Monday, January 13, 2020

Wilderness VBS: Sinai Desert Snacks

Since it wasn't included in the program, I tried to make a "Isrealite Camp" snack rotation for Wilderness VBS that would reflect the things they actually had in the Sinai wilderness (or had brought with them from Egypt).   After the Egyptian foods ran out, that would have been things God miraculously provided (manna, quail), along with sparse plants available seasonally in the Sinai (in amounts that wouldn't have been large enough to feed the whole population without God's provision), and meat and dairy from their herds.

This is not the type of snack to "tide kids over" but a "taste and experience" type of snack, to help them bring meaning and understanding and context to the Bible story.   Its important not to just serve these foods, but to talk about why they are eating these foods.   Many of the foods stretch kids "comfort zone" for taste, so you may want to provide another snack kids are more likely to eat outside of the marketplace if you are worried about kids getting hungry.

Thanks to Go Tell It On the Mountain, Wandering Through the Wadis, and Bedouin History Desert Saffari for most of the information I found about edible plants in the Sinai, as well as some Bedouin recipes which are possibly the closest things we have to an idea of what the Isrealites would have eaten in the dessert (other than manna), though they do come from another cultural tradition. 

DAY 1:  Crossing the Red Sea
Exodus 12
"So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing...With the dough the Israelites had brought from Egypt, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves."
Exodus 12:34 and 12:39

On the first night the Isrealites have just crossed the red sea with their unleavened bread on their shoulders.  They would have baked it by now.  They also may have brought other food, some of the produce of Egypt which they would later complain about missing (Numbers 11: 5-6):  cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic and fish (fishsticks could work).   Grapes, figs, raisins, were other items they might have brought with them.    A full list of food Egyptians ate can be found here.  

Yogurt mixed with honey could also be served.   Goats milk is something else the Isrealites would certainly have had, as they brought their flocks with them.  Tiger nut sweets seem like a portable food they could have brought with them (see earlier link to Egyptian food).   

There is a red berry that grows in the Sinai near the ocean called Salt Tree Fruit.   They make a drink from it sort of like a flavored water, so you could have cool-aid or a flavored water for a drink that first day that was "discovered" by the snack tent volunteer.   They could also "discover" that some of the plants (listed toward the bottom of this page) make a good hot drink (I would start with one and "discover" a few other teas during the week).  There's a list at the bottom with these herbal teas.

If you start your week with some sort of special event/celebration that includes food, I found a very unique Bedoin meal that uses some things that Egyptian had (though granted watermelon in ancient Egypt was a very different fruit).  Melon Feta  uses watermelon charred in an open camp-fire, combined with various other ingredients.   It's NOT a dessert.   I'm very intrigued by it, and it would be something fun to try making as a group. 

DAY 2: Manna and Quail
Exodus 16
"That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.... 
When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, 'What is it?' For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, 'It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.'   The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. ... The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled."
Exodus 16:13-15, 35-

Have the bowls in the snack tent practically empty the 2nd day, as the Isrealites battle hunger.  There should be no fresh food and just maybe a scant handful of raisins or nuts (though be careful with allergies), maybe a couple tiny shrivled onions,  or a little tea you could say was made from plants that have now dried out (but no milk or honey for it, as any herds that hadn't been eaten would be near starving and not able to make milk).   The snack tent host could complain about lack of food the first rotation, and praise God for the manna when it comes during the second rotation (or has come during Moses tent).

Whatever you use for manna, it would reinforce that God is still providing to include it as an option with other items in the snack tent the rest of the week.

Here are some suggestions for things to use:

QUAIL IDEAS:    Chicken, peeps, chicken nuggets, bread shaped like birds (see below), cookies shaped like quail, or actual quail if not cost prohibitive...maybe to let the kids taste in small sample size quantities.
Bread Bird 1
Bread Bird 2

MANNA IDEAS:  Frosted flakes, rice crispies (or rice crispy treats), popcorn (or popcorn balls), nilla wafers, coconut, frosted donut holes, sun chips, any strange chips or crackers or...
Manna Recipe with Oyster Crackers:
Coconut Balls
White Energy Balls:

Puppy Chow/Muddy Buddies - Various
Nutella Puppy Chow
Skinny Puppy Chow

DAY 3:  Defeating the Amalekites
Exodus 17
"The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.  As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.  When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.  So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword."
Exodus 17: 8-13

Though the Bible doesn't specifically mention them taking any spoils when the Isrealites defeated the Amalikites, we know they took spoils in other cases, and it's likely they may have here too.  This could be an excuse to have something other than manna.  A trail mix of some sort might work, since if they got this from the Amalekites camp it's not out of the question that they would have found easy to carry food like dried fruit and nuts.   You could use dried cranberries in the mix and say that they were Zahroor  Berries (a sinai fruit that tastes good dried).  If you use any seeds you can say they are Desert Melon seeds (a melon that is inedible except for the seeds, which Senai Bedouins grind into a flour, so flatbread could be re-introduced as well).  Be careful of seed and nut allergies.

There are a few other things that grow in the Sinai dessert (though not all year round), some of which you can actually find in US stores, and others you you can approximate. I've included a list  at the bottom of this page and these can be incorporated during the rest of the week.   Granted, none of these would be in large enough supply enough to feed the whole Isrealite camp but might be fun to have kids taste all the same.

