Sunday, February 23, 2014

Our Olympics food journey

About eighteen months ago, during the London Summer Olympics, I got the idea to make dinner based on whichever country was ahead in the medals statistics. After just one night, I realized I wanted more variety (USA was ahead in medals quite often) and I wanted this to become an international journey of food and diversity and excitement, the same way the Olympics unifies the world through sport. We had fun trying cuisine from different cultures-so much fun, in fact, that I started planning my Olympics food party several weeks before the 2014 Sochi Olympics started. My goal was to use the Olympics as inspirations for which country to choose, then to make a dish from that country and present it to the kids along with pictures, maps, and other cool tidbits (whatever I could scrounge up on Facebook and Google Images). Of course, this was meant to simply be fun, so I didn't beat myself up if I needed a day off or if my dish wasn't perfectly authentic. I also didn't want to break the bank buying a slew of unusual ingredients every day, so I tried to choose dishes that I already had the ingredients for, and I sometimes had to make substitutions. I just did my best. I also usually added a bunch of veggies on the side, after I'd taken a photograph.  After all, I did still need to provide healthy meals for my family!

So, here's our International menus!

From Austria: Gröstel
This was a comfort-and-a-half-food; hash of caramelized onions, red potatoes (that I made extra special by first pressure cooking them with chicken stock), ham, and topped with a fried egg.

From The Netherlands: Erwtensoep
A super hearty, thick split pea soup loaded with bacon, pork, AND sausage. Though, to be honest, I left out the pork. We just don't eat as much meat as the Dutch, I guess. Still, it was velvety and flavorful and Lee ate 3 bowls full.

From Canada: Nanaimo bars
I didn't want to slight Canada by just doing dessert and not a full meal, but I've been wanting to try these for some time and decided to just go for it. 3 layers: chocolate with coconut and almonds, buttery vanilla cream, and dark chocolate topping. I thought, "Hmm, the recipe only makes an 8 x 8 pan, that will be a good size for us to just get a taste." HA! I ended up cutting them teensy tiny small and Cody took them to the youth at Mutual and we STILL had leftovers. So yummy, so very very rich and decadent!

From Japan: Onigiri and Udon noodles
After the uber-rich night from the Netherlands and Canada, I was craving something light. Japanese food to the rescue! Since Cody served his mission in Japan, we have Japanese quite often in our house. Just for fun, and since Onigiri are pretty easy, I decided to try my hand at homemade Udon.  It wasn't nearly as difficult as I had feared and they turned out really delicious!

From the United States of America: Pizza
Because I promised myself I wasn't going to stress. And because I'd spent the afternoon making chocolate covered strawberries. And because sprained my ankle and couldn't walk.

From Switzerland: Cheese fondue
It was Valentine's day to boot. What a luscious dinner! I added some kielbasa to give a nod to Slovenia, since I really wanted to do Slovenian food but everything I found on Pinterest was more complicated than I was willing to take on.

From "China": Panda Express
Yeah, not really authentic Chinese food, but Cody surprised me with a party the day before my birthday.  It was fun not to cook!

From Belarus: Draniki
These potato cakes, also known as latkes, are popular all over Russia and eastern Europe, I found out, but are the national dish of Belarus.  I also learned a lot about Belarus that night, and since all this international food was seeming heavy on the meat, we just had the draniki with sour cream and applesauce and some veggies.  It was a yummy, easy dinner.

From Germany: Schnitzel and Noodles
Yes, I sang "Doorbells and sleighbells and schnitzel with noodles" all night long.  Similar to the draniki, schnitzel is found all over the place, sometimes with different names and made with a variety of meats and sauces.  Since we hadn't had chicken in a while, I made chicken schnitzel (though I think pork or veal would have been more authentic... I was porked-out and can't get veal at my small town grocery store).  I also made simple sage-buttered egg noodles.  Someday I want to make some spaetzle, but it wasn't going to happen this time.

From Great Britain: Bangers and Mash
This one took a while to decide on, but was a huge success with the kids. More sausage!  That's ok.  It was awesome and a great fast-fix dinner, especially when I used my wonderful new electric pressure cooker to do the potatoes.

