On the way back from the farmers market, I was feeling pretty proud of myself because I had scored five pounds of a local and legendary spring asparagus. Asparagus might be available all year long, but spring asparagus is altogether different from the flavorless, bitter or woody spears sold in the produce department regardless of season.
Our grower is a former chef and a freak for this short-seasoned vegetable. It’s the only thing he grows, and consequently, he grows it very well. It’s as though his progeny understands his passion for its sweet, creamy flavor. I understand it too. That’s why I counted myself lucky to walk away with a big bag of incredibly tender, deeply flavored stalks.
I follow a few simple rules to honor this edible. First, it springs from the ground with a sense of urgency, so don’t waste a minute putting it to good use. Second, the best-flavored stalks need little attention and even less embellishment. Dicing it up and adding it raw to salads may be your best new secret ingredient. Third, peeling the tough, outer skin near the base allows you to make greater use of the whole stalk and speeds cooking time immensely. Blanching will likely take one minute, not more than two. Finally, ingredients that reach their peak during the same season are natural siblings even if they come from different families. Asparagus deserves to be partnered with spring onions, new mushrooms, field leeks and the like. My latest pairing, roasted asparagus garnished with lilac flowers, was such an arranged marriage.
Roasted Spring Asparagus With Lilacs and Lemons
1 pound fresh asparagus spears
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt or lavender salt, to taste
Herbes de Provence, to taste
Juice of one lemon, freshly squeezed
Lemons, thinly sliced
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Trim rough ends of asparagus stalks and peel lower halves.
3. Arrange asparagus in one even layer on pan. Drizzle with olive oil to coat and sprinkle lightly with salt and herbs.
4. Roast for 8 to 12 minutes, being mindful to test doneness. Depending on the freshness of your produce, the asparagus may be done surprisingly quickly.
5. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Garnish with lilac blossoms and lemon slices. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Top photo: Spring asparagus with lilacs and lemons. Credit: Caroline J. Beck
My interest in homemade gunpowder started last fall at a newish South Indian restaurant in Manhattan’s Curry Hill neighborhood. I’d ordered idli, which resemble miniature flying saucers made from a batter of fermented ground rice and urad dal, a particular kind of dried legume. To my surprise, they arrived with the usual accompaniments — souplike sambar and a couple of freshly made chutneys — plus an unfamiliar oily brown paste.
It was grainy, with a chile kick and a warm, toasted quality that had me guessing. Almonds? Cashews? No, the hard, gritty texture and deeply satisfying amalgam of flavors came from something else. At last a faint memory stirred: I’d seen something like this marvelous condiment in books on the cuisines of India’s southern states Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The name, however, escaped me.
“Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts,” Ammini Ramachandran’s splendid tribute to the vegetarian traditions of Kerala, eventually supplied the word: podi. She has a recipe involving urad dal dry-roasted in a pan with dried chiles, black sesame seeds and asafetida before being ground to a powder (podi in Malayalam, as Ammini explains). The roasted dal accounted for the grainy crunch and curiously nutty flavor; asafetida explained a certain indefinable extra-savory dimension.
Inspired to look through the menus of other South Indian eateries, I promptly kicked myself for stupidity. Some of my favorite places, it turned out, had long been serving versions of this lovely stuff as milagaipodi (Tamil/Malayalam for “pepper powder”) — or even more intriguingly, “gunpowder” in English. Podi/milagaipodi/gunpowder was actually rather common at restaurants specializing in idli and their near cousins dosa (huge, thin griddle-baked crepes) and uttapam (thickish pancakes usually studded with a scattering of vegetables). Rummaging through English-language blogs and websites, I found that for hordes of South Indian breakfasters dosa, uttapam, and especially idli are as unthinkable without a supply of gunpowder as bagels without cream cheese.
Gunpowder seasoning can be made to suit just about any dish
What I’d ignorantly stumbled on was really an untidy family of South Indian seasoning powders — blazing hot or otherwise — used as condiments and closely related to the wonderful ground mixtures of dals and spices used in sambars and rasams (another southern clan of soupy dishes). There is no standard formula; some families have several homemade varieties on hand at all times.
The texture can be fine and dry, or coarser and moister. Depending on the menu context, you can add various spices (coriander seed, cumin and/or fenugreek, among others). You can combine several kinds of dal, or toast raw rice along with any dal. You can use white or black sesame seeds, or none. Different versions may feature dried coconut, curry leaves, tamarind (for slight tartness), garlic or other flavorings.
