

Q: What brought you to New York?

Kristina: I’ve been in the States since 1997, but was originally living on the West Coast. I was working as a flight attendant when I met my now-husband, who’s from Brooklyn. I relocated to New York, and we now live in New Jersey.

Nina: I was 2 when my parents decided to move from Helsinki and start a new life on Long Island, New York; my father started a construction company there with his brother in the 1970s. As soon as I graduated high school I packed my bags and headed to New York City, where I attended The Fashion Institute of Technology in the mid-1980s. The city has been my home ever since.

Q: What inspired you to start Arctic Circle Finns of New York?

Kristina: Even though lots of great Finnish organizations already existed in New York, we felt that there wasn’t anything for the younger generation – especially for second-generation Finnish-Americans. Since we both had extensive experience as event planners, several of our friends asked us to set something up, so we did! I’m a former travel agent and specialize in setting up corporate events. I also worked as a charter flight coordinator and planner contracted to NASCAR.

Nina: I felt like there was something missing in the Finnish community. My parents were very active in the Finnish Cultural Society of New York, which had a lot of members back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As a kid, I recall attending many social events with my parents, including beauty pageants, church events, comedy shows and dinner dances. My father was even a drummer in a Finnish band. So, having grown up in this kind of an environment, I began thinking that there was nothing out there now for the younger generation of Finns. We need more social events to help keep our culture and language fresh. On that note, the most important inspiration is to practice the Finnish language. There is nothing better than speaking with fellow Finns that have the same interests as you.   

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

Kristina: Between working and spending time with my family – we have two kids and two dogs – I don’t have a lot of spare time. My husband and I like camping and hiking in New Jersey, going to the beach, spending time with our friends, trying out new restaurants and traveling whenever possible. I also work as a promo model.

Nina: I try to keep busy all the time, and when I have a free moment I am usually thinking of new projects. I have a great day job in a law firm, but to balance out my life I look for creative projects. For instance, I am the general manager of an off-off-Broadway theater company, Hotel Savant, and volunteer for organizations such as DOT429. I also love to go out dancing and shopping; I like vintage clothes and accessories.

Q: What are your favorite places in the city?

Kristina: I like Brooklyn and Downtown Manhattan. However, I prefer to spend my free time in New Jersey. We have fabulous beaches, beautiful scenery and quaint old towns.

Nina: I never get tired of seeing the New York skyline. I have recently been rediscovering NYC by visiting neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Williamsburg, SoHo and The Bronx. There are a lot of great restaurants and sites in this grand city. For example, I recently attended a fabulous, 1920s-themed garden party in an old Italian “palazo” in the Bronx…only in New York.  

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living here?

Kristina: Being able to reconnect to Finland. When I lived “out West” I didn’t know any other Finns. Now Helsinki is just eight hours away. Most of my friends are Finnish, and we have a strong Finnish community here.

Nina: It’s the most eclectic city I know. You can move from the Upper East Side to the Village, and feel like you are in another world. It’s a place that is always evolving. I like the opportunities this city can give you.

This Thursday, September 13th, Arctic Circle Finns and Finland Center are co-hosting a health and beauty event at the Nygård flagship on Times Square. Connect with Arctic Circle Finns on Facebook, and email with event requests.



Q&A with puppeteer Terhi Lintukangas


Interview by Laura Palotie

By fusing her knowledge of method acting into her career as a puppet artist, Finnish Terhi Lintukangas has garnered accolades on both sides of the Atlantic. She has won the Finnish national championship in puppetry, spent a year as resident artist at New York’s International House and studied at the city’s famed Actors Studio Drama School on a Fulbright scholarship.

Last year she staged a large-scale puppetry production in Turku, Finland as part of the city’s Capital of Culture program. The performance, which partially drew from her personal experiences of chasing her dreams in both Finland and New York, earned praise from local critics.

I recently chatted with Lintukangas about the origins of her puppetry career, the methods she employs in planning her performances, her sources of early inspiration and her future plans with this distinctive art form.

Q: What inspires you about puppetry?

A: As a visually oriented person, I’ve always seen stories as images, so puppetry has been a natural art form for me. A lot in puppetry is communicated without words. To me, puppetry means telling a story through an object; the story, not the puppet, is the most important thing. The puppet can be a rock or a glass of water, anything.

