Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A quick update

Went to Wegmans the other day -- you've got to love a store that carries fresh cactus leaves! And we're far away from the Southwest too.

Fresh cactus leaves at Wegmans.

The mushroom section isn't too shabby either. They carry a lot of varieties that are different from what the stores and market places in Finland have.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Downtown Buffalo, Part One

Soon after my arrival, I decided to visit downtown Buffalo. It’s a few miles from where I live but it’s actually pretty easy to get to by taking the free Collegiate Village shuttle to University Station, on University of Buffalo South Campus, the northernmost terminus of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority  (NFTA for short) Metro Rail.  All you have to do is to buy a ticket and ride the train all the way downtown (a day pass costs 5 USD, and if you stay on above-the-ground part of the metro rail system, it’s free of charge (Free Fare Zone). 

It’s only one line, but it’s no different from Helsinki metro in that respect. The difference is that as far as I could tell, a lot more people use the metro in Helsinki! It was pretty quiet -- of course, it was middle of the day. The metro line is by far the best way to get to First Niagara Center (e.g. to Sabres games or concerts – no parking problems!) 

There was a country farmers’ market day (on Thursdays). I bought some pretty nice peppers – long banana peppers, the small sweet ones are called yum yums.  I used them later in Greek salad.  By the way, Greek cheese is mostly sold crumbled, not cubed, like they do back home, to be used in salads etc.

A detail of Liberty Building
The architecture is spectacular, turn of the century high rises and arcades – the 1901 World Fair – known as Pan-American Exposition – was held in Buffalo.  

Lafayette Square, Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
Liberty Building has two small- scale Statues of Liberty decorating the roof, facing east and west.  

Like many industrial cities in the U.S., downtown Buffalo too was hit by a decades long downturn in steel industry, among other things, that left the cityscape dotted with empty lots and rundown businesses in the outlying areas. It’s only now that reconstruction and renovation has begun in earnest – some areas were really big construction sites.  

City Hall is pure Art Deco. In September sunlight, it resembled a huge retro-futuristic fortress floating in air. But more about it and great architects that have left their mark on Buffalo -- including Frank Lloyd Wright -- in my next post. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Go Bills!

Last Sunday I went to my very first NFL football game, ever. And it was one the greatest experiences of my life. 

First, the build-up.

Me, Liz and Damon. Damon and I are wearing
Sammy Watkins jerseys.
I’m a long time football fan, American style (ever since my days as a Fulbright student almost 25 years ago). When talked about it to Liz this summer when we were still planning my visit, then what do you know, she said they – Liz and her husband Damon – have season tickets to the Bills games and would like to take me to the Pats-Bills game on October 12. 

The Pats are of course the New England Patriots and the Bills are the local team, the Buffalo Bills. The Bills won the American Conference Championship and went to the Super Bowl 4 times in a row in the early 1990s but they haven’t been doing so well since those days. But things have been looking up lately. They won an exciting game at Detroit the weekend before this, I was at the Wrights to watch that game, together with some of their family and friends.

So off we went: I was picked up 7.30 Sunday morning by Damon, Liz and their daughter Olivia and drove to Orchard Park where the Bills stadium is.  Along the way we were joined by Liz’s nephew C. J. and his girlfriend Haley. 

The Big Tree Inn at Orchard Park.
More fans on their way.
Why the early start? 
To get the best place 
for the tailgate party, of course!  In this  case, the parking lot across the 
street from the Big  Tree Inn. This way we got  there early enough to avoid  the increasingly heavy traffic.  

Happy Tailgating! 

Do you want to catch some ketchup?!?

This was my first time ever at a tailgate party. And it was like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I wish we had something like this in Finland. And the Bills fans are also something else! These guys are famous.   

The Ralph Wilson Stadium an hour before the kick off.

The kick off time was at 1 p.m.  Before the game, the new owner of the team – Terry Pagula – was officially introduced. Not that he needed introduction, he’s also the owner of the local NHL team Buffalo Sabres who play their home games at First Niagara Center downtown Buffalo (more about downtown later).  

The stadium began filling out about an hour before the kick off. The game was sold out. There were approximately 70 000 – 75 000 fans in the stadium, screaming their lungs out – me included. 

Right before the kick off. Follow the link for this and more photos
from the Bills game.
In some ways, it was like a big party – people coming and going to get soda and beer and snacks, standing up, sitting down, cheering and yelling. As I said, I’d never been to a football game. In fact, I’ve never been to a sporting event this big, ever. First of all, there is no stadium as big as this in all of Finland. Second, what with the tailgating and fans, this was a really intense experience. 

Unfortunately, the Bills lost the game 37-22. But it was still a close game up until the 4th quarter. What was amazing to me was that after the game, everybody left in good order.  Incidentally, people were not afraid to wear Pats jerseys either (or other teams) at the game either.  As far as I can tell, fan violence is not at all as big a problem over here as it’s in Europe. Traffic was backed up for hours afterwards of course (all those people) so I wasn’t home till 6 p.m.

All in all, a most awesome experience!  

Dinner time!

I promised a couple of weeks ago that I’d write about cooking dinner for the first time in my U.S. apartment. Warning: this blog is about to turn into a food blog.

First, people have been telling me that Buffalo is known for its food.  And it’s true!  After all, this is a home of Buffalo hot wings (more about them later). But there is so much more here. There are great places to eat everywhere. But it’s the stores that are quite something.  For example, there is a regional chain of supermarkets called Wegman’s in town (the headquarters are nearby, in upstate New York) and they are to grocery stores like Buckingham Palace is to, well, a cowherd’s hut.  You have to see it to believe it.

In some ways they are more even impressive than a food palace like Harrods’ food department (I was in London this summer) simply because this is not just fancy stuff on display for tourists or an occasional prince or two, it’s real, amazing food just for regular people on their way home from work.

This may also be the last time I’ll prepare dinner – the deli section at Wegman’s makes it absolutely unnecessary to cook dinner for yourself. It’s also less expensive.

Second, organic is the key word here. There’s a much wider selection of organic and gluten free products in stores in general than in Finland. There’s also a pretty good selection of lactose free milk, from fat free to 2 percent etc.) but not that many yogurts.

So here we go. I got a nice recipe of Apple Cauliflower Risotto from one of the local television shows, so that’s what I’m having as a side dish. Four of  Wegman’s lemon garlic chicken breasts will do nicely for the rest.


SERVES: 4 - 6


4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup water

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into small dice
3 Tbs olive oil

1 cup risotto rice ((Arborio or Carnaroli)   

1/2 cup dry white wine (optional but good)
3 Tbs fresh chopped sage

5 cups small thin sliced cauliflower florets
2 -3 Tbs olive oil (plus more as needed)

1 large apple, cored and thin sliced

approx. 1/3 - 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

The risotto turned out to be absolutely delicious (see the recipe above. I didn’t have any dry white  wine (only licensed liquor stores, like Finnish Alko, sell wine and spirits here) but I replaced it with some local hard cider called Woodchuck. They have a variety with hops in it – hence the name, Hopsation. It tastes pretty good, and hops-y, which is strange for cider, but it really brought out something extra in the dish, I think. If you can find some or anything similar, try it out.

And the chicken turned out pretty well too. Normally, I would have baked it in a bag the oven but I was more than a little intimidated by the size: my own, regular-size run-of the-mill comes-with-the condo oven is only half the size (well, two thirds). (I have a theory – it’s the Thanksgiving turkey: the oven must be big enough to cook a whole turkey!). Okay, I also didn’t have a pan to cook them in nor oven bags yet :-)


Monday, October 6, 2014


I promised to write about cooking dinner but I’ve got to write about something else before. And it’s not like my posts are in chronological order –  it took me considerably less than 2 weeks to learn how to operate the washing machine (in case you wondered :-)

Ann from the Global Programs office (see post 1) and Dr. Mimi Steadman, Associate Vice President at Daemen, took me to see the performance by LehrerDance last Saturday night.  LehrerDance is a simply fantastic modern dance company based in Buffalo.  Ann took me first to eat at a Chinese & Vietnamese restaurant – Red Pepper -- with her daughter. Very popular and full of people early Saturday night!

The performance took place at the Center for the Arts of the University of Buffalo, North Campus. The auditorium is huge, as is UB itself.  It’s the largest public university in New York and New England.

The performance was simply fabulous, filled with the sheer exuberance and joy of movement, and whoever said that performing arts have to be deadly serious? One number at least (‘SuperZeroes”) was in my view physical dance theater / comedy at its best. Wow. I just wish somebody would invite them to Finland.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Getting settled

Daemen College is a small private college in Buffalo, New York. You can read more about Daemen here. It’s located in a beautiful, suburban setting. There are a great number of other colleges in the area!  But more about Daemen later.

I live in a place called Collegiate Village (CV for short). If you click on the name, you can go to their website. It has a free shuttle connection to a number of other universities and colleges in the area. On weekends, the shuttle also takes residents to a number of great stores and shopping malls, like Walden Galleria. I haven’t been there yet but I plan to visit as soon as I can.  It’s a really great service, and I personally think it’s wonderful for having something like it available for the students. It certainly makes getting to classes and around the city easy to us.

I’m quite happy with my apartment. It’s fairly big by Finnish standards, with a really good kitchen(with a really big oven and dish washer!), a washing machine / dryer combo, a small living area and a bathroom (with a tub!).  I got myself a WiFi connection as soon as I could – a basic WiFi router at a local Best Buy cost around 40 USD -- and the speed is really quite good, up to 18-25 Mbs (I tested it :).

CV has a number of services available for the residents. The best by far for my purposes is the fitness center. It’s really big, and well maintained. You can do a basic workout routine just like that, without ever having to walk more than a hundred yards or so from your apartment. They also have a gym for basketball and other games, a small movie theater and a really good café / convenience store combo. The convenience store is really quite small, only a quite small selection of daily necessities is available but the café is great. The food is really nice. 

Anyway, here’s more about my experiences with the washing machine / dryer combo. It’s a basic Kenmore (a U.S. brand). And it’s really easy to use!

So easy that I had some problems with it. Just in case anybody else ever needs to know how to run the thing, here’re the instructions:  first, choose the load (medium for me), then choose the temperature for wash and rinse (warm/warm or warm/cold). Warm’s roughly equivalent to 40 degrees Celsius). Then push in the dial and choose the program, and then pull the dial out. (Yes, the instructions are printed on the front, but who reads instructions?) 

That starts water running. As soon as you hear the water coming in, lift the lid and pour in the liquid / detergent. Wait for a bit to let it mix in properly, and then put your clothes in and close the lid. That’s it! It takes about an hour or so for the cycle to run (depends of your choice of the program of course). After the program has run, take out your laundry and put them in the dryer. Choose the program (really dry or less dry, it’s a sliding scale), and hit the switch. Remember to close the washer’s lid, otherwise the dryer won’t start. That’s it!

Now that I've figured out how to do my washing in CV, I'll next write a little bit about how I cooked my very first dinner in Buffalo. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Arriving at Buffalo

It all started in June 2014 when I got a chance of a lifetime to go to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar in Residence at Daemen College, Buffalo, New York.  After some hectic months of  putting together the necessary paperwork, with lots of help from Sonja at the Fulbright Center, Helsinki, and Cecilia from the IIE/CIES, I finally arrived at Buffalo International Airport late Sunday evening, September 14, 2014.

I was met at the airport by Dr. Elizabeth Wright, Associate Dean for the Education Department, who's been instrumental in planning and organizing my visit. My job will be, on one hand, to participate in planning an international student exchange program between Daemen College and University of Jyvaskyla, and on the other hand, act as a liaison between various parties in Finland and the U.S. planning an innovative educational program here in the state of New York. 

Everybody have been just wonderful. After spending the first night as a guest of Dr. Wright, I was shown around the campus and the city by Ann Robinson, the executive director of Global Programs Office, and later my Sophia Ng, from the same office. They've been absolute essential in helping me to get my life started here in the U.S. And the people at the Thomas R. Reynolds Center for Special Education where my office is  -- I've got a very nice office indeed! -- have been so nice: they put up a sign on the wall just wishing me welcome.

I'll be posting more about everyday practicalities of life in the U.S. and Buffalo area in particular -- like just exactly how does that washing machine / dryer combo work that sits in your apartment?