Spruce Tea

Spruce Tea - Almost Bananas

This time of year the ends of conifer trees have bright green buds of new growth. Spruce tips, in particular, are easy to use. Last year I made spruce tip ice cream, as well as a syrup with honey, spruce salt, and just dried spruce. I was surprised how sweet the dried spruce smelled; I used it to flavour meat.

The smell of spruce has the ability, at any moment, of instantly transporting me back to the mountains of my childhood.

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Francúzske Zemiaky: Slovak French Potato Casserole

Francuske Zemiaky: Slovak French Potato Casserole - Almost Bananas

This spring has fluctuated up and down – one day it feels like summer is here to stay, a couple days later I wonder if winter ever left. Today a cold north wind is blowing down from the hills, and is the perfect day for a comfort dish like Francúzske zemiaky – a Slovak version of potato gratin.

Potato gratin is a well known side dish, but Slovaks took the side dish and made it into a one pot (pan) meal. As a busy mom, the more simple to a meal is, the better.

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Winter Markets, Fog, and Misc. (Winter 2015/16 photos)

Winter in the Small Carpathians of Slovakia

Now that spring has finally come, at least to my town, I’m finally posting photos from the winter. I blame it on my family genes, always late for everything.

November begins with one of my favourite traditions, visiting the graveyards and honouring the dead. I can’t even come close to capturing the atmosphere. I’ve written about it before: Nov. 1, All Saints Day

All Saints Day in Slovakia

All Saints Day in Slovakia

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Fašiangy: Slovak Carnival is a party time

Fasiangy: Slovak Carnival is time to party

Leftover from observance of Christian seasons, fašiangy is the time between the end of the Christmas season (January 6) and the beginning of Lent. Basically, it’s party time. It’s the time to indulge in rich foods and have fun before the austerity of Lent. This year, we went to a folklore zabava, a family dance in folklore style that was amazing (read on for a picture of me in kroj below).

For children, one day towards the end of the season is designated for dressing up in costumes, usually at school or pre-school. Slovak kids (including my own) don’t know much about Halloween but get excited for to dress up for Karnival.

For adults, fašiangy marks the ball season. Formal dances are planned in smaller towns and cities alike, attended by men in suit and tie and women in uber fancy dresses. Slovaks dance into the not-so-wee hours of the morning, to live or DJed music. There are certain songs that are played every time, that everybody loves and sings along to. Most of them are hits from the 70’s and 80’s. There are usually at least two meals, plus snacks (read here for how much food a Slovak party must have).

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The Best of 2015

Best of 2015 on Almost Bananas

2015 was the second year of having this little blog space. Almost Bananas transitioned from mostly about food with a little bit of Slovakia thrown in, to focusing more on Slovakia with some weird healthy food thrown in.

I’ve really enjoyed the connections that the blog has brought. Each time somebody leaves a comment or writes me an email, I feel honoured that it was important enough for them to take the time to do so. Thank you to all of you who read, comment, and write emails – you’re why I’m here!

This year, I’ve also started writing at two other places. Holistic Squid is where you will find more healthy food posts by me, including liver drinks and sourdough recipes. The Slovak Spectator is a Slovak newspaper in English and, thus far, I have an opinion piece once a month on matters related to Slovakia.

Also read: The Best of 2014.

First up, the top ten posts written this year with the most views:  Click to continue reading

Medovníky: Slovak Spiced Honey Cookies

Medovniky, a Slovak Spiced Honey Cookie, is a favourite in the winter months - Almost Bananas

Slovak medovníky is translated as gingerbread, but it is a very different cookie, in my opinion.

Medovníky can but doesn’t have to have ginger in it, never has molasses, and has a much drier texture than gingerbread cookies. Instead of molasses, medovníky are sweetened with honey.

They are sold beautifully and elaborated decorated by artists wielding an icing bag. More medovníky cookies are made and given around Christmas time, as they are full of warm spices. The cookies can be hung as a tree decoration, as I have done here with the decorated cookies.

The cookies themselves aren’t super sweet, probably because they are usually caked in icing. I actually like them plain and are perfect tea or milk dunking cookies.  Click to continue reading

Medovniky or Perniky Spice Mix (simple and elaborate versions)

Spice mix for making Slovak medovniky or perniky, simple and elaborate versions - Almost BananasMedovniky are Slovak spiced honey cookies eaten year round but made especially during Christmas and the winter season. Perniky are soft cookie ‘sandwiches’ with plum butter and uses the same spice mix as medovniky. Available to buy prepackaged in Slovakia, this spice mix is for those who don’t have medovniky spice mix in their store, or for those who just want to experiment and make their own.

One of the adjustments of moving to a new country is getting used to different packaging and availability of foods, including spice mixes. You would never find pumpkin spice mix in Slovakia, for example, even though all the spices are common here.

I’ll never forget the time I first made chilli here. It was within the first few months of coming to Slovakia and I bought a package of ‘chili’ and liberally dumped the contents into the pot. But it was pure chili pepper, not chilli powder like I assumed. It was a spicy mistake (although I think I realized my mistake before it was too late and managed to scoop out a good amount of the pepper).  Click to continue reading

Vianočná kapustnica: Slovak Christmas Sauerkraut Soup (vegetarian version)

Slovak Christmas Sauerkraut Soup (vegetarian version) - Almost Bananas

All over Slovakia, Christmas Eve dinner consists of fish and potato salad (read more about Slovak Christmas traditions). Families, influenced by the area they have come from, have different preceding soups, however. My husband’s family makes Cream of Lentil Soup with prunes and thus so do we.

Many families make Vianočná kapustnica, a Christmas sauerkraut soup, but what exactly that soup consists of depends from family to family: some make it without meat, some with; often with prunes and mushrooms, but not always; prunes added at the end, prunes left to cook awhile and infuse the broth; with cream or without.

One friend even told me her mother always made two versions of sauerkraut soup, vegetarian for Christmas Eve and meaty for Christmas day.  One upon a time, Catholics didn’t eat meat on Christmas Eve and although that is no longer done, the meatless version of kapustnica remained as a tradition for many. Click to continue reading

Traditions: finding the balance between the past and the future (October 2015 photos)

Are traditions your garbage or your treasure? - Almost Bananas

As any reader of my blog will know, I’m a big fan of keeping traditions alive, whether a village, song and dance, or lighting candles in the night. So many people, however, seem to take these traditions for granted or consider them as unimportant.

I was taking pictures in the old shed behind my inlaws’, grinning that they would not understand my fascination. A shed of old junk, to them.

Treasures in an old shed - Almost Bananas

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Chata M.R.Štefánika: a chalet in the Low Tatra mountains

Chata M.R.Štefánika, a chalet in the Low Tatra (Nizke Tatry) mountains of Slovakia - Almost Bananas

Nestled in the side of the hill under Ďumbier, the highest mountain in the Low Tatra (Nizke Tatry) mountains, Chata Štefánika is full of charm, comfort, and convenience.

Last week we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary by going for the first overnighter since having kids (9 years). I’ve been wanting to hike in the Nizke Tatry for some time, so even though the weather forecast wasn’t promising, we went anyway.

The Low Tatras are the closest mountain range to the west high enough for a tree line, which was handy given that we only managed to drop the kids off by noon. We drove through to Bystrá, a hamlet where the road was very narrow and had no shoulder and often no sidewalk. From Bystrá we turned off the main road and drove up hill towards ski resorts. We parked at Trangoška and started to hike up the green trail (map at bottom of post).  Click to continue reading

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