03 May 2011

Guest Post: Ewa Kuc on Potato Pancakes and Being Polish in America

I have been following a fellow blogger for a few months now, Mom Photographer.  She is a fellow Polish immigrant who came to the US just a few short years ago and takes amazing photos.  I love her perspective because so many times I can either relate or learn from her.  And her daughter looks remarkably like my younger daughter as well. 

So, I asked her to do a guest post on my blog on whatever she wanted and here it is:

After I was asked if I want to write a guest post for Polish Mama I’d been thinking about the topic.  I thought I’ll write something about being Polish in US (because I’m Polish as well), about dealing with everyday consciousness that I’m different. 

Wherever I go, whatever I say the first thing people ask me is:
“Hm ... where are you from?”
“Hm... I’m from Poland”
“Oh ... from Holland, NICE”
“No, NOT HOLLAND. POLAND. I’m from POLAND” and I see the confusion in people eyes. Yes, just a few of them knew where Poland is, and no, it’s not in Africa.  Why everybody knows where Holland is but they have such a big problem with Poland!  That’s amazes me.

Anyway, I thought that I better write something about cooking.  Much easier.  I like to cook; I like to take pictures of what I cook; I like to share recipes and I wouldn’t have to write a lot because I’m not very good at that.  Not in English at least.

I consider English as my SECOND language.  Still.  Polish is what I’ve been using since I was born, long time ago. English is what I’ve been using along with Polish for the last 3.5 years.  It’s really hard to teach an old dog new tricks (don’t get me wrong I’m not THAT old).

I read and talk in English for most of my days. I’ve limited my Polish to minimum. Not because I don’t want to talk in Polish anymore, but because I wish I could speak English fluently.  I’m getting tired of using very simple vocabulary when it comes to very serious conversations. I’m tired of people saying that I sound cute, when I want to sound and to be treat serious.  It was cute at the beginning. Right now is frustrating.  Right now I prefer to abandon the discussion than make myself look (or sound) even more silly and childish.

These days I feel like I’m in a middle of a transition between English and Polish and it frustrates me even more.  Every time I talk with my parents or Polish friends I find myself looking for the right Polish words, and it happens that I can’t find them (I have to go around). 

At the same time I don’t want my family or friends to think: Oh, she’s been living there for only 3.5 years and she already forgot Polish [sigh].  How is she gonna teach our granddaughter to speak Polish?  Then when I speak with my husband or I try to write a post for my blog (in English) I find it very hard to find the right words to describe something.  I feel like I’m loosing something instead of gaining.  I’m losing my Polish, but I’m not actually gaining much English, either.  I know I know, I should just take the dictionary and start memorizing words.  Yeah, right!  My laziness is calling ;)

Somedays I think how much easier it would be to just go back to Poland, where everybody speaks your language, where you’re familiar with the food, and customs.  Where going grocery shopping I won’t be asked “Where are you from?” or ...“HOW DID YOU GET HERE?” (based on true story!).  I ran and swam to here in case if you want to know ;-)

Where french fries are made from potatoes and not from potato like substance.  Where cherry, apple, plum, pear trees grow wild.  Where you won’t see a single waisted fruit under those wild trees.  That thought came to my mind while looking at all those rotten oranges, grapefruits, lemons, pomegranates in our neighborhood.  Why would you want to have so much that you can’t even digest?!  I go for walks and think that if I had those trees on my front/back yard I would be making all bunch of different jams, juices, fruit cakes and smoothies.  If it’s still too many I would be giving it away to people. 

In Poland if you have to much you share it with your friends, family, neighbors.  I remember when I was a kid when we had bunch of plums and cherries from our summer garden I would go visit my friend and take with me bucket or two of those cherries or plums.  The next day while visiting my friend again (she lived next door) I would get a piece of a fresh baked plum cake.  If somebody was visiting us they wouldn’t leave without a basket of fresh picked fruits.

I know that there is many different opportunities here (in US), but sometimes I think: is it worth it.  I know many Polish people that really don’t care about those kind of things, they would laugh at those silly questions at the store or simply snap back with an answer that is as silly as the question was.  I’m not one of them.   For me it was cute and funny two years ago but today it’s annoying.  I really want to get my grocery and go home, and I do not need anybody to reminds me that I’m different, that I have an accent, or look original (whatever that means).

One more thing I want to talk about (did I say that I’m not good at talking about myself in English... hm... lol).  When I left Poland I didn’t really expect how much I’ll be missing Polish food.  Not all of it.  Just particular dishes that reminds me of my childhood, that I call my comfort food.  

It is even more difficult because my husband doesn’t like Polish food.  He likes pierogi, but who doesn’t?!  He doesn’t like cabbage and many Polish dishes that I like have cabbage in it.  For example bigos, or cabbage rolls, or boiled cabbage with apples.  He can’t stand the smell of boiling cabbage.  So, I try to cook it once in a blue moon.  Read:  Never!  That’s how good wife I am! :)

I love barszcz, he doesn’t.  I love żurek, he doesn’t know what that is, and actually doesn’t want to know.  I love potato pancakes, he definitely does not want to eat them, and so on!  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I wish he was a little bit more open to new food.  

Today if I want something Polish I need to cook it myself rather than find it in a store or restaurant, and it’s a cooking 3 dishes for three people:  Something different for my husband, something different for our Little One (thanks god she is getting to that age that she can eat what her dad or mom eats.. uff...), and something Polish for me.

