Starting around late June/early July — when pandemic ennui really started to hit hard in this house and the triple digit heat was beginning to suffocate us — the idea hit me to create a Virtual Travel Jar. The idea was sparked, partly, from a friend of a friend’s Facebook posts about their family’s cancelled European vacation plans. They traveled “virtually” there instead, via — from what what I could tell — maps and food. I think, too, I had happened to come across a Rick Steves video on youtube, and my imagination was reacquainted with the idea of traveling at all.
I filled a mason jar with bucket list travel destinations. The children added their own, including the moon. Our weekly travel destinations have been the highlight of our weeks.
Last night, when asked, “What has been your favorite place to travel so far?” SC1 grinned, and replied, “This pie,” as she pointed to her clean plate, which we enjoyed after visiting the Amalfi Coast. (I do not know if lemon meringue pie is quintessentially “Amalfian,” but it is lemon.)
I wish I had kept a diary of our weekly travels, but I did not. I am also not a photographer, nor a big picture-taker. I prefer to live in the moment. Nonetheless, for the sake of posterity, I am sharing with you some places we have explored — approximately in the order we have wandered:
We watched Rick Steves’ Rome: Eternally Engaging. When asked by my parents what she learned about Rome, SC2 said she saw a lot of naked people. (The statues.) SC1 said she saw a lot of skeletons. (The Hub shared a separate short video about the Capuchin Crypt, which he saw in Rome back in his single days.)
We dined on…drumroll…Little Caesars pizza. We had intended to do take-out from a much better, local pizzeria, but I was out-voted. Majority (should) win(s)!
The Florida Keys
We watched a hodge-podge of vlogs on youtube and listened to “Kokomo” and “Margaritaville” while making dinner. Regional cuisine featured virgin margaritas and homemade key lime pie, which was a sickeningly sweet disaster. The recipe, I’m sure, is still worth trying. The poor outcome was definitely the fault of the chefs. (I was short sweetened condensed milk and tried making some of my own with sugar and evaporated milk. Fail.)
We visited Alaska with the help of the Smithsonian Channel (I’m unable to find the link right now). The girls were intrigued by the stories of “Into the Wild” and the “Grizzly Man.” I just thought it looked cold and don’t plan on visiting. Sorry, Alaska.
This salmon recipe is probably worth trying again, but I think the fish itself was a little less than fresh.
Using this recipe as inspiration, our Grecian meal was the first in our travels that was actually a success! I spiced ground lamb as per the linked recipe and served it in pitas with cucumber, tomato, onion, fresh mint, and tzatziki. (It was basically gyros, without the gyro meat.) We’ve added this meal/recipe to our regular weekly meal rotations. We want to go back to the Greek islands, too.
We threw a family Hawaiian Pool party for this trip, which ranked everyone’s favorite for a while. We decorated the outside with leis and plumeria flowers and played Hawaiian music. A local pizzeria provided Hawaiian pizza, and my brother provided true tales of living on the Big Island – including surviving a hurricane, visiting a lava flow, and hunting a feral hog with a bow and arrow. I encouraged him once again to write a memoir.
We never really did find a good documentary to share with you, and we plan to go back in order to do so. We’ll need to go back more than once, breaking the country up into regions, both to learn its extensive history and sample the food. We did, however, nail this paneer masala dish.
We were pleased with this travel documentary about New York City and enjoyed hot dogs and fries, just like our British guide who sounded exactly like David Attenborough. The children have not been to New York City, and I think it captivated them.
Amsterdam & The Netherlands:
The kids were thrilled with these Dutch pancakes and have continued making them for breakfast. We visited Amsterdam and beyond, which sparked family conversation about red light districts and pot. (Yay?)
We started making tofu pad thai earlier on in the pandemic, when The Hub was eating vegetarian for health reasons. (Note: For some of the recipes above, I made vegetarian options for The Hub, too.) We use the recipe on the Annie’s Chun’s rice noodle box and make our own sauce, following the recipe here. (We avoid peanuts, obviously. We serve it with sriracha on the side.)
I’m not finding the National Geographic documentary we watched about Thailand. It focused on the way water has shaped the land there. It was interesting, and SC1 in particular really wants to go back.
Southern Spain was my favorite travel destination so far, and also the inspiration for the best meal! I have the children and The Hub to thank, as they made the marinades and The Hub grilled both the patatas bravas and the flank steak! I served with sauteed zucchini and onions. I cannot wait to visit more of Spain!
We threw another family party when we went to Turkey, visiting Istanbul. I had watched the video earlier on in the pandemic, around the time the Virtual Travel Jar inspiration hit. For the party, I served a meze spread. (Meze is like tapas.) The kafta meatballs were a big hit. I served them with triangles of pita bread and tzatziki, two different types of olives, a cucumber, tomato, and feta salad, and cauliflower crust veggie pizza for my vegan/ovo-pescatarian brother. I also bought Turkish Delight and Turkish coffee on Amazon, along with Turkish Bizaare-looking decorations. Turkish music outside set the mood. We just needed a hookah.
And that brings us to yesterday, with the lemon meringue pie, SC1’s favorite travel destination to date. My girls made it entirely on their own, so it cannot be that hard. Okay, I helped with the meringue. But they did the filling without my assistance (except repeated reminders to “read the recipe carefully”).
Let me add: The only reason these fun, little “travels” have been possible is thanks to Amazon and Instacart. Also, I have older children who do not demand every ounce of my energy, and because work has slowed down recently. I am sharing these recipes and ideas with you merely to generate some ideas for some pandemic fun for you, too — if that is what you are needing. If any of this seems too overwhelming for you, just know you are in a different season of life right now. I know I once was!
Wishing you and your family safe and happy travels – virtual or otherwise.