Dairy products like goats milk and yogurt might be able to be reintroduced now and served throughout the rest of the week.   We know that they had flocks and herds by Day 4 because God told Moses  that "not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain"  when Moses went up to mount Sinai (Exodus 34:3).  It could either be that some of the original animals they took with them out of Egypt survived the period without much food (in which case, they might not be using meat yet from these herd, but might use dairy).   Or they could have taken animals from the Amalekites.    Another possibility is that  Jethro (Moses Midianite father in law) had provided animals to the Isrealites from his own herds when he came and visited them in the wilderness (Exodus 18...which would have been slightly after this).  Even if you wait till Day 4,  dairy products could also be served throughout the rest of the week.

You can find an interesting article about how butter, yogurt, and cheese is made in the desert here.    It's worth looking at just for the pictures.    In your or right outside your food tent, you can use three sticks to make a tripod like is pictured there, and then put yogurt and some salt into cheesecloth and hang it from the tripod over a bowl to make Labneh, a type of cream cheese.

DAY 4:  Remembering the Passover
Exodus 12/Numbers 9

"Thus the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai... saying, “Now, let the sons of Israel observe the Passover at its appointed time."Numbers 9:1

It is a night to be observed for the Lord for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for the Lord, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations."
Exodus 12:42

On Passover they were instructed to eat unleavened bread and lamb, with bitter this would be something to consider for snack this day.  With the unleavened bread you could have the kids eat just small bites of real lamb to cut on cost, or have some sort of lamb shaped snack.  Sinai Bedouins make a bread using ground seeds of the desert melon (inedible except seeds) so this is not unfeasonable that they would have had a little flatbread still.    As for bitter herbs--they would have had various bitter herbs in the desert (many of which we don't have access to).   Traditional bitter herbs served at passover are  lettuce, chicory, horseradish, dandelion greens, which are described as growing in the Sinai Peninsula or in Egypt, but the site doesn't specify which, and my other sources don't include these as wild plants of the sinai desert.     They did have a type of mint, something similar in taste to lemon balm, both of which would be a safe, bitter plant for the kids to try.  Parsley grew in Egypt and is also a traditional "bitter herb" alternative  which would be cheep and easy,  and a little easier for kids to swallow (while still somewhat bitter, I actually liked it as a child).   But in this case, kids liking it isn't the point.   The bitter herbs are meant to the bitterness of slavery, so it's not meant to be pleasant. 

DAY 5:  10 Commandments
Exodus 19-20

I think it would be good to bring back manna and quail again, to show how God was still  providing for the Israelites.    Labneh, other cheeses, goats milk and yogurt could be served too, since they still had their herds.  Any of the Recipes below under the "Sinai Edibles" listed below would work too, and any of the teas listed under the herbs. 


Below is a list of edible plants that grow in the Sinai Desert.   Note that all of the plants below would not have been available year round, many growing only in the spring, and few in abundant supply even then.  So having these doesn't mean that the Isrealites wouldn't have been starving at some point (especially since, even when these were available, they might not have initially known what could be eaten or how to find them, though Moses would have known more from his previous time in the wilderness with the Midianites). 


  • Wild Onions - probably smaller and less plentiful than what they had in Egypt.   Could use any small onion or shallot.
  • Capers - Capers grow in the Senai on cliffs and rocky wall.  You can find pickled capers in most grocery stores....something a little adventurous for the kids to try.  I thought capers were a seed but they are actually a flower bud.   The fruits and leaves can also be pickled (I have not seen these in stores, but you can find pickled Caperberries online). (Pictures of Bush/Fruit/More about How they Are Used)
  • Hambizan - An edible tuber which tastes and looks like carrot, only it's white.  I know you can grow white carrots and I've seen them sometimes in grocery stores and farmers markets, but they can be hard to find--if you did find this you could call the white carrots Hambizan and serve with the yogurt dip mentioned in the recipes at the bottom.
  • Jahag/Wild Mustard -  A plant with edible, juicy, peppery leaves.   It grows on the desert plains right after seasonal rains.  You can buy mustard greens in most stores, which are similar in flavor.
  • Dandelion (?) - One source I found said that dandelion may have been on of the bitter herbs eaten in the dessert, though it was not listed as a native Sinai plant.  Still, it would probably be closer to wild herbs that might have been used for lettuce than some other things.  All the parts of a dandelion can be eaten.  I've personally boiled dandelion buds which taste similar asparagus, and had dandelion leaves and flower petals in salad (which are peppery).  Again, avoid collecting where it may have been sprayed for pesticides.  While there are dandelion look-alikes, they tend to also be edible so it's less of a risky plant to collect.  
  • Purslane - a common edible weed which grows in the United States too. Can be gathered, but stay away from roadsides (because of contamination from cars) and any lawns that might be treated with pesticides/herbicides.  There are look alikes that are not edible though, so make sure you only use this if someone familiar with it collects it and tries it first.  (Break the stem...if there's white sap it's spurge, not purslane.  Don't eat it!)
  • Tummayr/Storksbill - While this can be found in the US, I do not suggest trying to gather and use this because it is easily confused with POISON HEMLOCK.   But in the Sinai, where I don't believe Hemlock grew, this was one of the plants they could have eaten.   There are several types that grow in the Sinai, and one type has a potato-like edible tuber that is sweet and crunchy.   
  • Hamaat (Wild Fig) - Yeah, something we can get at the store! (OK, not the spacific Senai variety, but figs in general, which is close enough).   These are a rare plant in the desert.
  • Dates - From the date palm.   Another rare plant sometimes found in the Sinai.  
  • Zahroor  Berries (Hawthorn) - a type of Hawthorn with edible berries.   You can find edible dried hawthorn berries online (not all hawthorn berries are edible though, so don't just get some from someone's hawthorn shrub, and be careful with buying them that you get ones that are meant for eating, not just medicinal use). 
  • Nabug - A red cherry sized fruit that grows in springtime off a tree from the mountain wadis (valleys or dry riverbeds).  Can be eaten fresh but the hard, dry fruit that’s fallen to the ground is tastier (so you might be able to substitute dried cranberries or cherries and just cal them "Nabug"
  • Salt Tree Fruit - This is one of those "fruits you won't be able to find but might be able to use something to substitute."   It's a wild edible fruit that grows in the Sinai along the ocean.   About the size of a cranberry, but less round, it is bright red and eaten fresh.   It's also is mashed, strained, and mixed with sugar and water, used more like a flavoring for water than a thick juice.   You might make some flavored water as a drink and say that it is "Salt Tree Juice."  (Flavor with honey for a more realistic "ancient" sweetener).  
  • Desert Thumb - A rare, really strange-looking parasitic plant that has a small, black-coated, nut-like white, juicy fruit with a flavor and texture similar to apples.

