Archive for May, 2009

Congratulations graduate!

Just a quick post to congratulate my little sister, who is graduating from college today with TWO degrees– a BA in philosophy and a BS in biology. She’s accomplished some amazing things and I am so proud of her! I’m sorry I can’t be there to see her walk, but my thoughts are with her today. Enjoy your day! Congratulations!

IMG_4410Sammy Seagull, the proud and muscular mascot of my sister’s university

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Takin’ a little trip

J and I are leaving on Wednesday for a 2-week vacation to London!


I just visited London last year, but we decided that conditions were right to go this summer– discount airfare was available (we’re flying out of Riga, Latvia), the British pound is currently worth about as much as the euro (!), and my best friend’s mother is living there for work right now, so we have a free place to stay. Plus J has never been, and there’s plenty of things I haven’t seen on my past trips, so the logical conclusion was– why not?


We’re also going to Dublin for three days! Neither of us has ever been to Ireland, so I’m really, REALLY excited about that. We’re definitely planning to be predictable tourists and visit the Guinness Storehouse, but we’d also like to visit some castles outside of Dublin. Should be fabulous!

I probably won’t be uploading pix and blogging while we’re gone, so I’ll have to play catch-up when we get back!

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Tuscan white bean something

Last night I made one of my favorite things ever for dinner. It requires very few ingredients and it’s quick to make. Unfortunately, I don’t have a name for this concoction.

It was born when I was studying abroad in Perugia, Italy and I signed up for a day tour in Tuscany that included a farmhouse lunch. The meal was incredible– there’s actually 2 things I tried for the first time that day that are now among my favorite things to cook. But the one that I’m writing about today came in the form of an antipasto, an absolutely delicious cream-colored mixture spread on toasted bread. As soon as a worker came to clear the table, my friends and I asked him what was in it, and he rattled off “fagioli…cipolle…tonno…” (beans, onions, and tuna).

marikaAt the farmhouse, eagerly awaiting my multi-course lunch (back in 2003)

My friends and I committed these ingredients to memory, and the next week we tried to make the mixture ourselves, tossing it with pasta instead of spreading it on bread. Even then, we didn’t have a name for it– I think we just called it “that bean stuff”– but we were all smitten with it. So simple and so good.

To this day, I have no idea what to call it. Whenever I get my hands on an Italian cookbook, I look through all the white bean recipes, but I’ve never found a recipe exactly like this one. So here it is– the recipe for the white bean concoction inspired by something my friends and I ate at a Tuscan farmhouse.

Start with one medium-sized onion. Cut it into thin slices and saute it in a pan some olive oil (not too much– maybe a tablespoon?).


You’ll also need one can of white beans and a can of tuna in water.


Once the onions are soft and have begin to caramelize slightly, add the can of beans to the pan. I usually add them along with most of the liquid from the can, otherwise the mixture could get too dry. This is also when I begin to add the seasonings. Add salt and pepper liberally. This time around I also added around a teaspoon of dried oregano and a few pinches of crushed red pepper. When I lived in Italy, I had this to-die-for rosemary salt that was perfect in this. (Actually, it was amazing in just about everything… I was pretty obsessed with it). I currently don’t have any rosemary in my spice cabinet, but if you do, go ahead and use it.

After adding the seasonings, start to squish some of the beans with your spatula.


Once you’ve done the desired amount of squishing and the mixture is bubbling, add the can of tuna. It’s good to drain this first, because too much tuna water makes the whole dish taste too fishy. Stir the tuna in, taste it, adjust seasonings if necessary. Allow the whole mixture to heat through. Enough of the liquid should be cooked off by now so that it’s pretty thick (it also thickens up after you take it off the heat). If you have some hard Italian cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino around, grating about a quarter cup of that in or just sprinkling it over the top after serving is an excellent touch.

Also, you should be cooking some pasta to go with this– penne or the curly pasta shape (I forget what it’s called!) are good for this.


The end result, unfortunately, looks sort of like dog food, but believe me– it is so delicious. It also smells fantastic. Whenever I have made it– at my parent’s house, at college, even here with J– somebody has commented, “Wow, that smells so good. What are you making?” And time and again I’ve struggled for an answer, since this beloved dish of mine, as delicious and nostalgic as it is, has never had a real name. Perhaps it’s time to come up with one? Any suggestions?

