Monday, June 29, 2015

Concordia Language Villages, part 5: The Food

Welcome to the latest post on our family's recent adventure at Concordia Language Villages' Lesnoe Ozero Russian family camp! To recap, my first post explained what CLV is and what makes it different from other language camps. In the second post, I shared how to prepare and pack for a week (or more) at camp. In the third post, I took you on a (short) tour of Bemidji, MN and the gorgeous Lesnoe Ozero Russian camp setting. Yesterday's post took readers through a day at camp.

Today I will show and tell you all about the food!

I've mentioned before that my motivation for writing this series is to offer up the information I wanted to find before we decided to attend camp. There are many glowing reviews on the different camp-related sites. And the CLV website is packed with very helpful, albeit biased, information. I did find a series written by another blogger last year. Her posts on Concordia Language Villageswhy to attend, how to pack, how camp was the same as when she was a kid, and how it was now different, not only whet my appetite for camp, but also inspired more questions!

One area I was very interested in learning about beforehand was the food. I enjoy cooking and like to make foods from other cultures. The only Russian food we had had before attending camp was pelmeni, which we made from scratch when our family hosted a student from Moldova last year. (By the way, it's delicious!)

I am very fortunate that our son will eat almost anything we serve him. We weren't concerned that he wouldn't at least try new foods. (If he doesn't like something, we've taught him to still thank the chef for their work: "Thank you for making this. No more, please, I don't prefer it." It's pretty sweet when he remembers to say it). However, I was concerned for his dairy allergy.

I mentioned in the packing post that CLV does an excellent job of working with campers who have food restrictions. Our son can have dairy that is cooked, which makes life much easier than when all dairy was off-limits. I noted his allergy on his health forms and talked to someone from camp before we arrived, After our arrival, the nurse reviewed his allergy information with us, and the chef spoke to us before our first meal. Even the staffers outside the kitchen were aware of his allergies. The counselor in charge of cooking class reviewed the recipe with me to confirm what was okay, and the staffers who sat at our table each meal made sure D had safe milk to drink. I felt very confident that everyone at camp was concerned about our son's safety! 

Our kitchen staff made all the culturally-appropriate food from scratch each day. It's a huge job to make meals for the hundred or so campers and staff eating three meals and a snack or two each day, so we have mad love for this crew.

Now, with those preliminaries out of the way, let's get to the food, shall we? 


After the staff shows us what we are going to eat, the food is brought out to each table and we eat family-style. No one will go hungry at camp. Even if someone doesn't prefer the main part of the meal, there's plenty of other things to eat. That said, I'll start with my son's least favorite food from camp, каша (kasha) or oatmeal. Can you see how excited he was? He filled up on bread with jam and fresh fruit on kasha mornings.

On the other hand, his favorite breakfasts were the ones that included кексы (keksy) muffins, scrambled eggs, melon, and сосиска (sosiska) sausage. And every meal had fresh-baked bread with butter and jam.

Another example of a good morning was the day we were served hash browns and hard boiled eggs with our fruit and bread. 


Except for the night we celebrated New Year, lunch was our biggest meal of the day, and it was served in three courses. The first course was a salad or soup.

For our very first meal, we had the most well-known Russian soup, борщ (borscht). I had never tried this beet soup before, but was pleasantly surprised. My first lesson in Russian camp was that many Russians add sour cream to soup. (This explains why we used so much when our Moldovan friend stayed with us!)

Another traditional Russian soup is щи (shchi), a cabbage soup made with spinach, sorrel, dill, carrots...and topped with sour cream. The recipe came from the Russian Heritage Cookbook, which looks like a book I need to put on my wish list.

Other days we had soup that was more familiar, like cream of broccoli...

...and tomato. 

The salads we were served didn't have lettuce or spinach, but were mostly vegetable salads featuring any combination of cucumbers, radishes, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, onions, dill, and apples.

After our first course, a meat course was served. There were some vegetarians at camp and they had their own main courses available. However, there was plenty to eat even if you skipped the main course.

My favorite meal was served on the first full day, тушеная курица с капустой (tusshenaya kuritsa s kapustoy), or braised chicken with cabbage. Don't let the simplistic look fool you, it's really good. The chicken and cabbage is seasoned with dill, paprika, and cayenne pepper. I've already made this once since we've been home and it will have a regular place in our meal rotation.

We enjoyed another chicken cabbage casserole that was a big hit. I think the main difference between this one and the one from the day before is that this one doesn't have dill. Maybe. At any rate, check out that happy boy's face!

Another day we had бефстроганов (beef stroganoff). I've made this at home, so it was welcomed with gusto.