Herbs for Teas and Other Seasonings
NOTES ON HERBAL TEAS:   In the middle east  and among the Bedouins tea is popular, and usually served with milk or cream.  Teas can flavored with honey and cream or milk as those are things that could be gathered in the desert, or from herds (when the herds weren't, day 2).   I like the idea of introducing some of these teas one day and have them talk about how they discovered that they can use them.  

  • Habag (Horsemint) - You could substitute any type of mint to make a mint tea or to use as a flavoring.  But wild horsemint grows throughout the US, is edible as a tea or in small quantities as a fresh herb, and might be closer in flavorThough, looking at the picture of Habag here I think it looks more similar to regular mint than horsemint.   (Hanging a bunch of either in your "snack tent"  would make a nice smell and add to the decor)
  • Rubayaan (Wild Chamomile) - Just like regular camomile this is used in tea (so grab some camomile tea bags), and it looks really similar to Europeon camomile, so if someone from your church has some growing at home, it would be fun to hang some to dry in your snack tent.  
  • Bardagoosh (Sage) – This is the same plant we use for sage in English.  
  • Shamaar (Fennel) - Found mostly in rocky mountain areas.
  • Homath - This is a plant with pink flowers in the spring, and edible green leaves with a lemony flavor (could substitute  lemon balm or lemon basil).
  • Salt and Other Seasonings -  The mountains of the Sinai contained salt, so them getting salt in the desert is reasonable.  Any dried seasoning they had in Egypt it's feasibile they would still have since spices can last for years and don't take much time to carry.  
  • Honey - While scarce, can be found in the Sinai desert. 

Meat and Dairy
Since they brought their "flocks and herds" into the desert, these would have provided meat, dairy products, and also wool to make clothing and repair their tents.    These would have probably been mostly sheep and goats.   And of course there was the quail which God sent along with the manna.   A few other edible wild animals can be found in the desert, but not in large enough numbers to feed a large amount of people.  

Using just things they had available...

A very easy to make cheese similar to cream cheese (in fact, if you were short on time, you could use cream cheese...BUT, it does look different when you make it yourself.   And, showing the kids how to make this, and/or hanging some up in cheese cloth draining on a tripod of sticks over a bowl, would bring something very special to your food tent. 

Labneh can be rolled in seasoning to make little colorful tasty cheese balls (scroll all the way down on that site link and you'll see those on the bottom).   Kids can roll them themselves.  In the wilderness, as mentioned, they had something similar mint, lemon balm, fennel, and wild onions that could be used for this, and it's feasible that they had brought cumin, dill, garlic, and fenugreek in Egypt (dry herbs are easy to carry and last a long time).

Quail or Lamb
Seasoned with sage, mint, salt, honey and or Egyptian spices, fried in butter (which they would have had in some form), or grilled.    Not really a recipe, but you can search for recipes and just leave out ingredients they wouldn't have had.

Sweeten yogurt with honey, and flavor with mint or lemon balm (or Egyptian spices).

Yogurt Dip
Have kids try mixing various of the spices which would have been available in  yogurt to make a dip for peta chips, flatbread, or carrots.

Kids can make their own butter in plastic baggies, and even season it with desert herbs.   This takes 15 minutes of shaking, which isn't a particularly interesting activity though.   However, if you do it while doing something else (like listening to a story, or going on a hike, it can work (did this once for girl scouts).   You could also play some sort of a passing game (where you pass and shake the butter to a fun song) could work also.

See Pictures of Desert Plants and Food
Wild Foods Page 1
Wild Sinai Foods Page 2

Monday, June 3, 2019

Foods of Ancient Athens

Below is some information about foods in ancient Athens (some of it is just general to all of Greece, but I tried to focus on Athens when I could).  Recipes and sources are at the end.

Wheat didn't grow well in Greece, but Barley did (the Romans even called the Greeks "Barley Eaters). But Athens imported wheat from other countries, and became known for it's white wheat bread.  It's commercial bakeries ran all night.   The poor still ate whole grain barley, millet and emmer bread which was looked down on by the upper class.  Socrates called whole grain bread "pig food."  

In Athens, you couldn't eat most domesticated meat (cows, pigs, sheep, goats) unless the animal was sacrificed to the Gods.     During festivals cows and pigs were sacrificed and the meat was cooked and handed out to the public.   For banquets the wealthy would also sacrifice a large animal.   A piglet was attainable for the middle class (it cost about 3 days wage of a public servant).   Sausages were common for both rich and poor.

