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eG Foodblog: Pille


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What a fabulous blog, Pille! I'm glad I'm eating my lunch right now or I'd be going crazy from your pictures and descriptions.

I spent a semester studying in Moscow in 1992, just as the Soviet Union was breaking up. While I made it as far as Lithuania, I never got to Estonia and now I regret it, especially after seeing the pictures of the wild mushrooms! :smile:

I'm interested in hearing about how food has changed since Estonia became independent. When I was living in Moscow, I was really struck by how there was very little packaged food on the market and what little variety of fresh food was available, except for the wonderful (but overpriced) produce and dairy products available at farmer's markets. There were also very few restaurants back then, and not much ethnic variety, besides the fabulous Georgian restaurants and a few Central Asian places. We were dying for Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese food. All this has changed in Moscow, of course. What was shopping/eating at home/eating in restaurants like during the Soviet years and how has it changed?

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i

Kristjan also brought couple of glasuurkohuke alias chocolate-glazed curd cheese bars last night and insisted I blog about them  :raz: :

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Ah! I love those! We get a similar thing from the russian stores in Philly - interestingly enough they were never available when I actually lived in Ukraine, but that was the USSR era, so there ya go! I am assuming farmer's cheese is the same as the russian tvorog?

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This is another wonderful and informative blog! I am enjoying the read on different kinds of foods, scenery, everything! Thank you. :biggrin:

I will look forward to your dessert with the sea buckthorn berries. These are just starting to be commercially grown on the prairies, I think. I've only heard about their use in "health food" extracts, etc, but never used as dessert.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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I met a friend of mine (called Hille, coincidentally) for a coffee in Old Town (Vanalinn) at 4pm. We went to Chocolats de Pierre, an enchanted little cafe hidden in a courtyard on Vene street. (You can read more about it here and here.) Here's how it looks from outside (this photo is taken last Sunday):

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The old derelict building on the far back is from the 12th century and is being refurbished at the moment..

Unfortunately I forgot to change the camera setting from landscape to 'normal' when I got to the cafe, so all the pictures I took there today were extremely fuzzy :sad: However, I did get some more or less satisfactory snapshots, too. The cafe specialices in chocolates, as its name indicates:

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The interior is very luscious and decadent - dark heavy textured textiles, old lamp shades, etc taking you back to the beginning of last century. Here are some lovely tea glasses:

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I had a cup of coffee and shared a chocolate cake with Hille:

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Not sure where all that garish garnish came from - they've never topped my cake with cocktail cherry there before!? :unsure:

If you're ever in Tallinn, then this is an ideal place to pop for a cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate and a slice of cake, and spend some time reading a good book..

(Vene street 6, in the courtyard)

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After Chocolats de Pierre we headed to a newish place around the corner, called Clazz (I believe it's supposed to mean a Classy Jazz cafe or something like that), with another friend of mine, Liina, joining us. I hadn't been there before, but they were throwing an end-of-summer-party to attract new people, and they served free wine and fingerfood. It's a basement lounge, and they claim to serve 'the classical European kitchen with the fresh Scandinavian touch and strong smooth tastes of raw materials' (a quote from their promotion leaflet). I don't know about that, as we didn't sample their regular menu, but I liked the vibe of the place and will happily go back. Those of you who know Tallinn and the medieval restaurant Olde Hansa will easily find the place - it's exactly opposite Olde Hansa and has actually the same proprietors. (It's open and serving food until 3am, and the address is Vana turg 2).

Tonight they served rolls with salted beef, chicken confit and smoked salmon rolls:

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For dessert, there were small raspberry parfait cones:

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Small shot glasses of caramel & pear panna cotta:

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I managed to pile all desserts onto one plate :rolleyes: :

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I stayed for about an hour and half, and then got a lift home with Kristjan..

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Finally, tonight's dinner. While we were waiting for the main meal to cook, we nibbled on salted mushrooms salad zakuska. I chopped those salted gypsy mushrooms I bought from the market (see above) into small cubes, mixed with finely chopped raw onion and fresh parsley, dressed all with sour cream and seasoned with salt and pepper:

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The salad was spooned on top of thin rye bread slices, and voila! - you've got a delicious little something:

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Here are all the ingredients for our Scottish meal:

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That's haggis, neeps (turnips), tatties (potatoes), onions (not traditional, but I love my haggis with caramelised onion gravy). I was in Scotland in early September for a conference, and brought back a packet of my favourite haggis - MacSween of Edinburgh:

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Many of the haggises I tried over my seven years in Edinburgh were too greasy or too bland. I like this particular one as it's well seasoned and has a nice texture. Haggis comes pre-cooked, so all you need is to heat it through thoroughly. I removed the outer packaging and wrapped it in foil, after which I placed it in the 200C oven for about 45 minutes. Here's a photo of a piping hot and thoroughly cooked haggis, really keen to 'jump out' of its packaging:

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:biggrin:

While haggis was baking, I peeled the potatoes and turnips and cut them into large chunks, after which I boiled them separately in slightly salted water. When ready, I drained the vegetables, added some milk, butter and salt to both and freshly grated nutmeg to turnips and mashed them until smooth. I don't usually 'do' towers in my kitchen, but I liked the way one of my favourite deli-cafes in Edinburgh, Peckhams, serves haggis, so I tried it at home. And it worked :biggrin: :

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The sauce is a simple caramelised onion gravy. I chopped three onions finely and slowly sauteed them in some oil on a heavy frying pan, then I added some demerara sugar and water and Marigold stock powder, later some Marmite for flavour and colour (yep, my secret gravy colouring :unsure: ), and finally thickened the sauce with a bit of flour.

We didn't make any extra dessert, as there's still some apple cake left. So apologies to all of you who were expecting a gorgeous Scottish cranachan to finish off the meal!!!

Now, Suzi was asking about my relationship to Scottish food:

what do you miss most about scots food that you can't get where you are now?

Well, I do miss a good haggis occasionally, but then I've had it thrice already in Estonia this year - in January for Burns Supper a friend brought back some, and I brought some haggis back from my trips to Scotland in June and in September. Apart from that it's hard to say what I miss. There's no particular Scottish product that I long for, but I do miss the great range of 'ethnic grocery stores' available in Edinburgh.. And those pork sausages from Puddledub Pork & Fifeshire Bacon Co that I used to buy from the Farmers Market :smile:

Edited by Pille (log)
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Pilli

All the different mushrooms and berries are beautiful, but I think the average American would be afraid of red mushrooms, or picking mushrooms. At least ones from the suburbs of New Jersey. Around here if you see a mushroom there is something wrong with your lawn.    :rolleyes:

Keep going maybe you can convince me to try cooking beets or turnips

tracey

I'd probably think there's something wrong with my lawn when it'd be mushrooming, too, Tracey :biggrin: Forageing for mushrooms is a hard job - you need to be properly dressed to keep you safe from elements (wind, rain, ticks, snakes, mosquitos etc), and you need to know all those secret mushroom-rich hidden forests... We drive 80 km to the countryside to find our mushrooms :wink:

OMG that mushroom pick is just gorgeous!!

Thank you, Shelby!

All this talk of mushrooms made me remember that I have a package of dried Borowik mushrooms (Polish "king of mushrooms") in my cupboard. I'm going to make my mom some mushroom soup today.

I love farmers markets and enjoyed the pics. Here, apples are pumpkins are everywhere too. We are very big on corn in the summer, as well as tomatoes and peaches. They are the real highlights in August and into September.

I do wish we had sauerkraut barrels, though. :wink:

I suspect Borowik is a Polish name for porcini/cep mushrooms, Monovano, no? Wonderful! I'm sure you'll make a great soup with them (and you've just reminded that we bought a packet of dried porcini on our skiing trip in Italy in February. Need to look that up soon!).

We don't get corn here in Estonia. Or rather, I've seen husks at the market, but as I know they have travelled a very long distance and that corn is best soon after harvesting, I've ignored them more or less..

Whew! I finally found my passport and can join the party. Thanks for blogging!

Those red mushrooms are gorgeous (your basket from last fall). what are they?

I love the idea of mushrooming but dont have the nerve. Southern California isnt prime territory because of being so dry, however we do have a variety of the little fungi springing up. My friend's family who are experienced mushroomers in Venezuela came to visit, went mushrooming, and ended up in hospital for the best part of a week (2 of them). That kinda ended any ideas I had of learning to forage from a book.

After seeing your market photos, we'll definitely have to schedule any trip to Estonia for early September. Oh my! :biggrin:

Welcome, Michelle! First of all, let me tell you that I'm sorry to hear about your Venezuelan friends :unsure: - hope they recovered from their hospitalisation quickly!

