Archive for March, 2011

Savory carrot bread

Since I can’t make any chocolate chip cookies until Lent is over, I’ve been channeling my desire to bake into more savory things. On St. Patrick’s Day I made this soda bread again. It’s seriously one of my favorite breads ever, and of course I love that there’s less waiting involved because it doesn’t need to rise.

Last week I thought to bake something with carrots. My first idea was to bake an American-style banana bread (a “quick bread” that’s baked from a batter rather than a yeast dough) and include some carrots in the mix. J suggested, “Why don’t you just make a regular bread with carrots in it?” “Like a yeast bread?” Somehow that thought hadn’t even occurred to me, since all the recipes I’d found searching for “carrot bread” were of the quick bread variety. But J was able to find me a recipe in Finnish, so I willingly gave it a shot.

The recipe’s written in a short and simple style. It required milk, egg, yeast, honey (I used syrup), a touch of salt, oats (yay, I love oats in bread!), grated carrot, and flour. It bothered me slightly how imprecise the recipe is– it calls for “2 carrots” (big carrots? Small carrots? How much grated carrot should I end up with?), and “one packet of yeast” (I think the 12g packet I had is standard, but I can’t be sure). The dough was soft and sticky, but I think that was right since the recipe says to “pour the dough” onto the pan, which suggests that the soft dough is expected. It was quite a bit of dough that I shaped into a large disc. It didn’t rise very much, so we ended up with a pretty huge, low disc of carrot bread. It smelled amazing.

My first bite was a huge surprise. I expected it to be somewhat sweet because of the carrots, but it actually tasted cheesy! So weird and unexpected to find a flavor as if the bread had cheese baked into it. The inside was quite moist, which isn’t a bad thing, but next time I think I’d try to press more liquid out of the carrot shreds before adding them (once again, the recipe doesn’t mention anything about doing this). When eating the bread the next day, J also said it tasted quite yeasty — I think it was the yeasty/savory flavor that created the “cheese” illusion. So next time I might also cut down on the yeast, maybe using only 7 or 8 g instead of the whole 12g packet.

Despite wanting to make changes to the basic recipe, there was definitely nothing wrong with the bread. It was really good, and the soft moist center was contrasted by a nicely crispy top and bottom crust (especially if you toasted a wedge of it — so good!). And of course the carrot bits added a lovely color and some welcome nutrients to the bread. I think J and I are both looking forward to this plus other experiments with “vegetable breads” in the future!

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It’s my name day!

In the Estonian calendar March 25 is the name day for Maria, Maarja, Marju, Mari, Marili, and Marika (or Maarika) — pretty much all the names derived from “Maria”. So today is my name day! I was never even aware of name days before I came to Estonia. I knew that Catholics who are named after saints have name days, but that was it. I like having a day for my name now. I also make sure to buy an Estonian planner every year so that I can always see what the names of the day are :-).

Not all Estonians “observe” their name days, but most people can tell you when it is, if they have one. A lot of the names that have days assigned to them are quite archaic, so on occasion J and I flip through my calendar laughing about names we’ve never heard before and hope nobody is ever given (if your name is Külvo [March 21] or Tuudur [November 9], I’m sorry).

I’ll be celebrating this name day as a single gal, since J is in Finland until next week :-(. I miss him, but a quiet evening at home alone isn’t so bad. I already had a fantastic dinner of  sesame noodles (love love love these!)…

.. and now I think enjoying a little wine, catching up on Glee, and resting up my legs for a 13-km run tomorrow will be a fine way to celebrate being Marika.

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Bacon crisps from Waitrose

On the last full day of my work trip to London last month I made a quick dash to Waitrose to buy some final food souvenirs. (Side note: I almost wrote “recent work trip”, then I realized it was nearly a month ago! Where has March gone??). Anyway, I knew I wanted to get J some kind of interesting crisps, of which there are abundant varieties available in England. I was in a rush and didn’t have much time to analyze the selection, so I impulsively grabbed these:

Because who doesn’t like bacon, right? Also, in my experience the Waitrose store brand products are really very good (like the wrap and cookie I bought for the flight home). These are corn-based crisps that, interestingly enough, are safe for vegetarians and vegans. I guess no actual animal products go into the production of bacon flavoring. Anyway, I hoped J would like them (and that he’d be willing to share a few with me). He did.

Definitely have to give Waitrose credit for the image on the bag looking exactly like the actual product. I was also impressed by the flavor — these crispy corn-based rectangles really did provide a remarkable imitation of the flavor of bacon, salty and smokey with a savory quality very much like that of an actual meat product. J also said he anticipated that they might be a little dry or tasteless, but found them to be “surprisingly good”. I’d say that evaluation sums it up pretty well — well done, Waitrose :-).

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This year I decided that for Lent — which began a week ago — I would give up candy. I’d been eating just a little too much of it since the holidays and decided to use this time to remind myself that candy is not food (not in the nourishment sense, anyway).

A week into Lent I can see that avoiding candy isn’t that hard. Once it’s out of our apartment and my desk drawers I can’t reach for it anyway. Out of sight, out of mind. So I’ve decided to increase the challenge a bit for this year and give up chocolate as well (chocolate in all its forms, not just candy). While I may be able to forget about other candy when it’s not staring me in the face, I never forget about chocolate. It’s always in my mind :-).

I observed Lent for the first time when I was a teenager. My family wasn’t religious and we aren’t Catholic, so I didn’t have a religious reason for doing it — I just thought it seemed like a cool idea (is it weird that as a teen I thought the idea of depriving myself of a favorite thing for a month seemed like a fun thing to do?). Anyway, for the first few years I observed Lent I always gave up chocolate, and for a few of those years I actually managed to go the entire period with no slip-ups. Forty solid days (46, actually) with no chocolate at all. Definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done!