Wild caught foods such as fish, rabbit, wild foul like duck and pheasant and smaller domestic animals like geese, quails, chicken, however didn't have to be sacrificed to the Gods before they were eaten.

Fish was the most common meat.  Tuna, sea bass, grey and red mullet, grouper, and eel were esteemed and expensive.  Carp, catfish and pike were common, and parrotfish was one of the cheaper fish.  Small fish like anchovies were cheep but not as desirable.   Dried fish of various sorts were common. (And it was a meat Christians could eat without worrying whether it had been sacrificed).  They also had shellfish like oysters and scallops and ate things like squid and octopus as well.

Eggs from geese, chickens and quail
   (cooked soft or hard boiled, and used as ingredients)
- feta cheese (may have even been mentioned in Homer's Odyssey)
- something like cottage cheese
- possibly yogurt
- various other cheeses

Milk was not usually not drunk except as a medicine, but it was made into cheese.  Butter was considered "barbaric."

(vegetables were eaten fresh and sometimes dried)

Garden Peas
Lentils (lentil soup was a commoners typical dish)
Black Beans
Broad Beans
Lupin Bean

Grapes (and raisens)


(Acorns were often consumed by the poor.  WARNING:  Only edible if processed so that tannin is removed)

Celery Seed

*Residue of DNA of these were discovered in amphora in sunken ancient Greek trading ships.   I don't know if the items were being imported or exported.  But still, if they were being traded they probably would have been available in Athens, a major trade destination.

**Peppercorn and cinnamon was imported from India.   Pepper was common enough that ordinary people could use it, at least in small quantities (though Pliny complained about the price, and noted that white pepper cost twice as much as black). 

Wine & Grape Juice
Water (usually with a little wine mixed in, to kill germs)
Barley Tea

Olive Oil


Chrysocolla (Flaxseed candy)

Honey Fritters

Pasteli (Sesame Honey Candy)

Sweet Wine Cookies
Don't worry, these are not alcoholic...the wine bakes out (and you can use grape juice in stead, too).
3 Easy Ancient Greek Recipes - Pancakes, Lentil Soup, and Nut Cake

Tagenites/Attanitai  (Pancakes With Honey)
Usually a breakfast food, just like today.   Site has history.

Greek Mushroom Bread 
It's named after shape...and contains no mushrooms.

Greek Style Country Bread

Maza (Barley Bread Balls)

Ptisane (Barley Tea with Mint)

Barley Porridge
Barley porridge was a common meal in greece.  This recipe mentions vikings, not the Greeks, but porridge was pretty similar wherever it was made.    For a more authentic Greek porridge, use honey, not sugar.

Ancient Greek Lentil Soup

Home-made Garum (Roman Fish Sauce)
While it was a "roman sauce" it was actually derrived from an earlier Greek sauce, and was popular in Greece in stead of rome.  Garum was "used as condiments for literally everything: from meat and fish to vegetables, salads, desserts, bread, and wine dipping."    This is a modern version that feasible to make at home...if you're brave enough to try it. 

Food In Ancient Greece
What Did the Ancient Greeks Eat
Ancient Meals and Eating Habits Part I: Greeks
Ancient Greek Food
Ancient Greek Cuisine (Wikipedia)
The History of Greek Bread 
History of Mushrooms
Lemon Trees in Greece
Chickens and Religion

Shared on Little's Learning Link-up

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Mesopotamian Foods

Below list of foods found in ancient Mesopotamia.     Most of my information for this list comes from The Food Timeline's section on Mesopotamia and The Silk Road Gourmet, a blog about ancient and historical foods.   Some of these would be great for making and eating with kids, others are not as kid friendly...but I included all I found just to be thorough.

For those doing the Group VBS covering the story of the Daniel in Babylon, I've tried to include any details that might be relevant.  I believe all of these were all foods eaten during the Babylonian period (assuming the older recipes would still be around later).


Everyday meals probably consisted of barley paste or barleycake, accompanied by onions or a handful of beans and washed down with barley ale, but the fish that swarmed in the rivers of Mesopotamia were a not-too-rare luxury.
- Food in History, Reay Tannahill 

I've included even more complex and non-kid friendly dishes here, but tried to make note of ones which were easier, had more accessible ingredients, and were more likely to be foods kids would actually try, and I listed those first in each section.


Lamb with Barley and Mint (and other recipes)
This recipe (found  the end of the page...just scroll down) is the easiest of the meat recipes I've found.   Easy to find ingredients too.  Mint and lamb are both strong flavors many kids aren't used to, but some kids might still try this.   There are several other recipes also listed further up but they are straight out of ancient tablets without having been translated for the modern stovetop, so would take some experimenting. 

"Pigeon" (Cornish Hens) with Herbs
Moderately hard dish, but one I think kids might like, if they like un-breaded chicken (in fact, you could probably substitute chicken).   The ingredients don't seem hard to find, except asafetida which you could substitute with garlic and onion powder (more than the amount of asafetida called for, but I'm not sure how much more--asafetida is supposed to taste pretty potent).

This is a Persian, so not not one of the earliest Mesopotamian dish (probably wasn't around in ancient Sumer or Ur)...but it may have been introduced when Cyrus the Great took over Babylon, and possibly could have been some of the fare on Darius' table (though it may have been introduced later).  The most likely candidate for the original meatball, kofta is a dish of minced or ground beef, chicken, pork, or lamb, mixed with rice, bulgur, or mashed lentils. Now typically fashioned into cigar-sized cylinders, kofta seems to have originated with the Persians, who passed it to the Arabs.

