Sunday, October 14, 2018

SOLOMON ISLANDS: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


One of my biggest criticisms from my high school is that it seems like we spent a lot of time studying the American Revolution and the Civil War in history classes. Almost every single year. Those are important, but I feel like there are huge holes missing in my US History education. We glossed over topics like prison reform, labor history, much of the Western expansion (I mean, the taking of what we wanted), and pretty much all of the 20th century past 1918. WWI was the only major 20th century event we discussed. And obviously, I've heard of WWII and have watched movies and shows about it (who HASN'T heard of Hitler? – thanks, History Channel), but the details of that period are hazy. And here I am, 20 years after I've graduated from high school, and I'm just now finding out that the Battle of Guadalcanal (that I knew of in name only) took place in the Solomon Islands.

Their name (as we know it) was given to them by the Spanish, the first Europeans to arrive in this area. They named it after King Solomon from the Bible, falsely thinking these islands had great riches and that the wealthy city of Ophir was somewhere around there. Boy, were they wrong about that! Unless you count your wealth in coconuts or sand. As they were transitioning into independence, they went by "The Solomon Islands" before simply changing it to "Solomon Islands." As long as they don't start calling themselves "The Country Formerly Known as Solomon Islands" and change their name to a symbol, I'm good. 


The Solomon Islands are a group of six main islands and 900+ smaller ones east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu. The Solomon Sea separates Solomon Islands from PNG while the Coral Sea stands between them and Vanuatu. Traveling further to the east, Nauru lies northeast and Tuvalu is almost due east from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Because of the island's proximity to the equator, it enjoys a tropical climate all year round. They do have a rainy season and a drier season. And since they're also located on the Pacific Rim of Fire, they're also subject to earthquakes: they had one in 2007 that registered 8.1 and one in 2013 that registered at 8.0. That’s a big no thanks from me.


The earliest people are thought to have come over from Papuan and Austronesian areas, and later the Polynesians and Lapita people settled there too. The first Europeans to arrive were the Spanish during the mid-1500s, and Christian missionaries followed suit during the mid-1800s. Slavery and blackbirding (a new term for me: basically kidnapping people to make them do manual labor, in this case to work on their sugar cane plantations) caused the people here to revolt. After the UK ended their involvement in the slave trade, they counted the southern islands of the Solomon Islands as one of their protectorates. Over the next decade, they added a few more islands to the protectorate along with islands that were part of German New Guinea. The island of Bougainville, which is geographically part of the Solomon Islands, remained part of German New Guinea, which later became part of Papua New Guinea. Most of the planters and traders on the islands escaped to Australia with the onset of WWII. The island of Guadalcanal would be the location of an integral battle between the Allies and the Japanese. The next couple of decades after WWII were spent rebuilding their country and creating a constitution. They officially won their independence in 1978, although they are still part of the British Commonwealth and pay homage to the Queen. For about five years around the turn of the 21st century, Solomon Islands went through a period often called The Tensions (like how the Irish called theirs The Troubles). This was a time of quite a bit of civil conflicts between the Isatabu Freedom Movement and the Malaita Eagle Force. It was far more complicated than just saying it was an ethnic conflict; it rose to kidnapping government officials and got really ugly there for a while.


Honiara is the capital city, located on the island of Guadalcanal. The airport nearby was the actual battle location between the US and the Japanese in 1942. The riots during the early parts of the 2000s destroyed quite a bit of the city, especially in Chinatown. Today, the city is the center of government, commerce, transportation, and higher education. It has several museums, sports stadiums, and arts and music venues that entertain locals and visitors alike.


Most Solomon Islanders work in fishing or agriculture. Tropical timber used to be a huge export, but when the price fell (not to mention the massive deforestation they were causing), they looked for other areas of work. Today, copra and palm oil remain to be major cash crops. There is some mining done in these islands, mainly gold, zinc, nickel, and lead. Although their currency is the Solomon Islands dollar, shell money trade, and the barter system can still be found in some of the more remote islands. A few organizations have come together to develop a way of getting communities to use renewable energy sources (mainly solar, water, and wind) without having to put up a bunch of money to get a system in place. (That would be nice here in the US, too.)


