Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | January 20, 2017

Conservation Incentives are a Good Thing – even if it costs you

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | January 13, 2017

Tips for NY Tourists: The Staten Island Ferry


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By Ernest Barteldes

A couple of years ago I saw a report about how the NYPD had arrested scammers who were taking hundreds of dollars from tourists visiting New York by selling “tickets” to the Staten Island Ferry – the cheap traveler’s alternative to the Circle Line. Since then, the Department of Transportation has posted signs everywhere stating that yes, the ferry is operated free of charge to anyone at any time.

But since many visitors who do not do their homework (more about that in another post) are still a bit clueless about the ferry. Since the puppet site Glove and Boots will not do one of their “tips” videos about the ferry (they do have to redeem themselves for spreading the outdated rumor about the garbage still coming to the island), I will give my own tips about the transportation I have been taking every single day for over a decade.

There is no “last” ferry.

The Staten Island Ferry runs 24 hours, 7 days a week. Weekend boats used to be dicey, but in recent years they have been running every 30 minutes except for rush hours, when they run on a 15/20 minute schedule. The HBO TV show Sex and The City had an episode in which Carrie missed the last boat and somehow people drank the cool-aid, but the fact is that there is always a next boat, even on weekends.

You cannot sit on the ferry and just wait for it to go back to Manhattan

That used to be true – you could ride the ferry all night if you wanted to, unless the boat was going out of service. But since 9/11 security got tighter and everyone has to leave the boat and re-board, even if you are taking the exact same boat. So please get up and move on. Your sitting there wondering what to do just delays the next ride, and after a few times that can mean 15-20 minute delays. So please get up, there are New Yorkers trying to get home or to work here.

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The Cafe on the Ferry

Yes, you can drink alcohol on the ferry

There are several venues that sell wine, beer and spirits at both Whitehall and St. George Terminals, but I often see folks asking to ‘brown bag’ their brews prior to boarding the boat. I am not sure why there is a loophole about that, but the fact is that the concession stands inside the boat sell beer (at a premium) and no cops will give you a citation for enjoying a drink there – unless you become disorderly.

You don’t need to lock your bike while on the boat

What, someone is going to steal your bike and swim away? Relax, your bike is safe.

Cars are not coming back to the Staten Island Ferry anytime soon

After 9/11 cars have been banned from the ferry. Even if the newer Molinari-class boats were designed to carry cars, there has been no way to find a compromise between the DOT and the NYPD to allow cars back, even if other cities have found effective ways to scan vehicles before they board. It is a pity, because it was a fast way for North Shore residents to get to Lower Manhattan. Basically another reason for me not to get a car.

There is a lot to do on Staten Island

Sure, we are no Manhattan. But Staten Island has museums, parks, restaurants (the best pizza in the city – I can vouch for that), hiking trails, beaches and many other attractions. We are not a barren desert filled with Trump supporters (sure, plenty of those here, but no news since it’s the one Republican borough in the city – but they are all bark and not bite), so there a lot to do. Please get off the ferry and explore. No need to rush back to Manhattan.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | December 27, 2016

In Defense of New York’s “Plastic Bag Tax” Law

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | December 21, 2016

Christmas the Polish-Brazilian-American Way At Home


By Ernest Barteldes

After spending almost two decades in New York following a very long spell in Brazil, I can say that I the ultimate multi-cultural person – while I do embrace everything that is American about me, I also refuse to turn my back on my Brazilian side. And more recently, since I met and married my wife Renata (who hails from Chełm, in Southeastern Poland ) I have also learned to love Polish culture and especially their Holiday traditions.

The reason I got interested in her traditions was the fact that growing up I never had any U.S. Holiday customs passed on by anyone in my father’s side of the family – the impression I have is that he simply wasn’t interested – and as for my mother’s side , most of the Holiday dishes were either inherited from colonizers in Portugal or other immigrant cultures – for instance, Brazilians enjoy eating panettone (an Italian fruit cake) during Christmas festivities. Other dishes either have Portuguese, Lebanese or Afro-Brazilian roots. The same goes during Easter festivities, when most (at least on a national level) customs hail from abroad.

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Panettone

The reverse is true about Poland, where cultural and culinary traditions – especially during major holidays – abound. During Easter there is the ritual of preparing all the food on Saturday before Easter Sunday and taking it to Church to get it blessed. Though that isn’t done during Christmas, there is the rule of abstaining from meats that bleed during Vigilia (Christmas Eve), and there are several meat-free dishes enjoyed during that time – many involving seafood.

Like in most American cities with heavy immigrant populations, it isn’t hard to find places to find Ethnic products around New York. There are countless supermarkets and grocery stores where – if you look hard enough – you can find pretty much anything you need. Though Greenpoint, Brooklyn would be the go-to area for Polish products , there are several other locations in the other boroughs.

Though it is true that Amazon.com carries many ethnic products, their prices are considerably marked up comparing to local stores in the different areas of the city.

In Manhattan, I either go to Baczynsky’s East Village Meat Market or Polish G.I. Delicatessen, both located in the East Village (within blocks of each other) and close enough to my path home from my teaching job.

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Oscypek

On Staten Island there are a few others – there used to be a Polish store in our North Shore area but its owner retired a few years ago and closed the shop a few years back to the dismay of its faithful clientele. Others remain – a small local mini-chain unfortunately named S&M Polish Deli has several stores around the island, and one is located in the area of Old Town, about 15 minutes by public transit from home. They have a nice selection that includes some hard-to-find items such as Zwiec porter beer and oscypek (smoked sheep’s milk cheese), a delicacy usually found in the southern part of Poland.

As for Brazilian products it’s not that easy – there is a single supermarket in Astoria, Queens and little else – except maybe if one is willing to schlep to Newark, NJ’s Ironbound District, where both Brazilian and Portuguese products are readily available. However, since the food from Brazil is very similar to its Latin American counterparts, it is easy to find similar ingredients in stores that cater to Latino tastes.

Christmas one of the few times that Renata ventures into the kitchen – she likes to prepare a layered cold fish salad involving mayonnaise, marinated herring, shredded potatoes, carrots and pickled cucumbers. There are other traditional dishes we include that day, including a hot borscht broth with uzka (kind of a small pierogi stuffed with mushrooms).

Our dinner usually consists of some international dish – one year, for instance, I found a Portuguese recipe called “Silent Night Codfish” in which you layer the fish with onions, hard boiled eggs and olives and then bake with a nice serving of olive oil. It is quite delicious, and it reheats well for the next day.

Silent Night” Codfish

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(Bacalhau Noite Feliz)

Ingredients

2 lb. salted codfish (soaked in fresh water overnight)

4 lb potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1 inch thick

4 medium sweet onions, sliced

½ dozen hard boiled eggs, sliced

8 oz. Olive oil

After soaking the fish overnight, cut the fish and boil with sliced potatoes until potatoes are tender. Divide the potatoes, mash half and reserve. Layer fish, potatoes, eggs and olives in an oven-proof dish and once done, add olive oil and cover mix with mashed potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees until heated through. (Serves 10)

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Herring Salad

Directions: Drain jar of marinated herring and discard onions and spices. Dice herring and place in salad bowl. Add 2 c. cold, cooked diced potatoes, 2 peeled, diced apples, 2 chopped onions, 2 chopped dill pickles and/or 10 gherkins and 1 t. chopped fresh parsley. Toss gently and fold in sauce: fork-blend 1-1/2 c. mayonnaise with 1/2 c. sour cream and 1- 2 T. brown prepared mustard. Chill at least 2 hrs before serving.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | December 14, 2016

Everyday Cooking: The Packed Lunch


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By Ernest Barteldes

 

Though Sundays in our household mean attempting elaborate dishes that take time to prepare and later enjoy while watching a movie, weekdays are a completely different story, because basically it’s all about packing lunch for Renata and me –  something I’ve done ever since we’ve been together for two reasons: having a home-cooked meal every day is way healthier than buying food at some salad bar or fast-food restaurant (which are by the way plentiful in the neighborhood where I work) and second the cost factor can be pretty damning:  I can cook for the two of us for considerably less than it would cost to buy lunch every day from any of the nearby places I know.

The everyday meals I cook are very simple:  while I avoid shortcuts while making our Sunday meals, the opposite is true during the week – which means using pre-prepared sauces or moderately processed foods such as Polish sausage, sardines or tuna, for instance. But what I don’t economize is on flavor – I always try to enrich the flavor of each dish with the all the different spices and seasonings that fill my three-tier spice cabinet.

While I try to vary the dishes whenever possible, there are some usual staples. Such as  a simple Dominican rice-based dish called “Locrio de Pica-Pica,”  pasta with kielbasa and tomato sauce and Brazilian rice and beans topped with either chicken or sausage – all quick to make, easy to pack in containers and heat at work.

None of these dishes take more than 15-20 minutes to prepare – some days of the week I work long hours and have no time or disposition to spend too much time in the kitchen, so simplicity is the order of the day – until the weekend comes around.

My version of Pica-Pica is a bit different from the way they make it in DR – I include sardines in tomato sauce for a richer flavor, and I also add vegetables to make it healthier.

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Locrio de pica-pica (serves 2)

Ingredients

1 can spicy sardines

1 can sardines in tomato sauce

1 small box frozen mixed vegetable

1 cup rice

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 dash dry oregano (optional)

2 cups of water

Instructions

Sauté the garlic until fragrant and add the spicy sardines and stir.  Add rice and keep stirring.  Add water and keep let boil, covered, stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t stick to bottom of pan. When rice is close to being done, add the sardines in tomato sauce and oregano and stir gently to avoid sardines from breaking up too much. After rice is cooked let stand for five minutes before serving.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | November 30, 2016

The 2016 Dominican Republic Report: Puerto Plata & Costambar

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | November 20, 2016

Walking the Staten Island Greenbelt Trail

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | November 13, 2016

Farm Fresh Getaway: Heading to Hudson Valley


By Ernest Barteldes

Once a regular part of our lives, the MTA one-day getaways to Long Island and the Hudson Valley were forgotten for a while. I guess our little circle of friends got busy with other things and it just got tiresome to take the trips on our own – until someone else came up with the idea of doing it again.

So we headed to Grand Central Station, where we met our group for the two-hour ride to the city of Poughkeepsie, where we met the bus that would take us on our “Farm Fresh Weekend” trip, which was labeled “wine, cheese and ice cream” was slated to begin in the village of Millbrook, located a few miles from Poughkeepsie, NY.

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The Millbrook Cafe

Millbrook is one of these quaint locales where you find several antique shops and a handful of restaurants – we looked at several of the shops and then went for a quick lunch at the Millbrook Cafe, where Renata and I both had their tuna melt and a couple of glasses of wine. It was quite delicious and filling, and it was a pity that we didn’t have more time there to enjoy the home-like atmosphere and especially the heat of their wood-burning oven.

The weather that day did not help – it was cold and raining most of the time, so it made of a less enjoyable experience. One of the members of our group was in a bad mood as a result, but that didn’t faze the rest of us – we just enjoyed the day the best we could. We then headed to The Clinton Vineyards, where we tasted a variety of locally produced wines – their Pinot Noir was quite good, and so was one of their dessert wines – so we brought back a bottle of the former. The next stop was at Meadowland Farm, where we were supposed to try some cheese – but that did not happen. Instead, they had two barns where they were selling apples and cider and a small grocery store that sold vegetables and frozen meats.

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Meadowland Farm 

At that point, I started wondering why the hell they selected this stop. It was not like anyone would buy any frozen lamb to take back to New York over a 2-hour train ride. Cured meats would have made sense, but this just didn’t. Incidentally, where the hell was the cheese? Our hosts apologized for the weather and all, but this was just ridiculous to begin with. After about 45 minutes we got back on the bus and headed to the last stop, a local creamery called Zoe’s Ice Cream Barn, a shop whose motto is “to the cow to the cone in three days.” The experience was like stepping back in time – an old-style shop with quite a menu.

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Zoe’s Ice Cream Barn

I cannot remember what flavor of ice cream I had – I rarely have the stuff – but it was quite nice. I wandered around the premises and a bit outside and then we headed back to Poughkeepsie, where we met our train back to New York.

On previous trips we’d hung at the local bar across from the train station, but for whatever reason we didn’t. Probably it was the weather, or the mood of one of the members of our party. But it was a good time nevertheless, and I hope to have that opportunity again soon.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 19, 2016

Potatoes! Potatoes!


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By Ernest Barteldes

I find potatoes to be among the most versatile vegetables ever – I mean, how many ways can you use prepare them? You can bake, mash, broil, slice, boil or fry them – anything but serving them raw (haven’t seen a recipe yet, but let me know – I was surprised with raw Russian beets already).

Though I do everything that is on the above list, one of my favorite concoctions is twice-baked potatoes – which are a great alternative to sandwiches or other quick dinners that are not part of the usual lineup. Sure, it take a bit of preparation, since you have to bake the potatoes once, remove them from the oven, scoop them and then mix them with whatever you mix might be. But seriously, the first step is so easy – does it kill you to throw a few potatoes in the oven for an hour or so?

Anyway, this is the way I have done it for a while. I recall that years ago some telemarketer from some phone company called me as I was preparing them and somehow we engaged into a conversation (this was before I met Renata, so I was pretty lonely) . She asked me if I could cook other things and she asked me where I lived … but she was in Tennessee.

I am not complaining – soon after I met the love of my life, and she does like the way I make this recipe.

Anyway, this is how it goes

Twice Baked Potatoes

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(serves 4)

Ingredients:

four large potatoes

two cups ricotta cheese

½ cup sour cream

salt and pepper to taste

paprika to taste

garlic powder to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Put the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for an hour. Remove from oven and let them cool (you can bake the potatoes a day early). Once cool enough to handle, scoop the pulp and mash. Add other ingredients (except paprika) and then spoon back into skins. Top with paprika and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to stand for about 5 minutes before serving.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 4, 2016

At the 2016 Feast of San Gennaro

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