Lamb with Licorice and Juniper Berries
Neither lamb nor licorice are universally liked by children--both have rather strong tastes.  However, this seems like it's a little easier than some of the other meat dishes (less steps), although there's a few ingredients that might be tricky to find (especially juniper berries).  If you happen to have a Juniper bush or tree in your yard, please read this first before using any berries off it.   Some types of juniper "berries" (actually, small fleshy cones) are less edible than others, and none are good in large quantities (though used as a spice in small quantities others are perfectly safe).  Again, asafetida can probably be  substituted with garlic and onion powder (more than the amount of asafetida called for, but I'm not sure how much more--asafetida is supposed to taste pretty potent).    Oranges, limes or lemons can substitute for citrus.

Lamb with Licorice and Juniper Berries II
This one seems like it would take longer and be more complex than the similar recipe above, but has less unusual ingredients (save for the juniper berries).

Licorice Pork Tenderloin
Moderately hard dish.  Licorice is a strong taste, so many kids won't like this.   It contains some hard to find ingredients, but most of them can be substituted with commoner items  (they say asafetida tastes like garlic and onion, for instance)

Wildfowl Pie
This is a very complex recipe most kids probably wouldn't even try after all that work.   Has a few harder to find ingredients, mostly spices, which possibly could be left out or substituted. Cinnamon was an imported spice, so this would have be food for the well-off, not for the commoner.


Lamb and Carob Stew
Sounds yummy for soup lovers...but more steps than most soups/stews (and considerable time to make, which is pretty normal for soups).  Carob powder will be the hardest ingredient to find--the rest are not too unusual.


Sasqu (Porridge with Dates) 
Scroll down to find this recipe.   Fairly simple to make, though date syrup, which can be omitted from the recipe, may be hard to find.    I think some kids would try this. 

Mersu with Cheese
Pretty easy recipe, similar to the cream cheese filled dates I listed in the deserts below, but more savory/spicy, less sweet (though the dates will provide some sweetness).   I haven't tried these so I'm not sure if kids would like them, but I do think kids would like the sweeter version, so it might be fun to have this too for contrast.   Labnah tastes almost identical to store bought cream cheese and so cream cheese can be subsituted (though labnah is fun and not too hard to make).

Mashed Turnips and Herbs
Doesn't sound hard if you have a food processor, and the ingredients are easy to find, but I'm not sure how many kids would actually try this.   But on the other hand, this may well have one of the types of "vegetables" that Daniel would have been served, so it might be worth having just for that.

Roaster Barley and Herb Pilaf
Lots of steps to this, but I think at the end you'ld have something many kids would try and enjoy.   It contains a few strange ingredients, some of which can be substituted or omitted.   You could use garlic and onion powder for asafetida (more of it, but I'm not sure how much more, as asafetida is supposed to taste pretty potent).  "Blood" can be omitted, but it's inclusion in the recipe on a Babylonian tablet shows how hard it would have been for Jews like Daniel to keep the dietary restrictions of the Law while in Babylon, since even food that were primarily made of things that were permitted might be seasoned with things that weren't, like "blood." (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 7:26).  


Mesopotamian Wheat Bread
- Easy recipe kids would enjoy eating and making, with common ingredients.

Leavened Mesopotamian Bread - FROM SCRATCH
So, this isn't so much a recipe as a description of a trial of making leavened bread like they would have in mesopotamia.   Someone familiar with making bread might be able to use this to make their own, but it would be daunting for a novice.  Still, if you are making an easier recipe using more modern ingredients, it might be a good idea to read this to get acquainted with the extra steps ancient babylonians would have had to go through.


Cream Cheese Filled Dates
This is a simple recipe from a modern site, but it goes back to antiquity.   You could use pistacio nuts in stead of almonds for a more "babylonian" feel (or no nuts, which many kids would prefer).     I can't speak for all kids, but I loved this as a kid (though the recipe we made at home involved rolling the cream cheese dates in sugar, in stead of adding honey to the cream cheese--but honey is more authentic).   For some savory (less sweet) versions of this, try this Mersu post.

Mersu Sweet Balls
These look delicious and not too difficult.

3 Date Deserts
Two of these seem pretty easy, and all of them sound delicious.  Ingredients are either easy to find or optional.

Palace Cake
Scroll down to find this recipe.  Moderate difficulty.  Many kids would try and enjoy this.

Dried Fruit Compote
Scroll down to find this recipe. Doesn't sound too hard, but I think most kids would enjoy the dried fruit more than the compote made from them, so it might not be worth the trouble.


Labneh with Olive Oil
Labneh is a middle eastern cream cheese that may be close to what ancient Mesopotamians had.   It's extremely simple and easy to make...just takes a lot of time to drain.   Apart from being a little softer, it does taste very similar to store bought cream cheese though, so making it is more for the experience than the taste.


Rose Water
This site shows how to make your own rose water several ways.   If you are using roses from your own garden, please make sure that they are organic roses only (no dangerous pesticides, including fertilizer that contains pesticides).

Rose Water Syrup
So, I've noticed rose water in another Mesopotamian recipe, so I imagine the syrup might be just as old, and it sound really interesting.   I'm not sure what it would have gone on.   Rose water can be found in some health stores. 

Other than being translated to English, these recipes are just as the ancient Mesopotamian wrote them.   In other words, it may take some experimenting to figure out cooking times and other things that were left out....but if you enjoy that sort of thing, these links will give you something to play with:

Ancient Mesopotamia Cook-off Challenge
Some of these others have already attempted, and you will find those recipes above.

An Assyrian Banquet
Some of these also have been attempted and are listed above.