Years ago, people might have taken the chosen ingredients to a local grinding mill just as some Oaxacan cooks still do with the makings of different moles. Today, convenience-minded cooks buy premixed commercial versions that New York-area Indian groceries may carry as “chutney powder.”
Naturally I started doing my own gunpowder experiments and rapidly became crazy about it as an all-purpose condiment in almost any culinary context, the way some people have grown addicted to Mexican salsas. Mixed with a little oil, it’s great for putting on fried eggs, plain yogurt, steamed vegetables, noodles and even toast or baked potatoes.
The following basic recipe — entirely legal under ATF guidelines — is a hybrid of several versions I’ve tried, with dry-roasted urad dal and toor dal (split hulled pigeon peas) providing the underlying nutlike flavor. Many or most ingredients are available online, or even at some mainstream stores such as Whole Foods. The lengthy but not difficult process involves roasting each ingredient separately over medium or medium-low heat in a heavy medium-sized cast-iron skillet or griddle, with constant vigilance against scorching.
Gunpowder: South Indian Seasoning Powder
Makes about 3 cups (To halve, use a smaller pan.)
Note: Have ready five heatproof bowls for the roasted ingredients. Fresh curry leaves commonly come in sealed envelopes of four to six sprigs each, with about a dozen leaves per sprig; there is no substitute for their warm, mysterious fragrance. Be sure to look for toor dal without an oily coating, and urad dal cleaned of the dark hull. The peppers that I prefer are Swad brand whole dried red chiles.
Oil, for rubbing skillet and later for mixing into the powder (I prefer Indian unroasted sesame oil, also known as til or gingelly oil.)
2 envelopes of fresh curry leaves, stripped from stems
About 1 ounce of whole dried red chiles (about 1½ cups loosely piled)
1 cup urad dal (also called black gram or matpe)
½ cup toor dal (pigeon peas; choose unoiled variety)
¼ cup black sesame seeds
½ to ¾ teaspoon ground asafetida
2 teaspoons salt
1. Rub a heavy medium-sized iron skillet or griddle with oil. Set it over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact; reduce the heat to low.
2. Scatter in the curry leaves and slowly roast, stirring to prevent burning, until they are brittle enough to snap (at least 15 minutes). Set aside.
3. Raise the heat to medium and scatter in the chiles. Roast, stirring and adjusting the heat to prevent scorching, until they are dry and brittle (about 20 minutes). Set aside.
4. Pour the urad dal into the pan and roast over medium heat, stirring constantly and reducing the heat if necessary, until it is golden brown and nutty-smelling (about 10 to 15 minutes). Set aside; repeat the process with the toor dal.
5. Adjust the heat to medium-low and roast the sesame seeds, stirring constantly, for 5 to 10 minutes. (Watch like a hawk; they scorch easily.) Mix the asafetida into the hot sesame and set aside.
6. Let all ingredients cool to room temperature. Grind each as finely as possible, using a spice or coffee grinder and working in batches as necessary. Combine everything in a mixing bowl, add the salt and stir to mix evenly.
7. Keep your powder dry by pouring it into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and storing in a cool dark place. To use it, put about ¼ cup in a small bowl and carefully mix in the oil, a teaspoon at a time, until you have a slightly gloppy paste. (It can also be used dry.) Serve as a condiment with South Indian dishes, or experiment to your heart’s delight.
Top photo: Gunpowder in powder form (bottom) and paste form. Credit: Anne Mendelson
Maison Boulud has held its ground as one of the best-regarded high-end dining destinations in Beijing since opening a couple of months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At its helm sits Brian Reimer, the executive chef and director of operations in Asia for Dinex, also known as the Daniel Boulud Restaurant Group. Having lived in Beijing for six years, after working for three years as executive sous chef at Restaurant Daniel in New York, I wanted to learn about how these experiences have impacted him.
Reimer and I moved to Beijing about the same time. I first met him when I was dining editor for Time Out Beijing, when the city was in a building craze and citizens waited with bated breath (and grumbling stomachs) to see which of the newly-arrived fancy restaurants would survive the test of time.
What brought you to Beijing originally?
