Archive for the ‘Väliseestlane’ Category

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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Järvemetsa laager

OK, this post definitely doesn’t focus on any impressive food, but I had to say a few words to fill in the almost week-long gap between our first and second visits to Philly. We attended the annual Estonian Boy Scout and Girl Guide camp (laager) held in Jackson, New Jersey. I went there every year growing up and my grandfather lives nearby, so the campground and the annual events held there were an essential part of my upbringing as an Estonian-American. J came there with me during our trip to America two years ago– he was welcomed with open arms and within days he knew the woods and trails as well as I do. He became a part of that family, the close-knit Estonian community I grew up in, and I couldn’t have been happier. So of course we volunteered to go help out there again this year (but not for the whole week– only from Saturday to Wednesday).

The camp is very, well, outdoorsy. Most people sleep in floorless army tents on cots, a chorus of crickets and other night creatures serenading us to sleep every night (I love that!). There are only two small structures on the premises with air conditioning, so if the weather’s hot, you’re hot all day, every day. Meals are served in a pavilion-like building– there are support columns and a roof but no walls, so the outdoors is never far away. Examples of what what we eat there? Let’s see:

Cheesesteak day is very popular

Hearty dinner– meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad and veggies

There were also certain meals we had to cook ourselves over a campfire with materials provided by the kitchen. There was a breakfast of crescent rolls and breakfast sausages:

Not burnt– the crispy part was delicious and the inside was still slightly soft and doughy!

And a dinner of boneless ribs in barbecue sauce (cooked in a Dutch oven) with cucumber salad and potatoes:

Potatoes taste so good when they’ve been wrapped in foil and cooked under the hot embers of a campfire. They just do. I topped mine with salt and a bit of extra barbecue sauce. Dessert that day was pretty awesome as well:

Apple crisp made in a Dutch oven on the campfire. The apples had a slightly smoky flavor, which I thought was fantastic.

Breakfast offerings varied but I often just stuck to cereal, banana, milk and juice. I loved the days they also had yogurt and of course celebrated porridge day (it was cream of wheat, not oatmeal, but that’s ok). Meat was offered at just about every meal, so occasionally I avoided it (usually at breakfast– no bacon for me) because my body isn’t used to that much meat in a day. However, running around the campground in the heat all day is exhausting, and when I’m tired I’ll eat anything you put in front of me! I always asked for an extra scoop of salad, though… and if dessert was good, there was no shame in having seconds of that too :-). Overall we had a wonderful time there, and some people have already made us promise we’ll be back again next year. I guess we’ll see…

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The Garden State

On our second weekend in the States we were in Central New Jersey for a big annual gathering of Estonians from all over America and Canada. We were so happy to attend because we got to see so many of our good friends all at once– friends from New Jersey, Canada, Maryland, and Virginia were all there. It’s such a good time :-). We arrived at the party on Friday night and Siret promptly prepared a very British cocktail for us– the Pimm’s Cup.

Keeping it classy– making cocktails on the back bumper of our rental car.

It was my first real Pimm’s Cup, made with sparkling lemonade and a ripe strawberry. I can see why it’s considered a cocktail– it was so refreshing, but sweet enough that I’d stick to just one. Like Siret pointed out, it tastes so good that you’re likely to drink it fast, and before you know it, it hits you pretty hard.

For most of the weekend I subsisted on subs from Wawa, which I never photographed for some reason. I like to get a cheese sub with a lot of veggie toppings, so it usually looks pretty messy, but it’s so delicious. I love Wawa subs– reliable, affordable and filling.

On Saturday everyone goes to Jenkinson’s Beach in Point Pleasant, and the day is spent lounging on the beach (ok, so some people are sleeping off hangovers), playing in the waves, or occupying a huge cluster of tables up in the Tiki Bar. When somebody offered me an oyster shot, I couldn’t refuse.

Raw oyster in a shot glass with vodka, cocktail sauce, and lemon.

A lot of people think they’re gross, but what can I say? I love seafood.

I also had plenty of beer over the weekend, ranging from good (Sam Adams Summer Ale) to terrible (Coors Light) to interesting (Leinenkugel Berry Weiss). The last one I bought a single bottle of to try. I was just in the mood for a fruity beer, and that one totally hit the spot.

Sunday morning we left New Jersey for the next leg of our trip, but not before filling our bellies first. What’s the best option for a quick, affordable breakfast in New Jersey? A diner, of course.

We got our coffee and water as soon as we sat down, and for my meal I chose the Southwestern omelet. Onions, peppers, spinach and cheese, plus it came with salsa to pour on top. That meal was so good, especially after only eating sandwiches and snacks for two days. Jersey diners are the best.

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Täna on Eesti Vabariigi 92. sünnipäev. Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm, kui kaunis oled sa! Elagu Eesti!

Estonian flag on Suur Munamägi, September 2005

Today is the 92nd anniversary of the Republic of Estonia– Estonia’s Independence Day. The title of the post comes from the first line of the Estonian national anthem: My native land, my joy, delight, how far thou art and bright! Long live Estonia!