From Norway: Lefse
I made double mashed potatoes the night of the bangers and mash so that I could make homemade lefse for breakfast.  I have been wanting to make lefse for some time.  Have I ever mentioned that I grew up in North Dakota?  Well, I did.  There's a strong Scandinavian influence there, and we could always buy packages of lefse just like tortillas in the store.  But I haven't had it in over ten years now, and knew I'd have to make it from scratch.  It was mostly an experiment, and I found out I needed to do a better job mashing my potatoes, but spread with honey butter, it was a trip down memory lane and really fun to introduce my kids to this simple (simple in flavor, not in cooking method) Norwegian treat.

From Australia: Meat Pies
About two days before the Olympics were supposed to end, I realized I'd been sorely neglecting the southern hemisphere.  I also realized there was no way I was going to get to all the countries I wanted to before the end of the Olympics.  But that didn't stop me from making this yummy dish and teaching the kids about some of the warmer countries that still participate in the winter Olympics.  This was definitely a hit, and I'll keep my eye on the local Pepperidge Farm thrift store for boxes of puff pastry, since it made for a very quick, easy dinner that is simply to die for, and very impressive.

From Italy: Chicken Cacciatore
I made this in my slow cooker and served it over some fusilli pasta.  Surprisingly, this was probably the hardest meal to get the kids to eat.  I'm afraid they've come to expect their pasta to be covered in cheese.  :/  But I LOVED it.  So flavorful without being heavy.  So rich without being fatty.  Mmmm.  I really do need to use less cheese in my cooking.

From Russia: Borscht
The day of the closing ceremonies and it's time to, at last, pay tribute to the host nation.  Even though I rounded up an arsenal of Russian dishes, I wanted to go with the most iconic of them all.  I did make some tasty Russian cheese pastries to go with it, called Syrniki.  I admit, I was a little bit afraid of such a pink soup, but this was Cody and my favorite meal of all.  Sweet and savory, warming, but not stodgy or overwhelming.  The soup was earthy and scrumptious, and the syrniki were simply divine and are officially on our breakfast short list.

So, at the end of it all, what did I learn?
First, I was quite surprised that I already use a lot of international influence in my cooking.  There's actually not a ton of truly American dishes.  We American-ize a lot of foods, but strip away a few processed ingredients, and you'll be right back at the country you started from.  It really made me recognize that I live in a melting pot society, with a diverse, multicultural background.

Second, kind of like the first, humans are humans, no matter where we live or what we look like.  The foods we cook and eat are based on what is readily available where we live.  Our tasetbuds are pretty similar between all countries and cultures.  So, trying things from other countries wasn't as wild of a ride as you might think at first.  If people across the world LOVE some dish, there's a reason!  Granted, all places have those things you have to 'learn to love,' but since I was sticking with things I could find the ingredients for, I didn't come across anything we just didn't like.

Third, doing a food journey with the Olympics made them much more fun to watch, and made dinner much more fun to cook!  Instead of rooting on just the USA like I used to in the past, I started rooting on the underdogs, watching for those special stories from around the world, and being excited when amazing things happened like Norway sweeping the medals podium or Italy winning their first medal in ladies figure skating ever.  Plus, I could use the excuse to watch TV because I was "trying to figure out what to make for dinner."  Since I really enjoy trying new foods, making something from a different country was exciting.

Fourth, my family are good sports.  A friend asked me how the kids were holding up during all this unusual food.  I'm glad they're not too picky of eaters (yeah, they still have their moments), and most everything was tried without a fight.  A few times I was shocked and they ate every last bite (Erwtensoep), and a few times I was shocked and they wouldn't much at all (chicken cacciatore).  I guess the lesson of the day is, I'm glad they were always willing to try it and I hope they had as much fun as I did.  I think they did.  They really loved the pictures and trying to pronounce the names of the meals with me, and I only put away leftovers once in two whole weeks.

I'm not very well traveled.  I've only left the country two times, both for day trips to Canada while I was growing up in North Dakota.  I don't even own a passport.  But, this Olympics food journey helped me feel connected to the rest of the world in a very special way.  Tonight, I'm kind of sad the Olympics are over.

but just a little bit glad because I'm totally craving sloppy joes. 

1 comment:

Granny D Fifield said...

Really a super fun idea! Many lessons rolled up in all you've done...not just food.