Q: Where, or when, would you say that your interest in puppetry sparked?

A: I grew up in the countryside, in a tiny Finnish town called Iitti, where we didn’t have a lot of options for things to do. So I relied a lot on my imagination, making up stories and characters using branches and pine cones. Years later, studying pantomime with a Czech theater instructor, I became interested the use of objects in theater and applied to study puppetry and acting in Prague. I got in, and spent a year there. They have a long tradition of puppet theater, and it was wonderful to see how respected that art form is. After that I went back to Turku, Finland for my bachelor’s degree in puppetry.

Q: You completed your master’s degree at New York’s Actors Studio Drama School. What made you want to study there, specifically?

A: As a child, I spent a lot of time watching movies, and specifically old movies. Some Like it Hot is my favorite, and the comedy I use in my own work has been strongly influenced by that film. It’s a story with so much heart and excellent comic timing – and, well, that movie has a direct link to the Actors Studio, because Marilyn Monroe, like a lot of actors of that era, trained here. In my application I mentioned people like Marilyn and James Dean, and how I wanted to come and spend time at the original source of so much legendary acting. The application process was thorough and the audition was tough; getting in was, obviously, a dream come true.

Q: You’ve used a wide array of different kinds of puppets on your performances and workshops. What’s the process of planning a performance like for a puppeteer?

A: I’ve had the joy of working closely with puppet makers. I firmly believe that there are no surprises – that the right collaborators are always out there. I like to first have a vision of the performance myself, and when I meet the puppet artist, we can figure out together what the puppetry expression would be like for this particular story. Once the puppets have been made, they continue to develop until opening night. Part of puppetry for me is finding the best possible expression in the material I use. It’s like playing as a kid – seeing a familiar object in new ways.

Q: One of your puppet theater works, UKI-NYKI, was selected to be part of the 2011 Capital of Culture program for Turku, Finland. How did that performance come about?

Students of a puppetry workshop at New York’s International House.

Students of a puppetry workshop at New York’s International House.

A: I had this idea about the importance of dreaming, and how one’s surroundings affect his or her happiness. In my story, I had a Finnish girl and American girl who both have dreams, explore them and see if they lead to happiness. I knew I wanted to work with Timo Väntsi, a fellow puppeteer, and we also got some American collaborators. Timo and I subsequently started HOX Company, our puppetry ensemble.

Q: When seeing the work of other puppeteers, what are some common mistakes you see, and what aspects of puppetry do you appreciate the most?

A: Well, in many ways I think that mistakes are gifts. However, it’s a problem if a puppet doesn’t appear to breathe. Puppetry is based on the idea that the puppet is alive in the same way as any other actor, so it can’t be treated like an object. I always appreciate when time has been put into planning the puppet’s expressions and movements. 

Q: You taught puppetry to adults as the performing artist-in-residence at New York’s International House. What was that experience like?

A: I had done a lot of teaching before my time in New York, and knew that puppetry has a very strong universal language. International House had people from all different fields and backgrounds, but the feedback was similar across the board: that it’s wonderful to use one’s imagination and do something creative. Everyone is capable of playing and coming up with stories, and it’s nice to give people the opportunity to experience that joy. Once you let go of the fear of feeling awkward or silly, your imagination takes off. Teaching is something I’d love to do more in the future, especially in the U.S, especially now that Finland has gotten so much international acclaim for its education system.

Q: Where would you like to end up? New York, Finland or elsewhere?

A: New York feels like home after three years here, and my dream is to be able to get involved with interesting projects here. It would be wonderful to be part of a good movie, for example, while continuing in puppetry as well. So an ideal scenario would be to spend time both here and in Finland, and draw from both cultures in my work. 



Finns in New York: Johanna Telander


After a short summer hiatus, we return to our blog series featuring members of our Finnish community. Today we meet Johanna Telander, a singer/songwriter and actress who moved to the city in 2007. When she isn’t performing around town, she can often be found working at the Marimekko flagship store on 23rd Street.

Q: What are your three favorite places in the city?

