Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | March 8, 2018

Celebrating My Birthday At Home



By Ernest Barteldes


Unlike most New Yorkers I know, I don’t like to celebrate my birthday in bars or restaurants for various reasons – one is the fact that whenever a group agrees to split the check, it often never happens in an egalitarian manner, so someone ends up paying more than he or she actually spent. Another is that there have been more than a few embarrassments over the years when I got people together when some situations got a bit out of hand.

After a few bad experiences I just decided that I would follow a late friend’s lead and host my own birthdays at our Staten Island apartment – which I have done repeatedly with the exception of 2017 when Renata and I were in the midst of relocating to our new home in St. George, not far from our previous place at the famed Ambassador building.

I try to keep things simple at these house parties – I don’t cook any difficult foods, and instead opt for simple finger food and dips. There was a time when I cooked an entrée of some kind, but I realized that most of it went untouched, and then we found ourselves with an overstuffed fridge – something that no one wants to have especially when you have limited storage space.

So this year it was no different: I made bacon-wrapped pineapple chunks (a Hawaiian recipe that is simpler than it sounds), a SPAM-based pate and guacamole. In addition, I stopped by Trader Joe’s on Union Square and bought some of their own options in addition to the chips I’d bought there in the first place. My choices were spinach spanakopita and finger-size mini pizzas, which complemented the homemade stuff in addition to the tiramisu cake I bought at the local bakery that is a short walk from our apartment – one of the many reasons I love our neighborhood so much: everything you need is within a few blocks, going from a clothing repair shop to a great pizza place and a deli specializing in more than 100 beer brands, including some hard-to-find brews from Eastern Europe.

I also bought a few more bottles of wine than I usually do just in case, since most of the people who joined us (save for the random teetotaler – we don’t know many of these) contributed a bottle or two, and with good selection of music from our laptop (connected to our sound system), everyone seemed to have a good time.

There are a couple of friends who pooh-pooh about having to come all the way to Staten Island from the other boroughs and suggest having the party at some Manhattan bar. My response, however, is simple: It might be selfish from my part but I guess they can sacrifice once a year and schlep to our place via bridge or ferry.  After all, we do the same thing for them whenever they come up with their own crazy ideas – including an ill-fated fishing trip I would rather forget in which most of the group got seasick and ended up having a miserable time as a result, or the time we ended up in a now-defunct Brooklyn café while coaxing the birthday boy to get out of the house. That’s, after all, what having friends is all about



1 stick of room temperature unsalted butter

1 medium shallot finely chopped

1 garlic clove finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried crushed thyme

1 12-ounce can SPAM cut into cubes

3 tablespoons Jack Daniels

4 tablespoons heavy cream


Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in skillet on low heat. Add shallots and garlic. Sauté until translucent. Add thyme and cubed SPAM and continue to sauté on medium/low heat for about 3 minutes, being sure not to allow any browning of ingredients. Remove skillet from heat and add 3 tablespoons of Jack Daniels. Be very careful when bringing skillet back to heat to Flambé ingredients. Tilt skillet just by your flame and ingredients will ignite. Allow flames to go out on their own. Once flame is out, turn off heat. Transfer ingredients to food processor being sure to scrape out all the yummy bits in skillet.

Bacon-Wrapped Pineapple

(Source: Hawaiian Recipes App from Amazon)



12 bacon slices, cut in half

24 pineapple chunks, drained – reserve juice

Two tbsp. brown sugar

Two tbsp. ketchup

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. corn starch


Preheat oven to 400-degrees F. Line baking sheet with baking parchment or aluminum foil. In a saucepan, mix the liquid ingredients, reserved pineapple juice and corn starch. Simmer and stir until thickened. Wrap each pineapple with piece of bacon, secure with toothpick and place on lined baking sheet. Pour sauce over bites and bake until bacon is crispy, about 20-25 minutes.






  1. I agree with what you said about people sacrificing and going out to your house. After all it is your birthday and you should celebrate it as you want! I also like the idea of finger foods because they are convenient and easy to eat.

    • Exactly. But every now and then someone says, “why didn’t you do this in a pub in the city or something?” It’s not like we live in Tottenville or somewhere really far away.

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