 Warriors swimming on inflated skins among fish.
"Over fifty different types [of fish] are mentioned in texts dating before 2300 BC,  although the number of types had diminished in Babylonian times"
--Food in History, Reay Tannahill

All of these were found on The Food Timeline's section on Mesopotamia unless specifically noted or linked to another site.


Generally, meats were either dried, smoked, or salted for safekeeping, or they were cooked by roasting, boiling, broiling, or barbecuing.
- Handbook of Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Stephen Bertman

Various fish (over 50 kinds)
Lamb (meat of a young sheep)
Mutton (meat of an adult sheep)
Beef and Veal
 -  Cattle were not usually slaughtered until the end of their working lives, so the meat would be more tough and stringy.

Fried-fish vendors...did a thriving trade in the narrow, winding streets of Ur. Onions, cucumbers, freshly grilled goat, mutton and pork (not yet taboo in the Near East) were to be had from other food stalls.
- Food in History, Reay Tannahill

Milk (from goats, cows, and sheep)
Eggs (goose and duck)

 - Barley paste, barley cake, bread, grain soup
Emmer Wheat
 - Cakes, Bread

Legume Soups were a common dish
Chick peas
Muskmelon (similar to cucumber)

Fruits were often preserved in honey, and any fruit that could be dried was also dried to preserve it, as well as eaten fresh.
 - Most important fruit crop in Mesopotamia
Citron** (can substitute orange, lime or lemon in recipes)
 - Raisins
 - One source says that grapes were rarely used.

*From DK Eyewitness Books:  Mesopotamia
**Mentioned in pork recipe on ancient mesopotamian tablet

Sesame Seeds

Sea salt*

*Mentioned as Mesopotamian food in recipe for Wildfowl Pie
**Mentioned in pork recipe on ancient mesopotamian tablet

Vegetable Oils (not sure what type)

Barley Beer
Wine? (One source said grapes were rarely used)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wrapped Walking Stick - Alternative Wilderness Craft

Several years ago for Vacation Bible School our church decided to trek into the "wilderness" and bring kids into the story of Moses and the Israelites in a very hands-on way. One craft we did for this, which wasn't part of the original program but just fit perfectly, was decorating walking sticks. It took a little scrounging around for materials, and a lot of sawing, but it was absolutely worth it--the kids loved them.

This is a fun craft that, while it takes some adult prep, is easy for kids to do. It can be simplified for a young child, yet is still an enjoyable creative project in the hands of an adult.   Our teen volunteers enjoyed this craft as much as our kindergarteners, as both were able to work on it at their own level.

Learn how to make your own below! Below the craft instruction there's tips on how to use this as a group project (and if you're using it for Wilderness Escape VBS like I was, there's a ton of extra info at the bottom on how to tweak this especially for Wilderness VBS.)

How to Wrap a Walking Stick With Yarn
We decorated our sticks with either yarn or cloth (or both). Below is a video showing how to wrap the stick with yarn. At the beginning of this video I said that I have "a few inches of yarn." I misspoke...I actually had a few feet...but what I meant was that I had a few inches of yarn left over to form a "tail."   You can add beads other charms to the left over yarn tails, as shown in the picture at the top of this page (more on that below).

I love how the yarn looked on this curvy stick.  

How to Wrap a Stick With Cloth

You can also wrap a stick with cloth tied in yarn (or leather if you can afford it).  

This is actually a useful feature as it creates a padded area for a hand-hold (the more padding you want, the more layers you will want to wrap around your stick). We used strips from old t-shirts, but you can use any type of cloth you want (or even scraps of leather).

Wrapping cloth on a stick is fairly simple. First roll a strip of cloth around the stick. Then take a long piece of yarn and tie it tightly near to top of the cloth.  Make your tie in the middle of the yarn so you have two fairly equal lengths of yarn hanging down, and leave about an inch of cloth above where you tie it. For a criss-cross design, spiral one of these down the cloth, and the other in the opposite direction, so that the two lengths of yarn criss-cross, then at the bottom (about an inch from the edge of the fabric), tie these two yarn-tails together tightly.

Adding Decorations

You can add beads or charms to the strings that are left when you are done tying your yarn. You will need beads with a hole large enough that yarn can fit through. I look for beads with holes just slightly larger than the yarn, because then after I've put them on the yarn, all I need to do is tie a double or triple knot in the yarn and that holds on the beads. You can also get charms that tie on the yarn, and those will hold up all the beads above them.

Getting beads onto thick, fuzzy yarn can be tricky! But I have a trick that makes it easy! I use floss threaders (the kind found in the dental aisle of most supermarkets). Just put the yarn through the large hoop of the floss threader, insert the bead over the small pointy end, and then pull the bead down over the yarn. You can see floss threaders in use in the picture below.

Some Bead Suggestions

I personally prefer wood, glass, or clay beads to the plastic pony beads for this project, because they are closer to what they would have actually had, and I think it's special for kids when things feel real.  If you limit kids to just 2 or three beads each it's not that costly--one $10 mixed bag got me through all of VBS with plenty to spareMy mixed bag also had shells, which worked well with the story.  I told the kids I picked them up crossing the Red Sea.  These had holes too small for yarn, so I put jump rings through the small holes, which could then be easily tied to the yarn.

Below are some sets I thought looked workable on Amazon (click on pictures to click though).   You probably could find similar sets at your local hobby or craft store, or sometimes even in the Walmart craft section.

Other Decoration Ideas 
And a few practical considerations

You can add lots of other decorations as well. You could use decorative tape, paint, ribbons...whatever you can think of. You could even carve patterns in your stick if you like to whittle. Skies the limit!