A: One is Hudson Pier. I love walking along the pier, especially in the summer. The pier is always full of life with joggers, families and dogs. Being by the water is relaxing because it helps me dispatch from the everyday grind, and the pier is also a fun place to stroll and people-watch. I also love Greenwich Village; the little shops and bakeries along Bleecker Street are one-of-a-kind, and the music scene is versatile. My third favorite spot is Bryant Park, which is a great place for meetings, and offers activities ranging from free yoga lessons to classic movie nights. They are a great way to get to know the community.

Q. What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?

A: I can’t narrow it down, I have a few. Favorite pizza? Lombardi’s. Favorite Thai? Grom. Favorite Coffee? Roasting Plant Coffee. Favorite tavern for food and music? Greenwich Village Bistro. Favorite summer bar? The Frying Pan.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

A: Yes! The Housing Works Bookstore downtown. I always leave with bags full of books. They carry volumes that I usually can’t find elsewhere, and the prices are affordable. The atmosphere is also welcoming, and there is even a cafe where you can sit and read. The icing on the cake is that all of the store’s profits go to helping people with AIDS. 

Q: What do you like to do on your free time?

A:  I like to explore new areas in the city. On the weekends I go see shows my friends are in, and during the week I thrive on finding new coffee shops off the beaten path. Coffee is definitely my vice!

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

A:  The international, cosmopolitan vibe, the history, the energy and the inspirational people. I also  like the accessibility of the public transportation (I hate driving).

Q: What do you miss the most about Finland?

My family and friends. I also miss the blue skies and waters, and the lovely, rosy summer nights at our cottage.

Q: If you were to describe New York in three words, what words would you use?

A:  Eclectic, vibrant, inspiring.

Q: What words would you use to describe Finland?

A: Unique, Natural, and SISU!

Johanna performs regularly at various venues around town. She sings both covers and originals, and takes requests. Find out more at



Finns in New York: Sanna Posti-Sjöman


Interview by Katariina Forsberg

In today’s entry of our blog series we meet Sanna Posti Sjöman, a freelance journalist and editor-in-chief of the Swedish/Finnish arts magazine Sheriffi. She was born in Oulu in the Finnish Lapland, but has lived most of her life in Gothenburg, Sweden. She writes for Swedish and Finnish newspapers and magazines, and produces radio for SR in Sweden and occasionally YLE in Finland. She has lived in New York for about two years.

Q: Why did you move to New York?

A: Because I love this city dearly. I came here 1998 for the first time, and have been coming back ever since. I also got married here, in the Finnish church in Greenwich Village.

Q: What are your three favorite places in the City?

A: The bridges (Brooklyn and Williamsburg) by night, the Wollman skating rink in Central Park in the winters and the Green-Wood Cemetery in Sunset Park. It´s gorgeous!

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant?

A: For Mexican food, Tortilla Flats in the West Village. For Japanse food and sake I like Decibel Sake Bar in the East Village, and for pizza I go to Roberta´s in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

A: Ilove thrift stores and flea markets. Chelsea Flea (112 West 25th Street) and Hell´s Kitchen Flea are great. I also like Housing Works Thrift Stores. When I want something really nice, I go to INA and Amarcord Vintage.

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

A: I see a lot of shows. Some of my favorite bands, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead and A Place to Bury Strangers, are from New York. I also like museums and exhibitions. I go to readings too, and I love the Lower East Side nightlife.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

A: The contrasts. It's a tough but a rewarding city. It demands a lot of you, but it gives back even more. When I'm not here I'm waiting for the next thrill, and when I'm here I live in it. 

Q: What about Finland do you miss?

A: Rye bread, Karelian pastries, and salmiakki (strong, Scandinavian liquorice). I also miss the tango dance venues and the darkness and silence of the Finnish Lapland.

Q: Describe New York in three words?

A: “A beautiful catastrophe” (Le Corbusier).

Q: Describe Finland in three words?

A: Has my heart.



Finns in New York: Minna Ajo


Interview by Katariina Forsberg

In our blog series, Finnish New Yorkers share their thoughts on life in the city and offer some of their insider tips. In today’s entry we meet Minna Ajo, whose move across the Atlantic was recently documented for a Finnish reality series, Suomi-Tytöt New Yorkissa (“Finland Girls in New York”).

