In Helsinki, Finland: Wide range of architectural styles enhances beauty of northern European capital

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Kamppi Chapel of Silence is near a busy shopping area in Helsinki. A space for quiet contemplation, it opened in 2012, the same year the city was designated World Design Capital.

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved. 

For previous Finland-related posts, see May 26, 2017 about a visit to a Sámi reindeer farm in Inari; February 19, 2017 about dinner and a relaxed home visit with a couple in a Helsinki suburb; and November 30, 2016 about the city of Rovaniemi, a year-round wonderland north of the Arctic Circle. 

If the phrase “Scandinavian design” makes you think only of sleek lines and minimalist architecture, then let me introduce you to Helsinki, Finland, one of the loveliest of the northern European capitals.

About 1.15 million people live in the greater metropolitan area of Finland’s most populous city, named World Design Capital 2012. That’s nearly a fifth of the country’s total population. Though Finland achieved independence in 1917, remnants and reminders of its former rulers over the centuries — Sweden and Russia — remain. To this day, nearly every street with a Finnish nameplate also has one in Swedish directly underneath.

Helsinki is well-served with interesting museums, quirky parks, nonstop shopping options and efficient public transportation. You need at least three to four days to touch on the highlights, and longer to get a real sense of the city.

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Uspenski Cathedral was originally a Russian Orthodox Church. The Finnish Orthodox community worships in this building now.

On the western end of Katajanokka island near the bustling, harbor-front Market Square, the red-brick Uspenski Cathedral, with its ornate onion domes, wouldn’t look out of place in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Opened as a Russian Orthodox church in 1868, it now serves the Finnish Orthodox community. 

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The neoclassical Tuomiokirkko is older than its skyline partner, the Uspenski Cathedral. The Lutheran Cathedral’s steps are a popular meeting place.

The Uspenski vies for skyline bragging rights with the brilliantly white, neoclassical Tuomiokirkko (Lutheran Cathedral) that anchors Senate Square. It was completed a mere 16 years before the Uspenski. A closer look on foot reveals the cathedral’s imposing staircase, a popular meeting place, especially during the summer. Both churches are open to visitors.

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The entrance to the Temppeliaukio Kirkko belies that much of the church is underground.

Among the most visited sites is Temppeliaukio Kirkko, nicknamed the “rock church” because it was hewn from natural granite. Its copper-topped dome is better appreciated from the back side — not the church’s entrance — because more of it can be seen.

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Built right into the surrounding rock, the sanctuary is nevertheless flooded with daylight.

Inside, walking down the sloping aisles into the sanctuary, you can better appreciate how architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen approached the challenge of building into solid rock. Its spacious interior, drawing light from windows angled from the dome, boasts a large organ on the left and cushioned seating, and all around the rough finish of the rock. Since its completion in 1969, it has also proved to be a popular venue for concerts. If you’d like to have some time for undisturbed contemplation, try to arrive early before tour groups pour out of the cavalcade of buses.

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From the rear, the church gives little indication of the splendid interior. Nestled into the rock, it looks almost as if a UFO has landed.

One of the newest structures, likely to become another icon, is the Kamppi Chapel of Silence, set to the side of busy Narinkkatori square near the entrance to the Kamppi shopping area.

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While the exterior wood is spruce, the interior of the Kamppi Chapel of Silence is constructed from alder wood. The pews are made from ash.

Its exterior is constructed of wax-coated horizontal strips of spruce, forming a graduated oval-esque shape. Depending on the time of day, the play of sunlight makes it seem that geometric patterns are embedded in the wood. 

The chapel opened in June 2012. As early as 2010, it had won awards for its architects Kimmo Lintula, Niko Sirola and Mikko Summanen of K2S Architects.

Inside, ample natural light flows in from a thin skylight. There are no windows in the gently curving walls formed from cut-to-shape narrow alder wood planks. The stark pews are crafted from ash and face a small altar topped with a silver cross and baptismal bowl. 

Visitors are invited to sit quietly, feeling insulated from the outside world, and isolated, too, but in a peaceful way. And yes, minimalist would fit the description here.

A few streets over from both these sights is one of the main thoroughfares, Mannerheimintie. A lengthy walk north will take you past Parliament House, the Finnish National Opera House, the National Museum of Finland, Finlandia (a performance venue) and up to Olympic Stadium, home to the 1952 Summer Games. 