Because of its British and German history, the main religion in the islands is Christianity, with the Anglican Church of Melanesia being the largest denomination. There are a number of other Christian denominations represented in the Solomon Islands, which is followed by nearly 92% of the people. However, there are also followers of Islam, Baha'i, and indigenous beliefs.


Even though English is the official language, a very small percentage of the people (around 1-2%) are fluent in it. Instead, you'll find that most people here speak Solomons Pijin, an English-based creole used as a lingua franca among the islands. Besides Pijin, Kwara'ae is the largest spoken local language; there are 70 spoken languages in these islands, and 11 of them have over 10,000 speakers. Because the islands are so spread out, the language groups vary. Melanesian languages are generally spoken in the central islands region, while Polynesian languages are heard on other islands. The i-Kiribati language, part of the Micronesian language family, is spoken by immigrants from Kiribati.


Many people associate blonde hair with Celtic, Scandinavian, or other European roots, but the blonde trait has been seen in many Solomon Islanders. Some people thought that perhaps it was due to sun bleaching or even mixing with Europeans, but geneticists have found that's not the case. Researchers found a gene in blonde Solomon Islanders that wasn't in brunette Solomon Islanders -- or in Europeans for that matter. So this study has really led to the need for more studies in genetic pigmentation among variations of other populations (like lighter pigmented Africans, for example). I think it's really cool. Perhaps we aren't who we thought we are.

Up next: art and literature

Monday, October 8, 2018

SLOVENIA: THE FOOD



It’s certainly been an odd start to October. I think every day this month, it has felt like it was July. I believe the news reported that we haven’t had this many 80-degree days in a row in October in 140 years. I did buy some apple cider, hoping it would push autumn along. And it worked: the weather will start acting appropriately later this week. I mean, this is my birthday month – I want to wear my scarves and jackets already!

So soft. So beautiful.
But in the meantime, I’m making food from Slovenia. This is one of those meals where I split it between two days. Mostly because I got a late start, we were hungry, and I’m not stressing about it. So, the first thing I made was Krompirjev Kruh, or potato bread. I started out with peeling and dicing a potato and boiling it with 1 ½ c water. When it was tender, I mashed it well in the water. Then I added in a cup of buttermilk, a little sugar and salt, a little butter, and a ¼ c of water, and mixed it until the butter melted. In a large bowl, I measured out 2 c of flour and one yeast packet, creating a well in the center. I poured the potato-buttermilk mixture in the center and mixed everything until it was smooth. Then, a cup at a time, I mixed in 3 more cups of flour. (You might even need another cup, but 3 seemed to work for me.) Once it was smooth, I rubbed a little oil on the outside, covered it, and let it rest for about 45 minutes. Luckily, mine puffed up, so I punched it down and divided it into two parts. After kneading each half for a minute or so, I let it rest for 10 minutes before putting them each into loaf pans. Using my hands, I formed it to the pan a little, letting it rest for another half hour. After this, I sprinkled a little flour on top and put them in a 375ºF oven for about 35 minutes, just as it was turning a nice brown color on top. These turned out really well. They were very soft on the inside, and the crumb was nice and large. I really loved everything about this bread.
Good only on the first day.
The main dish I made tonight was Djuveč. This ratatouille-like dish turned out better than I thought it was going to be, but not so much with my finicky son. I started with browning some cubed pork cutlets (I used just cubed pork instead of a mixture of pork and lamb). Then I added in some onions, green bell peppers, and orange bell peppers to sauté along with the pork, before adding in the diced eggplant. I let it cook down a little with the lid on. Then in a rectangle glass casserole dish, I put a layer of the pork-veggie mix on the bottom, a layer of sliced potatoes, a little salt and pepper, an 1/8 c of uncooked rice, a little parsley and repeated the layers again. On top, I put a few tomato slices (with a touch of salt), drizzled it with olive oil, and topped with some breadcrumbs. Just before I put it in the 350ºF oven, I added a little water to it and filled it halfway or so. I was so afraid of it boiling out and burning it, that I checked it every 15 minutes. However, the rice on top seemed like it didn’t get down into the water, so it was still hard when I was going to take it out after about an hour. I smashed everything down into the liquid, topped it with some parmesan cheese, and put it in for another 10-15 minutes. It turned out really good, the flavors really melded together, and I thought it went really well with the bread. However, the next day, the eggplants were really mushy in the casserole and gave it faint smell of seafood. Hm.