The red mushrooms in the basket are of the Russula family. They're great, as they have a nice somewhat 'crispy' texture that makes them ideal for mushroom salads (I hate mushy mushroom salads!). Some of them can be cooked straight away, some have to be blanched for 20-30 minutes, maybe changing water twice. If you're unsure, leave them on the ground :smile:

That basket of wild mushrooms is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Aitäh, Peter! :rolleyes:

Cheese curd and chocolate?!? Why didn't I think of that . . . I will be in my "test kitchen" later this week.

Your photos are magnificent - and too I am in awe of the mushroom bounty - foraged no less - by you. Clearly, you have put the fun back in fungus.

Like lots of North Americans I haven't known or heard much about Estonia, although I am 1/8 Estonian as I mentioned before. I do remember hearing about a bronze soldier statue earlier this year, was that Taalinn? I am thrilled to be seeing such a skilled report on a place that's near the top of my "visit before I die" list. And I am compelled to do some more learning about the "old country" for myself and my kids. If they were to ask me about Estonia (2 yr old twins therefore hypothetically) I'd probably say "Baltic State, small Northern European country across from Finland, bullied by Germany and Russia last century".

Since I am also 5/8 Scottish I cannot wait to see your dinner!

Well, I've posted my Scottish dinner photos now. And yes, the riots triggered by the relocation of a Bronze Soldier monument from the town centre to a military cemetery in the city did take place in Tallinn (however, Snowangel has warned me strictly not to discuss politics, so I won't :cool: ) Hope you, Peter - and your twins! - will have a chance to visit Tallinn & the rest of Estonia before, well, too long :wink:

Ah! I love those!  We get a similar thing from the russian stores in Philly - interestingly enough they were never available when I actually lived in Ukraine, but that was the USSR era, so there ya go!  I am assuming farmer's cheese is the same as the russian tvorog?

Have you checked where these are from, Gruzia? Might be from Estonia or Latvia - it'd be fun to know :rolleyes:

This is another wonderful and informative blog! I am enjoying the read on different kinds of foods, scenery, everything! Thank you. :biggrin:

I will look forward to your dessert with the sea buckthorn berries. These are just starting to be commercially grown on the prairies, I think. I've only heard about their use in "health food" extracts, etc, but never used as dessert.

Hi Dejah! I made a sea buckthorn cheesecake last Christmas (thrice, actually, as it was so nice), so I might be making that - or something totally different. We'll see..

Edited by Pille (log)
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Good morning! It's wet and windy outside, so I opted for a heavy and filling breakfast that would keep me warm :biggrin: Having open sandwiches for breakfast is typical in Estonia, too, and that's exactly what I had today:

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A cup of black coffee, a large bowl of baked apple yogurt with some home-grown Alpine strawberries, a small bowl of home-grown tiny sweet cherry tomatoes (we've got a cherry tomato and alpine strawberry containers on the windowsill, and they're growing well. Until a fortnight ago they were outside, but as there's danger of night frost already, we moved them inside), and three sandwiches. The large oval one on the left is a shop-bought rye bread slice with Eesti juust or 'Estonian cheese', the other two slices are 100% rye bread I baked last night :rolleyes: - one topped with beef, the other with Vene juust alias 'Russian cheese'.

Here are few pictures of the cheese I used:

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Top row is 'Estonian cheese' which has been made locally since 1959. The recipe and technology were developed in a small town called Vändra, and it's a young cheese- ripened only for a month. A 1978 book on cheese (called 'Juust') claims that the cheese can be ripened so quickly because they use a special activated cheese starter culture that is unique to Estonian cheese making tradition. I don't know if that's true or still holds :biggrin: The cheese comes in cylinder shape and weighs 2-3 kg. Fat content is 45% in dry matter and 25.2% in the ready-made cheese.

The bottom row is 'Russian cheese' that was first made in a Russian town Uglich, and has been made locally since the Soviet time. It has a mildly sour taste, and a 'lacy' texture, which you can see on the cut slice. It feels quite fragile, if you can say that about cheese :unsure: The cheese's fat content is 50% and 28.5% respectively.

Edited by Pille (log)
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Haggis towers! Now that has to be a first for an eG blog. Haggis towers.

I've never heard of sea buckthorn berries and can't imagine whether we have anything like that in the US. Do they grow by the sea?

