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!

Chickadee Thursday

Last Thursday, I shared a picture of Chickadee with the poster she made for our European-themed summer school. Today, I’m taking a look at something else she did in summer school this year:

She’s played the US map of Ticket to Ride: My First Journey before, but this summer was her first chance to play the European map. She recognized many of the illustrations from watching Rick Steves’ Europe, and I didn’t even have to try to let her win…she’s a natural!

(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!

What We’re Watching (And Reading!)–Rick Steves’ Europe

This year’s summer school is going to be a little different, because instead of focusing on books, we’re going to be focusing on episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe. Here’s a look at all the shows we’ll be watching (you’ll have to wait and see all of the different European recipes we’ll be trying to go with our viewing!):

  • Rick Steves’ Europe: The Blu-Ray Collection (70 shows!!!)
  • Rick Steves’ Europe: The Complete Collection (Which I only got because it was super marked-down, and contained some episodes that neither the blu-ray collection nor our other discs had).
  • Rick Steves’ Travel Extras
  • Rick Steves’ European Easter
  • Rick Steves’ Europe: 12 New Shows 2015-1016
  • Rick Steves’ Europe: 10 New Shows 2017-2018
  • Rick Steves’ Europe: 12 New Shows 2019-2020

Of course, there will be some books, too:

  • Europe Through the Back Door
  • Travel as a Political Act
  • London
  • French, Italian & German Phrase Book
  • Rick Steves’ European Christmas
  • Rick Steves’ European Easter
  • Rick Steves’ European Festivals
  • Rick Steves’ Europe Planning Map (yes, not technically a book, but I didn’t know where else to put it!)

And even a CD (perfect for Christmas in July!):

  • Rick Steves’ European Christmas CD

For fun, because I always like to have something hands-on as part of summer school, I got the Lego Architecture Paris skyline set for us to build. We’ve collected quite a few of these skylines now, in addition to the Eiffel Tower model we have, and I think it will make a nice addition to our display!

I also got the children travel journals to go with our viewing. My plan is to have them keep one page for each episode, and list specific places they would like to visit in the future if they are able for each location Rick highlights. My hope is that they will keep these journals, and someday, when they hopefully travel to Europe, they will already know which are must-see locations for them.

I’m really excited about this year’s summer school, and quite honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to come up with the idea, because I’ve been a fan of Rick Steves for quite some time!

A Letter to Rick Steves

It is my sincere hope in writing this that through the wonders of the internet, Rick Steves himself will read this letter, and know what a profound impact he and his show have had on our family’s life. But I also hope other parents will read it and realize what a great resource “Rick Steves’ Europe” is, and share it with their children, too.

Dear Mr. Steves:

I have never been to Europe. Actually, I’ve never left the U.S., not even to visit one of our neighboring countries. But I dream of it constantly. Visiting London is at the top of my list. But in addition to traveling to that great city, there are other places I would also like to visit on that list. Germany…specifically at Christmastime. The charming little town of Switzerland. I’d love to tour Italy, one historical location and great restaurant at a time. Not to mention beautiful Sweden, the ancient ruins of Greece, and of course the Loire Valley in France. And that’s just the beginning! If I could, I would travel from North to South, from East to West, across that great continent, and see and taste as many things as possible.

If that sounds like a pipe dream, then the idea of my husband and I traveling with our five children, of showing them the great sights of Europe, is a dream beyond my wildest imagination. Taking that many children “across the pond,” staying for any length of time in Europe’s great cities, visiting the museums, historical locations, and restaurants is basically impossible. It is not something I think many families, certainly not families of our size, could ever afford to do.

But I want my children to know there’s more out there, even if we can’t travel together to see it all. I want them to be the kind of people who would never be mistaken for “Ugly Americans.” I want them to realize that the millions of people living across Europe are fantastic people, with unique cultures, great cuisine, and amazing histories of their own.

Your show has given me the perfect opportunity to “travel” with them. We have explored interesting and diverse cultures, and learned a bit of their histories. We have seen great architecture, landmarks, and works of art. We have heard music and the stories of fascinating people. We have felt that in some small way, we have stepped out of our own home and visited the world. We have watched our favorite episodes so many times that occasionally, we feel like we’ve actually been to some of those places!

I hope that someday, my children will have the chance to travel abroad, and see for themselves the places we’ve learned about on your show. I hope they will experience those cultures firsthand, try the cuisine, visit the museums, talk to the people. But even if they don’t, they have had a glimpse of the greater world, and they have an appreciation for it thanks to the journeys you have shared with us!

Keep on Travelin’! (We’re counting on it!!!)

Amanda Markel