The show, which is currently in its first season and depicts the whereabouts of four young women in the city, airs on Liv channel in Finland and can also be viewed online.

Q: What brought you to New York?

A: I came here to grow up and hunt down my own American dream. Part of my job as a dancer in Finland was driving around the country, so my dream job was a Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., office job.  I have double citizenship, and felt that I needed a big change. In New York, even ordinary life is fun and challenging.

Q: The show reveals quite a bit about each of your personalities. How would you describe yourself?

A: You either love me or hate me. I’m stubborn and selfish, but give my everything to those who I feel deserve it. Most of the time I don’t care about the opinions of others, and might come across as a “douchebag.” At the end of the day, though, I would describe myself as adventurous (I moved to NYC with a one-way ticket in September of 2010), active and determined (I got my first job here just three weeks after I arrived). Life is too short to take everything so seriously. Take risks, and you can always go back if everything ends up in the gutter. 

Q: What are your three favorite places in the City?

A: The East Village in general is close to my heart. The High Line and the Meatpacking District are in my favorites too, as well as the rooftops in the summer. 

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant?

A: STK in the Meatpacking district has the best steak I’ve ever tasted. For having fun I head out to W.I.P or SL. For watching sports, I like Ainsworth.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

A: Anything on 5th Avenue between 14th street and the 20s.

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

A: Chilling out with my boyfriend. We work out a lot, either by running along the East River of golfing in Chelsea Piers. Pretty much anything sports-related is on our list.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

A: Everything is always open. You can do anything you want. 

Q: What do you miss about Finland?

A: My family and karjalanpiirakat (Karelian pastries).

Q: Describe New York in three words.

A: Bold, hardcore, full of opportunities.

Q: What words would you use to describe Finland?

Grandma’s meatballs, and ruisleipä (rye bread).

Minna manages a men’s boutique, 20 Peacocks, on the Lower East Side (20 Clinton Street). The shop also has a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

To find out more about Minna, follow her on Facebook and Twitter.



Finns in New York: Katariina from the board


Finland Center board member Katariina offers her city insights and tips in this entry of our blog series.

 Q: How long have you lived in New York?

A: On and off since 2002, and permanently since I graduated college in 2007.

Q: Why did you move to New York?

A: At first I came here in the summers to work, but after I graduated from college I returned to work full-time at a hotel. By then I had also met the man whom I’m proud to call my husband today.

Q: What are your favorite places in the City?

The East Village and the Lower East Side, and the South Street Seaport.

Q: Favorite restaurant?

A: I Can’t decide on just one; I like Pure Food and WineBeaconHangawi and Franchia.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

A: Live, Live Organic in the East Village.

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

 A: Walking by the water, listening to live music, enjoying happy hours and eating great food with friends.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York? 

A: There’s always something to see and experience; you’ll never get bored. I also love the diversity.

Q: What do you miss about Finland? 

A: The Sauna, the food, and the peace and quiet.

Q: Describe New York in three words?

A: Nonstop, loud, exciting.

Q: Describe Finland in three words? 

A: Serene, safe and pure.

Katariina oversees Finland Center’s Facebook and Twitter pages. She also writers a blog about her life (and her cats) at



Finns in New York: Heidi Hankaniemi-Dinis


Interview by Katariina Forsberg

Our blog series checks in with New York’s local Finns and offers their insider tips into the city. London-educated artist Heidi Hankaniemi-Dinis, whose clients have included Chanel, Sir Elton John and Marimekko, moved to the city a year ago, and is enjoying life in America’s art capital. 

Q: Why did you move to New York?

A: We transferred here from Spain for my husband’s work, but for an artist it’s obviously the ideal place to be, so I was excited to move here too.

Q: What are your favorite places in the city?

A: I love parks; the High Line, Bryant Park. I also love our neighbourhood, Chelsea: it has great galleries, nice restaurants and interesting people.

Q: Do you have a favorite restaurant?

A: Anything vegetarian: Blossom is nearby, it’s great. I also like going to lunch at ‘SNice in Soho.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

A: ABC Carpet and Home!

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

A: I like walking, exploring and watching American TV.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

A: Never, ever being bored.

Q: What do you miss about Finland?

A: I miss the nature, our summerhouse, our family and Finnish food.

Q: What three words would you use to describe New York?

A: Vibrant, amazing, nonstop

Q: How about Finland?

A: Clean, forward, reliable

Learn more about Heidi and her work at



Finns in New York: Sara Nurmi


Interview by Katariina Forsberg

Our blog series checks in with New York’s local Finns and offers a few of their insider tips into the city. Today we meet actress and singer Sara Nurmi, whose whereabouts in the city were recently documented for a Finnish reality series, “Finland Girls in New York.” The series also stars singer Alexandra Alexis, eco-blogger Annabella Åsvik and former dancer Minna Ajo. It airs on Finnish channel Liv, and can also be viewed online.

What brought you to New York?

I came here almost four years ago to study acting full-time at William Esper Studio in Manhattan. I graduated after two years and decided to stay here to pursue my career.

What are your favorite places in the City?

I like Union Square because I can walk there from my apartment and everything I need is right there, from Trader Joe’s and Barnes & Noble to clothing stores. I love West Village because it has such an authentic New York feel to it. I enjoy taking walks there and getting a cup of coffee. Another one of my favorite places is Lenox Lounge up in Harlem, where I often participate in open mic nights on Sundays. The band is great!

Any favorite restaurants?

I don’t have a favorite restaurant, can you believe it? I love food and discovering new places, and I’ve been to a lot of great restaurants but I don’t have a favorite one just yet.

Do you have a favorite store?

I love vintage and thrift stores in the city. I’ve found a lot of great clothes at Buffalo Exchange, Beacon’s Closet and Second time around. Fashion is not about the price, it’s about how you wear it, even if it’s a $2 shirt!

What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

I love taking walks and sucking in all the amazing things the city has to offer. My favorite areas are West Village and Nolita. I also spend a lot of time at bookstores like The Strand and Barnes & Noble, there’s just something about the smell of books that I adore. Little movie theaters are also fun, like Sunshine Cinema and Angelica.

What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

Being constantly inspired by all the amazing talent I see here; even a ten-minute walk around my neighborhood can inspire me so much on a bad day. This is so important to me as an artist. You can even see great musicians on subway platforms. I’m a really lucky girl to be able to pursue my career in New York. I really do feel at home here.

What do you miss about Finland?

I miss all the foods! The rye bread obviously is something I could eat all day long. Also vispipuuro(whipped dessert porridge), mustikkakeitto (blueberry soup; I used to drink that every day), Oltermanni cheese and the amazing selection of candy. American candy just doesn’t do it for me at all.

What three words would you use to describe New York?

Bold, inspiring, and free.

How about Finland?

Safe, beautiful, and clean.

Find out more about Sara on her blog (in Finnish): and
her music at Follow her on twitter at



Q&A with Amadeus Lundberg


By Laura Palotie

Singer Amadeus Lundberg, who performed at Finland Center earlier this month as part of a tango-themed evening, shot to fame in Finland when he won the much-publicized title of Tango King in 2009. Since then, he has continued to channel youthful passion into Finnish tango, a long-standing and beloved genre of pop music. Earlier this week Lundberg came out with a new single, an interpretation of the 1940s classic, Amado Mio.

During his recent visit to New York, I chatted with Lundberg about his career and musical background, as well as his experience of bringing Finnish tango to New York.

Q: You’ve grown up with music: your father, Taisto Lundberg, has played in Romani music group Hortto Kaalo, your mother plays the guitar and sings, and your aunt is well-known singer Anneli Sari. How did your own music career begin?

A: I attended a music-oriented preschool, and began taking violin lessons at six years old at one of Helsinki’s music institutes. I remember my father coming home from a gig, putting his violin on the table, and my reaching for it, grabbing it and saying “I want to play this.” My mom was over the moon, of course. In elementary and middle school I also played the drums, and later the guitar. I also sang at the children’s choir at the Finnish National Opera, which gave me a great basic training for singing – until my voice changed, I had the highest voice in the group.

Q: Finland’s status as a music hub is often attributed to its accessible music education; music schools with private instruction are available in cities around the country. Would you say that you’re a product of this system?