Surprise of the day!

Now comes Part 2: that time I made Štruklji. I made the dough first by mixing a little hot water in a bowl and added in the butter to melt it. Then I used a fork to mix in the egg and salt and set it off to the side. I put my flour in a larger bowl, making a well in the center and poured in the liquids. I stirred everything until it came together as a dough, covering it and letting it rest for a half hour. While that was resting, I made the filling by melting butter in a saucepan and then sautéing some breadcrumbs until they were browned. I took it off the heat and stirred in some eggs until they were scrambled. Then I mixed in some sour cream, cottage cheese, tarragon, and salt. By this time, the dough should be ready (or almost). I took my dough and rolled it out into a rectangle about 12”x18” (or as close as I could get it). I spread the filling out over the dough, leaving a slight gap at the edges. Then I started rolling it up from the long side as tight as I could. I folded a cheesecloth (or you can use a towel) around the roll and used string to tie the ends together (and I added some in the middle). Then I took the whole roll and coiled it so it would fit in my pot of boiling water, letting it boil for nearly 40 minutes. When it was done, I carefully fished it out of a pot, like I was fishing in a hot spring. I unwrapped it carefully and cut it into 2” section and topped with more buttered crumbs. This was actually pretty tasty, even though I thought I had browned the breadcrumbs that topped it a little too much. But the flavor was good, but you could hardly taste the tarragon.

Overall, it wasn't too bad. It was very hearty, just in time for fall. If it ever gets here.
I had all the best intentions of making kremsnita, which is a vanilla and custard crème cake. I bought all of the ingredients and everything (even down to the puff pastry!). But, I just ran out of time. I might try to make it later this week. (If I do, I’ll post a PS to this post.) I guess sometimes that’s how it goes. My stomach is bigger than my schedule.

Up next: Solomon Islands

Saturday, October 6, 2018

SLOVENIA: MUSIC AND DANCE


If Slovenians seem to really like making music, it's because they've done it forever. Well, maybe not forever per se, but we at least have evidence that they've been playing musical instruments for about 55,000 years. The Divje Babe Flute was found in a cave and dates back that far -- it's quite possibly the oldest musical instrument in the world! However, modern music didn't really take off until the 5th century with the spread of Christianity. If I can give credit to the one positive coming from the spread of Christianity, it's that it really helped facilitate Western music as we know it. 


Historically, Slovenian musicians were highly influenced by the Italian school of musicians and composers. Religious music was important and served its purposes, but secular music was also highly popular. And like the French troubadours, Slovenian minnesingers performed love poetry and love songs in cities and towns around the country. During the 19th century, Romanticism, lieder, art songs, and opera (especially German-style opera) dominated the music scene, giving way to impressionism and avant-garde in the 20th century. Oddly enough, Slovenia also has its own type of polka that has been quite popular since the 1950s. To each his own.
 

Vocal harmonies are a key part of Slovenian folk music. Generally divided into three or four parts, some rural folk songs even divide it into eight or nine parts! Instrumental music includes a number of different instruments that include modern instruments and some of their older, folk variations. Some common ones you’ll find are string instruments (mainly fiddles, cellos, zithers, hammered dulcimer), a Styrian harmonica (it’s actually the oldest type of accordion), woodwinds (clarinets, flutes, panpipes), and other brass instruments. 