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Distance runner Paavo Nurmi is a national hero in Finland. He competed in three Olympic Games, winning nine gold medals and three silver. His statue is near Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium, site of the 1952 Summer Games.

A statue of  legendary distance runner Paavo Nurmi (1897-1973) stands on a tree-line street named for him that leads to the stadium entrance. 

On the 2013 spring day I visited the stadium, a colorful and noisy track meet was under way between Finnish and Swedish students. For about 30 minutes, I sat in the stands watching relays (and students in color-coordinated outfits cheering on their friends), before heading to the Sports Museum of Finland (closed as of this writing for renovation, as is the stadium). Here you can watch film clips of outstanding moments in Finnish sports history, such as Olympic champions Nurmi and Lasse Viren in some of their greatest races. 

Other parts of the museum house a collection of memorabilia, including NHL sweaters worn by native son Jari Kurri (who was on five Stanley Cup-winning teams with the Edmonton Oilers), ski-jumper Matti Nykanen’s Olympic and world championship medals and a basketball shoe that once belonged to Hannö Möttöla, who played two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks and to date is the only Finnish player to make it to the NBA.

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Visitors to the memorial dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius can stand inside the welded silver pipes and hear sound echoing off the metal.

About a 15-minute walk west of the stadium is the outdoor monument and park dedicated to composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Silver pipes of different lengths have been welded together, leaving an open interior space. Aside from the photographic potential, visitors can interact with the Eila Hiltunen-designed elevated memorial, experimenting with the sound echoing from the pipes.  

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King’s Gate is the original entrance to Suomenlinna Fortress. It dates to 1753-54 when Sweden ruled what is now Finland. The entrance is about a mile away from the quay where the ferry from Market Square drops passengers.

On a fine-weather day, take the 15-minute ferry from the east side of Market Square (opposite the Presidential Palace) to Suomenlinna sea fortress, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. Known originally as Sveaborg, the fortress was constructed in the mid-1700s when Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden. By 1809, the fortress had surrendered to the invading Russians, who were responsible for the addition of cannons. For the next 108 years, the fortress housed a Russian garrison, until Finland became a republic in 1917.

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The tomb of Augustin Ehrensvärd (1710-1772) is the centerpiece of the Great Courtyard at Suomenlinna. Ehrensvärd was a Swedish military officer, later field marshal and count, and the designer of Suomenlinna. The commandant’s house and the main guard house surround the courtyard.

Many visitors bring a picnic and make a day of it, spending hours sitting on the beach or wandering the landscape. (Don’t worry if you didn’t bring food; there are plenty of cafes and restaurants and shops.) But you’ll need a ticket if you wish to go into any of the five museums or the restored 1930s Finnish submarine. Though the fortress itself is open year-round, some of the museums are only open during the summer.

 

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More than 80 wooden buildings of various shapes, sizes and uses have been relocated from around Finland to Seurasaari, an open-air museum.

Another outdoor destination, also on an island but reachable by tram or bus, is Seurasaari, an open-air museum that houses a collection of more than 80 traditional wooden buildings relocated from provinces around the country. Not every building is open every day, but the ones that are will likely have people in period dress, perhaps sewing or doing a craft, who can answer questions. 

Good thing, too. At the Kurssi farmstead, I noted what seemed to be a rack, with wooden spikes sticking out of two parallel bars, suspended near the ceiling. Fortunately, a young woman was able to tell me that in an earlier time, the family that lived in this structure baked a circular bread only twice a year. This rack’s function would have been to store  the bread, keeping it safe from low-lurking critters. 

Again, anyone can access the island, bring a picnic or go swimming, but to enter any of the structures, you will have to buy a ticket. Seurasaari is open only during the summer and for special functions around the holidays. 

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With high exterior walls and a sturdy red-brick facade, it’s not hard to imagine that the Katajanokka Hotel once served as a jail.

There’s even a bit of American-style architecture in Helsinki. The mostly red-brick Hotel Katajanokka was formerly the city jail, parts of which date to 1837. It’s original look was based on a Philadelphia model: central open-iron staircases flanked by a series of cells. (Think of any number of black-and-white movies set in prisons and you’ll have the idea.)

