Archive for October, 2010

Halloween fun

Happy Halloween! Last night J and I attended a Halloween party hosted by an American friend of ours. Halloween still isn’t a very big deal here in Estonia, but we love having the opportunity to wear costumes and hang out with friends. J had so much fun being a zombie last year he went for the same basic concept this year, with a twist. Meet J the redneck farmer zombie:

He looked great in his plaid shirt, bib overalls (both purchased for super cheap from a secondhand store) and Coors Light cap. He even won the prize for best costume at the party we attended.

I know it’s not very original, but this year I decided to be Lady Gaga. I was going for the look in this photo:

Here’s me:


Unfortunately, with my all-black outfit and extreme black eye makeup I ended up looking more like the lost female member of Kiss than Lady Gaga :-D. I think my outfit was lacking Gaga’s truly insane style, but that’s OK. I still had fun doing my makeup and wearing fake lashes for the first time ever!

There was plenty of fun food at the party to help us get our requisite Halloween sugar high.

In the foreground is the snack I made– Kass Arturi kook, which is sort of the Estonian equivalent of rice crispy treats. They’re made by stirring plain corn-based puffs into melted butter and caramel, the shaping the whole mess into a log and cutting it into slices. Somebody else made the chocolate chips cookies, and if you look all the way in the back, you’ll see that we had some veggies too.

Popcorn balls! (Except they all kind of melted together into one giant mass). Popcorn with marshmallow, M&M’s and chopped-up Snickers. So chewy and good.

There was also a spooky punch bowl filled with Halloween-themed toys. Definitely a successful Halloween party! We had a great time hanging out with our friends (who last night included a witch, a Scotsman, a pirate, Ugly Betty, and a mime :-)).

As it is the last day of October, it means that National Blog Posting Month– otherwise known as NaBloPoMo– starts tomorrow. I have tried to complete a month of daily blogging twice already and both times (!) messed up because of the same stupid error: failing to hit “publish”. After the second time this happened I was so frustrated, so I hope my brain doesn’t fail me again this year. I’ve been wanting to make some changes to the blog anyway, so hopefully this month of blogging will give me the motivation to carry out those changes.

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Finland in October

We definitely did end up seeing some snow on our week-long trip to Finland. We saw some on our way up to Oulu:

and quite a bit when we drove back this past Saturday:

Interestingly enough, no snow fell where we were actually staying, only in areas that were further south! Pretty much the opposite of what we expected.

When we arrived at J’s parents’ place, his mother had a Finnish classic waiting for us– Janssonin kiusaus (Jansson’s temptation), a casserole of julienned potatoes, onions, and sardines (or sprats). It’s good, simple comfort food. We’ve made it at home a few times, but ours always tastes different from the one his mom made– I think it all depends on what kind of canned fish you use.

It was served with pickled beets and pickle slices, and was good and filling after a day of just snacking in the car.

It’s kind of funny– I’ve been to Finland so many times now that I wondered if I had run out of new things to try. It would be such a bummer not to discover something new on this trip! As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. A few evenings into our trip, J’s mother announced that our first course for dinner would be rössypottu, a dish popular in the Oulu region.

She had only made a little bit, I think because she thought I might not like it– it’s a stew with potatoes, bits of pork, and cubes of blood pudding (the brown stuff in the picture). I know that would creep out a lot of people, but since I’m a fan of Estonian blood sausage, it didn’t bother me at all, and I gladly finished off my bowl. Very simple, but very good if you appreciate the taste of that one particular ingredient :-). And I love that J’s mom goes out of her way to make things for me that I haven’t tried before! Even though my conversations with his parents can still be awkward because of my shaky command of Finnish, they definitely understand how much I like food.

For dessert there was lappapuuro, which is also a popular dessert in Estonia (where it’s called mannavaht). It’s made of lingonberries (or juice), sugar, and farina. Once that combination is cooked and cooled, it’s whipped to incorporate air into it and turn it from porridge to fluff. 🙂

Even though I’d had this dessert before, J’s mother’s was so much better because she used actual berries instead of just juice, so the berry flavor was strong and tart. The tartness is mellowed a bit by a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of cream added on top. The smooth, fluffy texture makes it fun to eat.

Viili was something I’d heard J’s family talk about on past trips but I’d never tried it, so I picked up a cup (strawberry flavor) from the grocery store. It’s a yogurt-like dairy product, so I figured I’d like it.

Unfortunately… not so much. The taste was fine– mild, not too sweet or too sour. But I couldn’t get over the texture. For lack of a better word, it was goopy– sort of liquidy and rubbery at the same time. The Wikipedia entry says it better: “It has a ropy, gelatinous consistency.” I only ate a little bit and tossed the rest, but hey, now I know! Luckily there are still tons of other tasty dairy products in Finland for me to enjoy.

Be back with more tomorrow!

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On the road again

One of the best things about living and working in Estonia is, without a doubt, the amount of vacation I get each year. It feels like we just got back from our amazing five weeks in the United States, and today we’re leaving for another week-long trip! Where are we going? I’ll give you a hint:

Karelian pies for breakfast…

and moose crossing signs by the roads.

Yup, we’re going to Finland to visit J’s parents. The trip should be interesting because we’re going to be driving up north towards Oulu (I’ve only ever gone by train or airplane before), and there is snow in the forecast for Finland over the next few days (!). How often do you have to worry about road conditions in October?? Welcome to the north :-).

