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Archive for November, 2008

I was very jealous of my fellow Americans on Thanksgiving Day this year. I just really felt like I could use a day off of work, but of course here in Estonia, it was just another Thursday. I didn’t celebrate on the actual day. I called my family just as they were sitting down to their holiday dinner, and I baked an apple-lingonberry pie with crumble topping for my co-workers. I don’t have a picture of it because I baked it late at night, and by the time the apples were soft enough for me to finally pull it out of the oven, all I wanted to do was go to bed. My co-workers liked it  (full disclosure– the pie crust was store-bought dough), and they also loved the variation on David Lebovitz’s spicy glazed nut mix I made (I didn’t use the cayenne pepper since many Estonians don’t like things spicy).

J and I had our real Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday, the day that we had time to dedicate to shopping and cooking. I roasted 500 g of turkey pieces (a little over a pound) with onions, carrots, and some seasonings, and then J made gravy from the drippings (we used my oven-proof skillet for this– I’m so happy I brought that thing with me from the States this summer!). J made mashed potatoes, and I roasted Brussels sprouts according to this recipe. That was all accompanied by some store-bought potato salad, quick lingonberry sauce (you know, instead of cranberry), and some garlic bread (the kind that comes frozen and you pop it into the oven for a little while).

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I was really proud of us. Sure, it was a small-scale Thanksgiving dinner for two, but we pulled it off really well. Everything was done at the right time, even though I was improvising some of the recipes, and it was delicious. I loved the roasted Brussels sprouts, simultaneously sweet and salty and a bit bitter, though I might add some butter next time to make them even sweeter.

img_4889J enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner, his first ever. We were both thankful for the delicious food we’re able to create in our own kitchen. I’m thankful that he likes learning about the traditions of my culture as much as I like learning about the traditions of his. Most of all, I’m thankful for my family in America– who were certainly thinking of me as they sat down to turkey, potatoes, and my sister’s tiramisu– as well as for the family that I had sitting right beside me.

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Discovered?

On Tuesday morning, I decided to check my blog stats over breakfast. I got a bit of a surprise. 80? 80 hits already today? My previous one-day record was 46. Whoa, I thought, something must be up. Next I checked my email and got my answer: a link to my post about Sunday’s big snowstorm had made it to Toomasmd, the manager of a huge mailing list sent out to Estonians in America and probably elsewhere as well. On a daily basis, items that are of interest to Estonians or Estophiles– articles, videos, and the occasional blog post– get sent out to the list. Wow. I was flattered, but also a tad nervous. My blog has been pretty shy up to this point.  By the end of Tuesday, I had over 200 hits, and the link was also posted on the web page of the Canadian-Estonian newspaper.

I’m sure many people only came by to read the snowstorm post, but if any of you väliseestlased or Estophiles have returned once more, tere tulemast (welcome). Nice to have you visit. :-)

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I’m a crepe

This is a shirt I have. I kinda love it, for several reasons.

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The reason the shirt caught my eye in the first place was, of course, because of the strawberry. When I picked it up and read the text, I instantly loved it, because it’s wordplay (which I adore) using Radiohead lyrics (amazing). “A maasikas! You have to get that,” said my friend L, who was equally excited about it. I agreed with her completely.

The shirt is also special to me because it’s one of the last items I bought in the States before moving to Estonia in 2007. We were having a huge party at my parents’ house Labor Day weekend to celebrate my brother’s leave from Iraq, but unofficially it also felt like a good-bye party for me, since it was the last time I’d get to see my USA friends for quite a while. The party lasted the whole long weekend (Friday to Monday, oh yes), and believe me when I say that it was epic. When the last of the guests left, all my mother could say was, “Never again.”

Anyway, on Sunday the epic party crowd headed to Fell’s Point in Baltimore to do some bar-hopping and get dinner. It was during the transition from Bar 1 to Bar 2, where we had to wait for a table, that me and the other girls decided to go check out some shops briefly, and that was when I found the shirt. I can’t remember the name of the store, unfortunately, but it was right around the corner from Shucker’s. So that’s why I love the shirt– strawberry, crepe, Radiohead, and the reminder of a memorable and kind of wacky day by the Inner Harbor with friends.

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Today brought the worst weather I have ever experienced in Estonia. I mean worst as in “extreme”, not worst as in “crappy”, because the nonstop rain in the fall is definitely the crappiest. But today there was wind and snow, and lots of it.