But whatever you do keep practicality in mind. Make sure to leave a smooth surface to hold (or a soft one). Don't put hanging beads and baubles where it will hit your hand as you walk. Be careful of putting paint where you will hold your stick as it might rub off over time (stains might work better). And make sure that whatever you decorate with, it's able to withstand a little weather and wear.

Guide for Using This Craft in Wilderness VBS
Gathering Sticks

The hardest thing about doing this craft as a large group is obtaining the sticks. Luckily when we needed them, it was in springtime when everyone is pruning their trees. We happened on a large pile of branches from a lot that had been cleared and contacted the owner who let us remove branches to use. You can ask landscapers to see if they would mind you taking branches from trees they trimmed. You can contact your local parks and wildlife office to see if there is any public land that needs clearing (where we live, Bamboo is an invasive species, and we could have easily gotten a permit to go cut some). You can also go on Craigslist to find individuals wanting to get rid of wood from tree prunings, or post a request on a local facebook page.

Look for sticks that are relatively straight, and about 1-2 inches in diameter. Watch out for sticks that are rotten or molded, and make sure to ask if any of the wood had been treated for pesticides (which you will want to avoid). You will want sticks of varying lengths for people of various heights.   A good height for a walking stick is about 6-8 inches taller than a person's elbow if their arms are hanging straight down (got that tip from Boy's Life). 

Setting Up

It can be helpful to cut lengths of yarn beforehand, as well as cloth if you're using that. Set beads in small bowls that aren't easily tipped, and put the floss-threaders with them. Since there were two of us teaching we piled sticks on two sides of the area so that we could pass them out more easily.

Once People Arrive

We had everyone stand up so that we could match them with a stick as they arrived. If you're doing this craft with kids this is also a good time to explain what this craft is and isn't used for (i.e....this is a walking stick, not a fighting stick). Once everyone had a stick we had them sit down and demonstrated ways they could decorate their sticks. Then we showed them the various materials we had available to work with, and let them pick out some things to get started.

NOTE:   Walking s
ticks with thin pointy ends can't just be turned upside-down, so watch to make sure people are decorating the top end of their stick (the skinny end, not the fat end).   A few of our kids ended up decorating the wrong end of their stick (not that it's wrong to decorate the bottom...but they meant to decorate the top). 

A Few More General Tips

for using this for Wilderness VBS

  • We had problems with the sticks catching on the side draping on our tent. I suggest either using a high canopy and securing any draping up high where it's harder to catch on, or not using a tent at all. This is a craft that could be done around a campfire (a nice fake one) where it would have been natural to stack sticks. "Look at all these sticks...some of these are just too good for the campfire" your character could say.
  • If you aren't using the Sandal Making Shop, the sign for it can be used for walking sticks.
  • I made up a story about how other Isrealites kept using my walking sticks as firewood, so I started decorating my walking sticks so people wouldn't use them for kindling. This is fun background story, and you could even work at a little skit about it with another shopkeeper.
  • I find it's best to try to get your script/questions in right at the beginning, before you start explaining the craft. While this is a fairly simple craft, you'll still be busy helping younger kids who have trouble tying knots, re-explaining to kids who weren't paying attention in the beginning, and cutting yarn and passing out other supplies.
  • You probably don't want kids to take their sticks with them to game time and other stations, so I suggest having kids leave their sticks with you and collect them after celebration. If you're worried about them forgetting you can take the sticks to the door and hand them out as people leave.
  • One thing I wish I had done was take pictures of all the kids in their tunics with their walking sticks before they left. If you do that, write down the kids name and tribe before they leave so you can get the picture to their parents later. (If you print them yourself from home you can get all but the last day's to the tribe leader to pass out to the kids).
  • Many churches do a celebration on their final day of VBS where they invite families to enjoy extra activities for everyone. A great activity for this would be a hike through the camp or around the church grounds (or even around the neighborhood if this was feasible)...and you could invite kids to bring their walking sticks with them.

Picture showing a typical egyptian staff
Photo taken by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin and shared under

Biblical/Historical Significance of Moses' Staff

Of course, I can't neglect saying a few words about the most important walking stick in the Israelite camp--the "Rod of Moses"--more significantly called the "Rod of God." It was an ordinary walking stick, but God used it, and Moses, and ordinary man, to do extraordinary things.

"You shall take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

It is significant that when God sent Moses to Egypt he commanded him to take his staff, and that he asked Moses to use it when God performed most of His miracles both in Egypt and the wilderness. In Ancient Egypt the staff was a sign of authority, power and dominion. The Pharaoh, Egyptians priests, and many of the Egyptians gods were often pictured with a staff.

And so it makes sense that God would have sent Moses with such a symbol of authority, one that the Egyptians could easily recognize. Imagine what Pharaoh must have thought, a man who considered himself a god, when Moses arrived with his ordinary shepherd's staff, and did wonders Pharaoh could only dream of?  It was a display of God's true authority.

Sources and Additional Info

A thorough article about the significance of the Rod and Staff in scripture from the Christian Life and Doctrine section of The Dawn Magazine, August 2009.

This article overviews how shepherds in Bible times used the staff.
I got my information on the use of the staff as a symbol of authority in ancient Egypt here.

Historical Background: Yarn

While the Egyptians mainly used linen, the Israelites mainly used wool for clothing.   They would have had plentiful wool to make yarn from their herds.   Can you imagine crossing the desert wearing wool? But since the Bible says they took clothes from the Egyptians when they left, as well as gold and silver items, it's likely they would have had linen clothing items too.