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Fall in

I’m totally a summer girl, so in general the changing of the seasons gets me a little down. However, I’ve actually been enjoying the fall this past week or so. I’m no longer complaining about how it’s still so much warmer in America and I wish we were still there, or whining about how I had to switch out my summer wardrobe for my winter gear. We’ve been having some absolutely beautiful fall days– the leaves have hit their brightest hues and the trees are still thick with them, though there are plenty crunching underfoot as well. The days have been crisp but sunny with fluffy white clouds.

Sometimes the clouds in Estonia are just unreal.

I take walks and all the concerns I have before stepping outside (will I need gloves? Should I get a thicker scarf?) disappear, and I just enjoy being outside, watching the colors, the sky and the people. It’s not yet too cold– it’s just right. It’s nice to like where I am– that’s how it should be, no? (I may not like it so much anymore when November, month of wind, rain and darkness rolls around. But for now I’ll live in the moment).

As usual when the weather grow cooler, I’ve started drinking more tea. This year I have an extra incentive to make myself a cuppa– the cutest tea infuser in the entire world, which my mother bought for me back in June.

I love this thing so much.

It’s made of soft, flexible silicon, easy to use and wash, and did I mention super-cute? It’ll definitely make easing into the cold winter months a bit less traumatizing.

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List of vacation posts

Just wanted to post a list of all the posts I wrote about our 5-week USA vacation this summer, in case you missed any. A lot of posts, a lot of food, and one fantastic vacation.

The Old Line State
The Old Dominion
The Garden State
The Buckeye State
The Buckeye State, Part II
The Keystone State
The City of Brotherly Love
Järvemetsa laager
Sin City
Sin City, Part II
Back in the Old Line State
Airplane food on SAS
Food souvenirs
The Chocolate Chip Cookie Project Tour: USA 2010

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In my post about how I wanted to sample as many delicious chocolate chip cookies on vacation as possible, I also said I’d blog about them “in a timely manner”. Haha… does a month and a half after returning from vacation count as “timely”?

I must admit I didn’t do the most fantastic job with the tour. Most of the time we didn’t have the time or energy to go out of our way for bakeries, so I sampled cookies where they were convenient for people on the road, places like convenience stores and rest stops. Not very foodie-like, I know, but now I can give some recommendations as to where a road-tripper in America should go for a chocolate chip cookie fix.

Brioche Doree: This was a coffee place with baked goods at a rest stop in Pennsylvania. The selection of treats was pretty diverse and they all looked wonderful, but their cookie was not the best. The texture was pretty great– soft and just past the point of doughy– but the flavor was just vanilla and sweetness, and there were too few chips. (For some reason I don’t have a picture of this one– I think I was driving and forgot to take one).

Wawa: Wawa is a convenience store chain on the east coast. I love, love, love going there for a freshly made sub, but their cookie was sub-par. Although most it was also crumbly, which made it hard to eat, and the flavor was boring. I didn’t even finish it.

AmPm: As we were leaving the baseball game we attended in Columbus, Ohio, somebody was standing outside the stadium handing out coupons for a free cookie from AmPm. I was excited, even after my friend said, “AmPm is a gas station, you know.” I did, but when it comes to free cookies, I don’t discriminate. The next morning I went and redeemed my coupon, and you know what? The cookie was actually really good.

The texture was dense and soft with just a little bit of crunch from the sugar. The cookie itself had a nice toasty flavor that balanced the sweetness and the huge chocolate chunks were rich and delicious. Sure, it was a gas station cookie, but I liked it.

For my birthday Siret baked me a batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies. I failed to photograph them but I did freeze half the batch so they’d stay fresh and I could take them back to Estonia with me. They had an interesting texture– dense and sandy– and tasted buttery although there was no butter in them. She gave me the recipe for those cookies as well as an entire book (The Baker’s Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies) filled with delicious variations on the traditional chocolate chip cookie. So while I may not have tried all the best cookies America has to offer, at least I returned with plenty of inspirations for making more amazing cookies of my own.

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It’s fall and we need cinnamon rolls

So we returned from our vacation at the very end of August, leaving behind the hot late-summer weather of Maryland for the cool fall air of Estonia. There was about a week during which I had no idea what to wear as I adjusted to the dramatic drop in temperature (what, you mean a skirt and flip-flops won’t cut it anymore?).

Overall September wasn’t too interesting food-wise, as we were on the post-vacation-we-are-almost-too-broke-to-buy-food diet ;-). Fortunately we didn’t starve, and I actually tried my hand at some new homemade treats (since of course making baked goods is far more economical than buying them, not to mention they’re usually tastier). One day at Prisma J was eyeing a bag of frozen cinnamon rolls that can be heated up in the oven, and I declared, “No way we’re buying those. Cinnamon rolls are so easy to make!” As the cinnamon rolls he was coveting were a product from Finland, I decided that mine should be Finnish-style kanelipullat too, so I got out a reliable resource:

You’ve seen this book before– J used a recipe in it to make whole-wheat rolls a while back. I whipped up the simple cardamom-scented dough, and after it had risen it was rolled out, treated to a healthy layer of butter, white sugar and cinnamon, and then rolled, sliced, and left alone to rise a second time.

My cinnamon rolls came out small, but we both liked that– you can eat more of them that way! I took the rolls from the oven just as they started to turn brown on top, which ensured that the insides were still moist and just past the point of doughy.

J gave me the best compliment a woman can hope to get from her man: “These are as good as my grandmother’s.” Isn’t that sweet? It made me so happy to hear that. He also said the smell of them baking reminded him of his grandmother. Aww… a comforting snack and a bit of nostalgia all rolled up with a bit of cinnamon.

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