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Looking out the window around noon, J commented about how windy it was. The trees in front of the apartment building were bending, their branches waving crazily. The wind was blowing around the snow that had fallen during the past two days. As the afternoon went on, it only got worse. New snow began to fall, and the wind whipped it around, creating ice and snow drifts against the windows. We just kept staring out the window in awe. But what fun is it if you only experience this kind of weather from indoors? Naturally, we went for a walk.

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Our destination was a hotel about a mile away, where the International Women’s Club of Tallinn was holding its annual Christmas Bazaar. At first when we got outside, we thought it wasn’t so bad, but then came a gust of wind that caused us both to turn our faces away from the stinging ice and snow. When that wind smacked me right in the face, it was seriously hard to breathe. And when we reached a certain intersection where the wind always seems to be stronger (I think the tall buildings in that area have something to do with it), I had to grab onto J’s arm because I thought I would be knocked over. It was quite the adrenaline rush.

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We made it to our cozy destination perfectly safely, and began to enjoy the international Christmas treats on offer. J started with a Turkish coffee (along with a free bit of Turkish delight), and then we shared a slice of wiener schnitzel. Hungry for more lunch, we had three miniature spring rolls at the Chinese table. There are no pictures of this food because it was so crowded and bustling, it was impossible to stop in the middle of it to take pictures. I’m happy it was so crowded, though, since all the proceeds are going to a good cause.

J and I were naturally excited to see that the Belgian table was selling some Belgian beers that aren’t otherwise available in Estonia. Sweet! I don’t know if I ever mentioned how much “research” J did in terms of trying new beers in Brussels, but he definitely sampled a very wide assortment while we were there and grew to appreciate the high quality and deep flavors. J bought one bottle to give to his dad and I bought one bottle for us. They gave us the Christmas cookies as a free bonus.

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At the next table, Germany, I treated J to a cup of glögg , or mulled wine, which is hands-down my favorite cold-weather drink ( I must dedicate a post to it soon). The woman at the table assured us that it was made with good wine that had been donated to them. It was really delicious and well-spiced. From the Italian table, I bought two sets of tasting squares from Amadei. I’m really looking forward to doing a tasting with these amazingly high-quality chocolates.

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We also got a plate of assorted Christmas cookies– I’m not really sure exactly what they are.

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And of course I had to have these. J said he would buy them for me, and we got an incredible deal– we thought they were 5 kroons each, but then the woman only charged us 5 kroons for all five of them (which currently equals about 40 American cents!). Won’t they be adorable on the Christmas tree?

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Snowy days mean lots of tea

It snowed this week! The first snowfall of the season. At first it was fleeting, though– there was a dusting on Wednesday morning and a heavier cover on Thursday morning, but all of that had melted by Thursday evening. Then it snowed on and off all day Friday! And when there’s snow, there is tea.

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I wasn’t much of a tea drinker before I lived in Estonia. I only drank it when I was sick or occasionally in Chinese restaurants, but I wasn’t a huge fan. But the dark, cold days of the Estonian winter made me crave something warm to drink to help get rid of the chill. Hot chocolate is too rich to drink several times a day, and I’m sensitive to caffeine so one cup of coffee per day is pretty much my limit. So I turned to tea. I drank it because it seemed like a good idea, and it grew on me. Now I enjoy it, and I’m not just drinking it out of apparent necessity. Fruit teas are my favorite, but I also drink green, black, chai, etc.

And a few days ago I tried the chocolate chip tea that Stephanie sent to me in my Blogging by Mail package for the first time. Look at this stuff– do you see the tiny chocolate chips??

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It certainly smelled like chocolate, and the taste was interesting– the strength and bitterness of black tea with the flavor of chocolate but none of the richness. It’s a bit disorienting. The chocolate flavor is reminiscent of chocolate syrup. Milk seemed like a natural accompaniment to give it a bit of creaminess; I also added a little sugar. I’m happy to have this to add some variety to my tea selection this winter.