The opportunity to continue my time with Chef Daniel Boulud was one of the driving factors. For us both the idea of having the chance to open a French restaurant in Beijing at the old American Legation was incredibly exciting. Through the continued cooperation we still have to this day with Chef Daniel (a Frenchman) and myself (an American), it simply made sense to take full advantage of this unique venture.
What kept you in Beijing all these years?
As you grow in this craft of cooking and hospitality, you focus more on the larger picture. Of course the cuisine and aspects of service continue to be the most important factors.
The ability to see a space such as ours filled with such history and to now add our small mark on its importance it’s priceless. Coupled with the ability to see our staff grow as individuals and as a team — it’s the most wonderful feeling to be a part of this.
What challenges has Maison Boulud faced serving foreign food to a Chinese clientele?
We have of course run into a few occasions where the guests do not fully understand some of the cuisine. But the education of the guests with the experience of traveling abroad is fantastic.
What changes have you seen amongst your clientele over the years?
Even within just these past six years the knowledge of our guests at Maison Boulud continues to coincide with the growth of the city. It is being brought to the point where the product and supplies now available here are on par with other top cities in Asia.
What trends are you noticing in fine dining in Beijing?
The attention to detail of so many of the restaurants in Beijing and their offering a wide selection of cuisines. It is the diversity that makes Beijing, well, Beijing.
What makes the kitchen culture at Maison Boulud unique, given you have a mixed foreign-local team?
When interviewing new staff we search for them to have a predispostion to serve. It’s what makes our staff stand out in the market. We want to be able to read the guest and anticipate what they will require before they have to ask for it.
Name a culinary lesson you learned working in China?
Coach Your Team. We use the acronym CYT. It means to have to continue to instill what we are trying to serve our guests and reiterate this point time and time again. What is the best-selling dish at Maison Boulud?
Our menus here at Maison Boulud are very seasonally focused. It’s a cornerstone of everything Daniel Boulud stands for. In the spring time, we have white asparagus from France on the menu and morel mushrooms from Yunnan with hand-rolled potato gnocchi. Our chilled tomato soup comes in the summer. Squash soup is served in the autumn which turns into a celery-chestnut soup in the winter time. We have people who look forward to the harbingers of the upcoming season. Of course we always look forward to welcoming in the bounty of each changing season.
To photo: Brian Reimer. Credit: Courtesy of Mason Boulud
Summer is almost officially upon us, and that means stocking up on plenty of easy-to-serve, yet interesting-to-drink white wines. This bright, fresh, bold-flavored 2011 Y Rousseau Old Vines Colombard comes with a screw cap; notes of tangy lemongrass, spicy peach and citrus; and a fascinating succulence that makes you crave another sip.
The real surprise for me was how good a California wine made from Colombard grapes could be. One of the most planted white varietals in the state, it has long been the backbone of cheap white plonk blends. It’s also a mainstay grape in Cognac, where it makes high acid wines that are quickly distilled into brandy. This wine made me seriously rethink the grape’s New World potential.
Winemaker Yannick Rousseau made his first Colombard in his native region of Gascony, the “Three Musketeers” territory in southwest France. Since 1999, he’s been in California, and worked at wineries such as Napa Valley‘s Chateau Potelle on Mount Veeder. He struck out on his own in 2007, when he found a four-acre plot of 36-year-old dry farmed Colombard vines in cool-climate Russian River Valley, and last month, he opened his own very small winery and tasting room south of the town of Napa.
The elaborate plume logo on the Y Rousseau label celebrates the so-called fourth musketeer, Comte d’Artagnan, known as a dedicated bon vivant. (Their just-released red wine from Tannat grapes is named The Musketeer.)
This Colombard is an award winner
There’s no official definition of “old vines.” But as vines age, they produce less fruit so the grapes concentrate flavors, and the wine expresses more depth and complexity. This 2011 Old Vine Colombard, aged in stainless tanks and old barrels, is also blissfully free from the heavy hand of oak. No wonder it won a double gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition last year. Its crisp stony minerality, refreshing citrus notes, jazzy acidity and satisfying texture make it a perfect summer sipper — but one with a very distinct personality.
Top photo composite:
Y Rousseau label, next to a harvester at the Russian River Valley winery’s vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Y Rousseau
I’ve been a little stuck in the kitchen lately. It’s a funny time of year here in southern Maine. The garden is almost planted and, at best, producing young pea shoots, chives and a few tiny salad greens. The garlic, planted last fall, is tall and majestic, promising a great yield. But at this point, it’s all a tease.
