Return to the motherland

Her kindness and cooking talent have inspired many in the Slovak community living in the USA, where she’s known as: “Cooking Baking Danda“. We’re pleased to have interviewed 92-year-old Ms. Darina, who lived in California for the last 25 years but recently returned to her native country.

KITnDO: Was the pandemic the main reason you chose to return to Slovakia last summer? How did you make this decision?

Ms. Darina: I started considering my return to Slovakia two years before the pandemic exploded. Often, I would think about returning, but I couldn’t decide. Then in 2020, I spoke with my daughter and son and we weighed the pros and the cons. The fact that Slovakia was handling the pandemic much better than the US at the time, influenced my decision.

KITnDO: What do you miss from California, besides the sun?

Ms. Darina : I don’t miss the sun much as I am originally from Orava where, as I remember, it rained and snowed more often than it was sunny. But I miss our apartment with a beautiful balcony and well working AC. I wish to have this AC here in Bratislava. With my family, we loved to go on weekends to the restaurant Traktir, whose cuisine was absolutely delicious. Our favorite dishes were borscht and Stroganov, both were the clearly the best around! The sea was not far away but the water was cold all the year around and the public beaches were much too polluted. Usually it was windy, with a lot of people, cars and a dense traffic.

KITnDO: What changes have you noted in your homeland?

Ms. Darina : Many things have changed in the last quarter of century in my own country. There are a lot of fights within the government in spite of this pandemic. I feel also that people are ruder to each other and give less respect to elderly people. On TV, there are mostly American movies but back in Los Angeles, we would rather search for Slovak, Czech, French or Russian movies. Also, there weren’t as many TV commercials before. The cost of the real-estate is infinitely higher. What appears to still be untouched is the nature. From my windows I can admire the beauty of high trees and colorful bushes, and listen to birds singing.

KITnDO: When you lived in California, you were sharing a lot of pictures from your cooking and baking experiences. Was it easy to find all necessary ingredients for Slovak dishes?

Ms. Darina : I started to like cooking and baking once I was living in the US. In the beginning, I was just trying to learn English. When my daughter would leave for work, she turned on the TV for me so I could watch different shows. Later, I began to focus on The Food Channel. I liked Rachel, Giada, Barefoot Contessa and so I started to try their recipes. I cooked American, but also Slovak, Hungarian and Czech dishes: halusky with bryndza, potatoes pancakes, stuffed cabbage, “vepro-knedlo zelo”, segedin, paprikash, borsht, etc. A Facebook group “Pohodova kuchyne v USA” was very helpful for tips on where to find all necessary ingredients, like bryndza cheese, parsley root, kohlrabi, etc. We also exchanged recipes. In LA there are different stores related to different cultures. We used to shop in JONS where I found parsley root and kohlrabi.

KITnDO: Do you plan to share recipes that you learned in the US?

Ms. Darina: One day my daughter asked me: Why don’t you write a cookbook in Slovak and in English? So, we have started to write down details of meals I used to cook, many of them are Slovak, Hungarian and Czech, but many are those I learned to cook for the first time in the US.

KITnDO: Could you please share some of your future plans?

Ms. Darina: I am trying to survive this period and to not lose optimism, namely by keeping my daily routine: in the morning, I exercise for 20 minutes, after I go for a walk with my daughter for at least a half an hour, then I cook and bake sweets. I also like to read Slovak and English books, play Sudoku and Mahjong, and sometimes, when I am alone, I sing Slovak folk songs. When it’s possible, I will travel to know better our beautiful Slovakia. I have been missing it a lot. I want to finish my cookbook, and help my sister who is writing about our father’s fate who falsely stayed in soviet gulag for ten years.

Darina moved to California to live near her daughter and son, after she retired as pediatrician. This is un old picture from her medical career.

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You can follow Ms. Darina on her FB and Instagram profiles where she is spreading a joy through cooking and baking! And, for our readers, “Cooking Baking Danda“, shared two recipes: Poppy seed cake with custard filling and London Bar. Let us know if you tried them!

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