Sunday, October 25, 2020

El Salvador

Bouncing back from the other side of the world after our previous country Chad, we returned to the Western Hemisphere to learn about El Salvador!  El Salvador is the only Central American country without any coastline on the Atlantic side (Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean Sea).  Bordered by Guatemala and Honduras, El Salvador is known for its communities living right alongside its many active volcanoes.

El Salvador Links

We were lucky enough to discover that we had an authentic Salvadoran restaurant close by - Casa Amaya!  We decided to go all out and buy a bunch of different dishes so we could try lots of different things.

On the left, there is plato tipico, a typical breakfast dish with pan-fried plantains, beans, cream, scrambled eggs, and tortillas.  The soda is Kolashanpan flavored and from El Salvador (La Cascada brand).  From what we can tell, it means a champagne-flavored soda that comes across like a medicinal cream soda.  Bottom left are some pork (carnitas) street tacos, and top middle are beef (carne asada) street tacos.  The plate on the bottom right has pupusas: cheese & loroco (an edible Salvadoran flower that tastes like slightly stringy broccoli), cheese & jalapeño, beef revueltas (with beans and cheese), and pork revueltas.  The pupusas are meant to be topped with the curtido (the pickled cabbage, carrots, and jalapeños in the baggies on the right), and they are fantastic together.  I also couldn't resist the Zambos bag of fried plantain chips even though they were from Honduras.

All of the food was so fun and very tasty.  While I was waiting for my order to come out, I chatted with the owner of the restaurant and was surprised to find out that he had sold it and was planning to retire at the end of the month.  I was so bummed!  But he also mentioned that he was thinking he was going to miss it and was already looking around for a larger location so he could reopen and have a Latin market as well.  I will definitely be keeping an eye out for that! 

Sunday, October 4, 2020


Super excited to learn about Chad!  This north-central African country is one of the top 25 largest countries in the world, and fifth largest in Africa.  Named for Lake Chad on its western edge, Chad is also known as the 'Dead Heart of Africa' because a significant portion of the country covers some of the harshest areas of the Sahara Desert.  Fun facts: the word Chad means 'lake' in a local language, and the word Sahara is from the Arabic word for 'desert', so Lake Chad is 'Lake Lake' and the Sahara Desert is 'Desert Desert'.

Top Video Picks

Other Videos We Watched

Chadian Food

What with helping four kids with their e-learning, I wasn't quite up to the task of preparing a complete dinner of Chadian food, but I figured it wouldn't be too hard to try the Karkanji, which also looked really refreshing.  I ended up going with a recipe at with a few modifications.

I couldn't readily find hibiscus flowers, so I found hibiscus herbal tea bags at our local grocery store that used only the flowers.  I used 8 bags for the 2.5L of water the recipe called for, but I think I could easily get away with only 6.  I also used ground cinnamon (1 tsp substituted for the 1 cinnamon stick in the recipe) and ground cloves.  I used 3/4 tsp of ground cloves as a substitute for 10 whole cloves, but the flavor came through too strongly, so I would recommend at most 1/2 tsp of ground cloves, maybe less.  And I took the website advice and halved the sugar (using only 100g), and that seemed just right.

This was wonderfully tasty, so we will definitely be drinking this again!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Republic of Malta

Next up is the Republic of Malta.  This archipelago is situated in the Mediterranean Sea just south of Sicily (& therefore Italy).  As an island situated between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, the influences of many different cultures have left their mark on the area.  It has a fascinating history that goes back to ancient times.

Our Top Video Picks
Other Videos We Watched
Some Fun Fact Sites

19 Surprising Facts about Malta: - fun pics with interesting facts, although the Azure Window has since sadly collapsed.

18 Fun Facts about Malta: - cute little tidbits of info about the Maltese people and culture.

For our food adventures, we checked out a few options that were highlighted in that last video of foods to try.  The recipes we found for making cannoli (which is more Sicilian, anyway) and pastizzi seemed a little more involved than we felt up for at the moment.  So we gave these almond cookies a try. 

Our cookies spread out more than they were supposed to, but I think that was a combined factor of using home-blended raw almonds, granulated sugar, and just a touch too much lemon juice and vanilla.  But despite the different looks, these were super tasty cookies!  Chewy and not-to-sweet, the whole family loved them!

We also made some flatbread pizzas from scratch.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Costa Rica

We were so excited to study Costa Rica this month!  We have friends who have traveled there and absolutely loved it, so Costa Rica is definitely on our bucket list of places to travel.  We can't wait to experience la pura vida for ourselves!

Located between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America.  There are so many amazing things about this country.  For example, although it is small (129th in the world in size and about the size of West Virginia), it contains more than 5% of the world's biodiversity.  It doesn't hurt that more than 25% of the country's land is dedicated to national parks, nature reserves, and wildlife refuges.

