Saturday, July 30, 2011

Twenty-Second Word: Excursion

excursion- from Latin, noun of action from pp. stem of excurrere "run out, run forth, hasten," from ex- "out" (see ex-) + currere "to run". Sense of "journey" recorded in English by 1660s.

This week Jordan, Alex and I took a "last hurrah" trip to Estonia's capital, Tallinn. After working long and hard to get 13,000 words on my dissertation before our travels, I almost felt as if this excursion was my act of "running out" of Edinburgh to get as far away from my laptop as possible. While we were planning this trip, friends and family kept asking, "Why Tallinn?". Here's why:

I forgot what it was like to be hot. 

When you are used to 50-60F weather ALL. YEAR. ROUND. in Edinburgh, 80F and humid is pretty shocking. In Michigan, you build up a desire for heat and humidity during the long, cold winter months. I secretly enjoyed sweating for once and I already miss my shorts and flip-flops now that we're home.

Anyway, here's a brief synopsis of our three days in Estonia:

The night we arrived:
-we ate dinner at an underground German pub/restaurant, more of an experience than we thought. It was completely empty except for us. We had great and inexpensive food. The appetizer we ordered was brought to us without the accompanying small plates so we opened our napkins and ate off of those. Some translator for the menu decided that "Additives" would be the heading for the list of side dishes. And instead of playing typical pub music what was playing? yes, it was polka. oddly, this was not our only encounter with polka on this trip...
-we meandered through Old Town after dinner and found a pub called Hell Hunt ("affectionate wolf" or basically "good doggie"). This became our staple pub while we were in Tallinn.

Day 1
-Food is always a cultural experience wherever you go. The night before we bought decent looking cereal and some milk for the next morning. Well, we bought tasteless Cardboard Crunchies or something because it was terrible. And the milk actually had yogurt cultures in it so it was soured and thick. eeewww
-We headed up Toompea Hill where the Russian orthodox cathedral and the parliament buildings are located. It was full of tourists but sickeningly cute. Great views out over the city.
-On our way to lunch in a neighborhood of Tallinn we walked through Balti Jaar market, which was a cultural experience to say the least. This open-air market was selling anything from bras to russian baked goods and rotting produce.
-The 3.50 Euro lunch we had was fabulous though. That translates to about $5 (drinks included) so we wound up paying about 12 euro for the three of us.
-We walked through a shady area (which means awesome pictures of rust and erosion) on our way to a former Soviet prison on the coast. We walked along the Baltic Sea a bit until we got to a behemoth concert hall/part-time Soviet fortress that we wandered around.
-We had amazing crepes at Kompressor restaurant and then went to Krug Inn for beer. Krug Inn is a medieval pub selling "Worthy elk soup full of taste" and 6 kinds of pies, all for 1 euro each. "Every drink calls for 2 euro money" so it was really cheap! You could also "catch your own pickles" out of a barrel :) Awesome, we stopped by every day for a pie, they were so good!

Day 2
-Being so hot and so near water we had to head to the beach. We, of course, got off at the wrong bus stop but got to walk down a woodland trail to find our way back. The boys swam and I sun-bathed. The water was a bit too cold for my taste. There were jellyfish everywhere! I love the ocean :)
-After a hot afternoon we went back for showers and went to dinner at yet another underground pub and guess what they were playing? polka! Halfway through our meals, what should come on the radio but, oh my gosh, Old MacDonald Had a Farm. yes, in German. All I understood was the E-I-E-I-O. I don't know which was worse though, that that song was playing in a pub or that neither Jordan nor Alex could remember how the song goes in English!
-We walked around parts of Old Town we hadn't been to after dinner and got some drinks to bring up to the hill in Vabaduse (Freedom) Square where we wound up most evenings for sunset.

