As told to Neha Gandhi.
After five years of living in Manhattan, I remember moving out to Brooklyn, where I had this amazing, huge (by New York standards) apartment with a great big kitchen and a space that I really felt like was my own. It was a space thatI loved spending time in, where I could work on both my cooking and my blog.
Suddenly, I wanted my home to be more than just a place to sleep. I didn’t want to spend all my time going out to restaurants, concerts and parties, as I had for my first five years in New York. That’s about the time I realized how big of a homebody I really was—plus, I started dating my now-husband Nick around then, and he’s also very much a homebody. So it felt like an easy fit.
We realized that we loved spending our weekends either hanging out at home or at the park immersed in nature. But that also meant that we weren’t really taking advantage of the city. Why were we so far away from our families, paying New York rent to stay in on Friday nights and watch Netflix and order pizza?
“Why were we paying New York rent to stay in on Friday nights and watch Netflix and order pizza?”
Soon after, I visited mom’s house in the suburbs of Chicago for Passover. While there, I spent time with an old high school friend and we sat and watched TV and did our nails. It was the most chill evening ever—and I realized that I don’t really get that in New York. I took a look around and noticed that something really had changed.
In past years I would’ve come home to the suburbs and gotten antsy, wanting to get down to downtown Chicago immediately. But this time, I sat down on the couch and I hung out with my people and I didn’t feel the need to be go go going all the time.
I felt like I’d had a priority shift.
When I came home from that trip, Nick met me at the airport, and the first words out of my mouth were, “I want to leave New York.” I wasn’t sure if he would feel the same way, but he immediately said, “Oh, I do too.” So that started the conversation for us.
We started talking about where we would go, and it was pretty clear that we both wanted to be back in the midwest, closer to our families. We talked a little bit about Chicago and then I remembered there was one hiking trip that we’d gone on, when Nick had started telling me all about his family farm and about the town, Grand Forks, North Dakota, that the farm is just outside of. And it immediately clicked into place that we could go there and create a life together.
“You don’t have to leap before you look.”
It was really reassuring knowing that he could farm on his family’s farm. He didn’t tell me that much about what was going on with his family farm, because I don’t think he wanted to put pressure on me, but eventually we discussed that if he was going to be taking over the family farm that, that this was the time to do it.
His dad, who still farms, was in planning mode, of figuring out whether or not the land would be farmed by somebody in the family or if, when he retired, that the farmland would be farmed by other families in the area. So, it was this real moment of transition for the farm.
As I got to know more about it, I realized Nick could totally farm—he seemed legitimately excited about it. And, there was a bakery in town where I could potentially get a job. Plus, that would also give me time to work on my blog.
At that point my job in New York was a hodgepodge of things. I was working part time at the Juilliard school newspaper—I was the assistant editor and then I was freelancing. I had graduated from there in 2011 in classical percussion, so, xylophones, a triangle, cymbals, tambourine, basically anything you can hit.
Additionally, I had been doing the blog for about four years. It was really just a hobby blog, mostly about my adventures in the city, plus a few recipes. But, I did know that there were people out there who blogged full time and I thought that would be so cool to be able to do that.
My first piece of advice for anyone looking to make a big life change is to think it through. You don’t have to leap before you look. Do some research and planning to know what your life is going to look like on the other side of your decision, so you can get comfortable. This can happen quickly and you can still be decisive in your choices, but do a little diligence.
I wasn’t scared to move because the change came at a time when I was just ready for it. I never felt like I had made any big decisions without doing a lot of hard thinking. But, with this decision we had some back and forth. One minute we were leaving, the next we were saying to each other “actually, let’s give it another year.” But after a few sleepless nights mulling it over, we went back to our original plan to move. I just knew the time was right. And in part, that was why we moved so quickly—but again, we had done our research and planning.
After talking through our work options if we moved to the farm, we went to go visit in July of that year (2013). I took one look around and was like, “Okay this looks great.” The town was really cute and they had an adorable natural food co-op. There was a great little bakery, wonderful restaurants, and I loved the community. Life felt like it could be simpler—as if the little things wouldn’t take quite as much energy allowing me to have time left over to do things that were more satisfying and creative.
I remember driving to the grocery store down a street that had no traffic and feeling like I could get the heaviest groceries from the store—anything I wanted—because I wouldn’t have to carry them home on the subway.
There was all this space and I didn’t have to choose from a million options when it was time for pizza night. In New York, I remember just being completely paralyzed by all the options. I just wanted one great pizza place, one great fancy restaurant, one great breakfast place. I realized that’s what was here in this town—and suddenly I felt more relaxed.
That’s when I made the phone call to my boss at Juilliard and my old roommate to tell them I was moving. We went back to New York at the beginning of August, packed up all of our things, and just drove west.
The next piece of advice I would give is to keep an open mind once you arrive on the other side of your decision. No matter how much you thought it through and prepped, there are going to be things about the reality of it that surprise you—you have to be open to that.
When I moved here, I didn’t expect to encounter such a different culture—and that was scary to me at first. It was unlike anything I had grown up with or gotten to know in New York.
“Food proved to be a really great common ground.”
This town is the type of town where everybody knows everybody and everybody’s parents know everybody else’s parents—going back generations. It’s such a tight-knit community. My mother-in-law went to the same church as the bakery owner so she made a phone call, and I had the job waiting for me when I arrived. I worked at the bakery for three months, doing the 1 A.M. pastry shift. But making those initial connections and meeting new people didn’t happen as quickly or as easily as I would have wanted it too, to start.
Being open to new people and experiences requires finding a way to connect. I was looking for a way to learn from new people all the time—often over food. Talking about family and regional recipes was a really easy way to forge friendships. Food proved to be a great common ground.
When you’re not in college or taking classes or forced into groups with other people, it’s hard to make friends. I connected with a lot of my new friends here because there are no restaurants that serve brunch, so we started a brunch club. That was a really little thing, but it led to new friendships .
It took a while to build community and I had a lot of time to myself when we first moved here. Nick was harvesting, which was the busiest time of year for him, so I found myself with free time, often alone. I worked on my blog and I worked on my photographs specifically. I also worked on getting to know other bloggers, and building up my community and presence on Instagram and Pinterest.
“You don’t have to plan everything—be open to opportunity so you can take advantage of it when it shows up for you.”
I didn’t have a plan for how I would turn that into a business. Which is my final piece of advice on big changes. You don’t have to plan everything—be open to opportunity so you can take advantage of it when it shows up for you.
I’m a terrible planner and I don’t have a five-year plan. If something excites me, I put my all into it and hope for the best. So, with My Name Is Yeh, and the cookbooks and the Food Network show that followed, I didn’t have a business plan; I just worked hard.
Within about three months of really hard work, I started getting my first freelance assignments to develop recipes for the Betty Crocker website and Food52. So, I started to cut back on my hours at the bakery and devoted more time to the blog and then within a few months after that, I left the bakery and was just doing the blog full-time.
That doesn’t mean that the journey has always been easy. But it’s been fun. And there are still things that I miss about New York. Like the bagels, the noodles, the pizza. But that just makes traveling there more special.
And I also know that if I want to go back, I can. Like when I left music to pursue freelance writing, I knew I wasn’t closing a door on it. I still play. I don’t like the idea of just leaving something behind completely—it’s more about moving forward to something else. But music is always going to be there. And New York is always going to be there, too.