Memorial Day weekend felt more like Columbus Day. Sheets of cold rain, howling winds and a chill in the air forced us to stoke late May fires. But on Sunday morning the sun peeked out, so I got on my boots and flannel shirt and headed outside. While I was weeding around the peas, I noticed a patch of tall, healthy greens I couldn’t identify. Planted in the corner of the garden they looked a little like a cluster of early, self-seeded sunflowers.
Suddenly, a memory.
My friend Karen visited late last spring and brought me a bunch of Jerusalem artichoke plants. I must have told her to put them in the corner of the garden. (I put everything in the corner until I can figure out if I like a plant. If I do, then I find a more permanent home for it.) The small cluster she brought had quadrupled over the winter. More important, it had survived the winter.
Jerusalem artichokes add to spring’s garden bounty
I’ve never grown Jerusalem artichokes, but Karen had mentioned they’re like a weed, capable of multiplying like crazy. I recalled that Jerusalem artichokes are an early-spring crop. I decided to take a chance and dig a few up.
The shovel sliced through the moist earth easily and brought up a clump of green leaves. Nothing beneath it but dirt. So I dug some more. Like harvesting potatoes, I sifted through the dirt and discovered several gnarly, brownish-beige tubers. Dozens and dozens of Jerusalem artichokes, ranging from roundish 1-inch tubers to 3-inch ridged, thick pencil-like ones. There was food growing in my garden, ready to be eaten, ready to be cooked, and I had almost passed it by.
I was so excited that I put the artichoke directly in my mouth, not even wiping off the heavy blanket of wet, granular soil that clung to it. I felt the crunch of the raw artichoke. A sweet juice emerged that tasted like a spring tonic. And there was most definitely an artichoke-like flavor, but this “artichoke” was all about the nutty, crunchy, water-chestnut-like texture of the tuber.
Jerusalem artichokes, also called sun chokes, are not from Jerusalem and are a distant cousin to regular artichokes. According to Zester Daily contributor Deborah Madison in her stunning new book “Vegetable Literacy“(Ten Speed Press, 2013), “Artichokes are thistles; Jerusalem artichokes are the tuber of a sunflower.” That explained my mistaking the plant for a sunflower.
A patch of Jerusalem artichokes in the garden. Credit: Kathy Gunst
“Knobby and looking a bit like fresh ginger, Jerusalem artichokes taste nutty and sweet, earthy and clean — a very pleasant complex of qualities, indeed. They are not starchy like a potato, and the presence of inulin gives them a pleasant mouthfeel. They are a good source of calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin C …” Madison goes on to list their attributes, making one feel like a fool for not having eaten these things every day for maximum health.
Jerusalem artichokes don’t need much preparation. Give them a little squeeze and make sure they are firm and not soft or mushy. You can rinse them under cold water and remove the peel if you like, but when they’re young and just pulled from the garden the peel is perfectly digestible. (Madison does point out there are some who consider Jerusalem artichokes hard to digest, “hence giving them their unpleasant nickname, ‘fartichokes.’ “)
Jerusalem artichokes are delicious eaten raw, shaved or thinly sliced into salads, or as a garnish for soups and stews.
They can be sliced and sautéed in olive oil, added to pasta sauces, cooked and puréed and served as a dip or spread for crostini. Being tubers, they can also be cooked like potatoes — roasted or steamed and mashed with a knob of butter, or thinly sliced into a gratin.
I dug up dozens of Jerusalem artichokes, screaming to my husband like an importunate toddler. (“Come see! Come see what I’ve found!”) I noticed a few leeks that had wintered over in the garden and had several spring parsnips, so I decided to make a soup. I’ve had luscious, Italian-style soups made from artichokes and figured these chokes would make a perfectly acceptable substitute.
I sautéed the leeks slowly, not letting them brown, added the chopped artichokes and the parsnips, and finally some stock. While it simmered, I went back out to the garden and discovered a patch of wild sorrel in the yard, a tart and lemony green herb that is abundant in the fields around our old farmhouse. The sorrel puréed with olive oil, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper made a tart, green topping for the rich, sweet, puréed Jerusalem artichoke soup.
An unexpected discovery in my own garden led to a new recipe. An unexpected gift from a friend led to a new spring favorite, making this in-between season so much sweeter.
