Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | September 11, 2017

A Wedding in Poland – Part One: Around Chełm 

by Ernest Barteldes


Stare Miasto

Part One: Around Chełm

Last April we learned that Renata’s brother Mirek was getting married to his longtime girlfriend Beata, and we decided on the spot that we had to go, even if it meant changing our vacation plans for the year – which we quickly adjusted and started preparing for what was to be our fourth time in Poland together just over a year after our last visit.



After a thorough search I was able to find affordable tickets on Scandinavian Airlines via Copenhagen (I tried to get tickets to the new airport in Lublin on Lufthansa – which would have saved a ton of travel time – but prices were too prohibitive). I booked the tickets and started to do some research on what to expect of Polish weddings, but most of the articles I found described how things might go in larger cities like Warsaw but since this case was more of a small town, I was at a loss. I asked Renata about it but since she’d left Poland over a decade before she couldn’t really remember the details I should expect – so my only resources were the various online pieces I was able to search and the advice of a handful of Poles I knew here in New York.

I also contacted the couple and asked them as much information as I could, and they told me it would be a two-day event with a church wedding on Saturday.

The last “Polish” wedding I’d been to had been in the spring of 2010 – a Brazilian friend I played with in church got married to a Polish-born girl. The ceremony and reception took place in Poughkeepsie, a town in  New York’s Dutchess County, so obviously they had to somewhat adapt to US customsWe met at a hotel on Saturday and went to a pre-wedding dinner, which was followed by a breakfast the next day and the wedding ceremony – in which I also served as groomsman,  played bass and sang and finally a short reception that was cut off by 8 PM – nothing like I would later experience in Poland.  


Istanbul Restaurant

I was glad that for once I had no official function at this wedding –  the two last I had attended I had something – including being best man at a friend’s wedding in Kingston, Jamaica. When I was told I was just a regular guest I sighed in relief – I could just enjoy myself and that would be the end of it. 

We decided to fly to Poland on Tuesday before the Saturday wedding so we could get acclimatized to the time difference and also take care of any necessary preparations. We arrived in Warsaw without incident and boarded a bus to Renata’s hometown in Chełm, which is about a three-hour drive from the country’s capital.

When we arrived, we stopped for a quick drink at Strecha u Woyciecha, a local pizza restaurant next to the bus station that also doubles as a performance space once a month except during summer, when the room becomes too hot for larger crowds – meaning that I would not be able to catch a performance.  After our drinks we dragged our bags to Renata’s folks’ apartment, had a meal and pretty much called it a day after doing some light shopping at one of the local supermarkets.



On previous trips around Chełm, Renata never really left me alone to walk around town on my own (she has never explained me why, but I believe she thought I’d get lost), but on that first morning I went on my first solo stroll around the town’s Stare Miasto and surrounding streets.

The weather was gorgeous so it was ideal for exploring town – and a chance to get some much-needed exercise, and also a chance for Renata to have some alone time with her family.  My first stop was at Empik, the local media store, where I browsed through the music titles and bought two CDs by pop singer Monika Brodka, one of the new talents I had been told about by a Polish ESL student..


Monument in Stare Miasto, Imbrik in the background

Chełm’s Empik is much smaller than its counterparts in Krakow or Warsaw, but they do their best with the small place they have. I noticed several special-issue vinyl pressings of Queen’s “Greatest Hits” and a handful of other pop artists, but most of the music floor was dominated by CDs, with one side dedicated to international artists and the other for domestic ones.


I continued walking and stumbled into the local tourist center, where I bought a few gifts for co-workers and friends. Nearby there was Muzeum Ziemi Chelmskiej Gmach Glowny, a space dedicated to a small exhibit of local and foreign amber – including some pieces from The Caribbean – specifically the island of Hispaniola, where both Haiti and The Dominican Republic are located.


Amber Museum

The museum is free of charge on Thursdays, but as far as I could see I was the sole visitor at that hour – a guide escorted me through the various displays, and after that we went to an upstairs room filled with stuffed animals depicting what I guessed was the local fauna – I smiled to the guide (who spoke no English) and perused the floor for a few minutes feigning interest and walked away – stuffed animals are not my thing.

I felt a bit hungry and walked over to a zapiekanka stand near the bus station (think of a pizza on a baguette with sautéed mushrooms instead of tomato sauce), and tried it with toppings of Polish sausage and cucumbers – quite different from the more standard version with cheese and ketchup that I had in previous visits. It was succulent and quite filling, and then I walked back to the apartment, stopping at one of the city’s 24-h liquor stores to buy some gifts of libation for friends in the US.

This kind of store is common all over Poland to a lesser or greater extent. The largest number I have ever seen is in Krakow, where there is one almost every block. This is not the case in Chełm, but the custom seems ingrained in the country.

My store of choice was Alkohole Salon 24, a cozy shop that carries a nice selection of beers, vodka and wine. I have always preferred to patronize it instead of  big-box stores like Tesco. Inside they have wooden floors and cabinets, and their service is courteous and friendly – even if with my lack of Polish.

Later that evening, Renata and I walked over to Na Bogato, a local bar with comfortable couches and affordable prices. We assumed that would be it for the day, but we got a call from Renata’s brother and his fiancée – they wanted to meet. It was quite late by then, and kitchens in most places were closed. We ended up at Kozak, a charming pizza restaurant that we had visited in previous trips (I think it’s a local favorite – or their favorite). We’d already had dinner, so we just enjoyed couple of drinks while they ate.


Dilapidated house

On Friday morning I woke up early and went for another walk that took me well beyond the Stare Miasto and found this narrow street with dilapidated houses and buildings. On the right was a small square few seemed to care about down the hill was a building that housed the former synagogue (Chełm had a large Jewish population before World War II) that has since been restored and serves as a traditional Polish restaurant. One house on the street looked abandoned and in great disrepair. I found there was nothing interesting to see there to see so I walked back to the Stare Miasto and stopped at one of the outdoor bars and ordered a beer.

I had my ukulele with me and started strumming very softly as not to disturb the other patrons, but they seemed to enjoy it so I played at a louder volume. I contacted Renata (who had been at a dental appointment) and we hung there for about an hour and enjoyed the warm weather and quiet atmosphere of the bar.

Kebab restaurants are very popular in Poland, but I hadn’t had one there since when I wandered into one in WarsawRenata was more interested in eating Polish food, but I wanted something different, so I said I’d order just for me.  I selected  Restauracja Istambul, where they had the choice of either chicken or beef kebabs served in a wrap.  I selected chicken with spicy sauce, and the order only took a few minutes. It was quite tasty, and then we walked back to the apartment, where I worked on my growing unanswered emails for a while.  

That evening we met with Renata’s aunt and uncle – something we always do when we visit Chełm. They wanted to take us to a water park, but since we hadn’t brought swim gear there was a change in plan and so we went to Imbryk, a new-ish café in the Stare Miasto area. It is kind of upscale with a menu geared towards a younger crowd. During my walks I had noticed some folks having brunch there (at least I assume I was brunch since Bloody Marys were involved), and Renata pointed out that the sandwich menu had been “inspired” by none other than New York’s Katz’s Deli.  I got curious and ordered one of their pastrami sandwiches – which had nothing to do with Katz’s – they were served in two small sandwiches with a small pickle on the side. They did taste good, and since I wasn’t too hungry I did not complain. Their prices are pretty stiff for Poland (PLN 12 for a glass of red wine – quite high compared to other locations in town), so after we finished our meal I suggested heading next door to Na Bogato, where they were screening a soccer game between Poland and Denmark.

Unfortunately for Poland it was a bad loss, and the crowd that filled the room quickly dwindled as folks realize the home team was not going to make a comeback. We stayed there for a while and then headed back – we all needed proper sleep before the big day in Wlodawa.




I woke up early on Saturday and had a hearty breakfast before going for my morning walk. As I got to Stare Miasto, I saw there was a group preparing for an outdoor performance – it was a play by late 19th Century writer Stanisław Wyspiański called – serendipitously – “Wesele” (“Wedding”), which was set to begin at around 10 A.M. It was still early, so I walked around for an hour, returned and watched it for a few minutes.

Two youngsters in traditional dress served as narrators while others read other parts – it was not really acting since they were reading from a script, but it seemed amusing enough to the audience, but since I don’t understand Polish beyond ordering food and basic greetings I left halfway through.  Renata was at the hair salon while I was out, and I returned to the apartment before she got back herself, so I busied myself by taking care of a few emails until it was time to get ready to go. We didn’t go in our party clothes but prepared to change at the hotel, which had been booked for all the party guests for the long night ahead.









By Ernest Barteldes


I don’t usually cook dinner on weekdays for the simple reason that Renata and I have very different work schedules that would force us to dine at odd hours if we ate together from Monday to Friday, but since my mother is visiting from Brazil this week (she’s also spending time with my sister in Chicago), I decided – on the evenings I wasn’t teaching – to make something a little more special that wasn’t too labor-intensive.

I am a big fan of meat-free risottos – they are easy to make even if it means stirring the pot for the better part of thirty minutes.  Though a bit labor-intensive, it is a meal that only requires a single pot and not much on the side except for maybe some veggies.

I opted to make a mushroom risotto, a dish is a bit of a favorite in our household but that for reasons I cannot explain I haven’t made in a while (probably because I have been experimenting with various other seafood or poultry-based dishes of late) – so I made my way to the nearest supermarket and set out to get the necessary ingredients.

For the side, I made a simple mixed green salad with cucumbers. It was a festive dish even though it was easy and quick to prepare – and quite delicious. I made double the amount of the below recipe so we could have leftovers for lunch the next day – since it is something I do on a regular basis.


Mushroom Risotto (stock photo)

Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 cup risotto (or long-grain) rice

8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 cup dry cooking wine

4 cups vegetable broth or water.

2 tbsp. grated parmesan

Salt and black pepper to taste

Chopped parsley, for garnish.



In a large pot, sauté the garlic in half the olive oil until fragrant and add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally until they release their liquid and it evaporates.  Season with salt and black pepper and remove the mushroom mix with slotted spoon. Using the same pot, add the remaining olive oil and add the rice, stirring for about a minute. Add the wine and stir vigorously until absorbed. Add a cup of vegetable broth or water one cup at a time, stirring constantly, making sure the rice does not attach to the bottom or side of pot until the rice is al dente. Remove from heat, stir in the reserved mushrooms and parmesan. Cover and let stand for five minutes before serving, and serve with a garnish of chopped parsley.

Wine pairing suggestion: Sauvignon Blanc.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 27, 2017

Barbecuing with Friends plus Ernest’s potato salad

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 13, 2017

Summer Cooking: Keeping it Simple Yet Delicious: Penne a La Vodka

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 21, 2017

The Sunday Breakfast: Taking It Easy


By Ernest Barteldes


Having a hectic schedule and not getting enough sleep is part of pretty much everyone’s life in a big city, and that is certainly what Renata and I go through on a daily basis – we wake up early, I make coffee and pack a hastily made sandwich for breakfast, which we either enjoy while riding the Staten Island Ferry or once we actually get to work.

But weekend – especially Sundays – are markedly different. Away goes the weekday rush and a lazier, relaxed approach kicks in, and then I try to make something special: a hearty and tastier breakfast that includes fruit and something creative that we eat while sleepily watching a TV variety show called CBS Sunday Morning – a guilty pleasure featuring mostly older reporters that do long pieces on various themes, including the profiles of actors and musicians, curiosity pieces like the popularity of some kind of food (the segment on Hawaii and SPAM being one of my all-time favorites) or some human interest piece. Though politics is sometimes featured, it is mostly a light-topic show, which is a good escape from the hard news we get on a regular basis (incidentally, it precedes CBS’ Face the Nation, their own politically centered Sunday show).

So it is in this lighter spirit that I look for recipes that can only be enjoyed by taking one’s time – both during the preparation and also eating – preferably in bed.  A recent dish I found on my giant tome of recipes from the dearly departed Gourmet magazine consists of ham serving as a cup for eggs and mushrooms that is quite simple to prepare: place ham slices in a muffin pan, add a mix of mushrooms, shallots and sour cream to the bottom, top with eggs, bake for a few minutes and voila – you have a delicious and nutritious Sunday breakfast.

Here is the original recipe, which I made cut in half: it’s not like I have so many people to feed on Sunday!


Baked Eggs and Mushrooms in Ham Crisps

Source: Epicurious



3/4 lb. mushrooms, finely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped shallot

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

12 slices Black Forest or Virginia ham (without holes; 10 oz.)

12 large eggs

Garnish: fresh tarragon leaves

Accompaniment: buttered brioche or challah toast

Special equipment: a muffin tin with 12 (1/2-cup) muffin cups




Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook mushrooms and shallot in butter with salt and pepper in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring, until mushrooms are tender and liquid they give off is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in crème fraiche and tarragon.

Fit 1 slice of ham into each of 12 lightly oiled muffin cups (ends will stick up and hang over edges of cups). Divide mushrooms among cups and crack 1 egg into each. Bake in middle of oven until whites are cooked but yolks are still runny, about 15 minutes. Season eggs with salt and pepper and remove (with ham) from muffin cups carefully, using 2 spoons or small spatulas.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 15, 2017

The 2017 Puerto Plata Report: Costambar, Santiago and Jarabacoa

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | May 23, 2017

At the 2017 International Food Festival at 9th Avenue, New York

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | April 25, 2017

At the 5th Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo


By Ernest Barteldes

The annual New York Hot Sauce Expo has become a bit of a tradition for us – I first went during the 2015 edition on my own but have convinced Renata to come along with me for the last two editions. This time we got there on the very last day of the event. Like in previous years, it was quite crowded with a mix of curious locals and intense hot pepper enthusiast. On stage some kind of competition was going on – there are several contests going on for the duration of the event, going from pizza and chicken wing eating tournaments and some involving pro bartenders.


We got there in the early afternoon on Sunday and went on to taste some the samples made available there.  We started with Long Island’s  Murph’s Bloody Mary Mix – a delicious recipe that comes both in mild and spicy. The “hot” version does not burn that much, and it is quite flavorful. I was disappointed not to see Ed Currie, the creator of the Carolina Reaper there – I had the pleasure to get my mouth severely burned by his pepper – awarded by the Guiness Book of Records as the hottest chili pepper in the world.


This year, however, I was looking for flavor, and we got what we came for – among our purchases was “Dia de Sol,”  a delicious Portuguese-style sauce from Nebraska’s Volcanic peppers – a mild concoction made with peri peri peppers, red peppers and garlic (among other things) that serves as a great topping for omelets or meats. From them we also got Jamaican Holiday, a sauce made from yellow scotch bonnet peppers – quite hot.

Other highlights included Upstate New York’s   Baron’s Caribbean Hot Sauce, a blend based on habanero peppers and little else – flavorful but with one heck of a kick later on, and Torchbearer’s Pshycho Curry – a mild to hot curry sauce that I plan to use very, very soon.

The only sour note was the fact that Florida-based Tahiti Joe’s  – a producer I used to admire – decided to politicize his brand by creating  “Hillary Not For President” and a”Trumped-Up for President” sauces. I questioned him about it, and he gave me the usual Trump supporter schpiel about the emails and Benghazi and how Trump is the second coming of Jesus.  His choice to bring those “options” to Brooklyn had consequences – his table was pretty much empty when I stopped by – it is clear that hot sauce and politics don’t mix (I was surprised not to have seen any “Feel The Bern” sauces anywhere – missed opportunity?.

Apart from this two-minute incident, I must say it was once again an enjoyable afternoon. We stocked up with quite a few bottles, which should last us until next year’s edition.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | April 9, 2017

Easter Traditions: Poland and Brazil

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | March 29, 2017

Eating in St. George, Staten Island


By Ernest Barteldes

When I moved to St. George in the early 2000s, there were few dining options worth writing home about.  There was the Polish Place on Corson Avenue, a so-so Mexican restaurant, a dreary Irish pub, Cargo Café and Ruddy & Dean, a steakhouse on Richmond Terrace  and little else – though it is one of the most diverse neighborhoods on Staten Island,  that did not reflect its eateries at the time – although there have always been plenty of shops that cater to the different ethnicities that live in the area.

That has changed quite a bit over the years. Though some closed – The Polish Place went out of business in 2012 and Cargo Café changed ownership (but not much of its menu), being renamed 120 Bay Café around that time. However, many other places have popped up over the years offering many different options not only for locals but for visitors who happen to wonder off the Staten Island Ferry from time to time.

Here is a partial sampling:


View from The Outdoor Tables at River Dock Cafe

The St. George Ferry Terminal itself has now many options  – ranging from a simple pizza place to New York City’s only Dairy Queen, but for a better meal check out River Dock Café, a full service restaurant with a varied American-style menu.  They also have a nice full bar and a range of appetizers, my personal favorite being the fried Calamari rings, which are served with a crispy breading.  During the warm months they have outside seating with a view of the harbor.


Outside Jimmy Steiny’s 

Walk up Hyatt Street towards The St. George Theater, where Jimmy Steiny’s pub offers a limited menu and a nice atmosphere for drinks. Years ago the space housed a horrible dive bar, but the regulars include lawyers and civil servants from the nearby courthouses.  Further up the street is Enoteca Maria, a well-regarded Italan restaurant with a daily menu that changes depending on who the chef for the evening is – so depending on when you go the flavors can vary dramatically.


Outside Enoteca Maria

Also nearby on Stuyvesant Place is Chang Noi Thai, a newer restaurant already discussed on this blog, and across the street is our go-to pizzeria, A&S Pizzeria.  Although I can easily order from them using the Slice App (more on that someday), I actually enjoy walking over, ordering a pie and waiting while enjoying a bottle of Polish beer – which they keep in stock  since many Polish immigrants stop there for a drink on a regular basis. Also notable is Beso, located between Stuyvesant and Richmond Terrace, where they serve impressive Spanish meals – it’s the kind of place you can go on a very good date or to impress your mom when she visits.

A recent addition  is Sabor de La Isla, a Puerto Rican restaurant located  where our favorite now-defunct Mexican restaurant used to be.  We haven’t checked it out yet (we plan to do so very soon) but from what I hear they are doing quite well, and the reviews have been quite positive. And I cannot end this post without mentioning Flagship Brewery, Staten Island’s own microbrew – which is walking distance from any of the eateries mentioned here.

In conclusion, St. George is slowly becoming a foodie-friendly area. Sure, it has not come to the level of other areas of the island, where you can find some of the best European-themed places in town – but we are definitely getting there.

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