Posts Tagged ‘family’

When my mother was visiting Tallinn in June and July, we naturally went out a lot. Dinner at new restaurants, warm summer evenings of sipping drinks on terraces– all the kinds of things that people like to do when they’re on vacation. I like to go out to dinner as much as the next person, but by the time my mother’s birthday rolled around, just a few days before she was to leave, I was getting kind of tired of it. Going out again almost felt like a chore, so instead of heading out on the town for cocktails and a decadent dinner, I offered her a birthday dinner at our place, and she gladly accepted. And, luckily for us, she provided the beverages:

Fancy! Somebody had given her the bottle so none of us were sure of the exact retail price, but definitely out of the price range I generally look for :). While the mouthfeel and appearance were nice– lots of tiny bubbles!— we all agreed that flavor-wise it didn’t blow us away and we probably could not have differentiated between that and a more reasonably priced but still good-quality sparkling wine.

For the birthday dinner we kept it light and simple: cut-up vegetables with homemade hummus and baba ganoush, fluffy lavash bread, a Greek salad with black olives and feta, and chicken marinated in olive oil and lemon juice and “grilled” on the grill pan.

I don’t even remember exactly what went into the chicken marinade (other than oil and lemon juice), but the chicken was outstanding and you could really taste the lemon. The salad was also delicious and my mother appreciated the quiet night in and light homemade meal as much as we did.

Even without a birthday to celebrate, pretty much every time we have friends in town for more than a few days we’ll invite them for a dinner at our place. While people who are visiting like going out a lot, that doesn’t always fit into our budget, so inviting people over gives us a chance to still socialize without having to shell out as much money. In addition to being  so much cheaper for everyone involved, I think people also enjoy seeing where their friends live (don’t you get a little thrill when you see someone’s apartment for the first time? 🙂 Or is it just me?). And, as a final bonus, at home you can linger as long as you like, and you never have to worry about it getting too crowded or being pressured to order something else :). Definitely a win-win!


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Meet the parents

In this post, I’m going to hop back to June. Won’t you join me?

In June my mother came to visit, which is awesome in and of itself, but an even more awesome thing happened as well– she met J’s parents for the first time! (Just so you know, J and I have known each other since 2005 and been a couple since 2008). J and I flew up to visit his parents for a week right around the midsummer holiday (June 23-24) and my mother joined us there for the last few days. And everything went wonderfully!

We’d been a little concerned about the language situation, which was as follows: J could communicate easily with everyone, as he speaks Finnish, English and Estonian very well. I, of course, speak Estonian and English and passable Finnish, which I use with his parents. His parents speak Finnish and understand some English, and his mother also speaks German (she used to be a German teacher). My mother does not speak any Finnish but, as it happens, has a master’s degree in German, so the two of them were able to use that to communicate, but when they did then the rest of us couldn’t really understand :). But even with all of that in play, things went remarkably well and the conversation was always flowing, with me translating the Finnish spoken by J’s parents for my mother.  Apparently I earned some points for demonstrating how good my Finnish comprehension actually is, but my accomplishment felt less impressive when my mother, who is naturally gifted at languages, started to pick up Finnish after being there for only a few days (I can only dream that langauges would come that easily to me! Sigh).

As usual, the food J’s parents made for us was amazingly delicious, and remember how I’m always gushing over the beautiful salads his mother makes? My mother gushed over them too! So I’m not a weirdo for being in awe of her incredible food styling skills. Some of the other beautiful and delicious food they made for us included smoked salmon that I could not stop eating…

… skewers of every kind of meat imagineable (seriously, there was chicken, pork, beef, and lamb, all prepared in different marinades, not to mention mushrooms stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon, which, well, there are NO WORDS to describe how good they were)…

… and this charming roll cake we ate around 4 in the afternoon on Midsummer’s Eve (Juhannusaatto), since dinner was going to be late that day. You know I loved it.


J and I introduced my ema to some other fun stuff too. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages in the car while it’s in motion (you can do this in Estonia too, but of course not in the USA! :D).



We also took her to a cafe in the city of Oulu called Bisketti, which is famous (at least in J’s family) for its giant cinnamon rolls (korvapuustit).

The roll, which we split three ways, is about triple the size of that cup of coffee next to it, and irresistibly doughy and soft in the middle. Maybe next time I should try to make mine this big too :).

And, finally, I had to make sure my mother tried salt licorice (salmiakki) ice cream— this particular ice cream bar is actually vanilla ice cream with a soft salmiakki candy center and crunchy salmiakki coating. I love the contrast (both color and flavor) of the black salmiakki against the creamy vanilla! Next time we’ll be in Finland will be in December and I’m already looking forward to eating one of these again. Oh, and my mother liked it too!

Even though she’d been to Finland before, my mother was thrilled to see where J comes from and experience so many of the things I’ve told her about after my past trips there. We got to introduce her to J’s home, which is starting to feel more and more like home for me as well :).

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It’s Christmas Eve…

… and we are just starting our three days of Christmas feasts, featuring Finnish, American and Estonian Christmas specialties. I hope everyone has a safe, peaceful and enjoyable holiday. Eat, drink, and enjoy the company of those around you while also thinking about those who aren’t near you this Christmas. I know that’s what I’ll be doing.

Merry Christmas! Häid jõulupühi! Hyvää joulua!