Spring Jerusalem Artichoke and Parsnip Soup With a Sorrel Swirl
Serves 4 to 6
If you peel the Jerusalem artichokes, you might want to place them in a bowl of cold water with half a lemon squeezed in so they don’t oxidize and begin to brown. This soup has no cream or dairy, but it tastes quite creamy. You can add a dollop of cream, crème fraîche, yogurt or sour cream, but you really don’t need it.
For the soup:
1½ tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks, ends trimmed, dark greens sections trimmed, and white bulb cut lengthwise and cleaned, and then cut into 1-inch pieces
9 ounces of Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), peeled or not, and cut into 1-inch pieces
9 ounces parsnips, peeled an cut into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
About 1 cup crème fraîche, sour cream, heavy cream or plain yogurt, optional topping
For the Sorrel Swirl:
1 cup fresh sorrel
½ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the soup:
1. In a large soup pot, add the oil over low heat. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Do not let the leeks brown.
2. Add the artichokes and parsnips and cook, stirring for 2 minutes.
3. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and cook another 2 minutes.
4. Raise the heat to high, add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let cook about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender when tested with a small, sharp knife.
5. Let cool slightly and purée in a food processor, blender or using an immersion blender.
6. Taste for seasoning. The soup should be fairly thick; if it is too thin, simmer it over low heat uncovered to thicken slightly.
For the sorrel swirl:
1. Place the sorrel and oil in a food processor or blender and purée. It won’t be smooth. Season to taste. The sorrel swirl will keep in a jar refrigerated for several days.
2. Serve hot with a spoonful of the sorrel swirl and/or a dollop of crème fraîche, etc.
Top photo: Spring Jerusalem artichoke and parsnip soup with a sorrel swirl. Credit: Kathy Gunst
Coorg (Kodagu) is a picturesque hill district along the verdant western Ghats Mountains in the state of Karnataka, South India, which is well known for its aromatic coffee, luscious oranges and fragrant spices. This landscape with steep hills, valleys and ravines with countless streams is home to forests of rosewood, teakwood, sandalwood and silver oak. In this setting, one entrepreneur is turning the region’s traditions of beekeeping and honey collecting into a global operation called Nectar Fresh honey.
Honey is an important part of the culture in Coorg, where bees are kept and honey is cultivated throughout the dense forests and on the many coffee plantations. At “A Cookery Year in Coorg,” Shalini Nanda Nagappa writes “at a Coorg child’s naming ceremony, a gold coin is dipped in honey, and touched to the infant’s lips, a symbolic wish and blessing for the child to live a life of sweetness and prosperity.”
Humble beginnings with a dream
In 2007, Chayaa Nanjappa, a young woman from Coorg, decided to leave her job in the hospitality industry to follow her dream of starting her own honey business. Her initial plan was to supply the purest quality honey from her hometown to the local markets in Bangalore.
To learn the ropes of the new business, she trained at the central Bee Research and Training Institute in Pune, Maharashtra. With a small loan from her mother and with the support of Khadi and Village Industries. she started her business Nectar Fresh honey in Bangalore.
Honey is collected directly from the source and filtered. It later undergoes moisture reduction and then again more filtration. It is then cooled and sent to settling tanks. Processed honey is meticulously tested for quality at the in-house laboratory. Initially the honey was processed and packaged for the pharmaceutical, ayurveda, and hospitality sectors. After serving solely as a supplier to other brands, Nectar Fresh began marketing honey and related products under its own label across India in 2007.
Three years later, Nanjappa relocated the flourishing business to Mysore. Kuppanda Rajappa, a well-known businessman of Coorg origin, with considerable experience in management of plantations and retail sector joined the company as partner. Nectar Fresh was initially sourcing honey only from Coorg. Today the company selectively sources raw honey from various honey-rich regions of India. The honey is collected from forests, certified apiaries, tribal societies and small farmers.
Growing Nectar Fresh honey’s export operation
Pure unadulterated Coorg honey is unique in flavor, aroma and color. These qualities vary depending on the nectar source, age and storage conditions of the honey. Honey extracted during different seasons and from various parts of Coorg carries the flavor of seasonal and regional flowers. Color ranges from dark to light amber: Pale honeys have a mild flavor, while the darker ones have more robust flavor.
