food, farming, friends and family: a meditation on chosen simplicity and (in)voluntary complications – life.

Archive for January, 2011

Polish Salad

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll never say ‘no’ to the rich complex flavors of a curry, the way dozens of spices can meld just right and dance on the tastebuds.  And while I couldn’t necessarily tell you what exactly turmeric tastes like, I know that I love it blended with countless other spices in Channa Masala or a pot of Dal.  But I also love a recipe that lets its main players speak for themselves, one that can stand on its own – with maybe just a little help from salt and pepper.  That’s where this recipe for Polish salad comes in.  Some call it Russian salad, and I’m sure it goes by all kinds of names, but it came to me straight from a Polish woman (my friend Aldona’s mom), so I’ll take her word for it.

There’s plenty of room to play around in this recipe.  Potatoes, carrots and celeriac form the base – and I’d say each one is pretty crucial, though the proportions are up to you.  As for the bells and whistles, I added onions, peas, pickles, and hard-boiled eggs.  Other ideas include parsnips, a tart apple, scallions or diced celery.  A mayonaise/yogurt combination binds the salad together with salt and pepper adding a little kick.  Warning: this salad is addictive – the kind of dish that perfectly straddles the heartiness of winter and the sweetness of spring.

Ok, without further ado:



INGREDIENTS (serves 6+)

2 Celery Roots (Celeriac), peeled and cut into large chunks

6 medium Potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

4 Carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks

1 Cup  Peas

1/2 small Onion, diced

2 Eggs, hard-boiled and chopped

2 Dill Pickles, chopped

1/2 Cup Yogurt + Mayonaise

salt and pepper, to taste



  1. Boil the celeriac, potatoes and carrots until tender (not mushy).  Remove from water (which would make a perfect stock for soup) and, once cool, chop into small cubes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the cubed veggies with the peas, onions, hard-boiled eggs, and the pickles.
  3. Mix the yogurt and mayonaise together (I used probably 4 or 5 tablespoons of mayo and let yogurt fill the rest of the 1/2 Cup – if you want a creamier salad, add more) and pour over the veggie mixture in the bowl.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Lemon juice, celery seed, mustard, or dill would also be delicious, but I think you’ll find the veggies – and the mayo, of course – speak for themselves.
  5. Enjoy!

On Becoming a Townie – and a Farmer

In a couple of months, I’m conducting an experiment.  I’m hopping into my truck and, leaving a 5 year relationship with my friends, partner and the state of Washington behind me (literally, not figuratively), I’m moving back near my home town of Chelsea, Michigan to work at a farm.  While my apprehension about the move comes far more from what and who I’m leaving behind than what and who I’m heading towards, I have to admit that I’m a little nervous about being back in Michigan – particularly so close to where I grew up.

For one thing, I don’t really know many people in the area anymore; the fact is that most people I went to highschool and college with left the immediate area, if not the state.    I certainly did.  And despite legislative efforts to encourage college graduates to stay around, Michigan is losing people right and left.  There’s certainly an economic element to this exodus; Michigan has long held the notorious honor of being at the top of state unemployment rates.  But that wasn’t as much of an issue 5+ years ago when I left the state – and the issue of young people leaving is not isolated to Michigan.  While I can’t completely channel my 20 year old mind at the time I moved west, I’m sure it was thinking something along the lines of  ‘I’ve gotta get out of here – I’ve gotta see something new’   And so I went – and in doing that, I put about 2000 miles of distance between myself and my old home – and most importantly, my family.  This is a gap we’ve narrowed with phone calls, e-mails and train rides, but one that has been nagging me since I moved to Washington.

Ok, so this isn’t meant to be as much a “dear diary” entry as a chance to take a look at  1) why so many young people, myself included, choose to leave their home towns/states  (is it about better opportunities, a change of scenery, a shift in perspective, the stigma of being someone who never left home?)  2)  is there any way to reverse the trend (if it seems worth reversing)?  is it a matter of waiting for an economic upheaval – or a grassroots return home to create something new ourselves?  which came first – the return of young people or the return of jobs, entertainment, opportunities that appeal to them?   And  3)  when- if at all – is the right time to return home?  Though we’re not a culture that sees multiple generations living under one roof much anymore, as we watch our parents age from a distance while beginning to start families ourselves, this question seems more and more relevant.

As for me, my mom turns 60 this year, and my siblings, still in the area now, could likely be on the move soon.  The time felt ripe for a move home (one that I’m looking at initially as lasting for the farming season, but it will be as temporary or as permanent as I make it).  I’ve been farming in Washington now too for a few years now, and I’m excited to see what the organic farming movement looks like in Michigan.  Admittedly, moving back to southeast Michigan at a time that just so happens to coincide with my 10 year high school reunion in order to make about 2 bucks an hour working a job that draws blank stares from most people I try to explain it to – well, it’s hard to make that look good on paper.  But I’m a girl who has Dollywood buried in her resumé – when did I get so concerned about looking good on paper?  I don’t know where those insecurities come from – the fact is I take a lot of pride in the work that I do and the state where I grew up.  This year should give me the opportunity to deepen my understanding of both while actually getting to see my family on a regular basis.

That 2000 mile gap is still going to nag me in the opposite direction now – a lot – but this is what happens when you fling open pandora’s box and create a bunch of homes for yourself.  It has never been more obvious to me that home is moreso a collection of shared experiences feelings and ideas that connect us to the people around us than any physical space.  One day I hope to give it walls, a roof and a woodstove – a barn and a chicken coop too;  for now, my experiment in mobile homes continues.

To the mitten!

** Where is home for you?  How have you gone about defining and creating it for yourself?

** Are you living far from where you grew up?  If so, why did you choose to leave?  Do you think you’ll ever move back?