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Christmas has begun

J’s family arrived in Tallinn on Tuesday, so for us Christmas pretty much started then (even though I still had to work Wednesday and Thursday this week).  J’s mother had bought me a little gift on the ferry they took from Helsinki to Tallinn:

They’re freeze-dried strawberries covered in yogurt and chocolate. I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but I think they’re going to be amazing! I love that she saw the strawberries and thought of me :-). Later on that same evening she asked me where my whole strawberry obsession came from (she knows about the blog). I blushed a little, as I do when I’m put on the spot, and said I don’t really know. She asked if it’s a long-running thing and I said yes, that one of my grandfathers (who passed when I was very young) had called me “Marika Maasikas” and maybe it started from that. I’m still shy when talking about the blog, but at the same time it’s awesome that my future mother-in-law (feels so funny to type that!) knows about my blog, understands why I take lots of pictures of food, and tries to understand why I like the things I like. Even though we can’t converse on the level that I would like to (my spoken Finnish is very elementary), I feel that she “gets” me. She’s always asking me questions about myself, not just related to the blog or to food (although she knows that asking me any question about food will get me talking, regardless of my awkward Finnish!), but about work, family, life in general. I can safely say that the mothers of some of my ex-boyfriends (with whom I was able to speak easily, in English) did not ask me as much about myself as J’s mother does. And that’s nice, those questions that let you know that somebody is interested and truly wants to know more about you. While it can get frustrating not being able to talk and express myself in the exact way I’d like to, sensing that J’s mother knows who I am (and likes me!) in spite of that feels really great.

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Almost done with my vacation posts, I swear! This post is one I’ve been looking forward to writing and it includes the two BEST desserts I had while in the USA, both homemade. Keep reading to find out what they were! 🙂

Just a few days after returning from Vegas to Maryland, we hosted a joint birthday party for me and J at my parents’ house. My parents have a wonderful house for entertaining, plus it was an excuse to get all our friends together one more time. We sent out a quick Facebook invitation, my parents helped us stock the fridge (thank you!), and there you have it– a party!

All set up and ready to go

My mother and I threw together some simple appetizers– I wrapped pieces of melon in prosciutto and cut up some veggies for dipping.

My mother made her famous seven-layer dip (hey, remember when I made this from scratch in Estonia?).

Later on the appetizers were joined by crackers, goat cheese, and some amazingly delicious Trader Joe’s hummus. I love party food! My dad was in charge of beer, and we had a good selection– my dad doesn’t buy cheap beer. 🙂

Oh, I should also mention that it was a hat party and all guests were required to wear some kind of head covering. People showed up with wigs, helmets and bandanas, which were also switched around throughout the night. It was a fun “theme” because it’s easy and people can have a lot of fun with it or keep it simple, whatever they like. I wore a crown of flowers– it made me feel like a birthday girl without being too princessy. Birthday boy J rocked an always-classy beer hat.

Dinner was burgers from the grill accompanied by various salads (including a black bean salad I made– yum). If I’m being completely honest with you, I can hardly even remember eating my burger that night. I know I had one– a cheeseburger with tomato slices and a ton of ketchup– but I was so engaged in conversation with my friends that the burger just seemed to disappear on its own. I’m sure it was good, though.

Finally, the desserts. My friend Siret told me she’d make cupcakes (we made cupcakes together in London last November!). She’s a cupcake queen. I expected her to arrive at the party punctually since she lives very close to my parents, but almost an hour after the slated start time I received a text message from her: “Am running late, cupcakes got the best of me”. Uh-oh. I told her not to stress and to get there when she could. When she finally arrived, I took one look at the cupcakes and realized why she’d been late:

Look at this cupcake. The latticework! The hand-formed marzipan strawberries, made of marzipan she had tinted herself! I think there were 24 of these cupcakes, with three strawberries each… absolutely incredible. I still can’t believe she did all that for our party. Not to mention she also made a batch of chocolate gluten-free cupcakes for our guests and vegan chocolate chip cookies as a birthday present for me. No wonder she was late!  And as for the taste, I tried both kinds of cupcakes and they were outstanding. I actually really liked the chewiness of the gluten-free cupcakes, and the strawberry-decorated cupcakes were so moist with the perfect amount of icing. And the decorations were great because I love marzipan and of course I love strawberries!

The production of the other outstanding dessert had started earlier that day in my parents’ kitchen. My sister had decided to make a Smith Island cake, which is the official dessert of the great state of Maryland :-). The cake consists of around ten thin cake layers alternating with layers of chocolate icing, and it was my sister’s first attempt at creating one herself. While she tended to the delicate layers of cake baking in the oven, she recruited me to help make the icing. I chopped chocolate and then kept an eye on the chocolate concoction as it cooked on the stove for 10-15 minutes. Once all the components had cooled, she gently began layering them together.

I didn’t see the end of the process because guests began to arrive, but when it was time for birthday cake, I was able to see the finished product.

Not only was it impressive to look at, it tasted amazing. I expected the layers to be sort of dry like sponge cake, and I think on their own they might be, but compressed together, absorbing the moisture from the delicious, slightly firm chocolate icing, they become dense, buttery, and delicious. I think it’s the perfect cake because the icing to cake ratio is so very high. I ate the last piece of this cake two or three days after the party, and it was still completely moist. Honestly, it’s a super-cake. (Dear sister, if you read this: would you put a link to the recipe in the comments?)

To sum up, it was a fun party with great food, but of course the most amazing part was being with friends. We talked, we laughed, we watched old home movies my parents had put on DVD (which is the best idea ever, by the way). We sang around a campfire and visited a nearby construction site in the dark, which may or may not have led to a photo shoot on a giant truck thing.

Everything about that night made me happy. Friends, you all are the best, and hands-down the hardest thing about living in Estonia is that I hardly ever get to see you.

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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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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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