Lately

Spending: a sunny morning at our first car boot sale of the year

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Hanging: out in the garden with our small, feathered friends

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Celebrating: May birthdays with treasure hunts, parties and of course, cake

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Delighting: in signs of Spring after a very long winter

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Whiling: away many an evening with the usual crafting and baking

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An Estonian love affair

Last month, we spent a week in Tallinn, Estonia. We like to visit unusual, off-the-beaten-track sort of places, and Tallinn certainly didn’t disappoint. When we arrived we had just missed the latest big snowfall, so it was very cold, with the ground white and icy, but the sky was blue and clear – perfect weather for exploring. Tallinn is a small but beautiful city, a true mix of ancient town walls and modern shops. We stayed just at the edge of the Old Town, the perfect spot for exploring local wool shops, vintage stores and cafés, and as well as good access to museums and flea markets further out of town.

Before holidays, we like to do plenty of research. This usually involves scouring the internet for local flea markets, festivals and recommendations of good places to eat/drink/party. While researching Tallinn, we stumbled across a wonderful resource called Like a Local. Currently covering almost thirty cities across Europe, the Like a Local guide includes only recommendations from locals. In the words of the guide’s creators, it is “about finding those cool and hidden spots that locals like to hang out and missing the tourist traps. All our content is created by selected locals who’ve lived in their city for years and really know what they’re talking about.”

Brilliant! We thought. And it really was – especially since the guide has a mobile app, which requires no internet connectivity when you’re out and about. This was especially helpful in Tallinn, where many restaurants and bars which were lovely inside didn’t look exactly, erm, welcoming from the outside. If you are holidaying in Europe anytime soon I would heartily recommend checking out the Like a Local website and app. This guide truly helped us out every day of our holiday, and thanks to it, we ate, drank and shopped in some great, and extremely varied, places.

Ok, I think I’ve gushed enough about the guide, haven’t I? (Seriously though, check it out. It’s great.) Our week away really was magical, with highlights including exploring the many woolly-goods shops in the Old Town; catching local buses and trams to trapped-in-time flea markets; the snowy wonderland of Kadriorg Palace; getting engaged; taking a day tour of the stunning Lahemaa National Park; visiting the brilliant Puppet and Seaplane Harbour Museums; and of course, eating some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted. Giant pancakes anyone? Oh, did I mention we got engaged!? More about that below…for now, though, here are some photos:

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doorway
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we did it
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So…the engagement! In the middle of our third day in Tallinn, in a tiny, cosy little café called Chocolaterie Pierre, Jim proposed. I was taken completely by surprise, especially as I had no idea when he would have been to get a ring. Turns out he had been fibbing about where he was going and sneaking off ring shopping with his friend Stan. Crafty! Of course I said yes, and for the rest of the holiday we were in a delirious happy bubble, so much so that I didn’t really fancy coming home…but I knew the reactions from our family and friends would be wonderful, and they were. We are getting married in May 2014 in the Welsh countryside, and I am so excited!

So Tallinn will always hold a special place for us, not just for obvious reasons, but because it is a beautiful place. A sparkly ring always helps to make a holiday, but when the city itself is a true gem, well, you can’t really go wrong.

You can see the rest of our holiday snaps over on flickr.

A chocolate fix

Wowee, I have been neglecting this space of late. Turns out it’s extremely easy to let new goals slip: namely, writing a blog post at least once a week. Well, everything goes out of the window when exciting things happen. Since my last post, we spent a wonderful week in Tallinn, Estonia, which I could go on and on about because it was just so lovely. But let’s leave that for my next post. Today, I would like to share a little chocolate fix with you in the form of one of the easiest and surprisingly simple recipes for a pudding I’ve ever come across.

So let’s turn to one of the most accomplished of our time: Nigel Slater (you may remember I raved about his warming ginger cake a while ago). This is a great recipe to make if you feel like spoiling a loved one, or indeed, yourself. It makes beautiful, rich chocolate puddings, which are just perfect eaten straight from the oven, with double cream. They are equally delicious the next day, when they have solidified a bit, and become more cakey. Nigel’s recipe uses chocolate hazelnut spread to add a nutty depth, but I’m not a huge fan so instead replaced the spread with a shot of Irish cream liquer. Oh my, it was heavenly. Whichever way you lean, treat someone special to this recipe. Pretty much guaranteed brownie points.

The recipe suggests using four ramekin dishes, but I baked my puddings in very well buttered muffin moulds, and they came out fine. The trick is to gently prise them out while the puddings are still slightly warm, or they will stick. Also: this quantity made ten muffin-sized puddings! So prepare to share (or be extremely greedy).

Hot chocolate puddings
from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries

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200g (7oz) dark, fine quality chocolate
100g (3½oz) caster sugar
3 eggs
60g (2oz) butter
2 lightly heaped tablespoons chocolate hazelnut spread or
one shot of Irish cream liquer

– Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/Gas mark 6. Lightly butter four small ramekins, oven-proof cups, or a muffin tray.

– Break the chocolate into rough pieces and put it in a bowl suspended over a pan of gently simmering water. Let it melt without stirring, occasionally poking any unmelted chocolate down into the liquid chocolate.

– Put the sugar into a food mixer, separate the eggs and add the yolks to the sugar. Beat until thick and creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until airy and almost stiff.

– Stir the butter into the chocolate and leave to melt, then gently stir in the chocolate spread/liquer. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg and sugar, then carefully fold in the beaten egg whites with a metal spoon. Take care not to overmix. Just firmly, calmly mix the egg white into the chocolate, making certain there are no floating drifts of egg white.

– Scoop into the buttered dishes/muffin tray and bake for twelve to fifteen minutes, until risen. The tops should be cracked and the centres still slightly wobbly. Should you open one too early, it can go back in the oven without coming to as much harm as you might think.

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