The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing.  The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
 - Exodus 12:35-36 NIV 

Tents though, most certainly would have been made with wool, which is water resistant (making tents more waterproof).   Modern Bedouins still make wool tents with small, transportable looms that are carried with them.   I assume the Isrealites would have done the same.

The section in Group's material for the Weaving Tent Host should have some historical background related to the making of yarn...and you can also find more at my page on weaving and dying I did for Nazareth.

Historical Background: Beads

If you want to use beads that seem authentic to the time period and the story, you have a lot of choices. Egyptians used beads for jewelry and also for their hair. We know that the Isrealites took gold and silver items from the Egyptians when they left Egypt, so metallic beads would make sense. They also had beads of glass, stone, wood, and bone in Egypt. In my shop, I also included sea shells beads (I told kids I gathered them when we crossed the Red Sea). These had holes too small for yarn, so I put jump rings through the small holes, which could then be easily tied to the yarn.

Beads shown at right are actual ancient Egyptian beads from the Walters Museum.   Picture is in the public domain.  That and more pictures of Egyptian beads from the museum can be found on Wikimedia Commons.

Wilderness Bible Points - Alternate Tent Host Script
Here is a daily script you can use which goes along with the daily Bible point for Wilderness Escape. This is from the perspective of an Israelite who trusts God and is trying to encourage others who are worried about the dangers they are facing on their journey.  You can also find a printable version here.

DAY 1: Israelites Cross the Red Sea
What a year it's been. Here we were, stuck making bricks for Pharaoh in Egypt, and along comes Moses and starts doing all these amazing things with his staff trying to convince Pharaoh to give us a break so we could go worship God in the wilderness. He throws down his staff and it turns into a snake, and then back into a staff. He goes out to the Nile river and hits the water with his staff, and all the water turns to blood. All sorts of crazy stuff like that. Have you heard about all that? Well, let me tell you, I thought thought that was one amazing staff he had. I thought it was magic or something! But when I met Moses he set me straight. The staff wasn't was just an ordinary walking stick, just like we have here, and he was just an ordinary man. It was God who was really doing all that amazing stuff. Isn't that great to think about...that God can take an ordinary stick and an ordinary man and use them to do all that?

DAY 2: God Provides Quail and Manna
Session 1 (Before the Manna): 
Not much to eat here in the wilderness. Some people are worried that we're going to run out of food. But I don't think God would rescue us from Pharaoh just for us to starve in the wilderness. What do you think?

Session 2 (After the Manna): So, did you hear about the manna? Did you try some? See, here everyone was worried about running out of food, but I knew God would come through.

DAY 3: The Amalekites Attack
It can be really scary out here in the Wilderness...first with the Egyptians chasing us, and now with the Amalekites! It's good to have a nice sturdy walking stick for defense (though I better not see any of you using your sticks on each other! We only use these for walking in the camp, understood?) But then, a stick isn't much good against swords and spears and arrows...and that's all a lot of us have! Well...not all we have. We have God, and I know he can keep us safe. Do you trust God to keep you safe?
DAY 4: Remembering the Passover
For a walking stick, you need a stick that's light enough to carry, but strong enough to hold your weight. If it's not strong enough, if you lean on it, it will break, but if you choose a good strong sturdy stick, it will help make your journey easier. know, that makes me think about some of my fellow Israelites--a lot of them don't seem to trust God very much. It's like they don't think he's strong enough to lean on, like a puny twig. But after all he's done I would think they would trust him. Maybe they've forgotten how strong and powerful God is, and how much he loves them? How can we help them to remember?
DAY 5: The 10 Commandments
So, you're interested in making a walking stick? A good staff can be very useful. You can lean on it while you're walking, you can use it to help herd your sheep. But it's not very good if you don't use it, it would just be a weight to carry around. That's kind of like God's word...if you trust in what God says, it's useful to you. But if you don't trust enough to obey, knowing what God commanded won't help you any more than a staff you don't use.  Do you trust God enough to obey what he says?

Friday, April 27, 2018

What To Do With Stacked Chairs

We have a bunch of chairs we usually stack in the corners of our marketplace during VBS, just to get them out of the way.   When we did Rome we found a creative way to hide the stacked chairs under sheets, turning them into scenery.   (You can often get donations of old white sheets from hotels).

When we had an Egypt themed VBS, we found another way to use our "chairs."   We made "houses" out of them, and used these for our "Tribe Time" (which I believe was called "Family Group Time" that year). 

I liked how a colored piece of cloth looked like a lintel over the doorway (pictured above). A tribe sign also decorated each house.

Inside we made less effort to cover up the chairs (ran out of sheets).  We decorated with blankets and pillows for the kids to sit on, and various other knick knacks our tribe leaders brought.   Each tribe got a camp-fire for their room...something left over from the previous Wilderness VBS.


While they didn't look perfectly like houses, the outside was still a lot nicer to look at than stacked chairs.   

You can see two of our rooms in the corner of this picture...they looked nice with the marketplace tents.  We had four in total, one in each corner.   Having these rooms right in the marketplace made for less traveling (there was also two Sunday school rooms used, right outside our marketplace...but we didn't have to use rooms in our other building, which is a further walk). 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

More Greco Roman Decor

Just a mish-mash of cool Greco-Roman decorating pics from various churches doing Holy Land VBS.

Pictures by Jill Bettinger

Picture by by Jill Bettinger - Mural by Tiffany

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX) 

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX) 

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX)

Picture by Michelle Barrera from 
Teaching Word Faith Center (Fort Worth, TX)