The Recipe: Deviled Eggs Estonian-style with a secret ingredient that might surprise you: butter!
The Conversation: Why 2014 is an especially fascinating time to visit Estonia, which shares a border with Russia and whose independence was restored only twenty-three years ago. Skip straight to the photos, if you like.
Twas a fascinating time, 2014, to visit cities along the Baltic Sea, especially Finland and Estonia which each share a border with Russia – and a history of Russian occupation. Their capital cities of Helsinki and Tallinn are only 50 miles apart, separated by the cold waters of the Gulf of Finland. (It's not unlike the separation and affinity between Miami and Havana, say.)
In the times following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland became independent in 1918 and Estonia in 1918 - 1920. But Estonia's independence was short-lived. During World War Two, Estonia lost a quarter of its people: the country was invaded by the Russians, the Germans and then the Russians again. This time the Russians stayed: Estonia, along with its neighbors to the west, Latvia and Lithuania, became the "Baltic States" of the Soviet Union.
Slow-forward fifty years. As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 – only twenty-three years ago, just a single generation ago – Estonia's independence was restored. The country's determined return to independence is movingly recounted in the documentary "The Singing Revolution": yes, music was central to Estonia's remarkable fight, in fact, some will say that Estonians sang themselves free from the Soviet occupation.
This next week, about the time when Canadians celebrate Canada Day on July 1 and Americans mark our own Independence Day on July 4, Estonians will gather to sing together in an open-air song festival. Imagine multiple choirs singing at once, up to 18,000 voices!
For many of us, World War II was a long time ago, an almost ancient history. But in Finland and Estonia, the effects of World War II remain writ large on the psyche of the people and every-day life and commerce.
Today Finland and Estonia are both thoroughly modern and thriving countries with diverse economies; both are members of the European Union, Estonia is also protected by NATO. But during our trip earlier this month, we had many conversations with friends and family about the worrisome implications of a contemporary expansionist, empire-building Russia.
Yes, twas a fascinating time, 2014, to spend time in these fiercely independent countries. Freedom, it's more than a word, more than a moment and I find myself wondering, What would I do to be free?
Watch the The Singing Revolution. Right now, the documentary is available on DVD through Netflix and streaming through Amazon. I much recommend its moving, inspiring story. I was especially fascinated by the commitment and determination of the Forest Brothers.
Watch for news about Estonia's 2014 Song Festival, July 4 - 6, 2014.
Make the chance to visit Estonia! And while the cruise ships stop for a few hours to allow a quick tour of the Old Town, that's hardly time to explore a place with a fascinating history and contemporary culture. Stay awhile, it's a place of many rewards.
Or you know, make Estonian Deviled Eggs!
ESTONIAN DEVILED EGGS
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Time to table: 15 minutes
Makes 12 halves
- 6 hard-cooked eggs, Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs
- 6 cooked yolks
- 1 or 2 extra cooked whites, optional
- 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature but not soft
- 4 tablespoons (about) mayonnaise, either Homemade Mayonnaise store-bought
- 2 tablespoons (about) non-fat Greek yogurt
- Lemon juice & cayenne pepper, if needed
- 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish, drained well
- Salt to taste
- Fresh dill, to garnish (or better yet, be flamboyant with Tomato-Herb Relish!)
EGGS Peel the eggs, rinse under water, let dry on paper towels. Halve the eggs, wiping the knife on a paper towel between cuts.
FILLING In a large bowl, with a large fork, mash the yolks, butter and (if using) 1 or 2 whites until well-combined and no yolk or white or butter is distinctly visible. Add the mayonnaise and yogurt.
Taste and adjust: if the filling needs more "creaminess", add a little more mayonnaise; if more "tang", add more yogurt; if more "sharp", then add a teaspoon or so lemon juice; if a little "kick", add a sprinkle of cayenne. Stir in the pickle relish, taste again, then salt to taste.
DEVILED EGGS Transfer the filling to a quart-size freezer bag, removing the air to seal. Clip one corner and squeeze filling into egg halves.
GARNISH Arrange egg halves on a plate and garnish.
ALANNA's TIPS To make Estonian Deviled Eggs ahead, cook the eggs two or three days ahead of time but leave in their shells and refrigerate. Make the filling on serving day, especially if using homemade mayonnaise. The filling may be refrigerated for a few hours before filling the egg halves but it will need to soften to room temperature to be squeezeable. When I need exactly six hard-cooked eggs for deviled eggs, it pays to cook a few extra since a couple always seem to fall apart. Besides, cooked eggs make a great healthy snack, just be sure to mark the cooked eggs somehow so not to confuse them with raw eggs! If one or two of the cooked whites aren't sturdy enough to fill for deviled eggs, feel free to throw them in with the yolks and butter. When the filling flavor is "just right", you won't taste the butter but the mouthfeel will be creamy-smooth.
The Old Town is Tallinn's first attraction, a beautifully preserved medieval town at the city center. It's easy to wander the cobblestone streets imagining yourself in another age, tucking in from one building to another. The buildings have distinctive red-tile roofs, their stucco sides are painted soft, saturated colors that reflect light in the North's long summer days and dark winter nights.
Upper left and lower right – the rooftops of Tallinn's Old Town.
Upper right – our gracious guide, my friend and fellow food blogger, Pille Petersoo of Nami-Nami (in English) and Nami-Nami (in Estonian). Tallinn is a small city, just 400,000 people and everywhere we went, people knew Pille!
Lower left – Pille and I overlooking the Old Town on a drizzly morning.
Lower center – Pille in Freedom Square in Tallinn's Old Town, behind her is the War of Independence Victory Column
As much as we loved seeing the tourist-y places, the real thrill of our visit to Estonia (and frankly of our entire five-country trip) was the time spent with Pille, her dear husband K and their three beautiful children in their home near Tallinn. Pille visited me in St. Louis in 2008 so it was especially remarkable to see her in her own space, her own kitchen, with her own raised vegetable beds, her own chickens. She's had three babies since that St. Louis visit!
Her children are just beautiful – inside and out!
Estonian Deviled Eggs have one secret ingredient: butter. After that, it's just typical deviled egg ingredients. You might even add butter to your own favorite recipe, taking an old favorite to a whole new level!
Start by mashing room temperature butter (it should be too soft) and the egg yolks (plus a white or two if you're using those) with a big fork until you can't distinguish the individual ingredients. At this point, it'll be a thick, almost-heavy eggy paste and taste way too buttery.
Then stir in the mayonnaise and Greek yogurt until a nice, smooth consistency is reached, adjusting these ingredients as needed for the right flavor and consistency. Obviously you want it to taste good – to you! But you don't want the filling to "taste" the butter, you just want it to all to "hold together" and be soft enough to squeeze, sloppy or syrupy. Ask yourself, will it "pipe" into the egg halves? That's the idea!
Now squeeze the filling into the egg halves. I use a freezer bag with a corner snipped but you could also use a pastry bag with a fancy tip.
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