So from now until Easter, no chocolate. At all. Lately I’ve been stirring unsweetened cocoa powder into my oatmeal — no more. No dipping into that jar of Nutella for a sweet fix. No chocolate chip cookies either :-(. I will now commence dreaming about an Easter basket full of candy…

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Do you see that plate of Wagamama noodles in the last post? That was the last warm sit-down meal I had while I was in London (on Thursday night, and I was there until Sunday). Yeah, things got busy. I still ate oatmeal for breakfast every morning, so I guess that counts as a warm meal, but lunch and dinner were whatever I could grab when I had the chance.

Friday I was actually in an office all day, doing my regular everyday work. I had a Starbucks latte in the morning and later when my tummy started rumbling I had this Greek yogurt with honey and granola from Starbucks.

I was surprised by how good it was! The granola had chunks of chewy dried fruit in it and the sweet honey balanced out the tart yogurt (though I did leave some honey on the bottom so it wouldn’t get too sticky-sweet). Later I took a walk and got a little cup of Superfood Salad from Marks & Spencer– I didn’t get a picture of it but as I remember it had couscous, chickpeas, edamame, some vegetables, and parsley in a vinaigrette dressing. So those things, plus three of the delicious chocolate chocolate-chip cookies I was offered at work, made up my lunch. Later that day I managed to eat a wrap filled with pumpkin and goat cheese (yummy combination!), some Estonian candies, and a glass of wine. Those things equaled dinner.

The next day was similar: oatmeal for breakfast, yogurt and a ham and cheese croissant from Pret a Manger for lunch, and some orange juice and a bean wrap from Costa Coffee for dinner (do not recommend! It was incredibly boring). I never thought it would be possible to lose weight while in London, but this time I probably did, because I did so much walking and relatively little eating! The one thing I am thankful for is the amazing variety of food that’s available to-go (or takeaway, as the Brits would say) in London. Pretty much anything you can imagine! So while I may not have had the most filling meals, at least I had an interesting time picking out my snacks :-).

That last evening in London I also snacked on this yummy chocolate chip cookie from Waitrose:

It was quite good; not too sugary and with a warm toasted flavor. I wish I could have these for a midnight snack more often (I also wished I’d brought another one for the plane the next day). While I didn’t have a cookie, I did have this wrap from Waitrose that I bought ahead of time so I wouldn’t have to buy any overpriced food at the Copenhagen airport, where I had my layover. The wrap was really tasty with a lot of fresh arugula (rocket) in it, but I was mystified when I looked at the ingredients list and saw mayonnaise. Why does a wrap with flavorful pesto on it need mayonnaise?

Third wrap in three days. Thank goodness for convenient food.

This was one of my first glimpses into the world of work travel (the last time I traveled for work I was in Brussels for a month, so that was more long-term and relaxed). It was a whirlwind and I had to learn to go with the flow and eat when I could, because later I may not have the chance. I’m generally a more scheduled kind of person, but I can adapt to a different situation as long as there’s a reason for it. As exhausting as the trip was, it was also so fun– I love London and just being there gave me so much energy.

I bought a ton of food souvenirs home for me and J but I just realized that I haven’t photographed any of them, so I’ll post on those another time. Believe me, though– I bought plenty of the great stuff London has to offer back to Estonia with me!

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Work trip to London: Coffee and noodles

The morning after our Lebanese dinner I went for a morning run in Regent’s Park. I haven’t been able to run outside in months so I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the fact that I was running outside in lovely warm weather in Regent’s Park in London made it exponentially more awesome. I was also excited because at the end of run, a tall skinny mocha latte from Starbucks awaited me.

I’ve never been a Starbucks junkie but since I live in a Starbucks-free country, I like to indulge in their espresso drinks while traveling. I also enjoyed marching directly into Starbucks after my run, makeup-less and sweaty, to order my drink. I’m pretty sure I’d get funny looks if I did that in Estonia.

That afternoon I shopped on Oxford Street, enjoyed the beautiful weather, and attended a reception in honor of Estonia’s Independence Day (this was on February 24). I was hungry when I got to the reception but the only food was these teeny-tiny passed appetizers, of which I had about five. I also had close to three glasses of wine, so after the reception I may have done some tipsy shopping :-). I also realized that I needed a proper meal before doing some work stuff that evening, so I headed to a place I had good memories of from my trip to London with J — Wagamama. It was the first time I’d ever eaten dinner alone in a restaurant, but Wagamama has a casual atmosphere that facilitates solo dining. I had the yaki udon– I love those thick, chewy udon noodles!

This was a fairly early dinner– 4:30 or so– but it was the last thing I ate all day. It honestly did fill me up (maybe even too much), and for the rest of the evening I was too busy with work stuff (I was helping to share information about Estonia at an event that was going on) to even notice if I was hungry. By the time I got to bed my feet were aching from standing and walking all day, and this was only my first full day in London!

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It’s a strange thing

Even though the temperature in Tallinn this past week has stayed fairly steady around -1 C (30 F) and I’m still walking around wearing this coat:

(Photo taken in Stockholm, where it was much colder than -1 C)

… I’ve still been feeling that spring is in the air! Funny how living in Estonia has changed my perception of the seasons. When I lived in the States, signs of spring used to mean t-shirt weather and flowers blooming. Now it means I’m slightly less freezing and it’s no longer dark out when I leave work at 5 pm!

(Be back with another London post tomorrow!)

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