Habit + Habitat: Susan Schu
Ever wonder what the folks at terrain do when we're not in the garden? In our monthly series, Habit + Habitat, we're finding out by asking one person to share a favorite habit and a beloved habitat. This month, we’re chatting with culinary enthusiast Susan about her favorite ingredients, dishes, and farmer's markets, near and far.
terrain: What is your role at terrain?
Susan: I am the Kitchen Specialist and Product Knowledge Specialist for terrain in Glen Mills. As Kitchen Specialist, I present workshops and demonstrations on various culinary topics, prepare and offer tastings from our cookbooks, sample our packaged food, and more. As Product Knowledge Specialist, it’s my responsibility to share the stories of the products we sell with colleagues and customers. Our products have unique stories that make the purchase meaningful.
terrain: What’s the one word that describes your habit, and one that describes your habitat?
Susan: I think the best word to describe my habit, cooking, would be “passionate.” I’ve always had a passion for cooking and culinary pursuits– for as long as I can remember, I’ve been collecting cookbooks and creating home-cooked food for the people I love. Spending time in my kitchen, whether I'm chopping fresh vegetables or rolling out dough for a pie, is relaxing and pure pleasure for me. I know that may sound crazy for some people, but it's true!
My habitats are the wonderful farmer's markets, produce markets and roadside stands in the greater Philadelphia region-- places like Reading Terminal Market, 9th Street, and the markets in Lancaster County. I would describe these places as “inspiring.” When I see pristine haricot verts, I'm inspired to make a Nicoise Salad the following day. Or when I see beautiful, blushing crimson rhubarb, I know there will be a rhubarb pie in my future. Don’t even get me started on heirloom tomatoes!
terrain: What do you enjoy most about cooking?
Susan: What I enjoy most about cooking is the joy that it brings to others and the subsequent pleasure I receive from that. For me, cooking doesn't feel like “work,” and when I know there will be smiling faces on the receiving end, it feels even more worthwhile. I enjoy teaching cooking skills and culinary techniques to others; there have been occasions when I’ve had friends visit to bake pies, make bread, learn to make “my” guacamole, and preserve fruits and vegetables. I’ve also sold my pies and other baked goods at small markets in Delaware County and have enjoyed hearing how people have served them for holidays and family gatherings. Over the years, I’ve seen how my cooking has brought people together, and that's why I do what I do.
terrain: Do you have a signature dish or favorite ingredient? A favorite recent recipe?
Susan: My signature dish would be Pecan Pie or Rhubarb Pie, since those are most requested of me. I'm a pretty accomplished pie baker and have a small rolling pin collection. But I really enjoy making savory dishes as well. Most recently, I made a delicious baked risotto with cauliflower, Gruyere and crisp breadcrumbs. What delightful comfort food on a chilly night! The recipe actually comes from Homemade Winter by Yvette von Boven, which we sell at the store. It’s an easy way to make risotto without having to stand over the stove and stir. Just some initial prep time and in the oven it goes for the rest!
terrain: Does your cooking style change with the seasons?
Susan: Most definitely. Since I like to use fresh ingredients, my menus change depending on what’s in season. I like cooking this way because I have a variety of ingredients throughout the year. Cold weather lends itself to more one-dish meals like soups, casseroles, and roasts. Once warmer weather comes around, my meals get lighter with lots of salads, fish, grilled dishes, and cold soups. Even my salad dressings change with the seasons-- dark balsamic and red wine vinegars for cold weather, and white balsamic and white wine vinegars in warmer weather.
terrain: What are some of your favorite farmer's markets to visit?
Susan: In Philadelphia, I love to spend time at the Reading Terminal Market, the Headhouse Farmer's Market, and the 9th Street Market. At the weekly market in my hometown of Media, I can find cheese from Chester County, phenomenal mushrooms from Lincoln University, and produce grown locally by a co-op that helps disabled individuals from the Elwyn Institute.
The most memorable markets I've visited are outdoor markets in the small villages of Southern France. One particular market in Aubagne is my favorite. You wander through the rows of vendors selling spices, grains, olives, cheeses, and even produce and fruits from North Africa, while smelling the aroma of steaming paella just waiting to be devoured with a glass of wine poured straight from the barrel! I remember a little old man with two baby goats pulling a tiny, wooden cart laden with buttons of goat cheese, a woman selling remarkable olives, cases full of charcuterie, and unforgettable baguettes!