Winter Hike up McKirdy Mountain, Valemount, Canada

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

I wasn’t expecting to get to Canada this year, but in February I made a quick unplanned visit to be together with my extended family. Given that it takes two days to travel one way from Slovakia to the middle of nowhere Canada, I didn’t have much time but was still hoping to get above treeline.

My mom and I did make it up, and I couldn’t have asked for a better companion. We frequently paused along the trail as we got into conversation, solving all the problems of the world.

We went up McKirdy Mountain, and while I have showed pictures and shared memories of my favourite place in the the world before, it was in the summer.

We hadn’t planned on stopping at Hermit Thrush Cabin, but when one of the lenses in my glasses fell out, we traipsed over to tape them back together. That red Tuck Tape has some seriously sticky qualities, and is oh-so-sexy for repairing glasses.

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

We took a look at the guest book, and this entry from my eldest aunt caught our eyes:

“…I have been revisiting old sites and old memories. I first came here, to the lake, 54 years ago – 1960. [Five of us] looked up at the mountain one lovely summer day longing to hike the mountain. We were ages 10, 11, and 12.

[My cousin] had been up to the lake with his dad the summer before, so he was our guide. There was no trail of any kind. We put together a few supplies, an axe, and tea pail, a bit of food, one blanket rolled up with a string around it, one sleeping bag rolled up with two belts to strap it to my shoulders (not a decent pack among us) and set out from the house. I remember crawling up through the alders and buck brush that sloped down hill toward us. Looking at the sky line thinking we were nearly there, but it went on and on. “Are you sure this is the right way?” Amazingly [my cousin] did have a sense of the right direction, because after 5 1/2 hours we did arrive at the lake.

We built a fire and made a brush bed. No tent. It was a cold night and I don’t think any of us slept very well. Some of us got diarrhea and we ran out of toilet paper. We hiked up to the meadows in the morning and then headed down (a different way)…”

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

They were 10, 11, and 12. I love it. To modern parent ears it sounds terribly dangerous, five young kids on a mountain side without an adult. I wasn’t much older the first time I went up the mountain ‘unsupervised’, two of us were 13 and my sister 11, but having a trail makes all the difference in the world, to my mind.

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada
I was planning on wearing hiking boots, but when we went to leave they had mysteriously disappeared. I’m a huge fan of winter hiking in moccasins/mukluks. I’ve hiked all day in -40C/F with three pairs of wool socks in mukluks, and my toes were toasty warm the entire time.

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

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McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

McKirdy Mt. Valemount BC Canada

More photos on Flickr.

How to Cook Brains: Slovak Mozgy

How to Eat Brains Slovak Mozgy

When at a Slovak zabijačka (za-bee-yach-ka), a family pig slaughtering, the first food to be cooked is lunch. Without fail, my mother in law makes mozgy, a dish containing the brains and spinal cord.

When planning to blog about zabijačka, I wanted to post exact recipes. This, however, was not possible due to a number of factors, like helping out and taking care of children, but most of all because nobody has any idea of how much of an ingredient they use. If I’m lucky, amounts are given in handfuls, sprinkles, and pours.

“Mami, how much onion did you put in?” I ask.

“Oh, I don’t know, until it looks good. However much the butcher says.” my mother in law answers.  Read More

Bone Broth Slovak Sunday Soup

 

Bone Broth Slovak Sunday Soup

This soup makes an appearance every Sunday at my mother in law’s, and now at my house. The clear broth is made with bones, but there is a secret to making sure that the broth stays clear and not cloudy! We call it Sunday soup, although in Slovak it doesn’t really have a name, just ‘soup.’ The broth warms the stomach, aids digestion for the meal to follow, and provides a host of nutrients. It also appears as the first course at weddings and any celebratory occasion when people eat together.   Read More

Explore the Elements

Wherever we travel in the world, the four elements are there in some form. Thomas Cook is having a photo contest with each of the four elements as a topic: earth, fire, air, and water. I couldn’t help but peruse through the files to see if I had something appropriate.

Earth: Rocky Mountains, British Columbia, Canada
Represents the hard, solid objects of the earth. Associated with stubbornness, collectiveness , physicality and gravity.

Earth: Rocky Mountains, Canada

Despite mountains being an obvious choice to represent Earth, I still choose this photo of the Monashee Range of the Rocky Mountains in Canada, with Kinbasket Lake below. The mountains never fail to inspire awe in me, at their beauty, size, and majesty. Looking down the range like this, one can see more than just one mountain and get a glimpse at their vastness and permanence.  Read More

Chicken Paprikash

Quick and cozy, chicken paprikash is a dish commonly made in Slovakia, though originally from Hungry, of chicken cooked in a creamy paprika sauce and served over pasta of some sort. This version is dairy free or full of dairy, whichever you prefer!

Chicken Paprikash - Slovak comfort food

I love finding new dishes with old ingredients. Ingredients that are already part of my kitchen, that are easily available in any grocery store, but combined in a way that I haven’t used before.

For example, chicken paprikáš (pronounced paprikash). Like most dishes that feature sweet paprika, this dish originates in Hungry. Hungry had a major influence in Slovakia during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and naturally this carried over in the realm of food as well

I mean, who wants to turn down a dish of delicious?  Read More

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

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