A: Of course music education pushed me forward and helped me develop, but from a young age I’ve done things in an instinctual, unstructured way. When I was studying the violin as a kid, I remember rebelling sometimes. I loved music and the teachers liked me, but the idea of studying it was sometimes difficult for me, and there were times when my mom had to come and fetch me from a tree outside of the music school. Music has always been around me in such a strong way that the fire for it, the musicality, has been the bouncing off point for everything with me.

Q: It’s obvious that music is in your genes, but what would you say you learned from your parents about being in music professionally?

A: I learned that if you play a lot of gigs and travel long distances while touring, it’s important to rest enough and take care of yourself. This is wonderful work, but it can also wear on the body, and requires self-discipline. I try to exercise so that I can let off steam and stay in shape. It also helps that I love to drive; I’ve liked cars since I was a little boy, and I even studied car painting for a year before becoming a full-time musician.

Q: Auto mechanics and music seem pretty distant from one another. How did that come about? 

A: I wasn’t sure that I could make a career of music, so I thought it would be good to have a job. I’ve always enjoyed cars, so I thought I could learn to fix them as well. I worked at Mercedes-Benz for a month and got into the car painting concentration at a vocational school. But the job didn’t feel exactly right – I’ve always been that way, a censor goes off in my head when something isn’t right – so I took a chance and quit. I decided to enter the singing competition at the 2009 Seinäjoki Tango Festival, and prepared for it by studying voice with opera singer Jyrki Niskanen for two months. Then I ended up winning the title of Tango King, and have been doing music for a living ever since. 

Q: What is it about tango as a genre that sparked your interest?

A: It fits my style, I think. I like to blend the classic and the modern. In Finland, tango has a long tradition. 

Q: Your rise to fame was rapid; after becoming Tango King, you became a household name. What did you learn from the experience?

A: How you react depends on what type of person you are. For some, it can be really wearing, while others can just push forward with tenacity – sisu. Meanwhile, some are able to employ sisu and enjoy it too. For me, it started with the idea of just pushing ahead, and eventually I came to enjoy it. It’s weird singing in front of 2,000 people and working 15-hour days, but you learn to pace yourself and gain a sense of independence. When you win a competition like that, it’s not fully in your own terms, it follows a standard formula, but eventually you begin to have more influence. It’s important that your career doesn’t feel forced and that you enjoy it. I work long days, but I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted. And I’m certainly not afraid of work. I also have a nomad’s soul; the touring lifestyle suits me.

Q: What was it like to perform tango in New York, especially to an audience that wasn’t entirely Finnish? 

A: It was a great experience. I did it with my usual routine, but also found a new feeling in it. And it’s always nice to see that people like what you sing.

Q: You also performed at an open mic night in Manhattan, right?

A: I did; I sang New York, New York, Granada, and Elvis’s In the Ghetto. Afterwards I chatted with a number of people and got really positive feedback; one songwriter even sent me an email afterwards. I’m looking forward to making more contacts here, and hopefully returning to the U.S for a concert tour.

Q: What kinds of musicians do you seek out and work the best with? 

A: I like to improvise a bit during shows, and enjoy when things aren’t too rigid or set in stone. There needs to be a sense of airiness, that things don’t always follow the same formula. Playing the right notes is important, but I value musicians who can play by ear and experiment.

Q: How would you describe Finnish tango music to a foreigner? 

A: It’s melancholy, and compared to Argentinean tango, Finnish tango is a little simpler. You don’t have to be able to dance perfectly, and it has more of a poppy feel. Finnish tango is beautiful and can highlight gorgeous singing, and both the singing and the instrumental aspects are demanding.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m working on a new album with the Riku Niemi orchestra, and we just had a release party for our new single, Amado Mio. It’s nice to work with such a front-row orchestra.

Q: What’s the current state of tango music, and what do you see happening in the scene in the future?

A: Despite my gypsy blood, I don’t have a crystal ball and can’t predict the future; it would be nice if I could. My new record is tango, with some nice arrangements that put a fresh spin of classics. So that’s what we’re throwing on the table, and hopefully people enjoy it. As long as there’s an audience, the music will live on.