I'm really struck by the home-prepared mushrooms available for sale in the market. That's something you'd never see in the US, as home-prepared foods are considered to be potentially hazardous, and home-foraged mushrooms are too, and the combination offered for sale would have the Food Police all over that vendor in a nanosecond!

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Wednesdays are my longest days, at least this autumn. I've got a cookery class from 4-7pm, and a photography class from 7-10pm. A substantial lunch was therefore needed, to last me until the late evening (though I'm bound to grab a chocolate between classes :rolleyes: ) I won't be cooking any dinner tonight, as I get home way too late. Kristjan will be having the leftover haggis from yesterday, so he's fine, too :laugh:

There's a very nice and light cafeteria just down the road from the university, called Cafe Peterson. They do both breakfasts and lunches, offering a hot cereal porridge for the former, a daily soup and short daily menu for the latter, in addition to cakes, salads, quiches and a la carte menu. You can also order various cakes and pastries and kringles from the cafe - quite popular among people who don't bake themselves. Many people have their favourite cafe/bakery they turn to when they need a 2-kilogram kringle or a fancy cake for their own or their child's birthday. I've never ordered a full quiche or cake from them, although I've tried many of them when I've eaten at cafe. And they inspired one of my great recent baking successes, a pear and blue cheese quiche that I can see myself making again and again during the Christmas season (you can see a picture here).

Today's soup was chicken and knedle soup, and you can see the soup container on the far right:

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It's popular with people from nearby offices - university, few banks, the National Audit Office. It's connected to a small art gallery in the back, and has a slightly bohemian feel to it. It tended to attract heavy-smoking intellectuals as well, but luckily smoking is forbidden in all cafes, bars and restaurants in Estonia now, so I don't have to worry about sensitive eyes and stinking clothes after lunch anymore :wink:

I meet my university friend Rutt for lunch once every week, and Cafe Peterson is the chosen venue, as it's conveniently located exactly in the middle of our respective work places (Tallinn University for me, National Audit Office for her), and it's a great opportunity to catch up. We both chose the same dish from today's special menu - Mozzarella and Eggplant/Aubergine casserole (50 EEK). The dish was served with a lightly dressed white cabbage and radish salad:

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Nothing spectacular, but still a very satisfying homey meal (the food is prepared in a tiny kitchen in the back). Other today's special dishes included the above-mentioned soup, mushroom risotto, honey-glazed chicken, and some fish dishes.

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Now something for all those of you who celebrated Rosh Hashanah recently :smile: . While Cafe Peterson will continue to be one of my regular lunch places, I'm also very excited about this new 'venue' just across the road from there:

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Tallinn got a new Jewish Synagogue (Juudi Sünagoog) recently - it was officially opened on May 16, 2007 by Shimon Peres, and the President and the Prime Minister of Estonia. I'm not a Jew (like majority of Estonians, and our Finnish and other Nordic neighbours, I'm a Lutheran), but ever since reading Claudia Roden's wonderful and informative book on Jewish food, I've been fascinated about the cuisine. I spoke to an old guy in front of the synagogue last Friday, and he proudly informed me that a Kosher restaurant will be opened to the general public in October, and that it'll be the best restaurant in town :biggrin: I'll be there checking it out as soon as it opens.

Here are two more photos of the new synagogue - quite a fancy building, don't you think? The architects were Tõnis Kimmel & Kaur Stöör from KOKO Arhitektid.

a beautiful front door:

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a view from the side:

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Edited by Pille (log)
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Extremely interesting lighting in this photograph. Beautiful.

Thank you, Michelle! The small coffee table we had was cluttered, so I placed my plate on one of the small wall lights :cool:

Pille

I am anxious to learn more about your country, because unlike Sandy, I didn't pay attention too much in school. :raz:  Your pictures are absolutely lovely!  Thanks for sharing your week.

LucyLou - thank you for your kind words about the pictures, and I hope I'll be able to introduce my little country over the week.

Thanks for the great blog and photos, Pille; I especially love the market photos (and the ones of your bookshelves and study!). :smile:

I like my bookshelves and study, too, Rehovot!

Haggis towers!  Now that has to be a first for an eG blog.  Haggis towers.

I've never heard of sea buckthorn berries and can't imagine whether we have anything like that in the US.  Do they grow by the sea?

