Archive for April, 2011

Impossible not to

I’ve never given much thought to the British royal family, but it was impossible not to get a little swept up in all the excitement of the royal wedding today. I’m glad I live in a time zone that’s two hours ahead of London, so I didn’t have to wake up ridiculously early to watch coverage or anything. I was able to check it out in the middle of the work day (everyone at my work was watching!), seeing the most important moments– the bride’s arrival at the Abbey, walking down the aisle, the vows, and later also their kiss. I have to say that I particularly enjoyed the moment when Kate was walking down the aisle and Harry turned around to get a look at her and then whispered something to his brother, who was dutifully facing the altar. That was cute. Now if, years from now, somebody asks if I was watching when Will and Kate got married, I can say that I was. (Fun fact: If it ever comes up in trivia, I can answer the question “What day did Diana marry Prince Charles?” in a heartbeat, because it happens to be the same day my brother and a good friend of mine were born, July 29 1981).

Anyway, all this talk about the royal wedding (and the royal wedding digestive biscuit cake!) had me craving digestive biscuits, which have long been a favorite of mine. So I picked some up after work and had my own little wedding cake-inspired snack — a digestive biscuit with a bit of Nutella. Mmm… a very sweet day, indeed.


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Happy Easter!

This stuff is SO GOOD.

I have a feeling Green & Black’s would taste good any day, not just after a chocolate fast. But this 85% dark chocolate bar, which is surprisingly mellow and smooth with a perfect snap, was a really excellent way to end Lent and celebrate Easter.

Have a lovely Sunday!

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I am really glad this week is over (no work tomorrow because of Good Friday — hooray!!). Even though it was a short week, the stress made it feel endless. I had about a million different appointments. I found out that I’ll be going to St. Petersburg for two weeks in November for work (this terrifies me). Within the next two weeks at work I have a pretty intense exam and five different training sessions to attend (two of which will be crash courses in Russian, which will hopefully make the prospect of going to Russia slightly less scary. I hope to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and how to ask “Does anybody here speak English?”). I have an essay to write (this is voluntary, but I’d really like to enter this essay contest). Next weekend is one of the biggest party weekends of the year in Estonia, but I probably won’t be able to partake because the aforementioned exam is three days later.

In short, I’m really grateful for this three-day weekend, since I’ll have time to both relax and do some productive things (write and study) before diving into all this craziness. We started it off right — J cooked up some tenderloin with a cream sauce and I roasted potatoes. Is there anything more delicious than potatoes roasted with olive oil and a little salt? This pan also included a chopped onion. Definitely one of my favorite comfort foods, and necessary on a night like tonight.

And speaking of comfort foods, only two more days without chocolate! You better believe I’ll be eating an all-chocolate diet on Sunday (just kidding. I think).

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Birch juice

I tried something new yesterday afternoon! The woman I share an office with asked, “Have you ever tried birch juice?” (Kasemahl in Estonian). She had a chilled 1.5-liter bottle of what looked like plain water sitting on her desk. Always up for trying something new and completely clueless as to what to expect, I had her pour some of the clear liquid into the mug I keep at my desk. It looked like water and poured like water. I stuck my nose into my mug and gave a deep sniff, as if I was tasting a fine wine. It smelled fresh and sort of sweet (like a tree, I suppose). “Did you make it yourself?” I asked, not sure if this was the kind of thing people generally made at home. She hadn’t, but my supervisor joined us and said she’d made birch juice at home a few years ago.

I took a sip, and at first I didn’t taste anything. The other two agreed that this batch had a very mild flavor. However, the flavor seemed to develop and become more pronounced the more I drank. It tasted as though somebody had dissolved a spoonful or two of molasses into all that water, leaving it subtly sweet with a bit of earthiness. It was really refreshing and, as I found out when I did a bit of research, really healthy as well! Birch juice contains potassium and high levels of vitamin C, among other things, and is supposed to help with stomach problems, improve circulation, and do a host of other beneficial things. I might have to buy some of this stuff for myself! However, I also discovered that it’s highly perishable and only keeps for a few days, even when refrigerated.

This is the kind of situation that makes me love living abroad. I’ve been here for over four years and know quite a bit about traditional Estonian food, but there are still things out there I’ve never experienced. And I love it when I find them, especially when they manage to brighten up a typical sleepy Monday afternoon.