Folk dances are still practiced throughout the country, often performed at local festivals and celebrations in an effort to keep their folk traditions alive. Some of these dances are similar to ones performed elsewhere in Europe, while others are strictly local. Dances like the polka, the waltz, and the štajeriš have their particular touch with Slovenia’s history. For the most part, people dress in traditional clothing when performed in one of the many public music and dance festivals held in many areas throughout the year. 


 

I sampled a few Slovenian bands/musicians. The first one I came across is an a capella group called Perpetuum Jazzile. They apparently rose to viral status when a video of them performing hit YouTube. If you’re a fan of a capella singing or the movie Pitch Perfect, then this group is for you.


And I found a couple of punk bands to listen to! The first I sampled through was Pankrti. Their type of punk is more of a rock-punk. But it was also a live album, which I normally don’t like. The other punk band I heard was Niet. I thought that the way they played, it made it easier to pick up on the up-beats that I often associate with punk music.


I ran out of time in exploring whether they had a hip-hop scene or any electronica/EDM/dance DJs or not. If you know of some, let me know!

Up next: the food

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

SLOVENIA: ART AND LITERATURE

Art in Slovenia not only includes art from Slovenian artists, but it also includes the period when it was part of Yugoslavia as well. Historically, because their artists were in the center of Europe's greatest art centers, Slovenian artists generally followed the art movements.

by Mihael Stroj

The 18th- and 19th-century artists mainly worked as painters and sculptors. Although they certainly had people painting before this era, it was around this time that Slovenian artists began to really take off on an international level. Artists of note include Matevž Langus (Neoclassicm), Giuseppe Tominz (Biedermeier), Mihael Stroj (Romanticism), Ivan Grohar (Impressionism), and Veno Pilon (Expressionism).

Janez Puhar
During the mid-1800s, photography was just becoming the hot new thing. Keep in mind, cameras were still moderately dangerous and bulky things to have -- it could take 10 minutes or so to take a photograph of people (which is why early photographs always portray cranky looking people; could also be because there’s no WiFi yet). Many people during this time were creating their own methods of photography, experimenting around with which method worked best, and which was the most practical. In 1841, one Slovene named Janez Puhar developed a method of photography on glass plates that didn't use silver. However, it wasn't really developed commercially. Skip ahead a century and a half later, and Arne Hodalič became the first Slovene to publish his photos in National Geographic. Very cool!

by Tone Kralj

Sculptures, public art, and architecture also play an important part in Slovenian art. Muralists and sculptors like Tone Kralj and Alojz Gangl have contributed their art to be seen on a larger scale. Before the 20th century, architecture was largely done in the traditional styles of the time. However, the latter part of the 20th century saw a change in architectural styles, giving way to the more modern styles of Max Fabiani, Edvard Ravnikar, and Marko Mušič

Milko Bambič

One thing my daughter will be happy to know as an artist, is that there have been a history of comics and illustration in Slovenia, mostly gaining popularity in the 20th century. The first comic strip in Slovenia, Little Negro Bu-ci-bu, was first published in 1927 by Milko Bambič, depicting an allegorical life of Mussolini. Other comics during WWII were highly popular. On the other end of the scale, illustrators for children's books started becoming a niche market for many female artists. Folk heroes like Martin Krpan and other folk tales were common themes. 



Literature in Slovenia is mainly written in the Slovene language. The arts, and especially its literature, were used as a catalyst for developing a sense of nationalism. This played a more important role as they transitioned from the break-up of Yugoslavia.