I'm really struck by the home-prepared mushrooms available for sale in the market.  That's something you'd never see in the US, as home-prepared foods are considered to be potentially hazardous, and home-foraged mushrooms are too, and the combination offered for sale would have the Food Police all over that vendor in a nanosecond!

Re:haggis towers - I have only seen them twice before, in two various branches of Peckhams restaurants in Edinburgh. Hope they're not too tacky, Abra? :unsure:

Re: sea buckthorns - they grow in many gardens, and have been hugely popular in Estonia over the last decade or so. My granny has one in her garden, too!

And finally, mushrooms. It's ok to sell wild mushrooms at the market, as long as they're fresh and whole. I'm actually not sure if it's legal to sell non-commercially salted/pickled/dried mushrooms at the market, but considering that this has been done throughout the summer, I think it could be. Lots of wild mushrooms prepared in various ways are sold at the regular supermarkets as well. One Finnish foodblogger friend of mine was in Tallinn last December, and bought 6 kilograms of salted and pickled wild mushrooms from one shop- that's a lot of mushrooms!!! Apparently the cashier had looked rather amused :laugh:

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I was in Tallinn several years ago, wow what a beautiful place, my brother in law is british and this is where we went for the stag party.  I know nothing of estonia, except that some of my family is from the area.  The most beautiful women I have ever seen were everywhere there.  It was a trip I would never forget.  I ate at a wonderful very upscale restaurant between old town and port I think.  Anyway it was basically a tasting menu that was several courses, very avant garde for estonia in 2003, in my opinion.  Everything was very local, mostly french technique, there was a nightclub upstairs, thats about what I remember.  Quite trendy though, curious if its still there.

Ok, I spoke to Kristjan, and he knew straight away the place you were talking about. He obviously knows Tallinn's night club scene much better than I do, actually much better than I thought he would know :raz:

If he's right, then the place you had a tasting menu is called Ö (yep, just one funny letter), where the Chef de Cuisine is a young Estonian Russian guy Roman Zastserinski. He was actually named the Chef of the Year by the Estonian Gastronomy Society in 2005. I've never eaten in Ö myself (yet), but as I attended the Estonian Gastronomy Society's 2006 Gala Dinner in early January, I've eaten his food - the previous year's winner designs and prepares the menu for next year's gala dinner (you can read about the gala menu here).

So yes, he's still there, and he's still going strong.

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How does one prepare salted mushrooms?

Fresh clean mushrooms and salt and time?

How salty are they? That salad sounds tasty.

Just what I was going to ask - I love pickles and I love mushrooms, and I'm anxious to try these :smile:

Also, I love the Moomin kitchen-ware. That alone is enough to tempt me to make a trip to Estonia (also, some friends went last Christmas and loved it)

Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

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Pille: This is really an interesting tour of Estonia. Thank you! Your wild mushrooms are exquisite and I am looking forward to learning how to use up the rest of a bag of rye flour I purchased fairly recently. The loaf photographed at the beginning of this food blog is lovely--as is your own blog.

I have only one question. Where might you find a better pizza: Edinburgh or Tallinn?

Okay, maybe two. How open is Estonia to the foods and dishes of other countries whose traditions are quite unlike its own?

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Pille, what are knedle? noodles? dumplings? something else?

Jensen - they're small plain dumplings, about 2 cm in diameter. No filling, just a mixture of eggs, flour and some milk usually.

Pille, you are continuting to inspire me! I made Polish mushroom soup last night (post here), and now I have to make something with pears and blue cheese :wub: .

So you liked the picture of that pear & blue cheese tart, Monavano? :rolleyes:

Also, I love the Moomin kitchen-ware. That alone is enough to tempt me to make a trip to Estonia (also, some friends went last Christmas and loved it)

Moomin books & cartoons are very popular here, and there's even a Moomin magazine for children these days! Moomin tableware is newish for Estonians, I think, and not everything is available here. For example, the dark blue mug is Christmas 2006 special edition, and I had to get that from Finland, as they weren't selling them in Estonia at all :shock:

Pille:  This is really an interesting tour of Estonia.  Thank you!  Your wild mushrooms are exquisite and I am looking forward to learning how to use up the rest of a bag of rye flour I purchased fairly recently.  The loaf photographed at the beginning of this food blog is lovely--as is your own blog.

I have only one question.  Where might you find a better pizza: Edinburgh or Tallinn?

