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

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

Finding Beauty (snippets from the weekend)

moss on a brick

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” -Camille Pissarro

I grew up in a mountain valley where beauty was obvious every day. My walk to the school bus on crisp winter mornings included pink mountain tops stained by the rising sun, untampered snowy fields spread out before me and evergreen trees under their white covering lining the lane behind me (the walk to catch the school bus was about two km (one mile) – don’t be surprised if I say it was uphill both ways). Continue reading

A Little Walk

A Little Walk

To the north of our village are the Carpathian mountains hills. I find it fascinating that a few metres higher in elevation can make such a difference in the winter. Even though we live in an apartment, in five minutes we can be out in the oak and beech forest. Not that I get there on my own with the kids during the week, but it’s comforting to know that it’s possible. On the hill to the right there are remnants from a village from the Bronze Age, I kid you not. And on the hill after that, a castle. Continue reading

Foggy Winter Hike

2-foggy hike

While this winter has been unusually cold in North America, over here in Slovakia it has been particularly mild. To some people, a mild winter might be a relief. To me, it means grey skies, grey trees, grey mud. Grey. Winters like these are the reason I painted my living room yellow. Winters like these make me miss Canadian Rocky Mountain winters of crisp temperatures, dazzling snow, and bluebird skies. When I tell people I enjoy -10C (14F) they look at me like I am crazy. I also cement ideas people have of Canada being the land of snow and ice. I protest, however, that it is completely different when the air is dry. When it is humid, as it is here, barely freezing temperatures seep into the bone and make it feel much colder than it is.

Continue reading