Last summer, we were supposed to have our quadrennial summer school focusing on the Olympics. Of course, thanks to COVID-19, the Olympics were postponed, and despite my good intentions of having a cooking-themed summer school instead, we really didn’t do a whole lot of anything, which fit in nicely with the year in general. That brings us to the summer of 2021, and the rescheduled Olympics (about which I still have doubts in every way), and come heck or high water, we’re going to learn about Japan, Tokyo, and the Summer Games!
Here’s a look at our reading list. There are old Olympic favorites and a new addition or two:
Like pretty much everything else this year, Summer School 2020 isn’t what it was supposed to be. This was supposed to be an Olympic year, and we were really excited about Tokyo 2020, and all of the fun things we were going to do that involved learning about Japan and Japanese culture. But you have to roll with the punches, so I came up with a new theme to tide us over until next summer, when we’ll hopefully have our Olympics-themed unit. Instead, this year, we’re going to do something very hands-on and practical, and learn how to cook!
Instead of our usual reading selections, I’ve come up with a list of cookbooks that we’ll be using this summer. Most are old favorites of mine (and not listed is the giant binder of family recipes I put together myself), but the first one is a recently-published book that I bought for this summer. I thought that having a kids’ cookbook would be a helpful jumping-off point for me, as far as figuring out where we should start, and what cooking basics I should cover first.
After a fun European-themed summer school, I was really excited to take the children to the St. Louis Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in the city today, especially since it’s been eight years since last we attended!
According to Turkey, the Japanese Festival that we went to yesterday (details to come!) was Japanese culture with a little bit of food, while today’s event was Greek food with a little bit of culture, and honestly, he wasn’t wrong. There was food everywhere, plus Greek music and dancing:
When you think Greek food, there are certain things that come to mind…gyros, shish-kebob, spanakopita, and baklava, for example. But they take it to the next level at the Greek Festival, with the standard Greek fare, plus specialty items such as saganaki topped with gyros (so unbelievably delicious!) and baklava sundaes!
Other than the food, the highlight of the day was the church tour. St. Nicholas is a beautiful church, and different from what we’re used to seeing on a daily basis. We also learned a bit about Orthodox history and theology, which was very interesting!
I really don’t know why it’s been so long since we went to the St. Louis Greek Festival, but I’m pretty sure we should make this an annual event, because it was a lot of fun!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
I’ve mentioned that our summer school theme this year is built around Rick Steves’ Europe, and focuses on learning about the cultures of various European countries. It’s a great topic, but as you might imagine, it is a little difficult to plan field trips in the midwest that relate to the topic (although we did pretty well with exploring German culture in Frankenmuth, MI, earlier this month!).
There was one thing I knew I wanted to do for sure, that would give us as close to an immersive experience as we could get here in St. Louis. Actually, St. Louis is the best place outside of Europe for this experience, as St. Louis has the largest Bosnian population outside of The Continent. So after looking at many restaurant options in St. Louis, we went out for dinner at Berix, a Bosnian restaurant in South County.
The inside of the restaurant was just what I expected, and completely charming:
We tried a variety of Bosnian dishes, including Cevapi (small beef sausages), Doner Kebab (with the most amazing flatbread I’ve ever had!), Sarma (cabbage rolls), and a banana dessert that was delicious.
I also had Turkish coffee for the first time. I was a little shocked at the sludge of grounds in it (and thankful that the waiter explained how to prepare it!), but it was the most delicious coffee I’ve ever had!
We all really enjoyed our experience at Berix. Our waiter was amazing, and explained the food (and the slow-paced meal culture of Bosnia). The food was excellent (and the portions were quite large, which means leftovers, which I’m a huge fan of!). I’m sure we’ll go back, because there were many other delicious menu items that we’d like to try someday!