As a jail, it had 164 cells; as a hotel, it has 106 spacious, modern rooms. A solitary cell has been preserved in the lower level to give visitors a look at how bleak and uncomfortable a stay here would have been. The jail was at times a place to await trial and a home for political prisoners. After World War II, it housed a number of Finnish politicians convicted of war crimes.

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Guest rooms are stylish and have all the modern conveniences, but the iron staircases are a holdover from the hotel’s earlier incarnation. My room was on the first floor.

The facility was closed in 2002, having been deemed outdated as a correctional institution. Protected as a historical monument, it gained new life as part of the Best Western chain, which opened it as a hotel in 2007. It’s now privately owned. 

The hotel is off the beaten track for most tourist spots. Fortunately, the No. 4 tram stops just outside the sturdy walls and will quickly whisk you to the center of town. If you’re taking a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia, or out to Suomenlinna, the hotel is well-situated, being close to the ferry connections. 

The harbor at Market Square, where vendors set up tents and booths on many days, is also within walking distance. You can get a taste of reindeer meatballs and other specialties here, and a large variety of Finnish handicrafts are for sale, from birchwood coasters to hand-knitted sweaters.

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Katajanokka Island’s buildings have some of the prettiest flourishes in Helsinki.

The buildings on the eastern end of Katajanokka island also have some interesting art nouveau design features. The style is known as Jugend in Finland, and the mostly residential, multistory structures feature a jumble of turrets, castellated roofs and mysterious carvings.

Many visitors arrive in Helsinki en route to somewhere else — often via a cruise ship. That’s a real shame because this interesting and lively city deserves more than a cursory look.

Quick reference: Hotel Katajanokka: Merikasarminkatu 1a, Helsinki; hotelkatajanokka.fi

Kamppi Chapel of Silence: Open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Free. Simonkatu 7, Helsinki; http://www.archdaily.com/252040/kamppi-chapel-k2s-architects

Seurasaari Open Air Museum: Seurasaari island, open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, June 1-August 31; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, September 1-15. Prices vary. kansallismuseo.fi

Sports Museum of Finland: A large-scale renovation is underway at the Olympic Stadium, and some of the collection has been temporarily dispersed to other museums. The renovation is expected to be completed in 2019. www.urheilumuseo.fi

Suomenlinna sea fortress: Times vary for the museums, also for the cafes and shops. But generally, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. should cover most of what you want to see. Website also has information about catching the ferry. www.suomenlinna.fi

Uspenski Cathedral: Kanavakatu 1, Helsinki; open 9:30-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays, noon-3 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays and during services. hos.fi (in Finnish and Russian only).

Temppeliaukio Kirkko: Lutherinkatu 3, Helsinki. Hours vary, tours available. http://www.helsinginseurakunnat.fi/en/index/temppeliaukionkirkko.html.stx

Tuomiokirkko (Lutheran Cathedral): Unioninkatu 29, Helsinki. www.helsinginseurakunnat.fi/helsingintuomiokirkko.html.stx

A version of this post appeared in the spring 2014 edition of Scandinavian Press magazine.

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On Okinawa’s Oroku peninsula: At the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, site of mass suicide during World War II

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In the Commanding Officer’s Room at the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, Admiral Minoru Ota wrote his message praising Okinawans’ forbearance when their island was invaded by the Japanese, and later the Allies in World War II. He composed the poem on the left wall that reads: “Born as a man, nothing fulfills me more than to die under the banner of the Emperor.”

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the ninth in a series about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 1 discussion of Navy man George Tweed’s ability to elude capture by Japanese soldiers for more than two years on Guam in World War II; April 8 about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; April 15 about the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Maru and the deaths of hundreds of schoolchildren during WWII; April 29 about photographing newlyweds after their Shinto ceremony; May 14 about the WWII destruction of Shurijo Castle; May 21 about making soba noodles from scratch at cooking class in Naha; June 16 about Peace Memorial Park, a former WWII battlefield and now a sprawling complex that commemorates the Battle of Okinawa; and June 27 about the sister cities of Naha, Okinawa and Fuzhou, China and their shared bond celebrated at Fukushuen Garden.

A gruesome sight met members of an American Marine unit when they entered a tunnel complex on the three-mile-wide Oroku peninsula, several miles southwest of Naha, the prefectural capital, in June 1945. 

