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

Archive for February, 2011

Potato Cheese Pierogi

In preparation for our moves (AKA the end of retirement), Neil and I have made lists of restaurants in Bellingham we want to try out, shows in town we want to see, etc.  Another list includes meals we want to make and enjoy together.  Sharing space  atop that list with the likes of blueberry coffee cake and mushroom risotto are pierogi, delicious Polish dumplings. This recipe is slightly adapted from my friend Aldona, takes about 1.5 to 2 hours from start to finish and is a perfect comfort food for these cold clear nights.



INGREDIENTS (serves 4)


2Cups white flour (whole wheat pastry flour works too, but won’t be as soft or easy to work with)

1 large egg

3/4 Cup hot water

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp salt

Fried Onion Deliciousness

1/2 stick of butter

1 large onion, chopped pretty fine


3 large potatoes

1 Cup cottage/farmer cheese

salt and pepper to taste

one large scoop of Fried Onion Deliciousness


soy sauce

sour cream

Fried Onion Deliciousness

hot sauce


curry, chopped herbs, yogurt – you name it! get creative!


  1. Cut potatoes into small chunks and boil until soft and mashable.
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, pour flour into a large bowl.  Make a big well in the flour and crack the egg into it.  Add the salt, olive oil, and about half of the hot water.
  3. Knead the dough together, adding the rest of the water as needed until you have what feels like a soft pie dough – not too dry, but not sticky either. Let the dough rest, covered so it doesn’t dry out, for 20 minutes or so as you prepare the fried onion deliciousness and pierogi filling.
  4. Put the half stick of butter in a cast iron skillet, and, once it is melting and starting to sizzle, add the chopped onion.  Fry until the onions are translucent and smelling irresistibly delicious.
  5. Drain the boiled potatoes and mash with a fork.  Add the cheese (we got Polish farmers cheese from the European import store, but most any cheese  – farmers, cottage, cheddar – will do) and a big scoop of the fried onions.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  *For one batch of pierogi, we added curry powder and peas to this mixture.
  6. Roll out the dough on a floured cutting board.  It should be pretty darn thin – a millimeter? – thick enough that it won’t tear when you add the filling, thin enough that it won’t taste gummy once boiled.
  7. Using a cup, cut out circles of dough 3 inches in diameter or so.
  8. Put a Tablespoon or 2 of filling on each circle of dough (it takes much less filling than you might think!) and crimp the edges together to form a pocket, a mini-calzone.  Make sure your edges are sealed or the dumplings will spill open when boiling.
  9. As you’re finishing with filling the pierogi, heat up a large pot of water to boiling.  Dunk about 10 – 12 pierogi in at once.  They’ve finished cooking about 30 seconds after they float to the top (2 minutes or so altogether). 
  10. Top with the left-over fried onions, soy sauce, sour cream, hot sauce and anything else you’re inclined to try.
  11. Enjoy hot, with a glass of wine and a winter companion. Marvel at the countless ways cultures have managed to accessorize dough and make it taste delicious.

Retirement: Lessons Learned From Water

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In what I’ve been calling my temporary retirement (Bellingham is, after all, the other place young people go to retire), I’ve been trying to soak in all of the things I love so dearly about the Pacific Northwest.  When I look back at the last month, I realize just how literal the soaking was; all of my adventures about the area have taken me to water.  It began with my trip to Oregon with Neil (my partner in retirement – in all things, really), where we spent a couple of days with his family walking around the Fernhill Wetlands watching all kinds of birds fly from pond to tree to pond again.  A hike on the outskirts of Portland with Al to see the mighty Columbia meander its way through the Gorge.  Soaking in the soothing sulphur springs with Virginia at Doe Bay on Orcas Island.  A beautiful weekend with my favorite Seattle-ites in a cabin in La Push on the coast of the Olympic Peninsula, where the waves roared in a winter storm and a forest’s worth of driftwood scattered the beach.  And just a few days ago, Neil and I took the train up to Vancouver, BC and spent an afternoon at the aquarium there, fully cementing my love for sea otters and fascination with all things that make their homes in the water.


I, myself, do not feel particularly at home or at ease in the water.  Surfing seems like a death sentence and I envy those that can make swimming seem less like a struggle and more like cohesion.  I enjoy being near water, but the interactions I have with the element usually feel out of my control, based more on the whim and power of the water itself than any influence I might have.  Not a phobia, but definitely a healthy dose of (at times nervous) respect.  Awe.


This past month has reminded me, though, of the constant presence water has in this area (further reinforced by the mini-hail storm happening just outside my window) and in my life.  As much as it exists in our oceans, rivers and alpine lakes, it has a place in our subconscious too.  And the more time I spend with it, the more I become aware of the lessons water has to teach us.


