Hiking in Slovakia: Vapeč

Vapec, Slovakia

Last weekend my husband and I got the treat of going for a ‘date’ on our own. A brother and sister in law agreed to take the kids, and we decided to go hiking. While we do live near hills, we wanted something a little higher.

Vapeč (pronounced Vapech) is the nearest peak-out-of-the-trees-high-hill. Or is it a mountain? At almost 1000m (3280 ft), it was close, beautiful, and not too difficult. Continue reading

Flavoured Water: Elderflower Lemon and Linden Blossom Cucumber

Flavoured Water: Elderflower and Linden Blossom

The problem with foraging wild flowers is that they are rather finicky.

If it rains, it washes away the pollen and reduces the taste of the flowers. This year it started to rain heavily just when the lilacs came into bloom. Last year I made an amazing lilac ice cream; this year it had no taste.

Some flowers all bloom in one shot, so that they are available only for a short time. Behind my inlaws’ village is an avenue lined with black locust trees; when in bloom the fragrance in the air is intoxicating. The trees look like they are covered in snow and white blossoms drift to the ground like large perfumed snowflakes. But if you’re a little late, too bad. I missed the peak of the black locusts and, while I managed to gather a handful of late blossoms, the recipe didn’t turn out the first time. Continue reading

Children’s Firefighting Drill

Hasicky Kruzok

As an ex-pat, it’s easy for me to be completely confused about what everybody else takes for granted.

Take, for example, the large metal red and white box at the end of the schoolyard. When we first moved here, I asked my husband what it was for. “To hold water for the firefighters,” he replied, and then we got distracted by something else.

I thought of various reasons why that box would be there and occasionally saw a firetruck go into the schoolyard, but didn’t pursue what exactly it was all about. Was there an underground cistern or source of water? Did they need to keep extra water by the school for safety? SIX years later, I finally know. Continue reading

Sweet Beef Heart Curry

Sweet Beef Heart Curry

If you’ve continued to read on after the title, congratulations – it means that you haven’t keeled over from the thought of eating a heart, as in, the organ. If you’ve only risen from keeling over, you might want to skip this post, although nutritionally speaking you’ll be sorry if you do.

If you’re actually interested in eating a beef heart, I heartily toast you as being an adventurous eater, at least if you are from North America. To most of the rest of the world, I think, eating organs is no big deal. Continue reading

Lemon Poppy Seed Ice Cream

Lemon Poppy Seed Ice Cream

While serving this ice cream to my daughter, I taught her the “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream” ditty. Not having heard it before, she thought it was pretty funny and ran around to everyone else saying “Say I scream!”

I realized after I titled it, however, that it’s probably more like a gelato than ice cream.

But does it really matter? It’s cold, it’s delicious, it’s refreshing. Continue reading

Fermented Spiced Apple Chutney

Fermented Spiced Apple Chutney

I remember the very first time I ate an apple straight from the tree. It was as if I had been in Plato’s cave my whole life and what I thought were apples were only shadows.

Crisp. Juicy. Sweet. Refreshing.

I was in college by the time I experienced an amazing apple, as where I grew up was too cold to have fruit trees. Fruit trees, apparently, don’t like -40 temperatures. Actually, I can’t think of any living thing that does. Continue reading

Spruce Tip Ice Cream (Dairy Free) + Spruce Tip Salt and Honey

Spruce Tip Ice Cream

A delight in nature influences my mother’s adventurous culinary skills. I grew up thinking it was normal to gather stinging nettles to eat or plantain to heal.

One wild vegetable/herb that is easy to forage is spruce tips. Spruce trees are the ones with scaley bark and short, prickley needles. In the spring, new growth sprouts from the ends of branches, a bright neon green against the dark old growth.

The smell of spruce tip tea brings me back to smokey fires and crisp morning alpine air. The little blackened tin pot would be have a few flecks of ash in the water, and the bright green tips would darken to an ugly brown as they infused their goodness into the hot water.

Spruce tips are full of vitamin C, although apparently three year old needles have the highest amount. The tips are much easier to gather, however, as they are easily pinched off and not prickly. Besides tea, you can also make beer, finishing salt, and spruce honey. I haven’t ventured into beer making (yet), but the salt and honey are easy to make.

Spruce Tip Honey

Preserving herbs in honey is my favourite method of preservation – it’s easy, tasty, and lasts forever. I’ve done it with elderflowers, spruce tips, and have plans for more. Using sugar to make a medicinal syrup seems counterproductive to me, and using honey is much easier. I don’t have a recipe – just chopped up some spruce tips, threw them in a jar and poured honey overtop till it felt right, and stirred. I’m saving it for winter months, to stir in tea or take by the spoonful for colds and flus. I opened it after two weeks and it has an amazing smell and taste, quite different from the original spruce tips but I can’t describe it. You’ll just have to make it.

Spruce Tip Salt

Making spruce finishing salt is just as easy. Chop up spruce tips finely, mix with equal amounts of (unrefined) salt, spread out to dry. When dry, put the mixture in a jar. The salt helps the spruce to dry faster; I dried some spruce tips plain, and they took much longer.

Hunger and Thirst has some excellent ideas for using spruce salt, including on mushrooms and in a bath. Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska also has some great recipes with spruce tips, including spruce mayonnaise and spruce shortbread.

I also used the spruce tips to make ice cream. I happened to use rapadura to sweeten it because it was the only sweetener I had on hand, and I ended up loving the caramel flavour of the rapadura paired with the zingyness of the spruce. For those on GAPS or AIP, dates would make a great substitute for the rapadura, I’ll update with how much when I try it.

I used homemade coconut milk which has considerabely less coconut flavour than bought coconut milk. I recommend making the coconut milk or using another mild flavoured milk, such as almond or cow milk/cream.

Spruce Tip Ice Cream

Spruce Tip Ice Cream (Dairy Free)
2 cups homemade coconut milk
1/2 cup spruce tips
1/2 cup rapadura
1 tsp gelatin powder
2 egg yolks

Heat the coconut milk until almost boiling. Add spruce tips and turn off the heat. I infused it for about 10 minutes, like for tea. If you are used to spruce tip flavour and want it stronger, you can infuse it for hours.

While still warm, pour the milk spruce tea through a sieve. Stir in rapadura. Sprinkle gelatin overtop and let bloom for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by adding the milk mixutre a tbsp at a time until the eggs are well mixed, about 4 tbsp. Mix the yolks with the rest of the milk.

If you have an ice cream maker, follow the instructions for your particular maker.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker but do have a high speed blender, you can try it this way: put the milk mixture in the freezer. Stir it every once in a while when you happen to remember as it’s freezing (I’m so precise, I know). I think I managed three before it froze solid. When frozen solid, use a spoon or butter knife to cut the ice cream into chunks (alternatively, freeze the ice cream mixture in ice cube trays). Put the frozen chunks inside a high speed blender and blend until smooth, pushing down the pieces with a tamper as necessary. Put back in the freezer to let it firm up again.

If you have neither ice cream maker or high speed blender, you can whisk it every 10 min or so while it freezes, but I’ve never managed to remember for enough times.

Serve and savour the wild foraged goodness!

Shared at Fat Tuesday, Hearth and Soul, Allergy Free Wednesday, Gluten Free Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Pennywise Platter, Simple Lives Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Simple Meals Friday, Thank Goodness It’s Monday, Savoring Saturdays