Honey made primarily from the nectar of one type of flower is called mono-floral. They have high value in the market due to distinctive flavor. Darker honeys are used for large-scale commercial purposes while lighter honeys are marketed for direct consumption and demand a premium price over the darker counterparts. Most of Nectar Fresh honey is organic and the company also specializes in mono-floral honeys, including Coorg honey, eucalyptus honey, acacia honey, clover honey, mustard honey, sunflower honey, jamun honey, lychee honey and forest honey, which is sourced from dense forests where herbal plants known for their medicinal properties grow.
From the new processing plants in Mysore the company started marketing single-portion packs and 30-gram bottles under Nectar Fresh brand for sale in the hospitality industry. Soon Nectar fresh launched retail-portion package of jams and sauces. Nectar Fresh is one of the largest suppliers of bulk honey from south India, and today its products are exported through middlemen to United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and European Union markets. Recently Nectar Fresh met the stringent standards necessary for approval to export honey to Germany.
The company is awaiting the completion of a new processing plant with a much larger capacity, which would enable Nectar Fresh to produce even more honey. Another plant for processing fruit jams and tomato sauces and purées is expected to be operational by June. The company is in the process of introducing Nectar Fresh Coorg coffee. Plans are also in the works for marketing Coorg-grown pepper, cardamom and kokum.
Nanjappa is a member of the National Bee Board of India. From humble beginning of supplying quality honey to the local market, the company has evolved into one of the top five suppliers and exporter of bulk, raw honey as well as processed honey and the only one manufacturing different varieties of mono-floral honey.
Top photo: Nectar Fresh honey. Credit: Chayaa Nanjappa
It’s morning in Maine, and Margaret Hathaway has already milked the goats in the back yard and fed the chickens. Four-year-old Beatrice colors in the dining room, baby Sadie is napping, and big sister Charlotte is at kindergarten in Portland.
By the time I find my way to Ten Apple Farm in Gray, Maine, the chévre is cooling in its triangular molds, and the Manchego is simmering on the front burner. “You have to slowly warm the goat milk to 86 degrees,” cheesemaker Hathaway says, whisking figure-eights calmly in the big pot on her kitchen stove.
Pushing back her bandanna, Hathaway takes a quick look at the clock. It’s time to add in her culture packet — a microbe-rich mixture of rennet, culture and salt. “Making cheese is really straightforward. All it really is is good, fresh milk — ours comes straight from the goat and is unpasteurized — seasoning and culture — and patience.” This morning, Hathaway is a little worried about her cheese. She made bread earlier in the morning, and it’s conceivable that the microbes from the yeast in the bread may have hijacked the microbes in the cheese culture. “Making bread and cheese at the same time is considered a no-no in cheesemaking, but I wanted bread for lunch,” she says. So, we eat lunch and wait — a goat cheese quiche with fresh spring herbs and home-baked bread — and keep checking to see whether the Manchego explodes instead of condensing when it comes time to put the milk in the cheese press.
It didn’t explode at all. It did exactly what it was supposed to do: lose more than 50% of the liquid volume and settle the curds into a semi-soft round cake. The cheese won’t be ready to eat for several months after it ages, but it will be a beautiful, unpasteurized goat cheese Manchego.
Before immersing themselves into the world of farming and cheesemaking, Hathaway and her husband, photographer Karl Schatz, had good jobs. An English major back from studying on a Fulbright grant in Tunisia, Margaret was in publishing, working on a novel and managing a cupcake bakery. Karl was an online photo editor at Time magazine. One day, at home in Brooklyn, eating chèvre at the kitchen table, the two were suddenly seized by the fantasy of leaving “all that” and becoming goat farmers. They left their jobs, put their stuff in storage, borrowed a car from Karl’s parents and headed out on a quest documented in Margaret’s first book, “The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese.” One farm, many goats and three children later, Hathaway Schatz is homesteading in Maine, making cheese and teaching others how to do the same. “It was never meant to be a profit-making venture. More of a way of life.”
She is quick to point out that her husband has a “real” off-farm job as the director of a photo agency in Portland. “As someone who got a good education and great medical care, I wasn’t about to raise my kids without enough money for them to go to college or worry about health insurance,” Hathaway said. When we last spoke in early May, she was mucking the goat stalls and planting her vegetable garden. In between baby naps and cheese timers, she checked her e-mail. “Spring is surprisingly busy on the farm.”
