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Helsinki’s Design Museum

The last day of May in Helsinki was rainy and cool so I turned on the heat and started the kettle for tea. My room was in the Design District southwest of the esplanade and just a few blocks from the Design Museum where I was heading today.

As a child I had heard about Helsinki and knew it was one of the world’s great design capitals. I became enamored with the simplicity of Finnish design, plain, simple, elegant.

I wanted to get there early so I could see everything. I arrived to see a majestic red brick structure designed by Finnish architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen (father of Eero Saarinen who designed JFK Airport in New York).

I was greeted by the most friendly docent that asked my interests. I said I was an artist and designer. She smiled and she said “Then you must see the entire building.”

I started at the top. I knew the Finns had designed Marimekko textiles and the sauna and Alvar Aalto was one of the leading architects and furniture designers in the world. But I had no idea Finns also invented the heart rate monitor, ice skates, electric sail, sound films and the universal mobile phone (Nokia).

I spent the day there. I was surprised that what I thought would be just a fun and cool design museum would be a lesson on how Finnish designers and inventors have changed the modern world.

The experience left me thinking about new things to come from this Baltic jewel.

Seasonal Recipe

Simple Salad Dinner Party

Recently a friend asked me to host a welcome dinner for mutual friends from Germany. I was delighted and honored, but there was a moment of panic.

I thought as much as I like hosting I’m going to be in the kitchen all evening and miss out on the great conversation and camaraderie.

I had to think fast. I thought everyone likes salads and if they don’t they’re missing out on one of mother nature’s greatest gifts. I was hosting twelve people and wanted something that most would like.

So I made what I call my Three Simple Salads. I picked ingredients I could make and prep before hand to allow more time for attention to the details required to host a successful evening.

I am fortunate to live in Southern California where produce is plentiful all year around. The markets were full of endive, mixed greens, mache and arugula. There were other good ingredients like ripe cherry tomatoes, Parisian cucumbers (tender and very few seeds), green onions, red radish, and fennel. This was enough ammunition to get started.

Here’s what I now call my Three Simple Salads.

Mixed Green Salad, Ripe Cherry Tomatoes with Asiago Cheese

Toss together mixtures of mixed greens and tomatoes in a salad bowl and dress with the following simple dressing. Serve with Asiago cheese.


  • 4 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup olive oil


  1. Whisk together all ingredients. Makes about 1 cup enough to serve 10-12.

Boston Lettuce Salad, Sliced Parisian Cucumbers and Blue Cheese

Toss both Boston lettuce salad and Parisian cucumbers in a salad bowl and use the following dressing. Sprinkle the blue cheese on top.


  • 2 teaspoons champagne mustard
  • 4 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • ½ Avocado oil


  1. Whisk together all ingredients. Makes about 1 cup enough to serve 10-12.

Arugula, Thinly Shaved Fennel and Sliced Fresh Green Onion

Toss together all ingredients in a salad bowl and make this dressing:


  • 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 generous teaspoons grainy mustard
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Whisk together all ingredients. Makes about and some of 1 cup enough to serve 10-12

You can add protein choices such as grilled salmon, chicken and jumbo shrimp. Have them all and give your guests options. Eyeball the amount of produce according to how many guest are invited.

Don’t forget a great artisan bread, wine and a spectacular dessert!

Bon Appetit!

Recommended Reading

West Coast Modern
by Zahid Sardar, October 1, 2012. This book gives wonderful examples by clean and natural design on the US west coast interior design.

P. Allen Smith's Seasonal Recipes from the Garden: A Garden Home Cookbook
by P. Allen Smith, December 28, 2010. After I read this book I shopped and cooked everyday from my local organic farmers market.

The Summer Sail: A Novel
by Wendy Francis, May 1, 2018. This book is a great light summer read. It's about a reunion of friends and a cruise to Bermuda with a clever twist.


Estonia Delights

Tallinn sits on the Baltic Sea across from Helsinki. There’s regular fast-boat service that takes you across in about three hours. No reservations are needed for walk-ons.

If you board in Helsinki your money will change from Krones to Euros when you arrive, making the exchange rate math a lot easier to manage.

When you step off the boat in Tallinn you’re in Estonia and you’re a short walk from one of the crown jewels of all Old Towns in Europe. Follow the crowd and you won’t be misled nor disappointed.

Medieval Tallinn invites comparison to Gamla Stan, its neighbor to the west.

With its royal palace, glamorous museums, ocean vistas and downtown Stockholm just a subway stop away, Gamla Stan wows.

Tallinn merely immerses you into what you may have previously thought a twelfth-century fantasy. Is Tallinn a stage? Of course. Is it an amusement park? Definitely not. Tallinn has an authenticity you can take home with you.

There’s an Upper Town and a Lower Town, and like Brussels, the upper town is impressively high-minded and the lower town is where the fun is.

Upper Town has mansions, cathedrals, museums, parks and views over the rooftops of Lower Town and on to the Baltic beyond. But no one seems to live there. Lower Town feels real.

Last summer, among the horde of tourists in the Old Town Square was a contingent of Belgians, maybe a hundred or maybe less because of the ruckus they created, cheering wildly for their national soccer (futbol) team against the Estonian team and attracting an appreciative audience of tourists from around the world. They were headquartered outside an enormous pub at the entrance to the square and were having a marvelous time.

But where were the Estonians? Why weren’t they organizing their own contingent, to counter the Belgians?

When I asked a local, he responded, “They’re at work.”

Tallinn outside Old Town is a working city, but inside the medieval walls there is magic you won’t find anywhere else.


Dinner Party Magic

“Why do you have so many pillows around your living room coffee table?” one of my dinner guests asked me. Another observed that we were there for dinner but the dining room table is bare. Are we going out to eat?

They were all puzzled when I said “Change is good!”

No, we’re having dinner here, but we’re going to have it around the oversized coffee table in the middle of the living room.

When they saw the place settings, flowers, candles, wrapped chocolates and fun glasses on the coffee table they knew they were in for an interesting experience.

When we’d settled in around the table and got comfortable the conversation flowed magically. Freed from the formality of the dining room table, we shared stories and adventures with verve and passion. By the time we’d finished dessert and cordials we felt we knew each other better than ever before. We’re still talking about it.

Be totally creative and make magic happen at your next dinner party.


Twelve Things I Can't Live Without (right now)

  1. Asparagus! I love this vegetable year around but in spring it captures the essence of the season.
  2. My Yoga mat.
  3. Naval oranges – They’re a yummy source of vitamin C and fiber. They are also good sliced on salad greens.
  4. Jo Malone Oud & Bergamont Cologne for Men. (www.amazon.com)
  5. Water! Drink plenty of it.
  6. Herschel Supply Co. Backpack – It’s my truck for moving quickly around the city. (www.amazon.com)
  7. Lucienne Pinot Noir 2015 –
    This wine goes with most any food and it’s a great price point.
  8. My Nepresso Coffee Maker – I can’t wait for a cup of coffee when I wake up.(www.nepresso.com)
  9. California Sunshine. It’s my dose of vitamin D.
  10. My crew neck pullover sweaters, great for cool evenings, from Uniqlo. (www.uniglo.com)
  11. My Friends Art on 30th Thanks for renewing my faith in my artwork. (www.arton30th.com)
  12. My wonderful family. I’m one of the luckiest people on the earth to have your support.