About 175 bodies, casualties of a mass suicide likely caused by exploding grenades, were sprawled in part of a cramped space that had served as the headquarters of the Japanese navy, late in the Battle of Okinawa, the last major Pacific campaign of World War II. 

It took a further two days for the Americans to find the bodies of Admiral Minoru Ota and five of his senior officers, near the center of the complex.

There was nothing hurried or left to chance as the officers chose to end their lives. Each was in a clean, pressed uniform, and reclining on a sloped bedlike platform, with their hands behind their heads, according to “Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb” by George Feifer. 

Feifer writes that at their sides were their sword and a naval dress saber. The fatal stroke for each of the six was a slit across his neck. The Center of Military History, United States Army supports this reporting.

Information in the booklet I got at the site contradicts the manner of suicide. It says a bullet to the head caused the officers’ deaths, and that six died in addition to Ota, 54, a graduate of Japan’s Naval Academy. 

The booklet also says that the officers’ and several thousand of the sailors’ remains were removed from the tunnels shortly after the end of the war. At the visitors’ center, the exhibit says the first attempt to recover the bodies, including Ota’s, occurred in 1953.

Other sources claim conversely that the Marines sealed the tunnels, and in 1950 the remains were removed and laid to rest.

Whatever the real circumstances — and I don’t mean to sound flip — a lot of Japanese military men died here in the waning days of Operation Iceberg, as Americans code-named the 82-day campaign. 

The Allied invasion of Okinawa, which began April 1, 1945, is often referred to as the “Typhoon of Steel,” comprising more than 1,500 naval vessels amassed offshore and around 540,000 military personnel (and many tons of weapons, tanks and equipment) available to bring about the defeat of Imperial forces by June 21-22.

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Gouges reveal where pickaxes struck the walls as the 226th Construction Corps dug the tunnels in 1944.

The Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters have been open to the public since 1970. The tunnels were excavated by members of the 226th Construction Corps (Yamane unit) using pickaxes and hoes, from August through December 1944.

Gouges deep in the walls are evident to this day. One black-and-white illustration in the tunnels shows the men hauling out dirt and debris in a large rope basket, suspended on a wooden shoulder pole between teams of two.

The overall length of the concrete-reinforced tunnels covered about 450 meters (about 1,485 feet), but only about 300 meters (about 900 feet) are accessible to the public. 

The Oroku peninsula, site of Naha’s present-day international airport, also had other tunnels and caves, occupied by Japanese naval troops numbering about 9,000-10,000.

The battle on Oroku was relatively brief: the 6th Marine Division landed on June 4. By June 13, Ota and many others had committed suicide, and more than half of the Japanese naval troops were dead.  

After descending 105 steps over 20 meters (about 66 feet) from the visitors’ center to the main corridor, the route mimics the shape of a shark’s fin. All the chambers —  operations room, staff room, code room, medical room, generator room, commanding officer’s room, and petty officers’ room — are labeled, but most are empty. The commanding officer’s room has a table and chairs, and it was here that Ota wrote his message praising the Okinawan people (see below). 

Also on the wall is a short poem he crafted. It translates to: “Born as a man, nothing fulfills me more than to die under the banner of the Emperor.”

There was a kitchen, but no running water (Feifer disputes this), which had to be brought in from a nearby village well, the pamphlet says. The tunnels also lacked toilet facilities, the thinking being that the men would be able to go outside during breaks in the fighting to relieve themselves. 

Before the invasion, troops lived in school facilities, other large structures or private homes, and the tunnels acted as air raid shelters.

As the fighting intensified, and the men could not leave the tunnels, conditions deteriorated quickly.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the caves and tunnels beneath two rebuilt sights that I visited on Okinawa are not open to the public: At Shurijo Castle, part of the famed Shuri Line; and what is now Peace Memorial Park, a complex of monuments, open green space and a museum dedicated to the Battle of Okinawa at the far southeastern tip of the island.

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After the war, a community was re-established around the naval headquarters. This view is toward Naha, to the north, the largest city in the prefecture. The East China Sea is in the distance.