Day 3
-We took a tram to Kadriorg Gardens where the Kadriorg Palace and the President's Palace are. We saw both. At the President's Palace we got to see the changing of the guard. It's weird how we could just walk down the driveway and stand in front of the Palace (house) because you certainly can't in Washington, DC or even here in Edinburgh.
-We thrift-shopped our way back into Old Town and headed to a neighborhood south of where we were staying to get lunch at a cool cafe. The area of town we were in left something to be desired though so after about an hour of meandering we made it back to Hell Hunt for final beers. We went to a really fancy dinner of duck, rabbit, and mutton only to top it off with (of course) soup and pies from Krug Inn :)

Tallinn is a must for anyone travelling to eastern Europe. It was as charming, if not more so, than Bruges, and bigger. It was cleaner and more "western" than Budapest, but it was quite touristy in Old Town. Also, for being on the Euro it was really inexpensive!  I wouldn't recommend Estonia for their beer culture (or lack there of) though.There are quick hops to Helsinki and Stockholm by ferry. We had such a good time and it was great going with one of our best friends, Jordan. If this is the last excursion we take before we come home in less than a month then it was a really great one.

Say What?
As three linguists, we really enjoyed trying to figure out Estonian as best we could with what little we knew ahead of time. You can figure out a surprising amount if you try. Like laim is...lime. Easy, right? Ok, now you try:
yea, ok.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Twenty-First Word: Appetite

appetite: c.1300, "craving for food," from Anglo-Fr. appetit, O.Fr. apetit (13c.) "appetite, desire, eagerness," from L. appetitus "appetite," lit. "desire toward," from appetitus, pp. of appetere"to long for, desire; strive for, grasp at,"

This blog is dedicated to my culinary lifestyle guru Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, chef and host of the inspiring show River Cottage. Haha, this picture captures Hugh in more ways than you could know :)

Lunch today was a tribute to Hugh:

pan fried mackerel (a sustainable species) stuffed with bread crumbs, parmesan, and chopped wet garlic stalks (wet garlic is what it is when you pull it out of the ground before you dry it). We pan fried the left-over stuffing so it got crispy and sprinkled it on the fish.

pasta salad with rocket (arugula), crumbled feta, broad beans (same as fava, I think), and the chopped bulb of the wet garlic, drizzled with olive oil and a dash of cracked black pepper.

oh my goodness. Talk about summer in your mouth. And for dessert I made gooseberry cheesecake in a glass with strawberries and raspberries on top (here, lots of people make cheesecake that sets in the fridge which you don't have to bake because there are no eggs in it).

All of the produce and the fish were from our farmer's market. Everyone should try mackerel. It was amazing. I don't know if you can get it fresh in the US, though. It's one of the most sustainable fish you can eat. I wish I could make this meal for all my loved ones.

That was last Saturday's lunch. This Saturday (yesterday) was rosemary-stuffed mackerel with asparagus. It's not only local seafood we've been trying. We also really like mutton after having made delicious mutton kebabs for our cookout in the meadows a few weeks ago. I actually like it better than lamb!

As another tribute to Hugh, Alex and I have become urban foragers. Don't worry, there's no illegal trespassing involved. Greyfriar's Church near us has planted several community herb gardens and we visited today. They were madly overflowing with fresh herbs that begged to be picked. We nibbled on their delicious wild strawberries while we sniffed out the different herbs. Here is our yield from today's forage:

These pix are also on facebook but I'll label them again anyways. From top to bottom, left to right: chamomile, tri-colored sage, spearmint, lemon verbena, oregano, thyme, variegated thyme, peppermint, and ginger mint. I think I'm gonna make some great tea :)

I hope we can find delicious things like mackerel and mutton back home or some new interesting thing we haven't tried before. Honestly though, if you want to enhance your culinary repertoire, you must travel to another country. I didn't think any of my tastes would change or any culinary adventures would come my way (besides haggis) in Scotland, the land of meat and potatoes. I was so wrong. When you have an amazing farmer's market, half of which is devoted to consciously raised and caught meat it's easy. You just have to be daring enough to try!

Hugh has taught us that you don't have to be a vegetarian to be serious about animal welfare. His holistic approach to meat (breeding, raising, butchering, and using the whole animal: a process from start to finish) gives animals the respect they deserve for providing us with their meat. I haven't tried brains or headcheese, but haggis is made of some offal things (teehee) that don't actually taste too bad. I enjoy supporting the local farmers who come to Edinburgh every Saturday with their goods. The meat is so much better than the stuff in the grocery store and I know I am supporting their efforts to produce humanely-raised and eco-friendly food. I'm really going to miss all the meats and fish local to Scotland so with my four farmer's markets left until I leave, I'll be eating as much mackerel, mutton, turkey mince, and venison as I can!