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One week until Easter. One week until I can once again eat candy and all things chocolate. I’m not gonna lie, the cravings are severe. I thought after a few weeks of not eating something you sort of “get it out of your system”, but no, the further I get into Lent, the more intense my cravings for chocolate are. Maybe it’s because I’m still eating things that contain sugar so I’m still getting sugar cravings that are all focused on the kind of sweets I’m not allowed to have. It’s driving me crazy because the cravings are so specific that trying to substitute some other sweet treat — a few dates or a plain vanilla-flavored biscuit — does nothing for them. Often the sweet things I have available to me don’t seem appealing at all. This frustration just reinforces my belief that the best way to eat is “everything in moderation”. Giving up candy and chocolate for Lent was an exercise in discipline, not an experiment to better my health, so I’m going to hang in there for this last week, then go back to my normal, moderate way of eating. Which will, at least next Sunday, probably include milk chocolate butterscotch Easter eggs…

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This could be a problem

Like most men, J has a pretty hearty appetite. If there’s a food he likes around, he is likely to eat quite a bit of it.  J also works from home, so he grazes the food we have there all day. If there are leftovers in the fridge when I leave for work in the morning, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be seeing them when I get home later. Usually this is fine, as I’m used to it. I’m not territorial over the food in the kitchen… with perhaps one exception.

It all started with the toasted, salted nut kick we’ve been on recently. I  toasted some almonds to chop up and use on salads, yogurt, etc. J discovered that toasted nuts taste a hundred times better than their raw counterparts and said “You know what would make these even better? Salt!” I’d never thought of making my own salted nuts before, but as it turns out, it’s super easy. First I made a batch of salted mixed nuts, then later just salted peanuts, which J loved. That’s how I think I may have gotten myself into trouble.

See, I love peanut butter and eat it every day, but it’s always been just “my thing”, my little American quirk. I have my peanut butter jar(s) and J doesn’t touch them. I go through them at my own pace and, when there’s a spoonful or two left in a jar, I use it as a delicious receptacle for my morning oatmeal.

However, much to my dismay, J came to realize that toasted peanuts are amazing and that peanut butter is just like delicious roasted peanuts, except in wondrously creamy form. As I watched in horror, he pulled my jar of White Chocolate Wonderful peanut butter from the shelf, helped himself to a spoonful, and said, “Man, that’s actually really good.” Noooo — what have I done??

I suppose I should be pleased that he realizes that peanut butter is not just some weird American obsession, but a genuinely delicious and versatile food product (because who doesn’t like to say “I told you so”?). On the other hand, I’m afraid I’ll be kissing my (dear, precious, expensive—a jar of creamy Skippy is 3.50 EUR at Stockmann!) peanut butter stash good-bye once we have two avid peanut butter eaters in the house. Sigh. If you come to visit us, bring some peanut butter, won’t you?

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Best tea ever

My current favorite tea came back from London with me after my most recent trip. I had already purchased two teas that I thought were interesting — a mango-flavored green tea and a vanilla-flavored white tea — so it was almost as an afterthought that I grabbed a box of plain old rooibos tea bags (Tick Tock brand) during a rushed trip to Waitrose. I didn’t expect it to be anything special, just wanted one more variety so we’d have plenty to choose from at home (as you can tell, I like caffeine-free tea because I usually drink it right before bed).

I had drank rooibos tea before, but it’s always had some kind of citrus or other fruit added (I’ve had blueberry rooibos tea, for example). This tea is just plain rooibos with nothing else added, but it absolutely blew me away. It is so incredibly flavorful. I can taste fruit, and cinnamon, and hints of other spices. I don’t need to sweeten it because it has natural sweetness as well. I drink tea but I don’t usually crave it, but this tea is an exception.

Thinking about how delicious it is makes me want another mug right now (and I already had one earlier!). Well done, Tick Tock! (I actually just visited the company’s home page for the first time and discovered that they make ONLY rooibos tea, grown in the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa, and that they are “Britain’s favourite rooibos tea”. That does not surprise me one bit… these guys clearly know what they’re doing!). Britain’s favourite rooibos tea is now my favorite tea, period. 🙂


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