The site for naval HQ, at 74 meters (about 244 feet) above sea level, was chosen because of its commanding view back toward Naha and over the East China Sea. In ancient times, under the reign of the Ryukyu dynasty, beacon fires were set in the nearby hills to alert Shurijo Castle that trade ships had returned from China and other overseas destinations. 

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The text of Admiral Ota’s message to the vice admiral is on the black slab at left. The white plaque at right set into a rock remembers the Japanese forces who died at the headquarters and surrounding tunnels and caves. See the full text below.

Several monuments are adjacent to the visitors’ center building. One is a lone white pillar and another contains a black granite slab, upon which is the text (in Japanese) of a message that Ota sent to a vice admiral on June 6, acknowledging the terrible price Okinawans had paid since Japanese military arrived on the island at the beginning of 1944.

The civilian death toll may have been as high as 150,000.

Titled “This is how the Okinawan people have fought the war,” Ota wrote: “Since the enemy attacks began, our Army and Navy have been fighting defensive battles and have not been able to attend to the people of this prefecture. Consequently, due to our negligence, these innocent people have lost their homes and property to enemy assaults. Every man has been conscribed [he possibly meant conscripted] to defend while women, children and the elderly are forced into hiding in small underground shelters that are not tactically significant and are exposed to shelling, air raids, and [illegible] wind and rain. Moreover, girls have devoted themselves to nursing and cooking as well as volunteering to carry ammunition and join in attacking the enemy.

“… The Okinawan people have been asked to volunteer their labor and conserve all their resources (mostly without complaint). In their heart they wish only to serve as loyal Japanese. … There are no trees, no grass; everything is burnt to the ground. The food supply will be gone by the end of June. This is how the Okinawan people have fought the war.

“And for this reason, I appeal to you to give the Okinawan people special consideration from this day forward.” 

Ota knew how dire the Japanese military situation was overall, so his message seems more a testament meant for posterity rather than an expectation of future rewards for the Okinawans’ endurance.

Across from the black granite, a white tablet recessed into a rock has this inscription, in English and Japanese, and this punctutation:

“Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters

This monument is dedicated to the memory of Vice Admiral Minoru Ota Commanding Officer of the Japanese Navy and his 4,000 men who committed suicide in the underground headquarters on June 13, 1945 after having shared in a hard-fought battle during World War II. A poem carved in the wall of this trench by Admiral Ota as his farewell word is still legible. Commanding officer’s room, center of operations and the staff room remain in this underground headquarters, which are reminiscent of bygone days.”

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The visitors’ center houses a small exhibit and the entrance to the former naval headquarters.

The small museum exhibit in the visitors’ center features photos of Ota and other officers, personal effects, letters in Japanese, examples of uniforms and crude handmade weapons, and a reprint of a New York Times front page from June 7, 1945, with this headline, in all caps: “All of Naha Airfield Now Ours; Foe Driven to Last High Ground; Soviet to Occupy Half of Reich.”

The memorials and tunnel complex are today part of a 6.7 hectare park (about 16 acres), with a playground, a green wooded zone and a flat circular area used for festivals and special events.

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This family tomb is built in the shape of a turtle’s shell, a traditional Okinawan style. The dome of the shell sits over the center entrance. With their homes destroyed, some civilians took refuge inside the tombs. Soldiers from both sides used the tombs as temporary forts during the fighting.

Near the tunnel exit are a series of concrete family tombs, in the traditional shape of a turtle’s shell, built into the hillside. During the war, frightened civilians sometimes took refuge at these sacred sites. 

Additionally, Allied soldiers mistaking them for caves used the tombs as temporary forts. Likewise, Japanese soldiers set up artillery and machine guns, often pulling the weapons into the tombs if under attack. Both sides desecrated the tombs, again victimizing the Okinawan people.

Once in the tunnels, visitors cannot reverse their path back to the entrance stairs. So make sure you’ve looked at everything in the museum before heading underground.

Quick reference: Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, year-round. Admission: Adults (high school students and older), 440 yen (about $3.95), children (elementary and junior high students), 220 yen (about $1.98). 236 Aza Tomishiro, Tomishiro-city, Okinawa, Japan. http://kaigungou.ocvb.or.jp/english/about/ (Not all of the information is factually correct.) From the Naha bus terminal, take bus number 33, 46 or 101. It’s only about a 15-minute trip; 270 yen (about $2.43). The bus stops in the middle of Tomishiro-city. The underground HQ is about a 10-minute walk. For an in-depth look at the Battle of Okinawa: https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/okinawa/index.htm

A chicken recipe good enough to join the regular rotation

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A marinade of extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and fresh lemon juice helps to start the cooking process in this colorful and flavorful chicken dish.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to prepare boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I have my favorites, and my “go-tos,” of course. But the old reliables get a bit boring after a while. 

