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Christmas 2010

Christmas this year was a lovely success! Even though it was the first Christmas J’s family members and his brother’s girlfriend had ever spent away from home (it was #5 for me), there was enough joy, fun, and delicious food that everyone was as happy and comfortable as they would have been at home. While I had a little bit of stress as hostess, overall everything was casual and relaxed. We did some improvising to make everything work– we placed the kitchen table in the middle of the living room and extended it with a desk so there would be enough space for six people around it, plus we used disposal plates placed over actual dinner plates (a brilliant move in a place that doesn’t have a dishwasher).

On Christmas Eve we ate a traditional Finnish Christmas dinner prepared by J’s mother and father, starting with the fish course, which I think I may enjoy more than the traditional Finnish Christmas kinkku (ham). Of course there was ham too, accompanied by all the traditional puree casseroles– carrot, potato, and rutabaga (the rutabaga is my favorite– it’s slightly sweetened with dark syrup).

Dinner on Christmas Eve was followed by some clean-up, which I didn’t mind because when were at J’s house for Christmas his parents insisted on doing almost everything. This time cleaning up and washing the dishes was much more of a group effort, and I was happy that his parents were relieved of that burden this year. After-dinner clean-up was followed by an apple crisp with vanilla ice cream (I forgot to take a picture), opening gifts, plenty of wine, and even singing some Christmas songs (as her two sons refuse to join in any singing, I think J’s mother was thrilled that me and her other son’s girlfriend were more than happy to participate :-)).

Can’t forget about Christmas candy!

Christmas Day was definitely the most stressful day for me, as I was serving my first-ever Christmas dinner to a group of people who weren’t familiar with all the dishes being served, as it was supposed to be a traditional American holiday dinner. I remained mostly confident, but it was hard to silence some worries– what if the food doesn’t taste good? We all ate so much yesterday– what if nobody is hungry enough to eat my food?

Biscuits baking and turkey in its serving dish.

I made as many things in advance as possible. The buttermilk biscuits and pumpkin pie were waiting in the freezer, and I baked the mushroom stuffing in the morning before heading over to the apartment where J’s family was staying. While the stuffing baked I ran to the store in my pajamas to buy whipped cream– I couldn’t serve my pumpkin pie without whipped cream!

Overall the plan I’d made worked out wonderfully (timing is one of the hardest things for me when it comes to making a meal, so I was pretty proud of myself!). J helped me with some of the trickier things– making sure the turkey was done, carving the meat, skimming the fat off the drippings, and making gravy. We were both so busy in the kitchen that there aren’t many pictures of our prep.

Yummy mushroom stuffing!

I forgot to mention that I added something to the menu that I published the other day, or actually J added something. I mentioned that maybe the meal needed some kind of salad and he said, “How about cole slaw?” I loved the idea! Although cole slaw is kind of a summery salad, I felt it was a crispy, refreshing addition to the holiday meal (plus it’s so easy to make!).

This post is getting really long, so I should just get to the point– my Finnish audience LOVED the American meal. I had made printed menus that included the name of each dish in English and in Finnish, which everyone seemed to like. J and I had made up some of the names, since the dishes don’t actually exist in Finnish (for example, stuffing was leipälaatikko). Everyone tried everything that was on the table, which is of course polite, but it was only when people started taking seconds that I was really convinced that they liked it ;-). The biggest hits were probably the stuffing and the cole slaw (I think those were my favorites too!). I was so pleased that my first holiday dinner attempt went so well, and I couldn’t have prepared it for a warmer and more receptive crowd :-).

Plates have been emptied, glasses have been filled.

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An American Christmas menu

This year for Christmas, J’s parents, older brother and brother’s girlfriend are coming to celebrate in Tallinn with us (luckily my parents own an apartment in Tallinn that is usually vacant, so his family will be staying there, not in our place). It’ll be a new experience for all of us– J’s family has always celebrated Christmas in their home in Liminka and J and I have never hosted a family holiday before, so there’ll be plenty of new traditions being created! We decided to make sure everyone’s culture got a little playing time: on December 24 we’ll be enjoying a Finnish Christmas meal, on December 25 I’m in charge of an American Christmas meal, and on December 26 we’re going to a restaurant in Tallinn to enjoy traditional Estonian Christmas foods. Sounds like fun, right? :-)

Finnish Christmas kinkku (ham).

