A Markel Family Oktoberfest

Yesterday we celebrated Oktoberfest! This is something we do most years, but not always on the same date, and it definitely doesn’t always look the same (some years, we go pumpkin picking on the day of our Oktoberfest celebration, but it’s still a little too early in the fall for that). Here’s a look at this year’s festivities.

We started the day with a special (but not specifically German), fall-themed breakfast:

We made pretzels from scratch, which is always fun, and they went perfectly with the German fondue I prepared for lunch. We also had pickles and mini bratwurst for dipping (or just for eating, because the boys aren’t big fans of fondue), plus a delicious cheese and artichoke strudel I found at Aldi:

For dinner, I made schnitzel (also from Aldi…they’re the best frozen schnitzel I’ve ever had, probably because they have saltines in the breading), Jäger sauce, spaetzle, red cabbage, and sauerkraut:

And for dessert, our favorite German cake…Black Forest cherry torte:

We spent the day watching The Sound of Music (I know, it’s set in Austria, but Oktoberfest is a chance to celebrate part of our family’s heritage, and my grandfather was from Austria, so I think it works), and every episode of Rick Steves’ Europe set in Germany that we have. We also played Chrono-Trek, which really has nothing to do with Oktoberfest, but is our current favorite game, and so much fun to play. It was a great day!

Prost!

Tasty Tuesday–Cooking Our Way Through Europe

I promised a closer look at the foods we tried making at home for our Rick Steves’ Europe themed summer school. This was probably the most specialized cooking we’ve ever done for a school unit, and not only did we get to try a lot of new things (plus a few old favorites), we also learned some new cooking techniques and got to use some new kitchen tools!

Our first European meal featured French dishes. We started with a cheese course, the star of which was a famous French cheese, camembert:

We enjoyed boeuf bourguignon and French bread for dinner, and Crème Brûlée for dessert. The main course was delicious, but took a lot of time and effort to make. The dessert, which I assumed would be a challenge, was super easy, and possibly the most delicious thing I made this summer!

For our (European) Christmas in July, we tried two recipes from the Rick Steves’ European Christmas book: Gimmelwald fondue and Norwegian Julekake. Both were excellent, and not too much trouble to make.

I looked forward to making a Spanish dinner of paella all summer, and it was delicious, and quite spicy! The dessert of flan was good, but a total pain to make.

Ladybug begged me to make chicken paprikash for Hungarian night, and it was also delicious. I really liked that instead of using sour cream like I expected, the recipe called for heavy cream plus white wine vinegar. For a side dish, I made nokedli (pretty much just our standard spaetzle). For dessert, I made a chocolate cake called Rigó Jancsi, and it was amazing…the star of the recipe was the chocolate mousse filling.

Our British dinner was a simple (but tasty!) one of bangers and mash, plus a lemon-berry trifle for dessert.

For our “Taste of Italy” I made mushroom risotto for dinner, and Panna Cotta with fresh berries for dessert. The Panna Cotta was sweetened (and flavored) with honey, which was a pleasant surprise.

We almost didn’t have a German meal, but while watching our very last episode of Rick Steves’ Europe for the summer, we saw him eating Black Forest cherry torte, and the children reminded me how much they like it when I make that dessert, so I decided to go full German and make rouladen, spaetzle, and sauerkraut, too.

Our final meal took us away from Europe and into the Middle East, because there are a few episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe that also step into that region. We tried Shakshouka (made with a new-to-us ingredient, harissa paste), plus pita bread and pomegranate juice, and it was also delicious!

The vast majority of these recipes were new to us, and there was nothing that was a total flop (although the flan was temperamental, it came close!). Some things were more work than I would do on a regular basis (the boeuf bourguignon and the rouladen), but some were easier than I was expecting (the Crème Brûlée and Shakshouka). I know for sure that we’ll be making many of these recipes again in the future!

Summer School 2019

Just like that, another year’s summer school has come to an end. I think our Rick Steves’ Europe themed summer school might be my favorite that we’ve done so far, because even though I didn’t have to do as much work (until it was time to start cooking), and hands-on activities and field trips were a little elusive (although I did make a few things work!), we all learned so much, and had a lot of fun while doing it!

So what did a primarily video-based summer school look like? We watched (if I counted correctly) 72 episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe over the course of two months. While we couldn’t “visit” every place I would have liked, we did get a great overview of Europe with “trips” to Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Palestine, plus a few other places. We also watched all three regular travel skills specials and the cruising special. We even found time for all three other specials: Christmas, Easter, and Festivals! (We watched The Story of Fascism in Europe last spring, and since it was kind of intense, we didn’t watch it again this summer.) I bought my oldest students travel journals, and Chickadee a sketchbook, and they wrote and/or drew something for every episode we watched. Places they hope to visit someday, interesting facts, travel tips…anything that jumped out at them. I really hope they’ll keep these journals, so that if they ever do have the opportunity to go to Europe, they can look through them, and see what their younger selves thought would be cool to visit, and maybe add some locations to their itinerary.