So any recipe that offers a different taken on chicken is always welcome. If I can get it on the table in under an hour, all the better.

And if the recipe is elegant enough for guests, that’s the cooking trifecta.

The recipe below, variations of which appear in several of my cookbooks — and this is my further take on it — combines many of my favorite ingredients.  

The lemon juice in the marinade behaves like citrus juice does when preparing ceviche. It starts to “cook” the meat before it goes in the oven to bake. It also tenderizes and adds flavor. And this being chicken, of course it needs to be baked through. 

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As the chicken breasts are marinating, prepare the topping of diced tomatoes, green olives, onions and red bell pepper. 

The original recipe called for pitted green olives. I substituted pimento-stuffed olives because I like the way the color complements the red bell pepper and the tomatoes. You could also use black olives.

Serve over rice, pasta or with mashed potatoes. Offer crusty Italian or French bread too, to soak up every bit of the delicious juice.

This is so easy and flavorful that you might be adding it to your regular rotation too. 

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The finished dish, ready for serving.

Chicken Breasts With Green Olives, Tomatoes and Red Bell Pepper

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: 50-60 minutes

Serves: 4 to 6

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 cloves garlic, minced (divided)

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 medium onion, diced

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juice 

18 pimento-stuffed green olives, halved at the middle widthwise (use more if you really like olives)

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped (optional), divided

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

In a glass 9-by-13-inch baking dish or a comparable size ceramic-coated gratin dish, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil with 1 clove garlic and lemon juice. Stir lightly to combine. 

Prick the chicken breasts with a fork all over on both sides. This will help the chicken to absorb the olive oil-lemon juice marinade. Arrange in a single layer in the dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  

Cover with plastic wrap and let chicken sit for 10 minutes. Uncover, and turn over each chicken breast. Season the second side with salt and pepper. Re-cover with plastic for 10 minutes. Return breasts to original side for another 10 minutes.

If leaving chicken at room temperature for 30 minutes makes you nervous, especially in the very warm summer months, put the chicken in the refrigerator while doing these steps. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meanwhile, place 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 clove garlic, onion and red bell pepper and sauté until vegetables begin to soften but not brown. 

Add tomatoes and their juices, olives and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken. Stir in half the parsley, all of the thyme, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread the tomato-red bell pepper mixture over the chicken. Place dish on the middle rack in the oven and bake about 20 minutes. You may need to cook for 10 minutes or more if the breasts are thick. 

If the vegetables have slipped off the top of the chicken, reposition. Use the liquid and baste the chicken all over. 

Sprinkle with remaining parsley, and serve.

Adapted from a recipe in “The New York Times Passover Cookbook: More Than 200 Recipes From Top Chefs and Writers” Edited by Linda Amster (William Morrow and Company, 1999)

The pursuit of Liberty, the latest fawn to visit my backyard, and the young bucks of the herd

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This is Liberty, born this week in my backyard, as were three fawns in June 2017.

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

By the time July rolled around this year, I had given up the idea that I would be lucky enough to have a fawn (or two or three) born in my backyard woods.

Last year, the singleton I named Friday was born on June 9, and the twins Sunday and Sammy were born 16 days later. (See posts of June 10, 2017 and July 1, 2017.)

When I got back from my daily walk in the early afternoon Friday (July 6), I saw a doe standing on the grass at the back lefthand corner of my house, not a spot I usually see the whitetail deer as they roam around the neighborhood. 

I went inside and visited the various windows that give me the best view of my backyard woods. 

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While Liberty was looking in my direction, her mother had jumped the fence into my neighbors’ grassy backyard.

And then I saw the fawn. It was alone in the lefthand corner of my property (as you face the house), among the tall weeds, almost to the back fence, where I first found the newborn Friday last year. This sighting in the “nursery” was a full month later than 2017. 