Okay, maybe two.  How open is Estonia to the foods and dishes of other countries whose traditions are quite unlike its own?

I hope to blog about my rye bread tomorrow, Pontormo! Now, your pizza question. I don't eat pizza often, and I've only got very vague memories of eating it in Edinburgh (I'd usually go for gnocchi in Italian restaurants). However, I do remember eating very good thin crust pizza in Controvento, one of the older Italian places here in Tallinn. They've got this very lovely and cosy restaurant in Katariina Käik, a small street alley full of handicraft workshops in Old Tallinn. Highly recommended!

Michelle & Lexy - I'll get back to you about salting mushrooms soon, but first I need a good night's sleep - it's been a long, long day. :blink:

Head ööd!

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I spoke to an old guy in front of the synagogue last Friday, and he proudly informed me that a Kosher restaurant will be opened to the general public in October, and that it'll be the best restaurant in town  :biggrin: I'll be there checking it out as soon as it opens.

I'm enjoying your blog tremendously. I always love to see soups in blogs, and of course, this line about a kosher restaurant caught my attention. Is there a demand for one?

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Pille, what are knedle? noodles? dumplings? something else?

Jensen - they're small plain dumplings, about 2 cm in diameter. No filling, just a mixture of eggs, flour and some milk usually.

I'm intrigued that the word "knedle" is so similar to the Yiddish word for a matzoh ball, "kneidl," plural "kneidlach" (seeing as how matzoh balls are basically a variety of dumpling). Makes me suspect that both words have a common root--possibly/probably German?

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      About me:
      I dream about food, I wake thinking what's for dinner and I'm so excited to share it with you. I'm part of the food world in New York. By that, I just mean that I'm so fortunate enough to be invited to great events where I get to eat great food. I'm also a nerd and a part of the technology world. I produce, edit and sometimes host food related web videos and I'm also a part of the tech world.
      I'm launching a website called Please, Pass the Gravy. www.pleasepassthegravy.com We let you create a menu, invite friends and then collaborate on that menu. Never host another potluck with 8 pasta salads. You could use it now, but we're alpha launch, it works but it's ugly. It's my ugly baby. So, if you use it be kind and message me if you have improvement ideas. I thought it would be ok to write about it here because it is food related.
      I live in Brooklyn with a lovely guy who likes to eat and a small corgi mix dog. I cook pretty much every night and do a nice brunch on the weekend. I am not a crazy dog lady, but I do admit to cooking food for the dog. I have an excuse, beyond doting, he had seizures that have stopped since not feeding him dog food.
      Foods I cook:
      Spicy foods! If you look at my blog I have a simple papaya ketchup with habanero that is pretty darn good.
      I love great cheese. This may be the week for Beer Cheese Soup.
      I try to limit carbs, though I do cheat.
      In any given week C. and I probably eat cauliflower, broccoli and green beans as a side.
      Tonight's dinner will be Vietnamese inspired. We'll see how it goes. I'll post about it as soon as I can.
      Any requests? Questions? I'd love to hear from you.
      -Grace
    • By Duvel
      In these challenging times, a full summer vacation is not an easy task. For the last 1.5 years we have been mostly at home with the clear plan to visit Catalonia (or more precise my wife’s family) latest this summer. And it looked good for a while. Unfortunately, the recent rise in case numbers in Spain have resulted in …
       
      OK, let’s skip this part. Long story short - my wife and me are fully vaccinated, as are >90% of the people we care about in Catalonia. After some discussion (after all, Germans tend to prefer to be on the safe side of things) we simply fueled up the car, got each a test (for the transit through France) and started to drive …
       
      After a leisurely 11h drive we arrived at a small fishing town somewhat north of Barcelona around 3.00am. We unloaded the car and my wife an the little one went straight to bed. 
       

       


      I found an expired beer in the elsewise pretty empty fridge and enjoyed the cool breeze on the terrace. Holidays, here we come …
       

    • By liuzhou
      Last week, Liuzhou government invited a number of diplomats from Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar/Burma, Poland, and Germany to visit the city and prefecture. They also invited me along. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday introducing the diplomats to the culture of the local ethnic groups and especially to their food culture.
       
