A local businesswoman bakes good-for-you treats for those who care about what they eat
Story by ALLISON ALFONSO • Photos by LEE TALBERT
Those who like baked goods made from fresh, organic and local ingredients will like Carmen Stamey’s food because she likes them, too, and makes sure they’re a part of what she makes for family and friends. “My friends, they always say, ‘If Carmen will eat it, it’s OK,’ ” she said. Stamey decided after some experimentation what she baked was good and different enough to offer the public. She started a homemade baked goods business, Indigo Specialty Foods, and sold her food downtown at the Farmer’s Market last year. She’s looking forward to being there again in May and talking to people about how to make baked goods for people with allergies to wheat, an interest inspired by friends and family who have allergies and don’t want to be denied good things. She’s always busy producing baked goods that suit their needs and tastes and bakes with such alternative grains as spelt, corn and rice. Many of her recipes are vegan, which means they aren’t made with eggs or dairy products. Eating well for her doesn’t mean cutting the sugar. She loves sweets and uses organic sugars and alternative sweeteners to flavor her desserts. Stamey does her cooking in a south Johnson City kitchen that faces a winding road with views of the mountains. She’s usually accompanied by her young son, Finn, who enjoys helping her and who, on a recent day, was standing near her on a stool sampling a variety of sugar cookies she had made: some shaped as moons and stars and some as flowers in pots. She wants him to learn early how to eat and cook well and believes she’s starting him out on the right foot by showing him the ropes and including him in something that brings her joy. Her business venture wouldn’t be possible, she said, if she hadn’t overcome an eating disorder. Her business and telling her story of illness and recovery to county high school students are her ways of celebrating good health, good food and a new life. Recovery has made her a better person, she said. “I’m proud of being in recovery and coming as far as I did because some people don’t make it,” Stamey said. “I’ve tried really hard, with a lot of support from my family and friends, to be more healthy, and I want to share that with people.” Wholesome food is best, she said, not processed goods. It’s off-putting for her to read the labels of grocery items and see so many additives and preservatives. That disgust was an inspiration. “I started cooking because I got very picky about what I was eating, and I got so picky that it was difficult for me to find things to eat,” Stamey said. “And so, I had to begin making things for myself that I feel comfortable eating, and it just kind of grew and grew. I had so much food in the house, I had to give it away and get rid of it ’cause I was experimenting so much.” Experimenting in the kitchen keeps it fun for her, and she seldom makes something twice. “There are plenty of times I don’t even crack a recipe book out,” Stamey said. “I just start from scratch and just play around and see what happens. Some things turn out in a disaster sometimes, but it’s all a learning process for me. I stay up all night looking at recipes, just kind of taking it all in and using what I can. I always have to do something different.” She adds new ingredients to old recipes to come up with new and delicious things and collects old cookbooks and old menus to study. “One of the things I like about cooking is there’s always something new to learn,” Stamey said. “It’s just like any other art form. If you love it, you’ll never get bored with it ’cause there’s always something new to try or experiment with. I like to play around with ingredients that are specialty ingredients.” These include homemade rose petal, jasmine and violet flavorings for cakes. Making homemade vanilla is easy, she said. Her recipe follows. Her business and taste is a work in progress. As time passes, the food she sells under the Indigo Specialty Foods name will expand as her knowledge of good cooking does. She hopes her food will convince those who think health food is bland that it can also be “delicious” and “decadent.” She hopes to meet some of those doubters at the market and change their minds. “The mainstream public is not used to having whole grains all the time and stuff like that, so it really is a big compliment from somebody who’s not used to having that to taste what I’ve made and say ‘Oh, that’s good’ because you know what?: It’s healthy,” Stamey said. “That’s really important to me: good things that taste good.” This cook believes there’s value in buying food that’s homemade, knowing who made it, knowing what the ingredients are when you bite into it and knowing it was made specially for you. “It’s very gratifying to feel appreciated for something you care so much about,” she said. “I do take it very seriously, although I have a lot of fun in the kitchen.” VEGAN WHOLE GRAIN SUGAR COOKIES 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 2 teaspoons baking powder, nonaluminum 1 /2 teaspoon sea salt 1 cup unrefined sugar, like evaporated cane juice 1 /2 cup sunflower or safflower oil 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 4 tablespoons soy milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and create a well in the middle. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and oil and add the vanilla and soy milk. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture. Do not over-mix. It’s best to use a wooden spoon and your hands. Roll dough to 1 /4 inch and cut into shapes. Transfer cookies gently with a spatula to a lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet, making sure to leave 1 inch between cookies. Bake for 8-11 minutes. The cookies crisp and harden as they cool. Take them out when they get to desired doneness and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Makes about 2 dozen large shapes. The following cookies are variations on the above recipe. Make substitutions and additions as noted. CHOCOLATE COOKIES Substitute 1 /4 cup of the flour for 1 /4 cup of Dutch-Process cocoa. Proceed with recipe as directed. Filling optional. Recipe not included. NUT COOKIES Add 2 /3 cup finely chopped toasted nuts and some freshly grated nutmeg to the flour mixture and proceed with recipe as directed. Scoop cookies into 1-ounce portions (2 tablespoons) and roll into balls. Place on prepared cookie sheet and flatten with palm or the bottom of a glass. Bake 9-11 minutes. Yields 18 large cookies. SPELT SNICKERDOODLES Substitute whole spelt flour for the whole wheat pastry flour. Add 1 /4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the flour mixture. Proceed with mixing directions. Scoop cookies into 1-ounce portions and roll into balls. Roll the cookie balls in a mixture of 1 /2 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon. Place on cookie sheet and flatten. Bake 9-11 minutes. Yields 18 cookies. NUTBUTTER COOKIES Add 1 /2 cup of peanut, almond or other nutbutter to the sugar, oil, vanilla and soy milk, decreasing oil to 6 tablespoons. Follow recipe as directed. Make 1-ounce portions into balls and flatten on prepared cookie sheet. Make traditional crisscross indentions with a large fork. Bake 9-11 minutes. Yields 18 cookies. COCONUT COOKIES Substitute 1 /2 cup coconut milk for the oil. Dough will be softer. