gift

21 Books in English about Slovakia

21 books about Slovakia in English at Almost Bananas

Almost Bananas presents…(drumroll)…21 books in English set in Slovakia, including 10 books to giveaway (giveaway over, look out for next year’s)!

I’m so excited to finally tell you about this project I’ve been working on.

It started with me wondering if there was a book in English that I could give friends and family so that they could understand Slovakia a little more. There isn’t much in English about Slovakia, but after some digging I found these 21 books. If anybody knows of more, let me know and I’ll include them in a future list.

I had a few criteria. I wanted stories, real or fiction, thus excluding travel books, textbook type history, and poetry. And I wanted them to be set in Slovakia or the Slovak side of Czechoslovakia (with one exception).

If you want to understand more about Slovakia, give a gift, or just like to read, then this list is for you. (psst…Christmas is quickly approaching) Make sure to scroll down to the bottom in order to enter the giveaway!

Even though I have already lived here for over a decade, I learned so so much, both about Slovakia’s history and people. I admit that I’m not a history buff – reading dry history text puts me to sleep (literally, this was my trick in college if I had insomnia. Worked every time). But in the context of a story or a person’s experience, a country’s character and history come alive even if the actual storyline is fictional.

The following books are divided into the following genres:

Youth – WWII (Slovak Jews) – Memoirs – Fiction – Slovak Literature  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 (recipe) 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

Toasted Vanilla Bean Powder

Toasted Vanilla Bean Powder

Vanilla is one of the most popular flavourings, and for good reason. Somehow it smells sensual, exotic, and elegant all at the same time. And the taste!

In Slovakia, where I live, vanilla extract is not available, but vanilla sugar. Most vanilla sugars are made using artificial flavourings and even the ones using real vanilla have miniscule amounts of vanilla in it. (If you happen to understand Czech, here’s an investigative video into the rip off of buying vanilla sugar.)

Sometimes I get sent a bottle of vanilla extract and I dole it out carefully, torn between increasing the heavenly taste and using up the bottle quickly.

It’s possible, of course, to make your own vanilla sugar or vanilla extract (or tincture?). The problem is that you have to plan and wait, while the vanilla bean steeps it’s goodness into the sugar or alcohol. I’m not very good at getting around to making it until I need it for a recipe, and then it’s too late and I don’t have time to wait. Click to continue reading

4 Easy Origami Toys From 1 Piece of Paper

4 Simple Origami Toys from One Piece of Paper

Origami is both an exacting art and simple form of fun. As a child, we always had books on origami around the house and, even though we couldn’t read Japanese, we could follow the illustrated directions. The only origami I ever managed to memorize, however, is a crane.

Before our wedding, my family sat around a few nights before folding a couple hundred origami boxes.  We wanted to include the Canadian tradition of British wedding cake (a dense fruit cake), which we placed inside Japanese origami boxes on plates. We sat around folding paper, recalling stories, and singing songs all evening.

These origami toys are simple to make but full of fun. And you can make all of these from one piece of paper. For more fun you can use coloured paper, although construction paper is probably too thick.

These would make a perfect small gift for a child. For a younger child you can just make them, for an older child you could include instructions so that they can make their own as well (links to printable instructions linked at the bottom). These toys are quiet, require no batteries, and are soon ruined so no clutter.

This is also suitable for a child to make as gifts. The two older girls and I had a lot of fun folding all together.

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Nuts in Honey: a handmade gift

Nuts in Honey sweet Christmas gift

When do you start getting ready for Christmas?

In general, I start thinking about gifts in September but then do nothing until the last ten days beforehand. I want to make all sorts of cutesy crafts with the kids and get into that holiday spirit, but we’re lucky if we get some paper snowflakes cut out and taped to the window. I plan handmade gifts for everyone I know, and then end up with none.

This year, I’m going to get it all done in a timely manner. And trim my expectations to be a little more realistic.

Now, however, is a good time to start thinking about handmade gifts. If you feel intimidated by the idea, it can actually be quite simple They don’t have to be fancy, you don’t have to be crafty. Click to continue reading