      First off, we headed two hours north into the mountains of Rongshui Miao Autonomous County. The Miao people (苗族 miáo zú), who include the the Hmong, live in the mid-levels of mountains and are predominantly subsistence farmers. Our first port of call was the county town, also Rongshui (融水 róng shuǐ, literal meaning: Melt Water) where we were to have lunch. But before lunch we had to go meet some people and see their local crafts. These are people I know well from my frequent work trips to the area, but for the diplomats, it was all new.
       
      So, I had to wait for lunch, and I see no reason why you shouldn't either. Here are some of the people I live and work with.


       
      This lovely young woman is wearing the traditional costume of an unmarried girl. Many young women, including her, wear this every day, but most only on festive occasions.
       
      Her hat is made from silver (and is very heavy). Here is a closer look.
       

       
      Married women dispense with those gladrags and go for this look:
       

       
      As you can see she is weaving bamboo into a lantern cover.
       
      The men tend to go for this look, although I'm not sure that the Bluetooth earpiece for his cellphone is strictly traditional.
       

       
      The children don't get spared either
       

       
      This little girl is posing with the Malaysian Consul-General.
       
      After meeting these people we went on to visit a 芦笙 (lú shēng) workshop. The lusheng is a reed wind instrument and an important element in the Miao, Dong and Yao peoples' cultures.
       

       

       
      Then at last we headed to the restaurant, but as is their custom, in homes and restaurants, guests are barred from entering until they go through the ritual of the welcoming cup of home-brewed rice wine.
       


      The consular staff from Myanmar/Burma and Malaysia "unlock" the door.
       
      Then you have the ritual hand washing part.
       

       
      Having attended to your personal hygiene, but before  entering the dining room, there is one more ritual to go through. You arrive here and sit around this fire and wok full of some mysterious liquid on the boil.
       

       
      On a nearby table is this
       

       
      Puffed rice, soy beans, peanuts and scallion. These are ladled into bowls.
       

       
      with a little salt, and then drowned in the "tea" brewing in the wok.
       
      This is  油茶 (yóu chá) or Oil Tea. The tea is made from Tea Seed Oil which is made from the seeds of the camellia bush. This dish is used as a welcoming offering to guests in homes and restaurants. Proper etiquette suggests that three cups is a minimum, but they will keep refilling your cup until you stop drinking. First time I had it I really didn't like it, but I persevered and now look forward to it.
       

      L-R: Director of the Foreign Affairs Dept of Liuzhou government, consuls-general of Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos.
       
      Having partaken of the oil tea, finally we are allowed to enter the dining room, where two tables have been laid out for our use.
       

       
      Let the eating, finally, begin.
       
      In no particular order:
       

      Steamed corn, taro and sweet potato
       

      Bamboo Shoots
       

      Duck
       

      Banana leaf stuffed with sticky rice and mixed vegetables and steamed.
       

      Egg pancake with unidentified greenery
       

      Stir fried pork and beans
       

      Stir fried Chinese banana (Ensete lasiocarpum)
       

      Pig Ears
       

       
      This may not look like much, but was the star of the trip. Rice paddy fish, deep fried in camellia tree seed oil with wild mountain herbs. We ate this at every meal, cooked with slight variations, but never tired of it.
       

      Stir fried Greens
       
      Our meal was accompanied by the wait staff singing to us and serving home-made rice wine (sweetish and made from the local sticky rice).
       
       
       
       
      Everything we ate was grown or reared within half a kilometre of the restaurant and was all free-range, organic. And utterly delicious.
       
      Roll on dinner time.
       
      On the trip I was designated the unofficial official photographer and ended up taking 1227 photographs. I just got back last night and was busy today, so I will try to post the rest of the first day (and dinner) as soon as I can.
    • By shain
      It's been more than a year in which international travel was challenging to impossible, but gladly this is changing, as more countries are able to vaccinate their population.
      Greece had managed to return to a state of near normality, and opted to allow vaccinated individuals to enter. And so I decided to go on a slightly spontaneous vacation (only slightly, we still had almost a month for planning). To the trip I was joined by my father, to whom I owed some good one-on-one time and was able to travel on a short-ish notice.
       
       
      Many people are yet unable to travel, and many countries are suffering quite badly from the virus, and therefore I considered if I should wait some time with this post. However, I hope that it will instead be seen with an optimistic view, showing that back-to-normal is growing ever closer.
       
       
      We returned just a few days ago, and it will take me some time to organize my photos, so this is a teaser until then.
       
       
       
       
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