Adam Bohorič
The earliest forms of literature were tales and myths told orally and passed down from generation to generation. The earliest written examples of Old Slovene were documents found in the early 1800s in Germany that dated back to 1000 AD (give or take 20-30 years). Much of these early writings were centered around religious texts used to convert various Slavic tribes to Christianity. After Adam Bohorič and Sebastjan Krelj each published a grammar book, these became the foundation for the development of the Slovene language and literature. Primož Trubar, who helped bring Lutheranism to Slovenia, was also the first author to have a printed book.

Borba newspaper, the official newspaper of Communist Yugoslavia
As Slovene authors wrote their way from the 1600s through today, they embodied many of the literary styles of Europe. The language changed as their borders changed, and especially the period after Yugoslavia broke up, a sense of nationalism and identity became important. A common theme of showing the real Slovenia--its language, its poverty, their history--was their way of dealing with the struggles of their past. But it was also a way of healing and making plans for the future.


Some authors of note include Anton Tomaž Linhart (wrote the first history of Slovenia, wrote the first comedy and play), France Prešeren (19th century Romantic poet), Janez Trdina (writer, historian), Janko Kersnik (known for his literary realism), Simon Gregorčič (considered first lyric poet in Slovene language), Ivan Cankar (often considered the best Slovene author), Dragotin Kette (along with others considered founder of modern Slovene literature), Oton Župančič (also considered one of the best writers in Slovene), Tone Seliškar (known for social realist poetry, Ela Peroci (children's author), Drago Jančar (one of the more well-known contemporary authors), Rudi Šeligo (considered one of the most prominent modernist writers), and others.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, September 30, 2018

SLOVENIA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Several years ago, I went to the Sister Cities festival downtown Indianapolis. I didn't realize that we now have seven sister cities and two friendship cities: Campinas, Brazil; Cologne, Germany; Hangzhou, China; Hyderabad, India; Monza, Italy; Northamptonshire, UK; Onitsha, Nigeria; Taipei, Taiwan; and Piran, Slovenia. I was really fascinated with Piran, Slovenia. At the time, I was just getting ready to cook food from Croatia, which borders Slovenia to the south. I remember talking to a woman at the booth about Slovenia and Croatia, and placed the coastal city of Piran on my list of places I'd like to visit.

Piran, Slovenia

Slovenia's name literally means "land of the Slavs," even though historical linguists aren't exactly sure where the term "Slav" originated from. It's thought that it stems from the word slovo, meaning "word" or "people who speak the same language." In contrast to their word for the Germans, which meant "silent" or "mumbling." As half-German, you probably don't want to know the sarcasm-laced remarks we mumble under our breath. But it's all true.

Slovenia is located in central Europe at the top of the Adriatic Sea (even though it actually has a very small coastal border on it). It's surrounded by Austria to the north, Hungary to the east, Croatia to the south, and Italy to the west. The country is known for its mountainous and karst landscapes. It's also the third most forested country in Europe and is known for its plethora of caves. I didn't realize that it sits in an active seismic zone too, so it's subject to numerous earthquakes. It makes sense given that Italy had a bad earthquake a number of years ago. Slovenia generally has a temperate climate with four seasons, but the farther up in the mountains you go, the more of an Alpine climate you experience. The closer to the coastline you get, you'll find a more Mediterranean climate.
 