Finns in New York: Jenny Rosin


Interview by Katariina Forsberg

Our blog series checks in with New York’s local Finns and offers a few of their insider tips into the city. Today’s entry is about actress Jenny Rostain, whose recent credits include Lady Gaga’s music video, Marry the Night.

Q: How long have you lived in New York, and what brought you here?

A: I came here about four years ago for a man, and have stayed ever since. Although that love ended, I’m still here. I studied acting in the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in the city, and I am a working actress these days. In other words, my coming here had a greater purpose that I didn’t know about four years ago.

Q: What are your three favorite places in the City?

The Boathouse in Central Park (if I ever get married, it will be there), Billy’s Bakery in Chelsea or TriBeCa (they have the best carrot cake ever), and the Union Square farmers’ market (they have wonderful things to eat year-round and healthy organic food).

Q: Any favorite restaurants?

A: Right now it’s an Italian restaurant called Da Mikele in TriBeCa. Their pizza with rucola and prosciutto is the best comfort food after long week.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

A: Whole Foods; I love to cook.

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

A: I love movies. Even when I spend my day filming, I enjoy watching a good indie and eating organic licorice in the evening.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

A: There is something for everyone. Well, ok, the real sauna is missing, but almost anything else can be done or found in this city.

Q: Is there something specific about Finland that you miss?

A: As said, I miss the sauna – and I miss the quiet, dark nights, when you can light up candles and see the white, beautiful stillness outside.

Q: What three words would you use to describe New York?

A: Sense, endless, and emotion.

Q: How about Finland? What three words would you use?

A: Calming, cold, and home.

Find out more about Jenny on her web siteon Facebook, or on her Twitter page.



Finns in New York: Olli Hirvonen


Interview by Katariina Forsberg

Our blog series checks in with New York’s local Finns and offers a few of their insider tips into the city. Today’s entry is about jazz guitarist Olli Hirvonen, who will perform at the Salmagundi Club tomorrow, February 15th, at 8:00 pm. Hirvonen got his training at the revered Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and has been continuing his studies at the Manhattan School of Music since the fall of 2011. He was named Artist of the Year at last year’s Pori Jazz, the highest-profile jazz festival in Finland.

Q: What are your three favorite places in the city?

A: Riverside Park, Harlem and the West Village.

Q. What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?

A: When I go out, it’s usually Toast at Broadway and 125th Street. It’s a nice place and usually full of musicians from the nearby Manhattan School of Music. The food is good, drinks are cheap and the bartenders are cool by the most part.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

A: I love bookstores. My favorite ones in the city are Strand on Broadway and Book Culture on 112th Street. For clothes, it’s definitely Uniqlo on 5th Avenue and 53rd Street.

Q: What do you like to do on your free time?

A: If I happen to have a day off, I usually just go walking around and shopping in midtown. I also try to see as much live music as I can.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

A: The atmosphere. For a jazz musician it’s extremely motivating to be around all the great music that is happening here. Also the community of musicians here is one-of-a-kind. The sheer amount of players really forces you to stand out of the crowd and find your own thing. Things also happen somehow faster here, you have to get into the flow, get things done, or you fall behind the curve. This is a huge inspiration for me.

Q: What do you miss the most about Finland?

A: The people, the nature, and the vibe of Helsinki.

Q: If you were to describe New York in three words, what words would you use?

A: Busy, inspiring, indifferent.

Q: What words would you use to describe Finland?

A: Cold, dark and depressing… Just kidding. Honest, safe and solid.

Find out more about Olli Hirvonen and his music at, and see Finland Center’s site for more details about tomorrow’s concert. Hirvonen will also perform at The Shrine on March 3rd.



Finns in New York: Teemu Airamo

Interview by Katariina Forsberg

Our blog series checks in with local Finns about their lives in New York and offers a few of their insider tips into the city. Today’s entry is about Teemu Airamo, the founder and CEO of a Brooklyn-based media and technology company. Teemu relocated his company to the U.S. three years ago.

Q: What are your three favorite places in the city?

A: I enjoy the West Village and Central Park; there’s also a secret spot where I meet the boogeyman from Craigslist to buy and sell stuff.

