[We hunt mushrooms (and gastan) in the forest]
Here is the post about my Sunday which I wanted to write on Sunday! Ah well.
Sunday morning we got up when we felt like it and Tibor cooked breakfast (eggs and meat). At 10:30 he and I left to hunt wild mushrooms!
We picked up Aneta in Klokocina and then took the road I'd been on the day before, the one to Bojnice. This time, however, we only got 12 km out of Nitra-- I could almost still see the hrad! We drove into this forest and Tibor pulled over onto a dirt road. The end of the line.
Kora had been in the trunk, I discovered (this is an SUV trunk), and now she got let out. She jumped down joyfully and then ran as fast as her gnarled old legs could take her. It had rained earlier, and there were many deep, muddy puddles. She deliberately splashed through each one, pausing to drink a little now and then. It was wonderful to see her so happy, free in the wild. I was also glad that Tibor didn't mind about the cleanliness of his trunk, because her belly and legs were completely black, coated in thick mud. She certainly didn't care!
On the drive, Tibor had given me a wood-handled knife (which you had to pull out, so no risk of accidental stabbing) and a wicker basket to use. He and Aneta had their own knives and baskets.
Slovakian forests, unlike my native ones, are thin, light-filled, deciduous (the only conifers are a few pines). Delicate. It's just now becoming Fall, so a few of the maples had begun to shift-- no fiery oranges or reds, just sweet yellows. The forest floor is dry brown grass, flattened low. The sky was gray (possible rain) and it was windy. My ideal. The cold, however, struck me as different this day; it wasn't just "a cold day"; it was Winter's first beckoning.
We had to get up a steep, but short, hill at first; it was too much for Kora, who stopped halfway up, shaking and panting; she had to go back to the car. We reached the top, and I saw the hill's crest was a gentle incline. An eagle shrieked in the silence. The forest seemed to stretch into eternity; I couldn't imagine it was really finite.
Tibor and Aneta set off, examining mushrooms, cutting them, and then smelling them; it's a subtle art, and since I know nothing of fungi, either in Slovakia or America, I wasn't sure what to do. I found a little prickly thing like a thistle and put it in my basket, thinking I might take it as a souvenir later. I walked onwards, content to just enjoy my surroundings, and began to find more, much larger, of the prickly fruits, obviously fallen off trees. Many were brown, but a few were green, and I realized what they were. Back in Nitra, behind the flat, there are several immensely tall fruit trees (that's where the turtledoves I hear in the morning live). When I first arrived I thought they were lemon trees, but I'd never imagined lemon trees could get that big. Later, the fruit started falling off, and I could see they were actually spiny green balls. When split open, there are smooth brown seeds like chestnuts inside. Ruth and told me they were similar to the fruit they call gastan, which she loves. So here, in the forest, I guessed these fruits were maybe gastany. I asked Aneta and she said yes. Unlike the spiny fruit, gastan are actually edible. Their exteriors are extremely prickly-- they look like thistles, until they're split open, at which time they look exactly like sea urchins. What a pain to handle! The green insides are disturbingly smooth, partially textured with something like peach fuzz. It feels like you're stroking an oyster. And each gastan has an average of three chestnut-like seeds inside, which are the parts you eat.
Aneta said the gastany were just the perfect ripeness and I should collect them. Wonderful; a task I could do! The exterior coloring ranged from shriveled brown to a beautiful lime green and every blend in between. I figured it's better to go with the more recently-fallen fruit, and tried to get as many green as I could. I had a huge basket and I made sure it was overflowing!
Once, Tibor showed me a rare fungus he'd found. I'd never seen anything like it! Aneta had shown me some lovely pink mushrooms, and I'd thought those were different. Tibor's fungus had a bumpy, snow-white stem, and its cap looked like it was solidified green sludge. No way I was going to touch that thing! Tibor told me to smell it. Uggh! It had a terrible stench like rotten cheese which lingered for fifteen minutes afterwards. I called after Tibor as he began to walk away. "To mozes jest?" ("Can you eat it?") "Nie!" he said. I hope I'm not going to die now from inhaling toxic spores...
At one point, right in front of me, there was a single blackberry. It was plump and perfectly ripe, just waiting for my outstretched hand. Destiny! I plucked it and ate it, and it was delicious.
We walked around in the forest for about an hour or so and then went back to the car (and Kora). Tibor and Aneta both had full bags of giant mushrooms. I don't know where they developed their knowledge of all these different species, or where they even found them! Despite my gastan quest I was looking for mushrooms, and I never saw a single one as big as each Tibor had in his basket.
Back into Nitra, and home to a wonderful Sunday lunch prepared by Ruth (a kind of cordon bleu). Afterwards, Ruth spread out newspapers on the kitchen floor next to my gastan basket and got knives and forks for us. We sat on the floor and then spent the next hour or so cutting open the gastan. Now, here is something unfortunate! No one had told me that really it was the dried, brown gastany I was wanting. Their ugly shells hid the perfectly-formed seeds within. While the pretty green gastany's seeds were white and inedible! Luckily I'd picked up a fair amount of brown gastany along with the green ones, but the rest Ruth and I left in the basket, which she set out on the balcony. We'll see if maybe we can get them to brown and mature!
We put the seeds in a tuperware, but I haven't tried them yet. I'm really curious!
At 4:30 Tibor dropped Ruth and me off at stara mama's (vacant) flat. Ruth needed to use stara mama's giant copy machine for a whole binder's worth of chemistry notes. Yikes! Poor Ruth. We stayed for an hour and a half and then walked to the nearby church at the base of the hrad for Sunday mass. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but very nice.
After church we went back to stara mama's flat for more copying, and then Ruth and I caught a bus to go back home. (It would have been an easy walk, but Ruth wanted to get home early for game night.) Back at the flat, she and I had some chickpea soup leftovers, and then she opened four decks of Hoyle cards for the first time. The giant stack they formed kept slipping and sliding everywhere from all that "airbrush finish"!
In the family room with Tibor we played a game called "Hand and Foot" which Ruth had picked up in America; I've played similar games, but not that exact one. We also had the TV on, half-watching Ceskoslovensko Ma Talent (Czechoslovakia's Got Talent). We played until ten at night, and then a movie called Playing With Death--a Canadian/American film dubbed into Slovak--came on. It was low-budget indie, but we were all interested.
Ruth eventually went to bed, but Tibor and I stayed up to watch it til the end, at 12:30 AM! I thought it was weird at the beginning, but it got better and better and my final verdict is that it was awesome. Such a treat! Unfortunately afterwards I still had to take a shower, because I needed to take a shower at night so I would have time to walk all five dogs with Ruth the next morning. And the water was icy! That was really unpleasant.
Today, Monday, was a typical school day. I was really looking forward to the Rotary meeting afterwards. I got there and the receptionist told me which room the meeting was in and had me select a lunch to have. I went to the room and it was empty, though I was on time. So I waited. Larissa showed up, ten minutes late, and she was the first other person there! What. Something was wrong here. We waited half an hour, and then we went back to the receptionist. She was just as perplexed, and called someone in Rotary to see when the meeting would be. Turns out, it was canceled, along with next week's meeting! That's a bummer, and it would have been nice to know!
Our afternoon's plan gone, Larissa and I decided to take the bus to Mlyny, since she needed gym shorts for volleyball. We had a nice time window shopping and all that, but then, something extraordinarily wonderful happened! As we passed Marks & Spencer, a clothing store I've never gone into because it looks like it's for middle-aged women, Larissa mentioned there was a grocery store at the back of it. I thought that was pretty weird, and I'd never seen it. "Oh yeah," Larissa said. "Marks & Spencer is a British company, so the grocery store has all these British foods. Like, you can peanut butter there..." WHAT?! I practically ran there. Ruth's and my peanut butter perplexity solved! I found it in the grocery store, and it even happened to be 20% off. There must be a very small market for it here. But now I know where I'll get my supply for the year!
And it turned out to be a good thing that I bought it, because Ruth really had the Fudge Quickie munchies. But we were out of butter and sugar! It's always one thing or another. The grocery store practically next door to the flat had closed just an hour earlier, so I had to go all the way to Billa, in Mlyny, instead. While I was in Mlyny, I popped into Marks & Spencer again. Maybe they had vanilla extract! Nope, too much to hope for; they had almond, lemon, and rose extract, and vanilla pods, but no vanilla extract. We only have about one tablespoon left... The situation is becoming more dire! All those out there who are listening and have the financial means... please, send us vanilla extract! It simply does not exist here. Very sad.
The Fudge Quickies turned out well, but surprisingly (to my taste) much sweeter than usual. The M&S peanut butter had tasted incredible when I dipped my spoon in, but not particularly sweet. Hmm. The final product's a little too sweet for me, I think, but Ruth likes it. I certainly like the peanut butter straight out of the jar! I think I'll go back there tomorrow and get a few more while they're on sale...