World's oldest wheel
People have lived in this area for nearly a quarter of a million years now. Artifacts found in caves help pierce together its pre-historic times. The Ljubljana Marshes have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the location of the world's oldest wooden wheel. The Romans were among the first major civilizations to move into this area. Given its location, it was subject to invasions from the Huns and other Germanic tribes. The Slavic tribes moved in as the last of the Germanic tribes moved out. During the Middle Ages, a group of Slovenes were the first Slavic group to switch over to Christianity. By the 14th century, Slovenia was part of the Hapsburg lands. And to make matters worse, by the 1500s, the Turks were also taking a stab at raiding the area. It was all the rage. The peasants were also fed up with a lot of crap from the ruling class and spent quite a bit of time over the next couple of centuries revolting. That, too, was all the rage. By the 1800s, Slovenia had been handed off to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There weren't that many economic opportunities to be found during this time, so there were many Slovenians found their way elsewhere for work and to raise a family. Oddly enough, Cleveland, Ohio of all places became one of the largest concentrations of Slovenes in the US. Slovenia didn't fare well during WWI, and afterwards, it became part of Yugoslavia when Austria-Hungary was dissolved. During WWII, part of Slovenia was annexed by Nazi Germany, part by Fascist Italy, and part went to Hungary. If WWI was bad, WWII was horrific. After Yugoslavia got back together for the second time, it became part of the Eastern Bloc of socialist states. Obvious struggles and resistance lasted until 1991 when Slovenia became independent. They joined the UN, and roughly a decade later, joined the EU and NATO as well as the OECD later on.
Ljubljana

The capital and largest city in Slovenia is Ljubljana (pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah). Once known as Emona by the Romans, Ljubljana has been the capital city since Slovenia's independence. It's not clear where the name of the city derived from, but some scholars believe it's related to the word for "love/like" and possibly named for a nearby river. Its architecture, parks, and bridges attract millions of visitors each year, and after looking at some photos of the city, I’d definitely lean toward that “love/like” origin. Not only a center of the government and commerce, it's also a center of education, the arts, and sports alike.

Slovenia's economy is among the highest in comparison to not only other Slavic countries but in Europe as well. Even after taking somewhat of a hit during the 2008 global recession, their economy has started to show some growth over the past few years. The rise in their construction and tourism industries is a promising sign. Other major industries include vehicle manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, electronic equipment, and fuels. You know, the good stuff.


The vast majority of Slovenes follow Roman Catholicism, while a smaller number adhere to Lutheranism. Because the country spent so many years as a secular state, it took a long time for churches to regain parishioners. Many people simply remained secular, but there were also many people who went back to Roman Catholicism, the majority religion prior to the communistic change. Even at that, there are also a number of Jewish communities, other Protestant churches, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and atheists.



Slovene is the official language of Slovenia. A member of the Slavic language family, more than 92% speak it in the home. There are several dialects of Slovene that are generally mutually intelligible with other Slavic languages. Several other minor languages are spoken in various concentrations throughout Slovenia, including Hungarian, Italian, Romani, German, and Serbo-Croatian.



As I read through a lot about Slovenia, I came to realize it’s a land of very old things. I mentioned it had the oldest wooden wheel at over 5000 years old, but it also has the oldest vine (at least 400 years old), the oldest stud farm (around 450 years old), the oldest linden tree (which is a symbol of Slovenia – coming in at over 700 years old), and one of the oldest musical instruments, a flute made from a bear femur (around 55,000 years old!).

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, September 23, 2018

SLOVAKIA: THE FOOD


I’m officially the mother of a teenager. My daughter turned 13 years old a couple days ago. Hard to believe that when I started this blog, she was 7 years old. She’s really grown quite a bit since this began, and not just literally (she’s now an inch and a half taller than I am): she’s a talented artist, gifted in math and science and a high-level reader, and has no patience for your shenanigans. I couldn’t ask for anything more, other than to watch her tone of voice and stop being mean to her brother.

