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Candy update

Easter was pretty much a non-event around here– we went out to dinner the night before and spent Sunday mostly packing and doing other practical things. However, it was a special day because I was able to eat candy again. And these things?

Sooo good. I wouldn’t say they taste like cake so much as they taste like the ganache you’d put on a cake. They’re rich with well-balanced sweetness, and even though they taste like chocolate ganache they’re more firm– like a chocolate truffle without the slick, melty texture. I picked up another bag today to share with my family in the States :).

I’ll write a few posts on our wedding planning, but let it be known that I’m not one of those women who has pictured my wedding since I was a little girl and thinks wedding planning is SO fun and exciting. When we first got started I had no idea what I wanted and found the impending process to be really overwhelming. Now we’ve taken it one step at a time and I’m feeling much calmer. It’s a lot of research, discussing logistics, and writing emails. To me it resembles work more than fun, but getting another component checked off the list sure is satisfying.

However, one thing that has made the process more bearable is that all the people I’ve communicated with are so nice. To most people this would seem natural– of course the vendors are nice; they want me to pay money to use their catering, their venue, etc. But living in Estonia has dramatically lowered my expectations for employees of the service industry.

This was a dinner with actual good service that I need to write about!

While customer service here has been getting better year by year, it’s still a far cry from what you would find in North America or England. Sub-par service has its roots in the Soviet era, when surliness was the norm and nobody was expected to be polite to somebody they didn’t know. It was enough for restaurants servers and hostesses to show up for work– they didn’t actually have to serve anyone. I’m not speaking from experience because I never visited Estonia when it was still a part of the Soviet Union, but I’ve heard stories of clients being turned away from a restaurant being told, “We’re full”– when the restaurant was clearly empty. If you were lucky enough to be seated, more than half of the items on the menu might not have been available that day.

Today, the situation has improved. The cashier at the grocery store will generally say “tere” (hello), but she won’t make small talk. Workers on the floor at a pharmacy or clothing stores might approach to ask if you need help finding anything. And servers in restaurants will often smile and even come by the table after you’ve gotten your food to ask if everything is OK (when I first came to Estonia 5 years ago, this was never done). There are also plenty of crappy experiences to be had– woefully untrained servers who lack skills (like opening a wine bottle) and have no idea regarding what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Quick example: in January of this year I was at a pub and the waitress came to tell us our table was reserved and we had to move. We then had to transfer our own drink glasses and several plates of food to another table, with no help from her. It was so awkward and embarrassing, and we didn’t even get an apology.

Not my wedding dress!

Sorry for the long preface, but being accustomed to experiences like that really makes me appreciate how friendly and helpful people in the wedding service industry have been. The girls in the bridal shops were sweet and respected my wishes (no puffy princess dresses!). The caterer we chose responded promptly to my dozens of emails with questions and requests to make changes in the menu. I don’t know if the people in this sector are nice because they believe in the whole “this is you day and it should be special” thing, or because so much money goes into weddings (OK, I’m not that naïve– I know it’s the latter), but either way they’ve made this process that I was dreading much easier. And for that I am thankful.

Cake-flavored

I’m not going to lie– I am really excited to be able to eat candy again this weekend. I could continue to live without chips, crackers, burgers, and packaged cookies, but candy… I just can’t quit it.

Yesterday I was doing some shopping to buy gifts for our upcoming trip to the States. Feeling somewhat frustrated (my mother has requested several CDs that nobody is selling anymore), I ducked into the Kalev candy store in one of Tallinn’s main shopping centers, Viru Keskus. Kalev is the biggest and most famous Estonian candy company and they make some delicious confections. I promise I’m not just saying that because I’m biased in favor of all things made in Estonia– their stuff really is tasty and of good quality. Anyway, in my shopping-frustrated and candy-deprived state, I was a candy marketer’s dream. As soon as I saw this package, I knew it would make the perfect Easter gift… for myself.

These cake-flavored chocolates are brand new, but part of the Désirée line, from which I’ve tried other products. Initially the line consisted of bars with coffee-flavored fillings– the dark chocolate bar was Espresso and I believe the milk chocolate bar was Cafe Latte, which would make sense.

So having tried (and loved) the creamy, rich Espresso bar, I’m really curious as to how these cake-flavored chocolate candies are going to be. The flavor strikes me as kind of funny– somehow making something cake-flavored seems so American, and yet I don’t believe there are any cake-flavored candies in America (but who knows– I’ve been gone for so long, maybe there are now).  If these really good, I may have to “export” some over there myself.

Not what I had in mind

When I wrote the other day about noticing and appreciating what is new, interesting or surprising in my life, this is not what I had in mind.

In Estonia, snow in April is honestly not that surprising. It’s happened at least once during the time that I’ve lived here. But for the past few weeks the air has felt so warm and it’s smelled like spring. Everyone seemed so hopeful and happy that the most lovely time of year was upon us, but as it turned out, winter wasn’t quite done with us yet. At least I get to go on vacation soon…

Something new in every day

I know I just wrote a post about change, but I feel the need to return to the topic for a bit. I know I rarely post anymore, and I think one of the reasons is that I’ve been living in Tallinn and working at the same job for 4.5 years now. Although new things do occasionally come up, there are very few aspects of Estonian life that surprise me anymore. It all feels so routine now.

