Friday, October 12, 2007

Ukrainian Food Kitchen: Salvation for the Soul



Two weeks ago the New York Times profiled the women of St.George's Catholic Church in the East Village in a piece titled "Dumplings for the Lord".

For the last few decades a small army ( 8 women or so) have been turning up each Friday morning to make traditional Ukrainian food. They sell these dishes to the locals and all profits are donated to the church. Last year they donated about $80,000 to the church through their efforts.

All of the women who give their time and cooking expertise to the mission are Ukrainian immigrants themselves. St.George's church helped many of these women and their families assimilate into American culture. The church provided elementary/middle school services on top of its stated role as religious practitioner.

Last Friday, I decided to find out for myself: Are Ukrainian dumplings fit for the Soul?

None of my friends were up to the task. "I am busy" or "I already ate" were most of the lame responses I was given (some didn't even respond- you know who you are!).

First I had to find this joint.

According to the Times article, the kitchen was situated "next to McSorley’s Old Ale House". I found this to be almost true.

It took walking around the blocks of Seventh and Sixth Streets in between Second and Third Avenues before I found this hole in the wall.

The signage sucked and was not even at street level (this photo was taken looking down the stairs near the entrance). The building was not next to McSorley's, but rather located some four buildings over (closer to Second Avenue).
Having haphazardly ordered six potato pierogies (varenyky) with smetana (sour cream) for $3.50. I began my feast.

They actually tasted quite good. Nothing fancy or anything, but warm and filling. Just the thing to get over a hangover.

More interesting to me were the multitudes of people who trickled into this religious kitchen
space. There was some dude with a mohawk and one six inch earring. Two bike messengers dropped in, their arms covered in tats. An elderly couple wobbled through, cains in hand, reporting that this indeed was the place they had read about in the NY Times article. Quietly, I sat their munching away. I too came because of the article.

One must not and cannot escape the fact that only in New York would something like this melting pot of seemingly disparate souls come together for lunch.

Its secret places like this that make New York great. Its the locals, the folklore and the immigrants that shape this city. Its the pierogies, the old ladies and the anonymity that make St. George's kitchen all-to-endearing.

I will come back again. But, perhaps I will try the borscht this next time around.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Impending Plans: Denmark



The tickets have not been purchased yet, but it looks like I will be heading to the land of my heritage this coming December.

It probably all started because my father lived in Bergen Norway about 30 years ago. He still hasn't told me what prompted the trip originally, but it turned into a year and a half stay in the Nordic lands.

My great-grandfather Holger, from what I have heard, moved to the United States at some point in the 1920's from Denmark. My history of where exactly in Denmark is a little uncertain, but thats really the purpose of this trip - to connect the dots. Anyway, he married an American and had a son, Holger (wow thats two Holgers). My grandfather married Donna and they had three sons (Robert, Kurt and Eric). My father is Robert (we just call him dad or Bob), he is the oldest of the three boys.

Getting back to it, my father moved to Norway and at some point contacted the relatives of my great-grandfather. They live about 35 km outside of Copenhagen in a town called Roskilde. I have been told by a danish friend of mine that the second largest music festival in Europe is held in this city every summer.

After emailing my relative Claus, whom my father has remained in distant contact with over the last 30 years, I was elated to get a cheerful email some hours later from him. Unfortunately he will be out of the country most of December, but I am now in contact with other relatives.

The last three weeks I have been studying Danish a couple of times a week in this continuing education course offered through NYU. Its been both hard (svaert) but rewarding to learn the language of the Danes. Its my hope to become proficient in the tongue. However, I read that 80% of the people in Denmark speak english, so I am not sure how much I will be able to practice. Hopefully I'll get stuck in the middle of nowhere and be forced to rely on my rudimentary skills. If all else fails I'll draw pictures.

No trip would be legendary unless there was some sort of a hitch to it. I have decided to make this a biking trip. I will ride my track bike around the country of Denmark for three weeks in the middle of December.

This might very well be one of the dumbest decisions I have made recently. All dumb decisions have their drawbacks, but this I find is where most of the learning and character building come into play.

CONS:

  • Bike Stolen or messed up (flat tires, possible crashes, lack of tools). You can fill in the rest...broken limbs, cracked ribs, fractures, etc.
  • Weather conditions are horrible (it will be really cold, there could be snow, probably ice and certainly rain).
  • Some roads will not be suitable for cyclists. This is a country of bike riders, but that does not translate to all roads being acceptable for bike travel.
  • Accommodations: I have no idea where the hell I will be staying. I want it to be cheap and mostly a spontaneous trip (save for the family visits).
PROS:
  • Ultimate scenic trip. No distractions or real rush. Go at my own pace.
  • Small country - get to see many places intimately.
  • Family, heritage, the ultimate history trip.
  • Beautiful Danish Women!!!
  • Beer!