Q&A: Perfumer Mandy Aftel

Excerpt of my interview with Mandy Aftel, originally published on Greenopia.com

Perfumer Mandy Aftel’s love of natural essences drives her business. While most commercial perfumes are made using synthetic scents, her Berkeley-based Aftelier Perfumes is focused on making artisan natural perfumes. She’s also written books on the subject, including Essence & Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume and Aroma: Cooking with Essential Oils (co-authored with Coi chef Daniel Patterson).

Best part of your job?
I love smelling new natural materials and creating with them. I love all the different ways they smell—it’s amazing. For instance, I love the difference between Moroccan, Indian, and Egyptian roses. So, I would say the best part is creating and using those materials.

Is there a particular environmental non-profit you support?
Alice Water’s Edible School Yard.

What’s your favorite vacation destination?
I love to go to cities with great art and where great literature has been written, like London and Paris.

What’s your favorite weekend outdoor activity?
Gardening. I have a wonderful garden. I grow the stuff I don’t have the essences for. I love lilies and I grow a lot of roses.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
I’d be a fir tree because I like the way it smells. It’s kinda jammy, like strawberry jam in the forest.

Describe your path to green. How and when you became eco-conscious.
I would have to say my passion for natural essences is behind it. You cannot help but be in awe of nature when it makes such incredible smells. Barks of trees and flowers—this rainbow of smells is so extraordinary. It’s hard to not be in awe of nature and to want to preserve it.

Amelia Saltsman: On Farmers’ Markets and Good Food

The complete version of this interview was originally published on Greenopia.com

Below, my interview Amelia Saltsman, an educator and the author of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook.

How did you get involved in your line of work?
I thrive on a sense of community— that’s how my connection to the farmers’ market began. I began to write about my experiences and the farmers’ stories and the ingredients themselves and then the farmers’ market became a focal point.

Best part of your job?
When a reader or student comes to a demo or class and says, I can do that. We think everything is so hard and we’re reluctant to change habits and we often think we need to have to do everything all at once or it’s not good enough. But you can do a little at a time.

Is there a particular environmental nonprofit you support?
Sustainable Table and I do a lot with the Southland Farmers’ Market Association. Also Heal the Bay.

What’s an eco-friendly gift you like to give?
Small food items that are unique to Southern California. For instance, I love to bring freshly dried dates or special citrus—an offering from my area and something that evokes a sense of place.

Do you have a favorite environmental book?
Omnivore’s Dilemma. I love the way Michael Pollan writes and I think he has the most wonderful way of writing about the issues.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
Blenheim apricot tree. We had one in my backyard when I was a kid and my grandmother would come to visit from Israel and make apricot jam. It’s a beautiful tree with sun-kissed fruit.

Describe your path to green: how and when you became eco-conscious.
Flavor. When you look for foods that taste great naturally, everything falls into place. Once I found farmers’ markets in my local community, I never looked back.

Behind the Green Scenes: Amelia Saltsman

Originally published on Greenopia.com in December 2007

I meet Amelia Saltsman at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Arizona on a Wednesday morning as she’s preparing for a cooking demo and book signing for her just-published book, The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook. She’s pushing a cart that is already loaded with cardboard boxes full of heirloom tomatoes when I greet her and then she stops to speak with a vendor about cucumbers. “Whatever’s best,” she tells him.

Next she selects a bunch of purslane and invites me to taste it. “A lot of people consider this a weed,” she says. “But it’s great to throw into salads.” She unloads the vegetables at a table in an area that’s being set up for her cooking demo before she making a final stop for olives and olive oil. She moves quickly through the crowd and navigates the cart with ease, stopping occasionally to greet others in her path and to invite them to come to her tent for food.

Today she is serving a plum crisp with a corn meal topping and tomato and cucumber bread salad-both recipes from her book-and she’s demonstrating how to make the salad. Under the tent, students from a local culinary school have already begun to prep for the day’s offerings, slicing the cucumbers and chopping tomatoes, as market shoppers approach to find out when the food will be ready. Two friends of Saltsman have also come over to help with the book sales and passersby have begun to thumb through the pages of a display copy.

“Look—you’re in it!” Saltsman says to a vegetable vendor when she walks over, opening the book to the “History of the Market” chapter that features portraits of smiling faces and still life shots of fresh produce from the market. Through her work in print and on TV as the host, writer, and producer of Fresh from the Farmers’ Market on Los Angeles cable TV, Saltsman has become an ambassador of sorts for the farmers’ market. The food stylist, teacher, and author had published numerous magazine and newspaper stories on her farmers’ market experiences when suddenly she had found a niche—and a platform to celebrate and support local farmers who produce sustainably and without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other additives. “I feel passionate that people need to understand what it takes to choose to be a small farmer, what it takes to get beautiful produce to market within 24 hours of harvest—and what a difference it makes to shop at a farmers’ market.”

The Los Angeles native’s own love of the farmers’ market is “about flavor and community,” she says. “I started as a shopper looking for delicious vine-ripened and tree-ripened and field-ripened ingredients. My passion for writing about farmers’ markets and farmers started with childhood food memories and childhood experiences shopping abroad in open air markets with relatives.” She fondly recalls foods from her youth and named her publishing company Blenheim Press for the Blenheim apricot tree from her childhood backyard. “We took it for granted but it has great importance to me.” Taking history for granted is not something that sits well with Saltsman, who is also passionate about the history of culinary arts and vintage cookery. For this, she also edits The Food Journal, a publication for the Culinary Historians of Southern California.

A sense of community is evident at the market today, just as Saltsman’s passion for food and cooking is revealed. At the table, she’s getting ready for her salad-making demonstration when a book-buying customer asks if she has a recommendation for a dinner for her son’s birthday. “Try Rustic Canyon,” Saltsman says, adding that the menu includes seasonal offerings from this same farmers’ market. “The chef is probably walking around right now getting food for the week.”
Quite a few books are sold—some purchase multiple copies and explain they’re starting their holiday shopping early—and quite a few more friends from the market stop by. A line forms and she needs to delay the cooking demo for a few minutes to sign books.

When she begins to make the salad, she tells her audience about the importance of using seasonal ingredients that are fresh and produced by local farmers. The time is right for heirloom tomatoes and she tosses them with pieces of bread (“it’s good to use day-old bread for this”), then the cucumbers. She’s using basil in the salad but encourages others to try different herbs they find or grow themselves. While working, she’s greeted by the chef from Wilshire restaurant and then the owner of Michael’s—both local restaurants that serve dishes made with farm-fresh ingredients they get here or directly from nearby farmers. “She knows what she’s talking about,” shouts Michael as he walks away with his full cart.

Also: Q&A with Amelia Saltsman