Local news and a local nonprofit meet every night for dinner over local food.
Pulling up to Carissa Katz and Jeremy Samuelson’s house in East Hampton, five-year-old Jade peeks out the greenhouse window overlooking the driveway. She runs to the front door and, as guests approach, opens it wearing a beautiful black and silver sequined number.
“She likes to get dressed up when visitors come for dinner,” her mother says.
Upon entry, one also notices a large bowl of long green peppers and a collection of jars filled with pepper jelly on a side table.
“There were so many leftovers at Quail Hill,” says Katz. “I’ve learned to use what’s in season, when it’s in season.”
The family has been members of Amagansett’s Quail Hill Farm, the oldest community-supported agriculture farm in New York State, for three years and harvest food there twice a week.
In the kitchen, Katz places a baking sheet of winter squash halves in the oven. After 20 minutes, a sheet of whole carrots follow. Next in: a sheet of cauliflower bits, tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
It’s the last ingredient that makes “the kids go crazy,” she says. “They’ll eat anything if it has Parmesan on it.”
The couple, who got married in Montauk County Park in 2006, met as reporters at the East Hampton Star. Katz is now the managing editor of the 120-year-old newspaper, and Samuelson is the executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, a 43-year-old environmental and conservation nonprofit with 1,200 members.
Samuelson pours his guests Marcari’s 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, accompanied by a plate of Mecox Bay Dairy cheese, an assortment of crackers and homemade pepper jelly.
To make the pepper jelly, Katz cut the stems off 18 peppers, including Anaheim, cayenne, serrano and habanero, and then pureed them in a food processor with a quarter cup vinegar. She then boiled six cups of sugar and one cup of vinegar in a nonaluminum pot and stirred until clear. Then, in went the peppers and two packs of fruit pectin, before taking it off the stove and jarring it. She also jarred pepper sauce, which she brings out of the refrigerator.
“I probably seem like a pepper freak,” she says. “I do like spice a lot, but it’s mainly because they’re in season, and I’m trying to use them in all different ways while they’re fresh.”
Before the peppers, it was tomatillo salsa, she adds. “I froze half of it for later. Quail Hill is great for the kids. They know the names of everything they harvest,” she says, “but really it’s about us.”
Katz grew up in East Hampton, and Samuelson, an Army brat, ended up in Southampton through the Friends World College program, which was based out of Southampton College in 1993. His studies took him to East Africa, China, India and Ireland.
“I was coming and going,” he says. “I settled here in 1997 when I did my thesis on inshore commercial fishermen.”
In order to look at the ecology of the fishery, Samuelson set pound traps and lobster traps with baymen Stewart Lester and his son, Ted.
“Now Ted is working on large-scale fishing boat ‘more and more miles from shore every year,’” says Samuelson, quoting Billy Joel from his song “The Downeaster Alexa.”
The regulatory environment makes it impossible for small-scale fishermen to make a year-round living on the bays, or “inshore,” anymore. The fishermen are forced to join bigger outfits and go further offshore. “That’s a shame,” he says.
Recently, CCOM helped the community-supported fishery Dock to Dish get off the ground. Their first season was so successful, 400 people are on a waiting list. Now Dock to Dish is working with local and city restaurants, having established the country’s first, they believe, restaurant-supported fishery.
“Dock to Dish is the oldest model there is,” says Samuelson. “Fisherman catches fish, comes back to the dock and sells it. It’s as old and simple as it gets.”
In reality, regulations make fishing anything but simple. “Every agency in the world is involved,” he says. “It’s pretty insane that anyone goes into business and survives.”
Montauk was lucky to survive last year’s Superstorm Sandy, but it spawned the Army Corp of Engineers to study coastal mitigation in downtown Montauk. “Are they going to do the right thing or make the problem worse?” Samuelson asks.
For the nonprofit’s part, CCOM takes a hard stand against hard structures. “Without any doubt, you add any hard structure, the beach will disappear,” says Samuelson. “A stone wall is a no-go.” For now, CCOM is keeping an eye on the hotels built downtown when beaches were bigger; their presence has interrupted the shoreline’s elastic system of expanding and contracting. “We have to figure out how to live here without turning this beautiful place into somewhere we don’t want to live,” he adds.
The table is set with the help of Jade, this time in a more casual pink outfit, to match the pink paisley tablecloth. Photographs of Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado hang on the dining room wall, reminding the couple of a trip they took in 2004, when they loaded up a 1992 Nissan pickup with a cap and drove from East Hampton to Panama and back.
Dinner’s pièce de résistance is two quarts of bay scallops, bought from one of a handful of baymen left in East Hampton. “It’s such a treat this time of year,” Katz says as she pan-fries the delicacies, carefully turning each one with a spatula as they brown.
The carrots have a luscious deep color, too, and are served with carrot-top pesto, alongside the cauliflower and squash filled with quinoa, crushed walnuts, Bell’s seasoning, parsley and a dash of Parmesan.
After dinner, Jade’s younger brother, Jasper, is fast asleep, and she is fading fast, but she’s not quitting yet, not before Katz hands each guest a jar of pepper jelly as a delicious parting gift.