At first I was a little thrown by being asked to make an “American” Christmas dinner, since my family’s traditions were primarily Estonian. However, with a little bit of thought I came up with a menu that is American, includes things my family does eat at either Thanksgiving or Christmas, and is distinctly different from the Finnish and Estonian meals we’ll be having. Here it is:

  • Roast turkey. Since both the Finnish and Estonian Christmas meals are very pork-heavy, I thought a bird would be a nice change of pace. I’ve never thawed and roasted a frozen turkey before, so wish me luck.
  • Stuffing. A very American side dish and I’m pretty sure J’s family has never tried anything like it. I can’t put any onions in it since somebody is allergic, but I’ll be adding mushrooms to give it some good depth of flavor.
  • Cranberry sauce. They sell Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce at the Stockmann department store. A few months ago they also had whole cranberries, but I haven’t seen those recently. If I find the whole berries, I’ll of course make the sauce from scratch.
  • Buttermilk biscuits. So proud of myself for coming up with this idea! I made a test batch this week using this recipe and while the texture was perfect, J pointed out that the soda taste was a bit strong and came across as quite bitter. I need to try another recipe… any recommendations?
  • Gravy.
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts. Because I need to get some veggies in there somewhere!
  • Pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Nice traditional holiday dessert that I hope will be amazing made with my very own pumpkin puree.
  • Snacks before or after dinner. I was also thinking of putting out cut veggies with dip and hummus as an appetizer, I have a bag of Pretzel M&M’s I’d love to share, and there’s chocolate chip cookie dough in the freezer in case I decide that it would be fun to have those too.

Appetizers from Christmas with my family three years ago in Tallinn.

So there you have it! A menu that I think will introduce some features of American holiday cuisine to our guests without being too exotic (I am sort of wondering how they’ll react to a “casserole” made mostly of bread cubes!). I’ve also worked out most of the logistics already, and if I get enough prep work done this meal should be pretty easy to pull off on the 25th. Can’t wait for next week!

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I am being positively spoiled with visitors this month. First my dad came, and then a mere week and a half ago I got an email from my friend Siret (of London and cupcakes fame) saying she’d be coming to Tallinn for a few days with her mother and mother’s fiance! What a lovely surprise, especially when I didn’t think I’d see her again before next summer.

Last night Siret and I had a girls’ night, catching up and enjoying dinner and a bottle of Riesling at African Kitchen (which has plenty of yummy choices for vegetarians like Siret). After dinner I accompanied her back to the rental apartment since she had “a whole pile” of stuff to give me. Man, she wasn’t kidding! I had asked her to maybe bring us a few bags of flavored coffee from the States, and this is what she actually brought:

Christmas pretzel M&M’s and Oreos

British Christmas treats from London

Lärabars! (she faithfully reads the blog so she knew I’d failed to obtain any during the summer)

Strawberry preserves with champagne (cannot wait to try this!)

Trader Joe’s tea and pumpkin butter

Bridal magazines and some British candies

…and of course, the requested flavored coffees (hazelnut, maple vanilla, and pumpkin spice!). Now we have to decide which one to open this weekend…

She is so sweet! I’m already happy that I get to see my oldest friend and her mother (whose flat J and I stayed in when we visited London last year), so getting fun food gifts from the USA and England is like the decadent icing on an already wonderful cake. Thank you Siret!!

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S’mores candy

Last week I went to ask my co-worker a question and she pointed to a box on her desk, saying “Take one!” She’d just returned from a work trip to the United States and came back with a box of Nancy Adams S’mores candies. She asked if I’d ever tried them before and I said no, not in candy form, as s’mores are usually the kind of thing you make yourself– start with one graham cracker (which is more like a cookie), place a square of chocolate on it, roast a marshmallow over a fire and then put it on the chocolate, which will melt, and top it all off with another cracker like a sandwich.

The candies have a thick graham cracker base topped with two marshmallow rounds, all coated in milk chocolate. To be honest, it wasn’t great. I don’t usually enjoy the texture of marshmallow candies, as they have the texture of a firm foam. The chocolate coating was also way too sweet and milky. I ended up only eating the graham cracker base, which was appropriately crumbly with a slight buttery taste. S’mores are so much better homemade. They’re incredibly sweet by nature, but it help swhen you’re able to toast the marshmallow yourself and get some char on it– it improves both the texture and the flavor immensely!

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