Saturday, January 16, 2021


 We are so excited to learn about Lebanon next!  There are many things I hope to learn as we journey virtually to each of these places, but gaining a better understanding of the history and people of the Middle East / Levant region is a specific goal I have.  Lebanon is a fantastic introduction to the area.  Located north of Israel and west of Syria, the Lebanese Republic is the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East and has a history that goes back over 7,000 years.

Videos we watched:

There are actually some great virtual tours of locations in Lebanon available online too:
Of course, to top off our country study, we can't miss out on trying the food!  We found a Lebanese restaurant not far from us called Zaatar Lebanese Grill.  I had been keeping a list of the foods mentioned in the videos above to try and make sure we tried those, and luckily this restaurant served almost all of them - yum!

Apologies for the poor pictures - we were so busy eating that we forgot to take anything other than a family pic!  Things we ate:
  • kibbeh - a wheat shell with ground meat inside - near the top of the pic slightly on the right
  • tabbouleh - a finely chopped salad of parsley, cucumber, tomato, olive oil & lemon juice - bowl near the middle of the pic, slightly right
  • fattoush - a green salad with radishes and tomatoes - seen on the plates
  • manoush - a flatbread pizza with various toppings: akawi cheese, lahme (spiced ground beef), zaatar (a spice and olive oil blend), and spinach - in box on bottom right
  • warak arish - grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice - in the clear containers at the very top of the photo
  • several kinds of meat kabobs & rice - the big aluminum contained in the middle
  • hummus - black bowl on the bottom
  • baba ghannouj - roasted eggplant dip with pomegranate seeds on top as a garnish - to the right of the hummus
  • falafel and pita bread
  • Lebanese milk cake - like tres leches cake but garnished with pistachio and rose - not pictured
The kibbeh was a big hit with everyone, and falafel and hummus are always a favorite in our house.  The kids had to stretch themselves a bit with some of the other dishes, especially the warak arish and the spinach manoush, but each dish goes best in conjunction with the others instead of as a standalone.  And my husband and I will happily be eating delicious leftovers all weekend!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Papua New Guinea

 Next up - Papua New Guinea!  This country is a fascinating place with such well-preserved diversity - linguistically, ethnically, and in their flora and fauna.  We have watched a lot of nature documentaries so were vaguely familiar with some of the amazing species of birds that live there, but it was wonderful to be able to take a deeper dive and really get to know more about Papua New Guinea.

Our video list:

In researching for our meal, I found this really interesting survey of the people and cuisine of Papua New Guinea done by the Australian Government's Department:  Wikipedia also had some useful information:

I saw that mumu was a dish mentioned over and over again in the articles I read, with Wikipedia even calling it 'the national dish of Papua New Guinea.'  So I decided that is what we would make!  Mumu is more of a method and general style of dish than a specific recipe, so I pulled from several sites to put together my plan for making mumu at home:

  • Mumu - International Cuisine:
  • Papuan New Guinean Mumu - Coffee & Vanilla:
  • Mumu - The Fair Trade Cook Book:
Luckily, our local grocery store is fairly well-stocked in a wide variety of items, so I was able to get plantains, taro root, a pineapple, bunches of spinach, and a banana leaf in my normal grocery run, along with a cut of pork belly.

I decided to go the route of using a foil-lined roaster pan that was then layered as follows: banana leaf, greens (spinach), root vegetables chopped and peeled (taro root, plantain, homegrown sweet potato/yam), chunks of pork belly, cubed fresh pineapple, greens (the rest of the spinach), and banana leaf.  For spices, I liberally sprinkled each layer (except for the pineapple) with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I also sprinkled curry powder on the pork layer and then drizzled coconut milk over the pineapple layer. 

Once the final banana leaf layer was placed on, I sealed everything in aluminum foil and then baked at 400 degrees for over an hour, checking once after 45 minutes.

Once finished, it looked a lot like the pictures in the online recipes, so I felt pretty good about the execution.  We had everyone try a little bit of every ingredient in the mumu so they would get the full experience, and overall it went pretty well.  The pineapple flavor didn't overpower everything the way we thought it might, but the plantain flavor was new and did give everything a taste of unfamiliarity that took the kids a little bit of getting used to.  The least favorite part was the cooked spinach - no surprise there.  Overall, everyone did pretty well with it and we cleared at least two-thirds of this dish at dinner.

For dessert, I bought tapioca pudding cups, as I thought that would be the closest thing to Saksak I could get locally.  I was not much of a fan of tapioca as a kid, but it isn't too bad and the kids enjoyed it.

I'll leave you with a clip of the nature documentary series Our Planet that we watched on Netflix - the birds of paradise of the island of New Guinea:

Friday, January 1, 2021

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has such a long and complicated history that spans the entire globe, not to mention the fact that it is comprised of four member countries, fourteen British Overseas Territories, and three Crown dependencies.  There is a lot to dive into and learn about, but we tried to keep it contained so we can get to more countries in a shorter amount of time - we still have so many to go! 

Unfortunately, our favorite geography resource - YouTube's Geography Now! channel - has not made it to United Kingdom yet in their videos, as they are working on them alphabetically.  Luckily, we had the next best thing - CGP Grey!  While not strictly a geography channel, CGP Grey tackles lot of interesting questions in a very engaging way, and he has done a number of explanatory videos on political aspects of the UK.  We watched two of them as part of our study, as well as a brief history video we found elsewhere:

We also found these videos interesting in learning about the foods, sites, and culture of the UK:
We also tried to do a bit of a dive into a couple of the four countries that comprise the larger United Kingdom:


I feel like we only scratched the surface of learning about the United Kingdom, but it solidified our family's desire to travel there!

We have a restaurant nearby - The Lion and Rose - that advertises itself as a traditional British pub.  So we had to try it out!  We tried to pick out the types of dishes we had been learning about: scotch eggs, the Tour of Britain (fish & chips, shepherd's pie, Irish banger sausages, and broiled tomatoes), bangers and mash (with English pork banger sausages), bubble & squeak (mashed potatoes with cabbage), and the king's bread pudding and English trifle for dessert.

Scotch eggs - hard-boiled eggs, coated in sausage and bread crumbs and then fried

bubble and squeak, front and center, with breaded and fried mushrooms
(shepherd's pie is in the styrofoam cups, with fish & chips on the left and bangers & mash on the right)

Maybe it was just our kids' moods that night, but they actually complained more about this meal than they have for any of our past meals.  Maybe it was that it was so close to being familiar that they didn't care for the change in textures or flavors?  I have to admit that the items aren't quite as ... savory as we are used to in American cooking.  Fewer spices are used.  But Dave & I enjoyed it, and the desserts were both a hit (of course).  And we tried to turn it into a good lesson on having an open mind and good attitude when we travel or experience new places and foods.

Twelve countries down, only 184+ more to go!