Our last lunch was smaller, so our stomachs would have plenty of room to enjoy the feast we would enjoy later that night when we celebrated New Year. We have quiche often, so we enjoyed this meal very much.

The third course was a favorite: dessert!!

On the first day, we were served some flaky cookies called quark (farmer cheese) cookies. I started to enjoy mine before I thought of taking a picture. I asked my space-obsessed son what quark was and he told me that it was the smallest known particle of matter. While that could have some implications here, this quark is actually a dairy product. We had an lively conversation about quark later in the week with some of the native speakers. Know I understand that quark is like a drier cottage cheese. It is used in both Russia and Europe (especially Germany-speaking countries), but apparently there is a distinction between the two that I didn't quite understand!

The second day we had what I thought was going to be my favorite dessert of the week, Шарлотка (sharlotka), or Russian apple cake. I will definitely be making this at home!

But the next day, there was a collective "OOOHHHH!" when this deliciousness came out of the kitchen. спартак (spartak) is a chocolate layer cake that tastes as incredible as it is looks. D has already asked me to make this for his next birthday. Fun fact: Sparktak means Spartacus, so it's also a very popular sports team name.


Our last meal of the day, with the exception of our New Year's banquet, was lighter than our lunch meal, I've read that lunch should be your biggest meal of the day, so perhaps I will try to incorporate that idea at home this summer. 

Dinner on Tuesday featured фаршированный перец (farshirovannyy perets) stuffed pepper like my mom used to make. 

Another night we had breaded pork. Every meal included a vegetable (usually served a salad) and either rice or potatoes, and bread. 

Being in Minnesota, I expected at least one meal featuring fish. I choose not to eat fish or seafood, but I think Niels ate enough for me. 

After his try-it bite of fish, D opted for a pea sandwich instead. 

New Year's Banquet

On our last full night, everyone dressed up to celebrate New Years. In Russia, New Year is an even bigger event than Christmas, which is celebrated January 7. (We were visited by Father Frost and company after our dinner feast). 

The staff worked extra hard to make lots of different salads and hors d'oeuvres for us to enjoy before the main course. 

I believe the top salad in the collage below is the traditional салат Оливье (salat Oliv'yea), or Olivier Salad. It's a mayonnaise-based salad with potatoes, peas, ham, carrots, onions, and celery.

Niels piled up the goodies on his plate, not realizing that another course as coming!

Our main course was chicken Kiev with rise. It's been a long time since I've made this at home, so I will be adding it to my meal plan this month.

Dessert was a strawberry-cranberry whipped cream jelly roll cake.

Once again, as a parent, I was grateful for the staff's awareness of our son's dairy allergy. D was served this cake, which did not have uncooked dairy. 

I tried to help him taste test it, but apparently, he didn't need my help. 


Most of our snacks were healthy options like fruit or popcorn, but one day our lessons were divided up with the presentation of Пончики (ponchiki) or donuts. They look suspiciously like Dutch oliebollen, so Niels was pretty excited to try them! (Yes, they did taste the same, and yes, they were delicious). 

Overall, the food at camp far exceeded our expectations. It's a tall order to make a week (or more!) of meals for a large group of people. I didn't expect that we would love everything, but we liked a lot. On the first night, our son asked if pelmeni would be served. He was disappointed to learn that it wasn't made at family camp. I totally get it. It's very time-consuming to make for just our family, it would take all day to make enough for everyone in camp. That's why the credit-campers make it! Many hands make light work!

My only disappointment was that we didn't leave with a book of recipes (or links). I'm working on gathering some of my favorites, so look for links to be added to this page.

In the meantime, here are a few of my new favorite Russian food blogs:

I was most pleased with the way the kitchen staff worked around our son's dairy restrictions. After the last meal, D paid his respects to Tamara, who took such excellent care of us all!

You can see more photos of our week at Lesnoe Ozero on Facebook.

Other posts in this series:

If you have any other questions about Concordia Language Villages, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer it.

I was not compensated for writing any post in this series. My motivation was to provide the kind of information I was looking to find. Consider this my very verbose evaluation. Keep in mind that our family attended the Russian camp, so some details may vary for those attending one of the other language villages. 

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  1. You didn't knew about quark? How did you survive you life without it?! Haha!
    Maybe that's why I never wnated to stay broad forever…… ;)

    Love, Elena

    1. Ha! I am told the closest we can get in the States is farmer's cheese, but I am assured that it is not the same! We are hoping to get back to NL next summer. (And Germany!). I'll have to look for the REAL thing there! :-)


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