All around me I see people experiencing something new. Blog reader Meg has lived in Sweden for a few months and writes about her new Swedish life. I have a few friends who just recently moved to Estonia and fill Facebook with breathless status updates about how fun and exciting it is. My own fiance just got a new job, as did my good friend in the USA– both of them are now in exciting positions that offer amazing opportunities. Seeing everyone else’s changes somehow makes my life seem stagnant… but I refuse to let myself feel negatively about it.

For one thing, I still love my job! I work as a translator, and while I don’t get paid a lot, I enjoy my flexible workplace, my great colleagues, and learning more about the languages I use every single day. So there’s that. Also, it’s not as if nothing in my life is changing– I am, after all, getting married in September! And I’m planning a wedding in Estonia, which is not something I ever would’ve guessed I’d ever do (but I’m so happy that I am).

What I’m trying to say is, I won’t allow myself to think that my life has somehow become complacent or boring. New and interesting things are going on all the time– I just have to notice them! There are aspects of Estonian culture I’ve still never addressed on the blog. I cook new things all the time. And then there’s the once-in-a-lifetime adventure of wedding planning! I haven’t run out of material– for some reason I just haven’t been thinking of my life as fun and interesting lately. Seeing other people discover something new has inspired me to adopt a fresh perspective and find something new and exciting in each day.

No-junk Lent

So, how has Lent been going? Thanks for asking :). This year for Lent I was inspired by one of Michael Pollan’s food rules to give up all junk food, except for the stuff I make with my own two hands. I must admit that I haven’t been perfect. I’ve eaten fries once or twice and candy on two or three occasions (each time just one piece, not the whole bag). I’ve also eaten a few slices of cakes that were homemade by other people (people always bring cake to work on their birthdays!). In general I don’t consider homemade baked goods “junk food” (even if they are unhealthy) since they’re not processed like store-bought sweets, but since my rules for myself stipulated that I have to make the things I eat, it was still technically a violation. All these things happened when I was out and with other people– situations where maybe I didn’t feel like explaining why I was turning down something I’d usually eat. Oh, and in my original post I wasn’t sure whether I’d be cutting out gum– I didn’t. No, it’s not “real food”, but I think it helps me more than harms me, so I let it stay.

Homemade muffins? OK for Lent.

One area in which I’ve been very successful, though, is grocery shopping. It’s actually so nice to go to the store and breeze past the shelves of cookies, crackers, chips and candy because I know I can’t buy any right now. Even though I always try to eat healthy, I think everyone understands how tempting those shelves can be at times, especially if you make the mistake of going to the store hungry. With my “rule” to back me up, it’s so much easier to resist their siren song.

I actually haven’t been cooking or baking as much as I thought I would, because I realized I don’t really need to create “substitutes” for tasty junk food. We’ve made homemade pizza once (I still love that crust recipe, by the way) and one time when J got a burger and fries, I roasted some potatoes for myself so I could also have something yummy to dip in ketchup. If I crave something sweet after a meal, I usually seek out something quick and easy like a date or a handful of raisins rather than baking up some cookies.

So I haven’t been perfect, but I’d say that overall my eating has definitely been cleaner. I hope that after Lent I can sustain these habits, eating french fries just once or twice a month rather than every week, and not buying processed snack foods. As I’ve said before, I fully believe in “everything in moderation”, and as long as my diet’s healthy overall allowing the less-healthy stuff now and again is totally OK. One food I’ll be welcoming back with open arms is chocolate, but I’ll do my best to enjoy it in moderation rather than making it one of my major food groups ;).

Change is good (sometimes)

I was going to write a Lent update today, but when looking at posts from Lent last year I discovered this one about J discovering how delicious peanut butter is. That actually never became a problem– he doesn’t eat it on a regular basis so my stash is still my own– but what I was floored by was how the price of peanut butter has changed. Less than one year ago, I wrote that I paid 3.50 EUR for a jar of peanut butter at the Stockmann grocery store (which, as far as I know, is the only place that sells the American brands). Do you want to know how much I paid for a jar from that same store about 2 weeks ago? 5.60 EUR.  That’s $7.50! I know it’s ridiculous, but I was desperate. Fortunately we’re going to the States again in just a few short weeks (I can’t believe we’re going again so soon!) so then I can stock up on peanut butter that isn’t absurdly overpriced.

So the price of peanut butter changing is clearly not so nice. But some change is good– like, for example, J getting a new job at an exciting Estonian company! Our everyday routine is much different now, mainly because he used to work from home so he’d pretty much always be here. Now he works long days and gets home after 7, which means I have some time to myself at home (which used to happen very rarely) plus I’ve been cooking more so that dinner will be ready when J gets home (yes, I’m such a good little soon-to-be-wife). Hopefully some of my cooking will make it onto the poor neglected blog eventually as well.

Oh, one more change just came to mind! Please don’t hate me when I say this (it kind of makes me hate myself a little bit), but I’ve become one of those people who loves exercising in the morning. I used to be a solid after-work-and-on-weekends runner and I thought that exercising before work would make me get sleepy during the day. But somehow I discovered that waking up just half an hour earlier and running before work leaves me feeling amazing for the rest of the day. I know, what an annoying thing for me to say… but it’s true! I must confess that there was also an external factor motivating me to get up in the mornings– every since the new year began it has been so hard to get a treadmill at the gym after 5 pm, but in the mornings? The place is practically deserted, and I rather like the feeling of having the gym to myself!

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