Posts by Naomi :

Téryho chalet and the valley of the five lakes

Teryeho chata against the backdrop of mountain peaks in the Slovak High TatrasTéryho chata is a chalet high in the Slovak High Tatra mountains, perched on the edge of a cliff with views down the long valley. Behind the chalet is a breathtaking valley with five tarn lakes, lorded over by craggy, austere mountain peaks.

Between an extra bank holiday just this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia (which doesn’t exist anymore) and a regular bank holiday for All Saints Day (my favourite tradition), the kids had a week off from school. My husband also took a few days off, and so we hightailed it to the mountains.

The fall is the best time to visit the High Tatras, as the weather is more stable, and this autumn has been particularly gorgeous. While it has snowed a few times already in the alpine, a burst of warm weather meant that only small patches were left.

Hiking with kids usually means we play it by ear – we don’t want to push them too far and so we plan on going only as far as they can manage. Téryho chata was our optimistic destination but my husband was doubtful we would get there. The chalet lies at an elevation of 2015 m (6210 feet), 19 km (12 miles) from Starý Smokovec, where we were staying. And the twins are only six, after all. But, as you will see, they surpassed our expectations.  Click to continue reading

Plavecký Mikuláš: hiking to Jelenia Hora and Kršlenica

view of Placecky hrad and fields, Slovakia

On the other side of the hills from where I live in the Malé Karpaty (Little Carpathians) is Plavecký Mikuláš, surrounded by numerous accessible places to hike. So far, I’ve gone on two short hikes, the first about a month ago to a viewpoint called Jelenia hora and the second more recently to the rocky outcropping above the town, Kršelnica, where we went climbing. Yes, the kind with ropes. With kids. And nope, I don’t like heights.  Click to continue reading

Slíže: Slovak noodles, often sweet

How to make slize, Slovak noodles, which are often eaten sweet, like with farmers cheese, poppy seed, or nuts.

There are foods that span a range of diverse cultures – like noodles. The exact origins of pasta is debated, but today thin pieces of rolled flour and water are enjoyed across Asia, Europe and North America.

It tastes good, one of those addictive comfort foods, and takes on the taste of any country, from bowls of brothy ramen to plates of spaghetti covered with thick tomato sauce and Parmesan.

One Slovak version of noodles is called slíže (sli-se, s pronounced like in Asia). They are also called rezance (re-zan-tse). If there is a difference between slíže and rezance, the Slovaks I asked couldn’t come to a consensus. For me, one big difference is that these noodles are often eaten sweet, with poppy seed, nuts, or tvaroh (farmers cheese), with lots of melted butter and honey or icing sugar.  Click to continue reading

The Intricate Art of Straw-decorated Easter Eggs

Slovak straw-decorated Easter eggs

When I was in Canada, decorated Easter eggs meant pysanky, the Ukrainian art of wax-resist coloured eggs which results in beautiful and intricately patterned eggs. My first year of college, my friends and I spent hours doing pysanky over the Easter break.

When I came to Slovakia, I realized that there were many more traditional methods of decorating eggs here, including drawing with wax, cutting the egg shell, etching, and decorating with straw.

I first saw the straw method a number of years ago at a local spring fair. Pani Sitarova sat at a small table, gluing minuscule pieces onto an egg. I marveled over her patience working with such small pieces. This year, I asked her to show me the process, and marveled even more.  Click to continue reading

Ťahaný závin: how to make pulled strudel

Pulled strudel made the Slovak way

Pulled strudel is generally thought of as an Austrian dessert, but it became popular all over the Hapsburg Empire, which included Slovakia. Paper thin flaky layers of dough are rolled around various fillings, from poppy seed to apple. Called both štrúdľa or závin in Slovak, závin can also refer to a similar rolled log made with a yeast dough.

I wanted to make pulled strudel some time ago so I looked up some videos and, upon being shown how easy it was, said, “Nope, someone has to show me.” It looked hard, or at least required skills I had never used.

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that it is really hard to make a perfectly pulled strudel. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter. Honestly.  Click to continue reading

Opantance: Slovak millet and gnocchi with caramelized onions

Opantance: Slovak millet and gnocchi with caramelized onions and bacon

“I brought something else to cook too,” the small woman said when she came in, “a specialty to this region, opantance.” I peered into the bag she held open and saw millet.

I was at a friend’s house to learn how to make pulled strudel (recipe here) from her mother, who also brought ingredients for a lesser known regional dish, opantance, millet and flour gnocchi baked together and topped with caramelized onions or other toppings.

We got to cooking and baking and she got to talking.  Click to continue reading

Winter Wonder on Čierna Skala

hiking in a snowy forest, Slovakia

Pretty much every year I complain that it’s not wintery enough where I live. Some years it snows, some years it doesn’t. This year it has snowed and melted, snowed and melted, repeat.

Just before the New Year I went hiking with friends to a nearby lookout, Čierna skala, which means black rock. It’s not black, so I don’t know where the name comes from. I hesitate to call it a peak…it’s a rocky outcropping with a lovely view.

It had just snowed, the snow literally starting at the base of the hills.  Click to continue reading

Mäkké Oškvarkové Pagáče: soft lard crackling biscuits

yeasted biscuits made of lard cracklings

I have an awesome neighbour, Lucia. When I told her that I wanted to go into Slovaks’ homes to learn recipes from them, she called me up. “My grandmother-in-law is making oškvarkové pagáče, want to come?” Yes!

Pagáč are similar to what North Americans would call biscuits and British would call scones, small savoury scones. There are many types – potato, cheese, bryndza (soft sheep cheese), and lard crackling, among others.

Oškvarkové pagáče are the ones made with lard cracklings ground into a paste and spread onto the yeast dough, folded to create layers. There is a variety even within oškvarkové pagáče, however. These ones are soft and a little bread-like; another recipe I have is richer and more flaky. One isn’t better than another, they just have different textures.  Click to continue reading

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

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