I mentioned field trips and hands-on activities. Some of them were a bit of a stretch, but I did my best. For example, we visited Frankenmuth, MI, this summer, which is known as “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.” I figured this was as close we could get to visiting a European town, and it really did look like I imagine some German towns do. We also got to eat a lovely German meal while we were there:

Speaking of food, we also tried a new-to-us cuisine this summer when we went to a local Bosnian restaurant. We were all very impressed, both with the dishes and the “slow-food” way of eating there…I’m sure we’ll be going back!

And how could we make it through the day we learned about traveling in Greece without having gyros?

The St. Louis Art Museum is hosting a special exhibit of work by a European artist, Paul Gauguin, which was a nice way to experience a bit of European culture:

Now, on to “other activities.” We played a lot of games this summer: Ticket to Ride Europe, 10 Days in Europe, and Ticket to Ride: My First Journey (European Map). These all gave us a chance to talk about the various cities/countries on the maps, and recall things we had seen watching Rick Steves’ Europe, and talk about the places we’d like to visit. I also gave my students a few special assignments…Chickadee made a poster about her favorite European city, (Paris), Ladybug wrote a 1,500 word essay about hers, (Rome), and my oldest students read Travel as a Political Act, and I have to say, I think our discussions about that book might have been my favorite part of the whole summer. They certainly learned a lot about life in Europe and the importance of travel, and I think their worldview changed a bit because of it! For one hands-on activity everyone could enjoy, we built the only Lego Architecture European skyline set we didn’t already have: Paris. It was a fun little build, and a nice addition to our collection!

And finally…cooking at home! This is always one of my favorite parts of summer school, but I have to confess, I kind of put this off to the end of the summer, and was rushing to cook all the things I had planned. In the end, we tried French, Swiss, Norwegian, Spanish, Hungarian, British, Italian, German, and Middle Eastern cuisines at home (full details on what we tried next week). I think we all have some new favorites, and I definitely learned a few new cooking techniques along the way!

Obviously, traveling to Europe as a large family isn’t a realistic option, at least not for us. But I did my best to give my children a glimpse into European culture and history, and more than that, I really I hope I inspired in them a desire to travel when they’re older and have the opportunity. There are so many interesting places and great people throughout the world, and I am grateful for any chance to explore them, even if we had to do it vicariously for now!

A Story of Flan

Our summer school adventures usually involve cooking of some kind. Actually, that’s one of my favorite parts of summer school. Trying out ethnic recipes, or recipes from different periods of time, or that have to do with specific events…I love an excuse to try something new that we probably wouldn’t eat otherwise, learn some new cooking techniques, and make some family memories.

Since we’re learning about various European cultures this summer, we’ve been trying foods from various countries on The Continent. Tonight our focus was on Spain, with paella for dinner, and flan for dessert. I set out to make the flan yesterday, and while it boiled over in the oven, making the house smelled like burnt marshmallows, it looked just right in the pan. When I went to invert it onto a platter, however, only half of it came out. It didn’t look pretty at all, and you know how they say you eat with your eyes first…plus, I like these special meals to not only be delicious, but to look pretty, too!

So, the children ate messy flan scraps (it did taste good, at least), for dessert last night, and I made a second flan this morning. More burnt marshmallow scent, and this time, even after loosening it with a knife, jiggling it, and putting it in a warm water bath, the flan wouldn’t come out of the pan at all. Not even a tiny little bit.

So, I reached my frustration point. I wasn’t making a third flan, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to have something even remotely nice-looking to present to my family unless I started thinking outside of the box. And that’s when it hit me…I could try to use a biscuit cutter to free individual portions of the flan that might actually look not just presentable, but adorably delicious!

It worked. For reasons I don’t understand, the individual portions lifted out with no trouble…the caramel sauce even came out with them! Actually, they looked far nicer than if I had managed to get the whole flan on the platter in one piece.

So, we tried a new recipe from a country whose cuisine we don’t normally get to enjoy. But we also had a great life lesson about making lemons from lemonade (or mini flans from flan?) and thinking outside of the box when working in the kitchen! What a summer school win!

(European) Christmas in July

I know we put it off until the very last minute, but today we celebrated Christmas in July! And not just any Christmas in July, but (European) Christmas in July, inspired by our Rick Steves’ Europe summer school. Actually, most of my ideas for our celebration came from the Rick Steves’ European Christmas TV special and/or the accompanying book! We enjoyed Gimmelwald fondue (recipe found in the book) and Norwegian Julekake (also found in the book).