It combines and balances grace and power – patience and urgency – in the most mesmerizing way.

It maintains a healthy relationship with the moon.

It’s rarely linear, preferring a zig-zaggy meandering to a straight shot.

It cycles through its existence, the product of countless sources and environmental influences – shifting shapes, but omnipresent.


My upcoming travels (my study abroad, as my sister calls it) are taking me to the midwest – a land of lakes whose precipitation of choice (or non-choice, rather) at the moment is a heavy blanket of snow.  More lessons to learn – insulation and patience, perhaps?  Time will tell.  For now, some words from a man who describes my current home like no one else can:


Puget Sound may be the most rained-on body of water on earth.  Cold, deep, steep-shored, home to salmon and lipstick-orange starfish, the Sound lies between the Cascades and the Olympics.  The Skagit Valley lies between the Cascades and the Sound–sixty miles north of Seattle, an equal distance south of Canada.  TheSkagit River, which formed the valley, begins up in British Columbia, leaps and splashes southwestward through the high Cascade wilderness, absorbing glaciers and sipping alpine lakes, running two hundred miles in total before all fish-green, driftwood cluttered and silty, it spreads its double mouth like suckers against the upper body of Puget Sound.  Toward the Sound end of the valley, the fields are rich with river silt, the soil ranging from black velvet to a blond sandy loam.  Although the area receives little unnfiltered sunligh, peas and strawberriesgrow lustily in Skagit fields, and more than half the world’s supply of beet seed and cabbage seed is harvested here.  Like Holland, which it in some ways resembles, it supports a thriving bulb industry: in spring its lowland acres vibrate with tulips, iris and daffodils; no bashful hues.  At any season, it is a dry duck’s dream.  The forks of the river are connected by a network of sloughts, bedded with ancient mud nad lined with cattail, tules, eelgrass and sedge.  The fields, though diked, are often flooded; there are puddles by the hundreds and the roadside ditches could be successfully navigated by midget submarines.  

It is a landscape in a minor key.  A sketchy panorama where objects, both organic and inorganice, lack well-defined edges and tend to melt together in a silver-green blur.  Great islands of craggy rock arch abruptly up out of the flats, and at sunrise and moonrise these outcroppings are frequently tangled in mist.  Eagles nest on the island crowns and blue herons flap through the veils from slough to slough.  It is a poetic setting, one which suggests inner meanings and invisible connections.

Tom Robbins
Another Roadside Attraction

Oh (Dutch) Baby!

Somewhere in the intersection of pancakes and custards resides the Dutch Baby.  With a gallon of frozen blueberries taking up space in our neighbor’s freezer (too daunting for our mini-fridge), I felt like taking on this new breakfast item.  Be forewarned: if you bite into a dutch baby pancake expecting a pancake, you’ll be grossed out by the smooth creamy inner texture; if you expect a custard, it won’t taste quite right either.  The trick is to appreciate the fusion of the two (the fact that it’s laden with blueberries and smothered in maple syrup won’t hurt either!).

Without further ado, the Dutch Baby Pancake :


(recipe from Nourishing Traditions)


1Cup whole wheat flour

1 Cup yogurt, kefir or buttermilk (for those with dairy allergies, 1 Cup of water mixed with 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar is a fine substitution)

1 Cup water

4 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

2-4 Tbsp butter

1/2 Cup blueberries (fresh or frozen – if frozen, thaw a bit beforehand)

nutmeg, powdered sugar (optional toppings)


  1. The night before you’re planning to make the cakes, mix together the flour and yogurt/kefir/buttermilk/water+     This step will ultimately make the pancakes more digestible (and you can start it even earlier if you like), but, honestly, if you’re time-pressed or a very capable digester on all your own, feel free to skip it.
  2. The next morning….
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°
  4. Crack the eggs into a food processor and mix for several minutes.  This makes the eggs light and airy and creates that custardy yumminess.  Add the flour mixture, the additional water, salt and vanilla and process for another minute.
  5. Put 1-2 Tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet and put in the heated oven until the butter is melted and starting to sizzle.
  6. Pour half of the batter (1.5 – 2 Cups) into the hot skillet and throw in a handful (1/4 Cup or so) of blueberries.
  7. Bake in the oven, turning the heat down to 350° as you put the skillet in, until the pancake is puffed* and browned (15-20 minutes).  Dust with nutmeg and powdered sugar.  Repeat for the second pancake.
  8. Enjoy with maple syrup, honey, jam, yogurt, all the usual pancake toppings.

* Tips on getting your pancake to puff up (AKA what I wish I had known beforehand):  Try not to peek in on its progress if you can help it.  The consistent heat really helps – if 350° isn’t puffing it up enough, try 400°.   Or try a smaller skillet and make several smaller cakes.