I grabbed my camera, went outside and walked around the right side of my house, turning the corner to the back as slowly and as quietly as I could, trying not to snap twigs or rustle the fallen leaves. 

By this time, the doe had jumped the wooden fence to my neighbors’ grassy yard. Don’t poo-poo this observation. Last month I saw a doe in action, doing this exact leap, from nearly a standing start. 

A quick spring, legs tucked close to the body and gracefully up and over the spiky railing.

As I focused and zoomed in on the fawn, it looked like the cute creature’s fur was a mixture of wet and fluffy, usually a sign of a newborn that has been licked clean by its mother. And it was smaller than another fawn I’d seen last week with its mother wandering around the cul-de-sac across from my house. 

Surely the one I saw Friday had to be a different animal.

I named the fawn Liberty, in honor of our just-celebrated Independence Day.

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It wasn’t until I loaded this frame onto my laptop that I noticed I had captured Liberty sticking out a tiny tip of tongue.

Obviously, a fawn’s cognitive abilities aren’t fully developed at a day or two old, but Liberty had figured out that Mom was not readily accessible. I watched the miniature mammal ram its wee head into the fence, as if it could slip between the slats or somehow dislodge the impediment.

This morning I saw a doe sitting in my backyard in almost the exact same spot as Friday afternoon’s visitor. But I didn’t see the fawn. 

Knowing that deer, like birds, often return to where they’ve previously nested, I thought it likely that little Liberty was lurking somewhere.

Again, when I got back from my walk, I checked the yard. The doe was standing, nibbling the weeds, and with her was her offspring. Liberty, testing its spindly legs, was having a jolly time darting around the backyard, venturing as far as the pine-tree-laden woods that adjoin my property, but dashing back to within Mom’s eyesight every few seconds. 

Liberty is the fifth fawn I’ve seen this summer. 

Sadly, the first one died. It was discovered late one June afternoon, nestled among the pine needles on a lawn of a house at the front of my subdivision. 

Some well-intentioned neighbors picked it up and carried it to a more secluded spot. In the early evening, they drove to my house to get my input on this action. I’m not an expert, but word had gotten around the neighborhood about the three fawns born here last year.

Picking up a fawn and moving it is never a good idea. The mom, who generally goes off to eat and drink after giving birth, knows where she’s left her newborn. Odds are very good she’ll return to be reunited with her baby, feed it and protect it.

I could see this baby was breathing and twitching its ears to chase away insects. It was curled up and well-hidden, facing a wooden fence, resting on pine needles and sheltered by tall cypress trees.

It was getting dark, and I knew that standing in the street talking to my neighbors would preclude the mother from coming back. So we dispersed.

Prolonged, very heavy rain moved in overnight. Though it was quite warm, this turn of events was likely to hamper the fawn’s survival, especially if the mother had not returned to nurse it.

On my walk the next morning, a neighbor who lives directly across from where the fawn was, reported that she’d see a doe circling the street for about 15 minutes. 

Unfortunately, by this time, the fawn had died. Flies were buzzing its body and its lifeless eyes were open.

Later, the man whose property where the fawn died, buried it.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I see groups of deer nearly every day. My record is 22 at once, probably two or three families having a get-together. 

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This fawn is 10 days to two weeks older than Liberty. One of the young bucks was nuzzling it while the deer where grazing in the cul–de-sac.

I never tire of gazing at these big-eyed gentle creatures, though I know I’m in the minority here, with many neighbors complaining about the deer eating flowers, leaves and the bushes in their yards. 

Nearly every day, they run from the cul-de-sac by my house, trampling the lawn at the corner house — there are two visible trails through the grass — across the street, and into the backyards of the houses on the next street over. Or they do this route in reverse. 

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Judging by size, these three bucks are probably about the same age, though their antlers are growing at different rates.

Aside from hoping to see the fawns, I like to observe the progress of the young bucks’ antlers.

This summer, I’ve seen five bucks so far, all probably only a year or two old. One’s antlers are growing straight up. Another buck’s fast-growing headgear has begun developing its points. Velvety fuzz is notable on them all. 

Occasionally, they lower their heads and gently butt each another, as if playing. Come mating time in the fall, this activity won’t be so friendly.

And every so often, I see one of the boys doing his own curious examination of the newest addition to the family.