Margaret Hathaway makes cheese while one of her daughters looks on. Credit: Karl Schatz
They bought the farm in 2005 and bought their first goats in 2007. The first baby goats arrived two weeks after Beatrice, now 4, was born. The new farmers delivered their first “kids” armed with skills honed by watching a YouTube video. “Before that, the only delivery I’d seen was one where I was a participant, and on the other side,” Hathaway said.
Today, Hathaway and her family raise about 70% of their food on the farm. They’ve got a vegetable garden, and apple trees, chickens, turkeys and goats. “I like the idea that most of the food my kids eat comes right from where they live,” she says. It took a while for the couple to get comfortable with raising animals for meat. “We had to move our minds from thinking about animals as livestock instead of a collection of individual animals,” she says, shifting the baby in the backpack just enough to reach the cheese press.
The big off-farm treat for the day I was there was crisp sheets of nori seaweed, with both baby Sadie and Beatrice fighting over the last paper-thin green wafer. “Ooh,” says the mother of three. “I was hoping to save some nori for Charlotte’s after-school snack.” (Not all is so green. Beatrice found a leftover chocolate Easter egg in a drawer and scarfed it down before mom could intervene.)
Several times a year, Hathaway teaches cheesemaking classes as part of her homesteading classes. “It’s not very hard or expensive to make cheese if you can get good milk. Most of the equipment you need you probably already have in your kitchen. A large pot, some spatulas and a frosting knife to smooth the tops of the cheese.” She recommends only buying a few things with a total cost of $150: a good basic home cheese book and a cheese press with a pressure gauge. “The best kind have a thermometer attached to the pressure gauge.”
Somehow Hathaway still finds time to write. Her second book, “Living With Goats,” has just come out in paperback and she is working on a novel that she says is not about cheese or goats.
People understand the natural affinity of educated women around food, but why cheese? Why not wine, or bread, or chocolate? Hathaway has a thought. “The American artisanal cheese movement was started by women, following in the whole female tradition of milk, the whole milkmaid thing. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that women lactate. Having three young daughters and any number of goats and kids, sometimes it feels as if our farm was one big lactation factory.”
Top photo: Cheeses made at Ten Apple Farm. Credit: Karl Schatz
The number of food stands at the Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival in May at the Orange County Fairground in Costa Mesa, Calif., was a bit daunting because all the food looked wonderful and smelled even better. One of the longest lines was for the katmer, a baked flaky pastry stuffed with clotted cream, sugar, and pistachios. It was the line we got on.
The festival is a celebration of all the cultures of Anatolia — Turkish, Kurdish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish — all of which enjoy more or less the same food. There were historical displays, concerts and handicrafts. For me, though, the primary draw was the food court with its stunning display of foods, some of which I haven’t seen since I was last in Turkey and some I had never seen or tasted.
I was beginning to get impatient with the wait and the crowds around me when another couple waiting suggested that under no circumstances should I even consider quitting the line before I had the chance to eat katmer.
The chance to eat katmer is so rare, especially since this katmer was being made by the master katmer maker himself, Mehmet Özsimitci, of the Katmerci Zekeriya Usta in the eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. Özsimitci had flown in with pounds upon pounds of the best Antep pistachios, the best in the world they say. Mine line mates said they didn’t know of anyone in the United States who was making or even could make katmer, so it was truly a special food.
As our interminable line got closer and closer to the katmer, I began to marvel at the mastery and artistry of Özsimitci’s skill. My first thought, which was confirmed by my newfound Turkish interlocutors, was that this is really tricky to do. He flattened a ball of dough on a greased marble slab and then rolled it out until thin. Then, as if it weren’t thin enough, which it wasn’t, he lifted and flipped and spun the dough repeatedly until it was ultra-thin before letting it land on the slab again to receive its stuffing.
He stretched the dough further and secured its sides to the slab by patting them down and then with his hands sprinkled the clotted cream on top and spooned sugar and ground pistachios on top of that. Then, carefully, he folded the sides of the pastry inward to cover the stuffing, forming a square pastry that he then picked up in one deft motion and placed on the baking tray, which his assistant then placed in the oven.
Katmer is usually eaten as a breakfast item, and it will give one enough energy until dinnertime. They say it is best when eaten hot, and it was. We devoured it while realizing we would have to wait for the next Anatolian Food Festival in two years time before having another one.
Top photo: Mehmet Özsimitci making katmer. Credit: Clifford A. Wright