winter

When You’re Homesick

When you're homesick

I watched the back of the van disappear into a cloud of winter’s leftover dust, carrying away my fiance and his extended family back to Austria where he was working, and burst into tears, the kind with great gasping sobs.

I had been living for a few months in Slovakia. Winter is not Bratislava’s finest season, grey skies, grey streets, grey buildings. I was teaching English at different companies, and so had limited contact with other people on a regular basis other than my students,  to many of whom this timid inexperienced girl was not nearly exciting as the gregarious loud fun experienced man I had taken over classes from. After the disaster of my first living arrangements, I was living with a kind but largely absent woman.

In short I was lonely, hated the city, and felt incompetent at my job. Oh, and didn’t yet speak the language of the land. I missed my mountains, being able to ask for a product at the store without acting it out, and my family.

The thing about homesickness is that, in most cases, it is our own choices that have brought us to that point. We’ve moved away to another country or a.cross country, away from the life and people we know. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so permanent when making those choices, or we’re caught up in the excitement of the moment.  Click to continue reading

Vianočné oplátky: making Christmas wafers

A woman holds oplatky, also called oblatky, as she makes them

A necessary part of Christmas for most Slovaks is the thin crisp wafer served at the Christmas Eve meal, oplátky or oblátky, depending on the dialect. Some thin wafers are sold as ‘cakes’ layered together with a sweet filling at spas all year round, but the Christmas wafers are a little different. (More about Slovak Christmas.)

I’ve been trying to get into Slovak kitchens for some time now, to publish their cooking and baking secrets for the world to know. (If you know someone willing for me to come over with a camera, send me an email!) I finally invited myself over to learn how to make oplátky from a lady who makes them in my town.  Click to continue reading

Wild Rice Stuffing with Apricots, Almonds, Sage

Wild Rice Stuffing with apricots, almonds, and sage
Ever since I can remember, my mom has made turkey stuffing with wild rice. In fact, I didn’t even know that most people made stuffing with bread. In grade 8 Home Ec, we made stuffing during class. “Why are we getting out bread?” I wondered.

The quality of bread determines the texture of the stuffing, and I remember being disappointed at this soggy smooshy mass made of wonder bread, because I loved my mom’s stuffing. While I’m sure a sturdy sourdough bread would be delicious, I’m partial to a rice stuffing.

The wild rice (or long grain brown rice) is slightly chewy, the almonds provide a creamy bite. Aromatic sage complements the bursts of sweetness from dried apricot. And it just happens to be gluten free, if that’s an issue.  Click to continue reading

The Best Ever Goulash (and the ebook is here!!)

Best Ever Goulash - Almost Bananas blog

A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews BookFor the past while, I’ve been working on an ebook, A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve been frustrated, and now I’m so excited to share it with you! It’s part cookbook, part travelogue, with cultural stories, delicious recipes, and info about traditional cooking methods – like why bone broth is so amazing.
You can check out the book here – A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews
Here’s a teaser – one recipe and part of the story for making goulash.

 

Strictly speaking, goulash is not Slovak but Hungarian. Slovaks know a good dish when they taste it, however, and this stew is a staple here in Slovakia.

When hosting a large gathering, goulash and kapustnica (sauerkraut soup) are the go-to Slovak meals, much like chili or beef stew in North America.

This recipe is from my husband, goulash cook extraordinaire. Since I was accustomed to his goulash genius, I was under the impression that making goulash was fairly fool-proof; I thought that all goulash was good goulash. This is not the case. No. After sampling several underwhelming versions, I realized just how amazing his goulash recipe really is, and my opinion is shared by many.

Slovak friends who recently visited said it was the best goulash they had ever tasted, and Slovaks are not prone to exaggeration. In fact, his recipe is so popular that friends and family have called him to come make goulash for their celebrations, sometimes for 100+ people. His amazing recipe is a great way to get an invitation to a party.  Click to continue reading

Slovak Roast Rabbit

Slovak Roast Rabbt, juicy baked rabbit recipe on Almost Bananas

Rabbit used to be a much more commonly eaten meat in Slovakia, when most people kept a pig, rabbits, and chickens in their backyard. Today it is still eaten although not as much.

I know, rabbits are these soft cuddly sweet animals. Well, sometimes sweet. My in laws once had their rabbits stolen except for one, and when my husband opened the door he quickly learned why as the rabbit lunged toward him with teeth bared and claws at the ready.  Click to continue reading

Lokše: Slovak Potato Flatbread (regular and gluten-free)

Lokše: Slovak Potato Flatbread (regular and gluten-free)

lokse-1-words

A classic Slovak food, especially through the fall and winter, is lokše. Made mostly of potatoes, these are always at markets with various fillings. During the fall they are often served with duck or goose – and the duck or goose fat. And because it’s the potatoes that hold the flatbread together, they are a perfect candidate for making gluten-free.

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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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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.  Click to continue reading

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.  Click to continue reading

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