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Finnish people love introducing this traditional dessert to their foreign friends. In my experience, they generally say something like, “We have this dessert we eat on Easter called mämmi. It’s disgusting… it looks like s#!t and it tastes like s#!t.” You can tell it makes them proud.


Mämmi really isn’t so bad. Traditionally eaten for Easter but available year-round in Finland, it’s made of water, rye flour and rye malt and seasoned with molasses, salt, sugar, and powdered orange peel. It goes through a “natural sweetening process” before being baked. The end result is, well, not very aesthetically pleasing. Inside its box, the pristine mämmi looks shiny and sticky, rather like tar.


The look doesn’t improve after it’s been scooped out into a dish.


The stuff is usually served with a sprinkling of white sugar and poured over with milk or cream (this particular time, we had cream). The cream helps to add some richness to it, since mämmi is naturally very low in fat.


It tastes of very dark rye bread and molasses. The texture is soft and sort of grainy. It has an intense sweetness similar to that of dried fruits– reminiscent of dates or dark raisins– but I also got a sort of puckery feeling from it, not sure why. Perhaps since the mämmi on its own is actually not very sweet either. The added sugar is meant to amplify the dark sweetness of the molasses.

Overall, it’s not terrible. I wouldn’t want to eat it every day, but it certainly isn’t as scary as the Finnish would like to make you think it is. 🙂

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This past weekend was a long one here in Estonia. April 30th is Volbriöö, or Walpurgis Night in English, which in pre-Christian times was thought to be a night when witches gathered together. Now it’s pretty much just a night for partying, particularly for student organizations like sororities and fraternities. May 1st is a holiday– Kevadpüha— but it doesn’t have the working-class holiday connotation like it does in some other countries. It seems more like a day to recover from a hangover and welcome the (hopefully warm) spring weather.

J and I headed down to the university town of Tartu to see friends and also observe the Tudengipäevad, or Student Days, which is a spring festival intended to allow university students to refresh their spirits before they have to hunker down to study for final exams. Events during Student Days range from the culturally fulfilling– concerts and film nights– to the utterly ridiculous– students building “flying machines” and attempting to fly over the Emajõgi river, although the real point is that the spectators get to watch all the participants fall, along with their elaborate contraptions, into the incredibly cold river. Now that’s entertainment.


We had a cookout along the river with a bunch of friends. The weather was incredible, perfect for the season’s inaugural cookout. I didn’t photograph most of the food, but we had typical grill stuff– sausages, marinated chicken, and, of course beer. (I wish I’d taken some pix of the different designs A.Le Coq Premium cans are sporting these days).


J made this lovely bacon-wrapped mushroom and cooked it over the fire we had going.


Unfortunately, the bacon didn’t crisp up very well, so it wasn’t great. However, the mushrooms that we tossed into a foil packet with some blue cheese and then set on the embers for a while came out amazing.

Disposing of any leftover food from the cookout wasn’t a problem, seeing as these two were in attendance:


Granted, they’re chewing on wood in the photo, but they got plenty of goodies that day, believe me. This weekend was something of a breakthrough for me, because the last few times I’ve seen these dogs, the male has had some kind of problem with me– keeping his distance, eying me suspiciously, even growling sometimes. It sucked, because I had no idea what I’d done to upset him, and he made me nervous. But this weekend I tried to act normal and not anxious, and he acted normal too! Yay. Now he’s fine with plopping his 95-pound self on my foot so that I can scratch his back.  🙂

In the evenings when it got too cold to be outside, we sat in bars with our friends, catching up and watching World Championship hockey games. My alcohol consumption was kept reasonable, but I did take my first ever flaming shot, a B-52. It was OK, very sweet. I prefer Hot Shots, which are incredibly popular here, but perhaps I’ll discuss those in a later post.

Although I’m not a student facing finals, my spirit was refreshed by our weekend in Tartu. 🙂

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Still here, enjoying spring!

I’m still alive, I promise! I’ll be posting over the next few days about my lovely long weekend, a dubious Finnish delicacy, and info about my upcoming vacation. But for now, a shot from our cookout last Friday:


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