Connections, Love, and Death.

Connection, Love, and Death

There is a theme that has been running through my head and my heart recently: connections and community.

It started last year when a particularly grisly case was discovered in Slovakia. The only details necessary here is that a 3 year old girl died of physical abuse but her death wasn’t discovered for three years. Three years.

A bill was proposed to bring back the practice of social workers visiting the homes of all children under the age of three (when most children start going to playschool). These visits were carried out during Communism, and my mother in law said that those visits were nerve-racking.

I’m all for protecting innocent children but I also recoil at the thought of a stranger regularly coming into our home to check up on us.  What particularly bothers me, however, is that the government cannot replace the role of the community.

I think back to that little girl and wonder how it is possible that no one noticed that she was missing for three years. Where were her relatives? Family friends? Neighbours? Where was her community, the people that were connected to her?

In many ways the idea of community gets buried under our celebration of independence and individualism. We’ve all had nosy old grumps or judgmental ‘friends’ who shame us for the decisions we’ve made. We get angry and hurt, and respond “mind your own damn business.” And it’s true – how many children we have, what food philosophy we follow, or what religious beliefs we adhere to (among others) are not up for other people to judge.

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A Slovak Pig Butchering: Part I, The Setup and Process

Slovak Pig Butchering

One of the qualities that I enjoy about Slovakia is how many traditions are still observed in rural areas, whether it be folk singing and dancing, draft horse competitions, or lighting cemeteries up with candles.

Some of these traditions are cultural and remeniscent of the past; others are born from survival. In December, my husband’s parents had zabíjačka (za bee yach ka), killing the family pig.

In the not so distant past, everybody in the village had a pig. It was necessary for survival. Now its less common though still practiced, particuarly by older people.

I grew up on a farm in Canada, but the style of slaughter is very different. In my experience, a number of animals were slaughtered at once but not much was done with it. The meat would be cut up (after hanging if beef) and stored in the freezer. I remember making sausages once at my grandparents and the smoke house in use, but it certainly wasn’t the same day as butchering.

In Slovakia, one, max two, pigs are killed and a variety of goods are made that same day. Many of the recipes use up the organs, so that you can’t even tell when you eat it. Everything is used, besides the toenails, contents of the intestines, and ear drums. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share those recipes here at Almost Bananas. Today, it’s about the set up of how they do it, which I think is fascinating.

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Roasted Sweet Potato Puree with Orange & Coconut AND Giveaway: And Here We Are At The Table

And Here We Are At The Table

When I was growing up, meals were a sit-down-together deal. When any meal was ready, be it breakfast, lunch, or supper, Mom called and we all sat down. To be honest, I can’t really remember what we talked about, other than Dad making jokes. What I remember is the atmosphere. It seemed like such a normal thing, but now I appreciate it in this fast paced world of ours. As we children got older, supper became a long drawn out affair as we sat around afterwards, talking and joking and sharing our days. And picking at the leftovers – we got to saying that when you picked there weren’t any calories.

Snapshots of memories at the table:

In an attempt to foster polite eating habits in young children, Mom gets us to show her how we would eat if the Queen was coming for dinner.

One of my sisters waiting until everyone was done their (rare) dessert, and then slowly savouring each little bite of her own dessert while the rest of us look on with longing.

Shouting “That enough!!” when someone else is pouring maple syrup on their pancakes.

Sharing in the bubbling electric wok in the middle of the table, adding vegetables, noodles, or meat for shabu shabu, chopsticks clicking, sometimes slipping, dipping in the sauce.

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Cream of Lentil Soup with Prunes

Prunes are added to Christmas soups in Slovakia. They have a festive sweetness that melds well with the lentils and cream.

Cream of Lentil Soup with Prunes

As I mentioned in my post about how Slovaks celebrate Christmas, each area of Slovakia makes a different type of soup for Christmas. Some make a sauerkraut based soup, others split pea, and still others cream of lentil. What all the soups have in common is the festive addition of prunes.

When I first heard about prunes in soup, I was sceptical. Prunes? In Soup? Weird, I thought. But I’m game to try anything at least once, and so my first Christmas in Slovakia found me discovering a whole new way of eating a childhood food. Read More

Draft Horse Competition in Slovakia

Draft Horse Competition in Slovakia

This last weekend we went up to Bytča in northern Slovakia to a small draft horse competition, something I’ve been wanting to go to for some time. In the more rural parts of Slovakia work horses are still used on smaller farms.

