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 (coming later) 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

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

Košice Peace Marathon

Runners in Kosice Peace Marathon, Slovakia

Earlier this October I was able to travel with my husband to the Košice Peace Marathon, the oldest marathon in Europe. Inspired by the marathon at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, a Košice native returned home to organize a marathon run by 8 men. Today, over 10,000 people take part in the event with runs of various lengths, as well as inline skating and wheelchair/handbike disciplines.

We arrived on late Saturday afternoon, the city center abuzz. Tents set up displayed and/or sold various wares, the streets were lined with barrier fences, and the streets were busy with athletes, their supporters, and spectators. Small packs of Roma children ran through the crowd. By evening, more people were walking the main roads and the youth of Košice weren’t about to miss out, making me feel like an old stogy parent (some of them just looked so young to be roaming the night streets).  Click to continue reading

Slovak Stuffed Peppers (with cooking poems)

stuffed peppers blog

Instead of being baked, Slovak stuffed peppers are stewed in a rich tomato sauce for a juicy flavour-packed meal. 

To be honest, getting food on the table day after day can get to be a bit of a drag. And have you seen the amount of food kids can consume? I remember when my brother was a teen, I swear pans of cookies just got inhaled.

It’s certainly a luxury to be able to complain about the burden of cooking though. In the not so distant past, Slovaks had a handful of meals they cooked over again and were glad for it, as most of them knew the gnaw of hunger. And we know that in various parts of the world, people are starving.

But still…what am I going to cook for dinner tonight? I now marvel that my mother laid out a feast for us every evening, although as a child I didn’t think anything of it. I do remember, however, on one occasion my father went back to Japan for a visit and we ate a lot of eggs and toast (my father can’t eat many eggs).

A friend recently wrote a poem on Facebook to share her conundrum of shopping vs. putting crazy ingredients together, and it prompted a number of humorous responses with impressive poetry writing skills.  Click to continue reading

Kôprovský štít and Veľké Hincovo pleso: a jeweled lake in the grandiose High Tatras

Velke Hincovo Pleso in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

As long time readers of my blog will know, I run to the mountains at any chance I get. At the end of August my husband and I were able to get away for a night to the Vysoké Tatry, the High Tatra mountains. (Another weekend without children in one summer! The luxury of older children and teenage nieces and nephews.)

This time we’re off to the Vysoké Tatry, the highest mountains in Slovakia and the highest range in the Carpathian mountain system that stretches from Austria to Ukraine and down to Romania. As much as I love hiking, I haven’t hiked here much because of so many years of having children too big to pack but too small to hike far.

Štrbské Pleso

We arrive in the evening at Štrbské Pleso, one of the towns used as a base to go hiking from. A pleso is a tarn, a lake carved from glacial movement that leaves behind a valley/hole that fills with water. Štrbské Pleso mostly consists of hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Click to continue reading

Veľký Choč: the most beautiful view in Slovakia

View of west tetras from Choc in Slovakia

It all started with an Instagram picture of a cabin in the middle of the forest somewhere in Slovakia. I decided wanted to go there, basically bulldozed my husband into going for our vacation, and we went. Well, not that exact cabin, but in the area.

Going on annual family vacations wasn’t something I did growing up. And now as an expat, it seems like vacation is either going to visit family (which is awesome and beautiful) or saving up for it.

Just being

But this summer I badly wanted to just get away from it all. Not just from the daily grind of where we live, but from noise and technology and speed of life; I wanted to get away to the woods and just be.

We found a cabin in the hills of the Liptov region and the first day did nothing else but be there – some reading, a hot dog roast, exploring the immediate area. I roamed the hill cleared by a blow-down, picking mullein leaves and flowers. My oldest came along, picking strawberry leaves for winter tea; it was one of her favourite parts of the day. With no electricity we kept our phones on airplane mode, packed water in a bucket from the nearby spring (dear mountain water, how I miss you), and basked in the not-too-hot sun.  Click to continue reading

« Older Entries