Warsawa (Var(d(roll that r))shava) III
I awaken. Half-alive, belching a flavor not unlike rubbing alcohol. The reminder of recently peppered glass-flakes coating my gums doesn’t like the toxic fumes emanating from my definitely acid-reflux-ing wodka-gas-chamber-stomach. Am I on a cruise ship? Better yet… a 1920’s cruise ship? Sure as hell feels like it. Alas – the reminder of why I don’t drink the hard stuff if it ain’t in a Pre-prohibition-era cocktail… My eyeballs feel like they’re swimming in a fish tank that is my skull; my stomach sloshes with each moaning turn I make to attempt to congeal onto the floor to find some water. I try to look at my hands – they’re quivering – or wait. Is that my vision quivering?
I crawl out and chug water.
Water after a night of drinking a lethal amount of stuff that looks like water – makes you think you’re drinking that toxic gunk from the night previous. My stomach turns.
Robert crawls into the room – his eyes are blood-shot red as mine; we speak in gravelly-mutterings and hand signals. He begins pulling stuff out of the fridge.
This is how you know a friend is a friend. Even amidst a crippling hangover – he still pulls it together to make some breakfast for you; some Polish breakfast. The name escapes me – but it’s comprised of an Eastern European-style cheese, chopped radish and chives, some diced onion – mixed together until creamy, then spread on lots and lots of bread. That stuff was good. Exactly what I needed to soak up the still churning vodka-soup bowl in my gut. Revitalized, we prep for our traditional Sunday feast at Mama Bielecka’s.
Mama B is Magda’s mother. Apparently she’s been working non-stop in the kitchen for a day and a half already prepping a feast for Robert, Hubert, Madga, Magda’s sis, and myself. We show up to the apartment and are greeted by Magda’s super sweet mom. Home-cooked food beats all. Home-cooked food is cooked with love – it’s an ingredient you can’t buy in a restaurant… Mama B was so ecstatic to have us all in her place, that we were greeted with a cheerfulness you can only get from a mother.
The smells pouring out from the kitchen stop you in your tracks – you can almost taste the exquisite feast that would soon take place. We’re at first, given a tour – we check out Magdalena’s painting room, get a glimpse of the food being finalized and plated up – then we take our seats.
Hubert’s hurtin’ just as bad as Robert and I, and he’s brought us a cure: home-made beer. This is the stuff Hubert’s been cooking up in tanks in his own home – damn good pils. Strong stuff.
I wasn’t able to notate that day – only eat. We all gather around together and chat food, family, friends; we go through the family photo albums and get a heart-warming look at the family that is the Bieleckas. We start with a delicious soup – chunks of sausage inside, with a rejuvenating sourness to it that has become so instantly-recognizably Polish to me. Home-made pickles come up next – just as good as any pickle I’ve ever had. A pair of traditional salads soon follow: one semi-reminiscent to coleslaw/potato salads of back home, and a beautiful pickled, warm beet salad.
Potatoes simply roasted with dill and salt is the side for the pan-fried, breaded, pounded-thin pork cutlets. These things are magical. They remind me of katsu in Japan, which is just flattened, breaded, fried, delicious pig-product. I love me anything piggy. Multiple kinds of hand-made pierogis come out next, producing a table-resounding “ooooohhhh.” Those dumplings were something special. A couple veggie-types, a couple meat types – I had about 20 of them. The cabbage meat stew was a highlight for me – unlike anything I’ve ever had before really. The flavors were similar to pickled cabbage and pickled beets, the bits of ground meat and vegetables paired into the thick broth-like substance were jaw-dropping.
As if that wasn’t enough… next came all hand-made, home-made desserts. A jam-filled doughnut with powered sugar and some kind of coffee-cake. Mama B could sell those doughnuts out of a truck in Austin and sell out within opening-hours… that good. Big, baseball sized dough-balls filled with a tart, yet sweet fruit jam.
I threw in the towel. I was beaten, lovingly into submission and food coma. Mama B even gave me my Polish name: “Mateuz.” It sounds like “Matoosh.” It means “Matthew” in Polish.
I don’t get to be with my family when I’m out on tour… but when I am able to spend time with my friends’ families around the globe – it’s like a sampling, a taste, an encouragement and revitalization to keep doing what I do. It reminds me that there is no greater thing in life than family and friends. I was brought in as one of their own – and I will never forget my time shared with my friends in Poland.