As we drove north the hills become higher and closer together and, about 15 minutes from our destination, we drove into winter. Snow lay thick on conifer trees, low bushes still held the snow. My oldest daughter loves winter as much as I do and she kept exclaiming, “Oh, look, Mom, snow! It’s so beautiful!”

When we arrived the snow started falling, fat fluffy flakes so thick sometimes you could barely see. Along one side of the grounds were tents selling decorated gingerbread, handmade cowboy type boots and hats, harnesses and other paraphernalia for horses, sheep cheese and wooly knits, balloons and kid’s toys, goulash, and coffee.

We arrived towards the end of the wagon slalom. Read More

Best and Favourites of 2014

Best and favourites of 2014 on Almost Bananas

2014 saw the beginning of this little space and it’s been a huge learning experience. I hope the blog continues to improve. I really enjoy writing and photographing here, and only keep going because you read it. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit Almost Bananas through the year. First, a list of the most viewed posts, followed by some of my favourites! Read More

A Slovak Christmas

opening gifts on Christmas

I know, I know, I’m breaking every blogging rule in the book. It’s January and I should be writing about new beginnings and positive thoughts, and here I am still on the old year. I wanted to share how a Slovak Christmas is with you though, and real life means it’s already January before I sit down to do it

A Slovak Christmas begins on štedrý Večer, literally bounteous evening, which is Christmas Eve. Christmas trees in Slovakia are traditionally put up on this day, although now some families put them up a few days before. The day is spent cleaning and cooking in most households, while burning incense (frankincense and myrrh).

Some families still take a walk to the cemetery before supper, to pray for deceased loved ones and ancestors. It’s also a chance to slip the presents under the tree. When you return, Ježiško has already brought the presents. Read More

Spice Cookies (AIP Paleo, GAPS) nut, grain and egg free

These spice cookies are perfect for dunking in tea (if you can’t dunk them in milk). These are very allergy friendly, without gluten, grains, dairy, nuts, or eggs.

AIP Paleo Spice Cookies

Eveyone knows there are 12 days of Christmas, but did you know that they start on Christmas day? Meaning that today is the 5th day of Christmas.

For me this works out well – I had a whole list of goodies I wanted to make gifts with and it didn’t get done before Christmas actually happened. I’ve been planning to make gingerbread houses as well, and, well, that hasn’t happened yet either.

But the good thing is that there are still 7 days of Christmas left. “Merry 10th day of Christmas…here is your Christmas gift. I’m not late, really.” Read More

Fermented Cabbage Stuffed Peppers

Fermented Cabbage Stuffed Peppers

If you’ve been around Almost Bananas for a while, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of fermented foods. All the probiotics are beneficial for your health in so many ways, confirmed by science. Fermenting preserves food, and tastes amazing while it’s making us healthier.

Fermenting food is kind of like having a running science experiment in your kitchen. Jars full of bubbling mixes, smells that we are no longer used to. Guests will wonder what on earth is going on in your kitchen.

Once upon a time these were normal foods. And now, we often have to accustom our taste buds to fermented foods, as many grow up without tasting them at all.

Here in Slovakia an old and common ferment is cabbage stuffed peppers. It’s warm enough here to grow peppers and this is a great way to preserve them for the winter. Read More

How to Live as a Big Family in a Small Space

6 people in 70m2

A few years ago I returned to Canada for a visit. I woke up at my sister’s house and looked out the window – everything seemed so BIG compared to Europe. Beefy trucks with bulky snowmobiles were parked in front of massive houses.

Now, I admit that I miss trucks. On the very rare occasion that I see one here, I wish I could buy one. I would seriously love some snow (although my type of sledding usually involves walking uphill).

But the huge houses…I’ll leave them. My dream house, for our family of 6, is about 110 m2 (1180 ft2). My dream house also has innovative furniture, like a desk on hydraulics that transforms into a guest bed without disturbing the stuff on the desk. (You can find more of my house aesthetics on Pinterest on the That Someday House board, as well as some separate bedroom boards.)

Right now though, I don’t have the fancy furniture or even custom storage. I’ve got 6 people in 70 m2 (750 ft2). I’m not crazy organized or a great housekeeper, but we manage to live in our home fairly comfortably. Read More

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