So you can imagine how often I’m willing to cook something Polish for myself. I rather skip this part that stay in the kitchen for extra hour. My laziness again ;). If I want to go out to eat it’s hard to find a good Polish restaurant if any.  

So when this day comes and I really feel like I can’t put my craving away anymore I like to make something what’s very easy and fast to cook. Placki ziemniaczane, potatoe pancakes.  That’s what I actually was planned to talk about in this blog post, and only about this.  Oh well, I hope you don’t mind my previous ramblings.  

So, for this recipe I use:
3 medium size potatoes (You can use whatever potatoes you have.)
1 egg
1/2 medium yellow onion
1cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup corn (optional)
1/4 cup peas (optional)
1 stick of butter, (or 1/2 cup oil)
spices - sal, peper, marjoram, complete seasoning (if I use this I don’t use salt)

Peel them and cut into small pieces. I wash it after all to wash the starch out. So those pancakes are not very starchy.

I do not have food processor so I use blender. I have much easier that my parents anyway. When I was a kid I remember my parents grating the potatoes one by one using the old school shredder.  When me and my siblings got older they would use us to do “if you want to help me cooking” part.

Move the batter to the bowl and mix in egg, chopped into really small pieces onion, and spices

Add all purpose flour. I remember my parents used to mix it half and half (potato starch and all purpose flour). I do not use the starch, because I like those pancakes not so starchy, and heavy.

Add corn and peas. This is optional. My parents would never do that, but I try to smuggle as many veggies to my cooking as it’s possible. I try not to overdo it, though. So sometimes I would grade one or two carrots, and use it instead of corn and peas, or in addition.

Heat oil in a large skiller over medium heat. Spoon the mixture into skillet. Fry, turning once, until golden brown. Transfer to paper towel to drain.


In Poland people eat it with sour cream, sugar, mushroom sauce or so called gypsy sauce. I eat it with ketchup! :)


Unknown said...

Miło Panią poznać.

Your English is very good, Ewa! Much better than my Polish, which was technically my first language. I also love to eat all the Polish foods but my Italian husband does not and I am too lazy to cook it only for myself. Fortunately in the Chicago area we have many delicious Polish stores so that I can indulge occasionally.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone NOT like Polish food?! There is nothing finer or more delicious than Polish food. People just do not know what they are missing!

Anonymous said...

Polish Mama thank you for hosting me today! Big hugs for that.
Megryansmom - thank you for you compliment about my English :) and I'm totally jealous that you live in Chicago.
Ruth - I don't understand that either. How can you NOT LIKE POTATO PANCAKES!!! ;)

Joanna DC said...

Wow, Bardzo milo Cie poznac Ewa. Your English is fabulous! But I couldn’t agree with you more on how frustrating it is to hear “wow, I love your accent”, “where are you from?”, “how did you get here?”, “awww, my babysitter was Polish”… Let me give you a piece of advice, if I may… Just laugh at it and don’t let it bother you… I was born and raised in Poland. I moved to US 19 years ago. Since the first day of living here, I have always made a best effort to interact with Americans and used these integrations to learn English. I always worked with Americans, I married an American man, I graduated college here, I took extensive and countless speech classes but my accent did not vanish and it never will.. In fact all my efforts to “learn English” totally damaged my polish speaking and writing abilities. In the past, I was excellent in polish grammar and spelling… not anymore… My mom prohibited me from writing cards and letters to my family members in Poland (lol)….This is one of the reasons why I write by blog in Polish - to exercise my language.. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is don’t try to hard and don’t get discouraged. Learn how to live with what we have and be proud of your accent. Not many people here even speak a second language…. When people ask about my accent, etc. I usually rudely respond: “do you speak any other language?”… I have a son who just turned 14 months old (by the way your daughter is “przeslicznym aniolkiem” and I try to speak Polish to him everyday… Believe it or not he understands it.. He knows “klaskaj, zamknik drzwi, daj buziaka, its… This also encourages my husband who was always against learning anything polish to learn few words… he had not choice when our son started to bring him polish books to read  When it comes to food and your husband’s “love” to polish food, please note that you’re not alone  My hubby will eat 2 pierogi, as an appetizer, and he may try a potatoe pancake or golabek… Nothing outside of that… My son on the other hand LOVES polish food. So I cook for him and I and my hubby ands up with a take out (lol) Your “placki ziemniaczane” look great! I wish you best of luck and I hope we can keep in touch (I invite you for tea on my blog) Do zobaczenia, Joanna

Anonymous said...

Hi Ewa, I must say your English is very good! It's much better than a lot of native-English speakers I know of. I completely relate with the pains of integrating into a new country and fielding weird questions about your home country. I'm originally from India and have lived in Singapore and now the US. It still amazes me when people are surprised I can speak English, I didn't live in a hut or best of all, that I know what Coke (Coca Cola) is! I've learnt to just laugh it off or joke about the situation. So, hang in there, you're not alone :) HUGS

Anonymous said...

thank you for all your support :)
Świetnie Was wszystkich poznać :)

Hugs from my corner!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ewa!

Congratulations on your post! I want to try this recipe!!

My husband is from England. He always gets asked about his accent here, in the US. Everyone always thinks he's Australian. When people ask where he's from he always says "Ohio" as a joke.

Veronica :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Veronica. Thank you for your comment. You know my husband always says that we should make up some name of the unexisting country and say it to people when they ask me where I'm from...