I wonder if you eat a lot of these poppy seed rolls if you'll fail a drug test?
And I’m so grateful that it stopped being 90 degrees in September. It’s high time it start feeling like fall. Yesterday, the high was 68 degrees. It’s the perfect time for food from Slovakia! The first thing I made was Rožky, or Slovak Bread Rolls. I started out by proofing my yeast in my milk, but for some reason, it never really did froth up. But I poured it into a larger bowl anyway along with the flour, vegetable oil, sugar, and salt. I stirred and adjusted it so that it came together to make a smooth dough, letting it rest for about an hour. When this part was done, I divided my dough into four parts, rolling each one until it was about a ¼” thick. I cut each disk into quarters. Taking the long ends of each quarter and tucked it in, I rolled it up like a crescent roll but making sure I pinched the seam together. Then I curved it slightly and laid it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. When I had finished all 16 of them, I covered it and let it rest for another 45 minutes. While the oven was preheating to 375ºF, I brushed the top with an egg wash (a little water mixed with egg whites), and I sprinkled the top with poppy seeds. (I had to make four without the poppy seeds because my husband thinks they look like fleas.) It took about 20 minutes for it to be golden brown, but I may have also had my oven set at slightly cooler than 375º. Regardless, these were amazing, and the crumb was practically the height of perfection. When Buddhists seek nirvana, they’re actually just looking for these.
Reminds me of my childhood, in soup form.
My main dish today is Kapustnica, or Sauerkraut Soup. I took a large jar of sauerkraut and cooked it for 20 minutes with a jar and a half of water (using the same jar as the sauerkraut). In a skillet, I sautéed my diced onions and mushrooms together before adding it to the sauerkraut along with my smoked sausage, black pepper, a few bay leaves, salt, and caraway seeds. While that’s cooking, I made my roux in the same skillet I used for the onions and mushrooms. To make the roux, I fried some flour with some oil (I just eyeballed the measurements) until it started to look brown, and then I added in some paprika. When it looked creamy, I added it to the soup and let it boil. Then I added in my potatoes to let everything cook for another 15-20 minutes until the potatoes were soft. My mom used to make a similar dish, except it wasn’t soup and it didn’t have onions or mushrooms in it. So, needless to say, I thought this soup was fantastic. It was hearty and the vinegar flavor from the sauerkraut was apparent but not overwhelming.
Still think these would do nicely in a chicken noodle soup.
To go with this, I also made Bryndzové Halušky, or potato dumplings. I took one potato and grated it into a bowl. I added in some flour, an egg, and some salt, stirring everything together until it was smooth. I tore off bits of the potato dough, rolling it into a small ball, and put it in a pot of boiling salted water. (To make it easier to do this, I put a little oil on my hands.) It takes about 7-8 minutes for them to get done enough that they float to the top. While the dumplings are boiling, I took about five pieces of bacon and fried it, then crumbling it after it cools. Once the dumplings are done and I fished them out, I put them in a bowl and mixed together with crumbled feta cheese (I used feta instead of bryndza cheese), topping it with the crumbled bacon and drizzling the bacon grease on top of everything. I liked these a lot. And the feta-bacon combination was really good. The flavor of the dumplings were a little tough, but not so much that it was problematic or that it effected the overall flavor or mouthfeel to it. I could definitely see this added to a chicken soup.
These were really good. I wished I was able to find some fresh dill to put in it.
Finally, as a cooler side dish to cleanse the palate, I made a Cream Cucumber Salad. I sliced a cucumber into very thin slices and mixed it in a bowl with some salt, vinegar (I used red wine vinegar), a little minced garlic, some chopped parsley, and a little bit of heavy whipping cream. The water that naturally forms from the cucumbers and the vinegar will thin out the cream. My mom has made vinegar cucumbers and onions before, but this version with the cream was really good. It was a nice change from the heaviness of the other two dishes.
Overall, this meal was fire. Like, I loved everything about this. I'm going to have awesome leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
I actually had another dish I wanted to make, which was a poppy seed and sour cherry strudel. I made an apple strudel when I did Austrian food, and it was amazing. So, I really wanted to try my hand at this one, but I just ran out of time. I saved the recipe to try for another day. I typically don’t like cherry-flavored candies, but actual cherries are one of my favorite fruits.

Up next: Slovenia

Saturday, September 22, 2018

SLOVAKIA: MUSIC AND DANCE

Because of Slovakia's history of being part of many different cultures and kingdoms, there have been many different groups of people living in what is known as Slovakia. And all of these cultures contributed something to Slovak music, making it similar to the musical traditions of neighboring countries.


Early instruments found in this area are related to the Celtic influence. Music must have been an integral part of their society because archeologists have found evidence of drums, bone pipes, bells (made of both iron and bronze) along with their own variations of the jaw harp, bagpipes, and an instrument called the fujara (like a contrabass fipple flute). As we head into the Medieval Period, sacred music is the big thing, and often sung in Old Church Slavonic. Like other areas in Europe (I'm thinking of Germany and Austria), Slovak composers and musicians also utilized polyphony into their compositions. Bratislava became an important city under the Hapsburgs, which helped to really define formal music and bring it to the smaller towns around the countryside.



Even throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the church remained one of the more important patrons of music during this time, but the court music and members of the aristocracy were also important in commissioning music as well. As a musician and composer, this was where the money was at. However, as things were changing politically, 19th century composers didn't want to completely give up on their national pride and started integrating more folk songs into their classical works. One of the more important names from this era is Ján Levoslav Bella, a composer working around the same time as the well-known Czech composer Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček. Bella wrote the first opera ever to be performed in Slovak (performed in 1926), even though it was originally written in German during the 1880s.


Many composers of the 20th and 21st centuries took the traditions of those who set the stage and built upon them, following the musical trends in modern Western classical music. To get a good grasp of Slovak composers during this time, take a listen to Eugen Suchoň (one of the more important 20th-century Slovak composers), Alexander Albrecht (important during the first half of the 20th century), Ján Cikker (widely known for his operas), and Vladimír Godár (known for his contemporary classical and film music).



Folk dance has long been a source of entertainment, especially in the rural areas. And while some of the dances may seem ubiquitous to Central Europe, regionally speaking, the variations and nuances differ within different areas of Slovakia. For example, in the Orava Region, two dances that are popular are the Cepovy (an energetic harvest dance acting out the threshing of cereal grains) and the Olasku (a girls dance with sticks). And the Saris Region has an energetic dance by the same name as the region, The Saris, and is performed by couples. The Horehron dance from the Horehronie Region is an energetic dance characterized by stamping out rhythms.


I came across quite a bit of music from Slovakia on Spotify. The first one I listened to was April Weeps. It is a metal band with some guttural screaming in it, but it reprieves itself by adding piano and a female singer to it. In the midst of loud rock, there is a slight classical element to it. I actually kind of liked what I heard.

Then there were several rock bands I listened to. The lead singer for Dorian Gray has a very deep voice that reminded me a little of the band Crash Test Dummies. However, their music had a strong 80s sound to it at times. Dežo Ursiny’s music sounds like a cross between disco and rock. I really liked what I heard from Desmod. They just had a nice driving rock sound. But they also use strings in their songs, and that always wins points with me. I’m normally not a fan of live albums (because of the sound quality and audience participation), but I listened to a live album by I.M.T. Smile, and it wasn’t too bad. It also seemed like it was all-acoustic from what I could tell, maybe?

There’s an odd genre called art rock. It sometimes works and sometimes not. I listened to an album by Marián Varga, and it reminded me of having to sit through the Contemporary Music Festival when I was in college listening to god knows what. Just because you can do it on an instrument, doesn’t mean you should. It was… interesting, though. 


I was also happy to find a few punk bands from Slovakia because punk makes me happy. One I listened to was Slobodná Európa (which literally means “Free Europe”).  Horkýže Slíže is another one I listened to that leaned more toward a heavier metal-punk sound, while Inekafe had more of a skateboard punk sound to it. 


There are a couple of rap musicians I sampled as well. The first one I listened to was Kontrafakt. The music underneath it seemed simple (not a lot of layers to it or mixed with a ton of effects), and I noticed that the lyrics were in both Slovak as well as a bit of English mixed in there at times. I also listened to Miky Mora. There were more effects mixed with this one, but it was done well. I thought his flow was done fairly well. Some rappers sound like they’re just trying too hard to be rappers. But I like this.


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