Q. What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?

A: There are many, but at the moment my favorite is Gobo at 6th Avenue and 8th street. Soho Grand also has some seriously nice chicken on their menu.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

A: The Apple Store! I also like Bergdorf & Goodman, and of course Whole Foods Market on Greenwich Street.

Q: What do you like to do on your free time?

A: I like attending concerts, going to laser tag and strolling in the park.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

A: If you need something (and that means anything) you can get it 24 hours a day, often even delivered if you’d like.

Q: What do you miss the most about Finland?

A: I miss the sauna, the beautiful and down-to-earth girls, and the frank and honest business manners.

Q: If you were to describe New York in three words, what words would you use?

A: I’d say efficient, rude, and overpriced.

Q: What words would you use to describe Finland?

A: Stubborn, precise and modest.

Find out more about Teemu’s company at



Finns in New York: Claudia Cifu

Our new blog series checks in with local Finns about their lives in New York and offers a few of their insider tips into the city. Think of it as another way to bring our small community closer.

Today’s entry is about fashion editor and stylist Claudia Cifu, who first came to New York City in 2001 to study fashion at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). For the past decade she has been living and working both in Helsinki and the U.S. Recently New York has become her home base – at least for now.


Interview by Enni Haapanen

Q: What’s your typical day in the city like?

Well, I just made New York City my permanent base; before that I was based in Helsinki for five years. At the moment I’m actively searching for styling jobs, visiting showrooms, meeting photographers, and so on. Networking, in other words.

Q: How does your work here differ from your work in Finland?

In NYC the market is so much larger and tougher to break in to. But it also forces you to develop constantly, which is the best part.

Q: Living both in New York and Helsinki sounds great. How do you split your time?

When I was based in Helsinki, I spent between two and six months out of the year in NYC. It was great, but now I live in New York and travel to Helsinki for work.

Q: What do you miss about Finland?

I miss my family and friends the most, but I also miss the long summer nights and the nature. Finland also has the best candies (irtokarkit)!

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do in NYC?

Hanging in cafes, talking to strangers, people-watching, going to the movies, wining and dining, and being constantly exposed to different cultures.

Q: What are your plans for the future? What would you like to achieve as a fashion editor and stylist?

Being a fashion editor and stylist is just one part of who I am and what I want to achieve. The list goes on… Mainly, though, I want to be happy and live well with what I do.

Check out Claudia’s blog at



Finns in New York: Ilkka Kurkela

To kick off 2012, we at Finland Center are starting a new blog series that checks in with local Finns about their lives in New York and offers a few of their insider tips into the city. Think of it as another way to bring our small community closer. First up is digital marketing wiz, music producer, and DJ Ilkka Kurkela, who’s a recent New York City transplant.


Interview by Katariina Forsberg

Q: How long have you lived in New York?

A: I’m a fresh newcomer, I’d say. I’ve been living here for three months, so not for too long yet.

Q: Why did you move to New York?

A: After my wife got a job in the city, I decided to take the chance of a lifetime and spend some time in the Big Apple as well. I work remotely to Finland as digital marketing expert at the JTO School of Management.

Q: What are your favorite places in the city?

A: Times Square, Central Park and the restaurants on 8th and 9th Avenues.

Q: Any favorites among these restaurants?

A: There are so many that it’s almost impossible to choose one. One that I’m really fond of is restaurant “9” on 9th Avenue.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

A: The Marimekko’s Flagship store on 5th Avenue is definitely worth checking out.

Q: What do you do on your time off?

A: I’ve been producing electronic music and DJing (drum’n’bass) for 15 years or so. Whenever I have spare time I try to update my music site at and produce music. I also try to meet new people as much as possible, and help organizations like Finland Center Foundation. Promoting Finland and Finnish values in NYC is something that I’m really interested in. Could coffee be considered as a hobby, too?

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

A: This city is pretty much The City of Cities… I mean, it is the center of everything, there are always new things to do, so many people, and different cultures. It’s an environment that really inspires you.

Q: What do you miss about Finland?

A: Sauna. Sauna. Sauna.

Q: If you could describe New York in three words, what would they be?

A: Impressive, inspiring, interesting

Q: How abut Finland? What words would you pick to describe it?

A: My roots, the sauna, the seasons

To learn more about Ilkka: