For the second installment of my cooking lessons I learned how to make 4 traditional Polish cakes. One similar to a cheesecake, another with walnuts, a poppyseed cake, and finally one with dried fruits.
Cooking Class 101 with Ms. Ela
My first cooking class with Ms. Ela detailed how to make pierogis, and something similar to tortellini that is put in soup. She began by teaching me how to make the filling using a grinder to puree both mushrooms and meat. Then we made dough, and she showed me how to form the dumplings. We cooked a few to make sure that they tasted okay, and then froze the rest for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner.
As Christmas was approaching, the steady invites to birthday and name day parties changed to invites to holiday parties. The first one was for all of the people that Jacek studies with at his university, in his engineering program. I’ve learned that once Polish people have had a little/a lot of vodka, they are suddenly more willing to speak English with me. I had some great conversation with Jacek’s friends girlfriends, and learned of a house party tradition in Poland. The room starts with one shot glass, and always only one bottle of vodka. If I have the shot glass I must drink to someone, meaning I says, “Cheers, (insert name)!” and take my shot, then pour them a shot, and they do the same to someone else. Every time the host re-enters the room he/she can add another shot glass, and only he can get another bottle of vodka for the room. So essentially, you are only drinking when someone drinks to you, and sometimes you get caught in a circle of 3 or 4 people who keep passing the shots around. Other than the shots, most people do not drink anything, meaning there isn’t a beer in everyone’s hand like at an American house party, you are just waiting your turn. Also, everyone brought a bottle of vodka for the host, and a lot of people also bring food for the party.
Trip to Ikea orrrr lack there of
As some of you may know I love Ikea, but I hate that it is 3 hours away from my house. Fortunately there are plenty of Ikeas in Europe and I was able to go to one just 10 minutes from where I am staying. It was just like the ones in America, so not much to report there, but they do have an ice cream machine which is the point of this post. For 33 American cents, I can get an ice cream cone out of a machine. I put 1 zlotys in, a cone pops out, I place it into a holder, and the machine dispenses the appropriate amount. For 33 cents, I decided to have 3. Also, there was a car in the parking lot from Pennsylvanina, which I found to be just a little bit confusing.
The resort town in the Tatra Mountains is Zakopane, where we went after our hike to walk through the market and have dinner at a wonderful log-cabinesque restaurant, suggested to us by Jacek’s good friend David and his fiance. We had ribs with potatoe dumplings and Zurek soup. And we also bought some of the specialty cheese the area is famous for that you can grill and eat with jam. It is very smokey and salty, similar to a cheese I had in Italy.
Tatra Mountain Hike
Poland; as well as, Slovokia, are known for the beautiful Tatra Mountains. We were lucky enough to have a beautiful day of weather where we could hike about 10 miles through the snow and ice to see the frozen Lake Morskie Oko, a sight that I cannot wait to go back and see in the warmer months. For people unable to hike that far, or who have the luxury of wealth, a horse and carriage can be hired to take you to the top, with just a short walk to the lake.
S’mores and Sunday Dinner
For the second Sunday in a row, the Bulak family gathered for dinner. We ate the traditional Rosso, or chicken noodle soup, along with what they call “second meal”. After dinner I taught everyone how to roast marshmallows and make s’mores. Everyone seemed to like them, even though they weren’t made properly (as I couldn’t find graham crackers in Poland and had to settle for thicker cookies).
Janek’s Performance on the Main Square
Jacek’s brother Janek is very involved in the community, especially the local Catholic Church. One Sunday we were able to watch him perform a play he has been rehearsing all winter with a theater troupe. In this performance Janek played Death; they change characters each performance so you never know who he will be. The play was about King Herod and the moment in history when he ordered all of the male children to be killed.
Birthday Party on the Main Square
We left Prague early on Saturday morning to make it back to Krakow for a birthday party. Starting at a bar in the main square, we suprised the birthday boy, and then continued to crawl around the area, with of course a stop at McDonald’s. I always make sure to try the local McDonald’s because suprisingly it is always different than ours at home. I got the lumberjack burger, which get this, has a fried cheese patty on it as well. It was delicious. Back at the party however, I decided to get some Mad Dog shots (which as you may have read before, Mr. Andre had just introduced me to), but these were much spicier than his, and to be honest very overwhelming. Jacek’s best friend Paul was also with us, and so we headed home early to get some rest for the next day…Oh and also, Jack let me style his hair like an American, even though he, and all his friends, hated it.