As always, here is our video list:
Here is our round 2 of videos, covering local sites and food:
We were super excited to try some of the foods we saw in the videos.  There are no Costa Rican restaurants near us, but we found a fantastic website with lots of recipes - and they all look delicious!  Here are the dishes we made and tried:

Fruit Salad - this one was based simply on the fruits found in the "4 Dishes" video above.  My kids were pretty familiar with all of the fruits except for papaya and mango, and I had never tried fresh papaya before either (shown above).  I looked up how to cut a papaya on YouTube (there are lots of videos), but when I tried a piece, it was NOT my favorite flavor.  Only vaguely sweet with a bit of bile aftertaste.  I did NOT think my kids were going to eat it.  So I literally googled 'how to make papaya taste good' and found this great article that recommended just marinating it in lime juice.  Which explained why lots of recipes with fresh papaya have a lime juice dressing.  So I tried it out, and when combined with the other fruits (watermelon, mango, pineapple, banana), it did okay.  It was best eaten with a piece of pineapple.

This is a super simple but tasty recipe with a lot of familiar ingredients.  We served it with a couple of fried eggs on top.  The only new addition was Salsa Lizano, and I can only say DON'T SKIP IT!  It is delicious and our new family favorite.  Well worth the price and also made right in Costa Rica.
It may not look very pretty, but it was ridiculously yummy!

We were a little nervous about trying these because up until this point, we had never made a successful meringue.  Plus it takes about five hours for these babies to bake and dry out, so it requires some planning ahead.  But this time we got it to work!  What made the difference for us was using a metal bowl and the regular beater on a hand mixer instead of using the whisk attachment.  Success!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Our country for the month of April is Mongolia!  I was excited to learn more about this country, as I had friends at BYU and in Hyde Park that were either from Mongolia or lived there for a couple of years serving a mission.

Mongolia is just north of China, sandwiched between China and Russia.  On the west, it almost (but not quite) touches a corner of Kazakhstan.  It is the 19th largest country in the world by area, but 132nd in terms of population, which makes it the least densely populated country in the world (not quite two people per square km).  Approximately 45% of the country's population lives in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.  The Gobi Desert is found in the southern section of the country.

We always love the Geography Now videos, as they are both entertaining and informative.  Here is the one on Mongolia:

However, the video keeps talking about how everyone knows about Genghis Khan, but my kids didn't.  So we searched on YouTube to try and find a good kid-oriented video about Genghis Khan, and we found this excellent series by Extra Credits.  My kids were so captivated that when we found out there were more episodes to Genghis Khan's story, they begged to be able to keep watching.  Turns out there are 6 of them, and my kids were enthralled to the very end.


Later, we also watched the following videos for some additional fun:

As I mentioned, I have a friend who is from Mongolia, so I messaged her on Facebook and asked if she had any tips on Mongolian dishes we could try to make or any stories she could to share.  She gave me her family's recipe for гурилтай хоол (guriltai khool), a beef and homemade noodle soup literally translated as 'food with flour'.  She even recorded a series of videos to show me how to make it step-by-step!

I had never made homemade noodles before, so it was quite an adventure, but it turned out pretty great, and the whole family loved it!  Essentially, it is diced chuck roast cooked in water with spices like Vegata to make a nice broth, and then you add homemade noodles cut into 2 to 3 inch long strips, kind of like fettuccine.  So tasty!  The kids really enjoyed it and hoped that someday they would get to try the real thing in Mongolia!

Friday, January 31, 2020

United States

We found it super funny that after drawing such a novel place as North Macedonia, the next country we drew was ... the United States of America!  

Since we are from the United States, my kids have been learning about our culture, history, language, and foods since birth, so we tried to take a novel approach to our country.  We decided to focus more on our territories, although we did watch a few episodes of Liberty's Kids (see below).

Video List
I often list to Radiolab podcasts, and around this time they broadcast one called Americanish that talks about the interesting dilemmas posed by being an American territory, especially in American Samoa where its residents are US Nationals, not US citizens.  Really fascinating, but won't really hold the attention of kids.

Here are some other resources for those who want to dive into the US a little more.  While we didn't watch them for this round, we have used these to help us learn about the country in conjunction with school projects, etc.
  • All 50 US States summarized (Geography Now!) - since this is, by definition, a short informal description of the states, he gets a little stereotypical, which may offend your local loyalties
  • Things You Didn't Know About the US Territories - longer and dryer, but interesting
  • Liberty's Kids is a series that used to run on PBS all about the American Revolution.  It is really interesting and covers a very wide scope of historical figures and events.  My kids love it and always beg to watch more episodes.  We own the complete DVD set from Amazon.
  • Stack the States - my kids have a lot of fun playing this app, and it is never a chore when I tell them to spend some time on it.  It teaches state shapes, names, capitals, abbreviations, neighbors, and several other things.
  • Geography Drive USA - this game lets kids take a virtual road trip back and forth across the USA, learning facts about all of the states along the way