the desert in poland


Why we travel:
Many have been seduced by the prospect of a backpack, a few maps, and a string of train tickets. In fact, there are few things more seducing that diving head first into a foreign environment. There is always the opportunity to taste a new flavour of life and to embrace a new side of one's self. That said, the highlight of any of trip for me is the unexpected. Eating pizza in Sienna is delicious and wonderful, but I am more easily seduced by Korean food in Cairo, deserts in Poland, and drag-shows in Prague.



Slowinski National Park stretches across 33 km of white sand beach west of Gdansk and east of Germany. The park itself is much bigger, spreading south in both directions to claim four lakes and a Polish version of a desert. 5000 or so years ago, the fierce Baltic winds began to blow sand from the beach further and further into the forest. What has resulted is a striking landscape that juxtaposes endless white sand with a lush green forest. After walking five kilometers from the eastern entrance of the park, one is greeted by green trees peaking over piles of sand. The landscape is one that would inspire poets and artists to new heights, that is if the Polish desert was a bit more on the radar of more travellers. Its rather emptiness, however, makes it more charming, more mysterious. What one experiences is lush forests (full of wild blueberries to boot), sand that recalls a desert, and an endless Baltic Sea perfect for washing sand away or cooling off. The Baltic Sea provides the sound, with notes of the whispers of a Polish family vacationing here and there.

Flanked by spending the night in Bismarck's former Baltic Sea summer "shack" and buying wild blueberries and mushrooms from the edge of Polish highways, the Polish desert was the star of my summer road trip.
Deserts in Poland, who knew?


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sweet, sweet, sweet potatoes


I am far from joking when I say that I can eat sweet potatoes for lunch, dinner, and dessert. From sweet potato fries (baked with olive oil, salt and a dash of rosemary) to sweet potato and rum-soaked raisin bunt cake, to sweet potato stir-fry (drizzled with butter, garlic, and fresh sage), this orange little vegetable is pretty much my favourite one around.

Now you can only imagine my delight when I saw sweet-potato hash on the breakfast menu at a cafe in London a few months ago. I went to the city armed with a suspicion of high prices and of food that wasn't curry or a pretty-packaged sandwich from Mark & Spencer, or so go the warnings I heard about eating in London on a budget. And what silly warnings they were! My visit to London-town was one of culinary sensations - red velvet cupcakes at the Hummingbird Bakery next to Portobello Market, crisp duck in China town, curries in Brick-lane, and veal served with a gourmet twist at a Gastropub in Notting Hill. But perhaps my favourite culinary delight of them all was discovering that I can add sweet potatoes to my breakfasts, all the reason I need to wake up.

I first had sweet potato hash served with baby spinach, red peppers, some chili-pepper and an egg on top. Everytime I make it, it changes a little. I add prosciutto instead of baby spinach, or I just use a bouquet of red and yellow peppers. But aren't these recipes always the best, the ones that you can add to and subtract from, making something new each morning come breakfast time.

Sweet Potato Hash with Poached Eggs

For Sweet Potato Hash

a sweet potato, peeled and chopped into cubes (I use half of one if I am making it for myself, and a whole one when sharing. On weekdays the cubes are smaller in order to cut back on cooking time and on weekends they are often a bit more generous in size)
a small onion, chopped
olive oil
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
half a red pepper, chopped into rather big chunks
2 or so slices of prosciutto or another smoky ham (optional)
a small spoonful of sweet paprika
a dash of chili
a few chopped sprigs of fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
baby spinach (if you have it, it oddly tends to be quite expensive in Germany)

For Poached Eggs

a small pot of boiling water
white vinegar
one or more eggs

For topping (optional)

parmesan cheese

Instructions

If you are making your sweet potato hash smoky, start by heating olive oil over medium heat. Add the prosciutto, or other ham, and fry for a few minutes. Add the sweet potato. Once the sweet potatoes have become slightly soft (the amount of time depends on their size, but small pieces cook rather quickly and will take about 6-8 minutes), add the onion. In another minute add the garlic. In another minute or so, add the herbs and salt. Then add the red pepper and cook until all is soft and flavorful.

For the poached eggs, I have discovered two ways of poaching that I switch back and forth with depending on my stove and time. The first, and more common, is to add a dash of white vinegar once the water is boiling and to cook the egg in the water for three minutes. The white vinegar helps to keep the egg intact. Furthermore, it can also help to first crack open the egg into a narrow drinking glass and then to pour the egg into the boiling water. Keeping track of the minutes precisely is a must if you want to avoid a non-runny yolk! The other method is to turn the heat off once you have added the egg and to cook the egg for five minutes.

Serve the poached egg(s) over the sweet potato hash. Top with salt and pepper and (optionally) some Parmesan cheese. Sweet potatoes are much healthier than regular potatoes (not to mention they are anti-oxidants!) and breakfast is just one of any meal that they taste pretty damn sweet in.

Guten Appetit!

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