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Today I want to share a link to an article in the Times Online about the 20 best Christmas markets in Europe. They’re not ranked per se, but the very first one listed is the Christmas market held on Tallinn’s Town Hall Square, and the picture included at the beginning of the article is absolutely breathtaking. It’s one of those pictures that makes me think, even after more than two years, “Wow– I can’t believe I live here.” This is my city. I get to walk along Medieval cobblestone streets week after week, passing by historical buildings, but most of the time I don’t think about because I’m preoccupied with my work assignments for the day or what ingredients I need for dinner that night. But every once in a while I do look, and I notice the beauty this city has to offer, all of which could have been destroyed during the Soviet occupation but wasn’t. I’m grateful for the chance to live here, a chance that my parents’ generation never had, and every day see evidence of the history that took place, and also that which didn’t. I may complain sometimes, but at the end of the day, I really do love this city.



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Hi. I am finally back to normal life, ready to start writing about those things I promised to write about, oh, about two weeks ago. Thanks to all those who continued to stop by while I was gone!

Some of pictures I featured in my last post were from the Song and Dance Festival I mentioned in an earlier post. I participated in the Song Festival– which was held during the first weekend in July– singing in the ranks of the mixed choir I joined about a year and a half ago. My choir made up just a tiny portion of the full mixed choir, which numbered almost 9,000 singers, and that number was just a part of the massed choirs, which numbered over 25,000 singers (including children’s choirs, boys’ choirs, men’s choirs, women’s choirs, etc.). So… yes. I stood before an audience and sang as just one of 25,000 voices, all under the control of a masterful conductor, taking part in a tradition that is such an essential part of Estonia’s history. It’s kind of hard to even describe what it’s like. It’s huge, and wonderful, and moving.


That’s the stage, a giant arch with steps underneath it… imagine it PACKED full of people!

And speaking of moving… as you can imagine, getting 25,000 people from one place to another is a logistical nightmare. I’m not gonna lie– the Laulupidu experience involves a lot of being squished together with other people, as well as a lot of standing and just waiting for something to happen. Sometimes we had hours of time to kill, sometimes we had to rush through the crowds to get to the proper place at the proper time, sometimes we had to stand through three and a half hours straight of rehearsal. I was starving after that last one. There was free food offered for the performers in the festival– soup, bread, and kohukesed— but after that one rehearsal I think all 9,000 mixed choir singers had the same idea, and the lines for free soup were unfathomably long. So my friend and I decided to partake in some P7051178grilled meat šašlokk, which was ubiquitous at the festival. Every second stand you walked past was grilling some meat, so I think the smell of it will forever bring up memories of the Song Festival for me.

I didn’t get a picture of my skewer of grilled pork chunks, but it was served with greasy potatoes and sub-par ketchup (watery and sweet, blech). In general, eating during those festival days was sporadic and took place whenever it could. I carried snacks with me like pirukad, apples, and some yummy PowerBar product my sister had brought from the States (it was like a chocolate peanut butter candy bar!) (it may have been this one). One day I shared this snack of pelmeni with my sister.


For some people, this was the main snack of choice:


…but I mostly stayed away from it during the festival (at least right before I had to sing). I wanted to stay lucid and stable, and besides, there’s no way to get to a bathroom when you’re crammed on the stage with thousands of other people.


Many of the singers enthusiastically waved the national tricolor…

P7051184While the massive audience watched and listened (and check out that sky! Estonia has the most picturesque sky sometimes.)

By Sunday evening, the end of the weekend and of the festival, I was drained. My feet hurt and I was ready for a hot sauna and as much sleep as I could possibly get. But, lest this post sound somehow negative– it was so, so worth it. Going to all those choir rehearsals through the cold, dark winter was worth it to stand up there with 25,000 fellow singers, not needing to glance at my song book at all, just being carried away by the feeling of the music and the movements of the conductor’s hands. And all the people! While that was one of the more frustrating parts, it’s also the most wonderful part. On Sunday there was a total of 100,000 people at the festival grounds, including the performers. Only about 1.3 million people even live in Estonia– think about it! Those are incredible numbers. This festival means so much to so many people, to this country as a whole, and I am so grateful that I got to take part in it.

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Kohukesed, now in English

Yesterday’s post was the story of my introduction to kohukesed, whose name is unfortunately translated into English as cheese curd snack, which doesn’t sound too appetizing at all. Oh, but it is. It’s made with sweetened kohupiim, which is sort of like farmer’s cheese or quark, and covered with a firm chocolate coating. I can’t remember having been introduced to kohukuesed prior to my time as a student in Tartu. One of Tartu University’s student advisors invited me and some other foreign students to have a picnic. After we’d eaten all our salads and sausages, she announced that she’d brought something good for desert. She explained it like this: “It’s this little thing made from kohupiim and covered in chocolate. Sometimes they put other stuff in it too, like jam or a cookie. Those ones are like a little meal!” The one she handed me happened to be the one that contains both a cookie and jam (which is also the one I photographed for the post), and even though it was slightly smooshed from traveling in her bag, it was sooo good. Soft and sweet, the perfect little size, and it somehow feels healthy although it’s really not (but it is a dairy product, so it has some calcium, which is good, right?). From that day on, I bought my own kohukesed, sampling different brands, finding my favorites. My current favorite is the Leivakohuke (bread kohuke), which I thought sounded very weird until I tried it. The grainy flavors of dark bread combine with the smooth kohupiim to create something like a creamy cookie, and the chocolate coating is dark and intensely chocolatey.


I’m very happy that I got around to writing about one of my favorite Estonian foods, and in Estonian even! Hopefully it won’t take another year for the next Estonian post.

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