We also listened to the Rick Steves’ European Christmas CD, which always makes my spirit bubble up with joy…only 147 day until Christmas!

Tasty Tuesday–German Night

I don’t cook German food very often, certainly not as much as I should, but when I do, it’s always a popular meal! I fried some pork schnitzels I found at Aldi (my new favorite store!), and made a jaeger sauce to go with them. I also made homemade spaetzle and served it with sauerkraut, also purchased at Aldi.

I do have to admit, it’s not a very interesting plate to look at…Turkey commented on how everything is pretty much the same color…but it certainly was delicious!

A Markel Family Santa Lucia Day

Santa Lucia Day is one of my favorite holidays! I love planning and preparing, especially when it comes to making the Lussekattes and setting up the night before:

The girls all still love dressing up, and while it may not be traditional, they all dress as Santa Lucia. This was the fifth year using the crowns I made for them!

We even had a Swedish dinner! I’m so glad St. Louis has an IKEA now, because it made planning our meal so much easier. We had Swedish meatballs with gravy, egg noodles, lingonberry juice, and for dessert, Swedish sandwich cookies, plus Dala Horse and Sour Viking candies:

We also read our favorite Santa Lucia stories today. It’s such a lovely holiday in the lead-up to Christmas, and one I look forward to all year long!

Tasty Tuesday–Fajitas

Would you believe I’ve never tried to make fajitas before last weekend? I wanted to try something new, though, so I made chicken and steak varieties, and messed around with the recipe a bit until I got the spices right. Everyone loved them, so I think it was a success!

  • 6-8 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 4 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice
  • 3 tsp. kosher salt, plus additional to taste
  • 3 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or flank steak, cut into thin strips
  • 3 bell peppers, thinly sliced (I like to use a variety of colors)
  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced

Make marinade: In large bowl, combine 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil, lemon or lime juice, 3 tsp. kosher salt, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Toss with chicken or steak and refrigerate for 3-5 hours.

In large skillet, saute peppers and onions with remaining oil and salt to taste on medium heat until tender. Remove from skillet and keep warm.

In same skillet, saute chicken or steak for five to six minutes until cooked through (do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan). Discard remaining marinade. Add peppers and onions to pan with meat and heat through.

Serve on tortillas with favorite toppings such as rice, lettuce, shredded cheese, sour cream, and avocado.

Tasty Tuesday–Our Favorite Spaetzle

It’s that time of year again…Oktoberfest! I’m looking forward to cooking some of our favorite German foods in the coming weeks, but none is more appreciated than homemade spaetzle…well, other than Black Forest Cherry Torte! Here’s the recipe I use…it makes a lot, so you might want to halve it if you don’t like spaetzle as much as we do (or if you don’t have seven members in your family!). I use a little less nutmeg than many recipes call for, because I find it a bit overpowering, but feel free to adjust to your tastes.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 pinch fresh ground pepper (white is traditional, but I use black)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley,  chopped
  • Shredded Gruyère cheese (optional)
  • Sauerkraut (optional)

Mix together flour, salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Beat eggs well, and add alternately with the milk to the dry ingredients. Mix until smooth.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Working over pot of water, press dough through spaetzle maker or colander with large holes, dropping into water. Cook four to six minutes. Drain well.

Sauté cooked spaetzle in butter. Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley on top. For an extra-special treat, add some shredded Gruyère cheese and sauerkraut while sautéing the spaetzle.

One Last Korean Feast for the Closing Ceremonies

Just over two weeks ago, I shared the Korean dinner I made for the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics…tonight I made another special meal for the Closing Ceremonies. I used the same cookbook, and we tried two new foods…Sundubu-jjigae (spicy soft tofu stew) and Gaji-namul (steamed eggplant). Once again, I got to work with some new ingredients and cooking methods.

One of the ingredients in the stew was kimchi, so we had that as a side dish again, along with short-grain rice. I even found Jinro, a brand of soju (a distilled beverage), for the adults in the house! I strained my stew because I wanted to make sure I found one of the eggs, but everybody else enjoyed it as soup like you’re supposed to.

I left the gold and silver table linens we used at our tea party on the table, to complete our Olympic look:

When I was researching Korean food and culture, I discovered that we know as Moon Pies in America are quite popular in Korea. I managed to find Choco-Pies made by the Orion Confectionary Company, a South Korean confectioner!

This meal was even more foreign to us than the one I made for the Opening Ceremonies. It was also quite popular, but I will confess…I didn’t like the stew! I’m glad the children enjoyed it, though, and I really liked the experience of making something new and special as we say goodbye to the Olympics!