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Making pizza

Last week I wrote a post about Dallase saiad and promised to write more about another yeasted dough I’ve tried recently, namely pizza crust. On a lazy weekend in September, J and I decided it would be fun to make our own pizza. From the way he talked about it, I got the impression that he had made his own pizza crust before, but later it turned out that he hadn’t, and actually, neither had I. I’m sure we made some as a project in 7th grade home ec class, and I used to use my mother’s bread machine to prepare pizza and focaccia crust, then roll it out and add toppings. But I couldn’t remember having ever done the entire process by hand.

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We turned to one of my favorite sites for recipes, Smitten Kitchen, where there is a very simple and fairly quick pizza dough. It requires one hour-long rise and a second 20-minute rise before baking. We tripled the recipe to make three small pizzas.

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The dough was a bit sticky prior to kneading. It became a very elastic-y mass that took quite a bit of rolling to get into a flat rectangle. As you can see, we aren’t too concerned with perfectly-shaped pizzas around here.

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Then came the toppings. The basic elements were store-bought tomato sauce and a mild cheese (no shredded mozzarella here). Of course there had to be blue cheese as well, as it is J’s favorite. He loves the ham-pineapple-blue cheese combo on pizza, so he used those elements plus some garlic and tiny shrimp. My pizza featured some sauteed onions and mushrooms, spinach, garlic, and blue cheese as well. Almost as an afterthought, we opened up a can of tuna to use on the last pizza, along with various combinations of other leftover toppings. I gotta say, I think those slices were the best. Somehow the flavor of tuna in combination with the tomato sauce and blue cheese is just amazing. From now on, tuna will be a must on my pizzas. :-)

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The finished product was great! The flavors of olive oil and salt were present in the crust, so it was actually tasty, not just a bland vehicle for the toppings. It produces a thin crust, but it could be made thicker by dividing the triple recipe into two pizzas. Unfortunately the bottom of the crust hardly got brown at all, but that was probably due to the fact that we used baking sheets and my oven bakes kinds of unevenly, especially if there are two things in it at once.

We’ve used this recipe twice already this fall, and I think there’s definitely more homemade pizzas in our future.

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Some fancy foods (but no pictures)

On Friday I attended a formal reception to celebrate the 90th anniversary of my workplace, an Estonian governmental institution. It was held in the Mustpeade Maja (The House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads), a building in Tallinn named for a merchants’ guild and constructed in the 16th century. The interior has been renovated, but it still feels very old and grand, with its great hall and high ceilings. It was nice to dress up in my black strapless cocktail dress and strappy heels (despite the fact that it was raining and windy outside) and spend an evening with my co-workers and former employees of the institution, many of whom have played vital roles in Estonian history both before and after the country gained its independence in 1991. After some speeches and a choir performance, there was, of course, food!

At first we were ushered into a room away from the main hall, where we were offered a shot glass of sweet liqueur with some small orange berries floating in it. I thought somebody said it was pihlaka (rowan berry), but it seemed more like astelpaju (sea buckthorn). Either way, it was extremely sweet. There were also some appetizers circulating, but none of them ever made it to me.

Following that, we were taken back to the main hall for the buffet. There were some more exotic offerings but many of the foods were inspired by traditional Estonian favorites, dressed up by a lovely presentation. There was a wide variety of meats and salads, and of course wine and water as well. I wasn’t in the mood for very much meat so I passed on the beautifully pink roast beef, but I did pick up a small wooden skewer of teriyaki chicken. I also had a breaded potato croquet, a piece of herring rolled up to look like a flower (along with a bit of potato), some fairly traditional Estonian potato salad with bits of ham in it, and a spoonful of an Italian-type salad with tomatoes, onions, basil, and bread cubes. I think the most interesting salad I tried was the one made of cubes of honeydew, cantelope, and soft feta, with a sprinkling of roasted pine nuts. I’m not always a fan of sweet fruits (like pineapple or mandarin) in my savory foods, but the creamy and slightly sour feta didn’t seem at all odd paired with the melon, and of course the pine nuts gave an earthy flavor and a nice crunch. I’ll have to keep that combination in mind.

Dessert was really interesting as well, a twist on a traditional Estonian food: kamavaht , a sweet creamy concoction that included Estonia’s infamous multi-grain flour kama. The kama mousse was layered with some red jam– lingonberry, perhaps– and there were a few sea buckthorn berries sprinkled on top. It was very delicious and a perfect little serving. For those who desired, brandy and cream liqueur were also served after dinner, but I just stuck to wine– with all those VIPs around, one couldn’t be too careful. :-)

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