As anyone who knows anything about Europe knows, soccer is essential to life here. This is their American football, and they call it futbol. Jacek plays for five different teams both inside and out, and roots for Manchester United when it comes to the Champions League. Manchester United plays on Tuesdays, so we went to a friend’s house with chips and beer and watched the game.
Last night Jacek’s dad asked me if I wanted a special shot, so I asked what was in it. Jacek said that it was a Mad Dog shot with rasberry syrup, vodka, and Tobasco. I really wanted to see what this looked like, and taste like, so of course I said yes. Because the rasberry syrup is heavier it sinks to the bottom, leaving the shot to resemble the Polish flag. When you add the Tobasco it is suspended in the shot, leaving the taste to be well blended as it goes down.
Views of Krakow
Wawel Cathedral and Castle Grounds
This morning we headed over to the Wawel Castle grounds. The most interesting thing about this area is that the cathedral on the property has been renovated and expanded multiple times over the hundreds of years it has existed, and you can see this in its building. Look at the pictures and you can see at least five different styles all put together.
We visited the Sigismund Bell, similar in importance to our Liberty Bell; as well as, the royal tombs of all the great kings and queens of Poland, and their families. There is some controversy here though because in 2010 there was a horrific plane crash, which killed the President, and so he is also buried here; however, many Poles do not find his accomplishments to be comparable to the great kings of Poland, and therefore think that he should not be buried here. Poland hold Pope John Paul II very close to their hearts, and wish that he was buried here, but the Vatican disagrees, and keeps his remains in Rome. Nonetheless, this church is phenomenal, but they do not allow pictures to be taken so I do not have a lot to share from the inside. You can see interior photos here: https://www.google.pl/search?newwindow=1&rlz=1C1LEND_enPL546PL547&espv=210&es_sm=93&biw=1536&bih=763&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=wawel+cathedral+interior&oq=wawel+cathedral+interior&gs_l=img.3..0i19.8096.9610.0.9818.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.640.2j4.6.0….0…1c.1.32.img..1.10.577.aw2GQQPoHWU
In terms of the rest of the grounds, there is a courtyard that was built by Florentines, and therefore looks straight out of Italy; as well as a ramp/wall surrounding the property that showcases all of the people who have given to the reconstruction project (after the wars). Rick Steve’s noted in our guide book that in the courtyard there is an area that is said to be one of the chakras of the world, and although the Catholics of Poland are very against this idea, you can usually find people gathering around the corner absorbing the positive energy.
Wieliczka Salt Mine (Kopanial Soli Wieliczka)
Today we visited the Salt Mine in Krakow, there is so much I could tell you about this, but honestly the most important facts are that literally everything is salt, regular miners carved all the amazing sculptures, I licked the walls, andddddd it is the oldest salt mine still in operation in Europe.
There is so much going on here regarding food that I need to break it down into parts. This is part one, aka, the first 3 days. I have eaten Pierogi, Kotlet Schabbowy, Zapiekanki, Rosół, and Zupa Grzybówa and so much more. The most significant things to mention are that they only eat twice a day. Breakfast is light, and lunch/dinner is heavier. The most interesting part is that the “dinner” meal always starts with a soup, ALWAYS. And then there is a meat and potatoes course. Most likely there is a salad too. They don’t drink at dinner, not even water, except every once in a while, and there is usually coffee or tea at night too. My “breakfasts” have included soft-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, and coffee/hot chocolate. My dinners have translated into cream of mushroom soup, pumpkin soup, chicken noodle, and vegeable; along with, fried porkchop, potatoe dumplings, chicken with onions, and pork loin. Sides have included variations of saurkraut, boiled potatoes, and other vegetables. Overall, I have been extremely impressed with the food, and could eat it all day long. But then again that is commonly my problem in Europe.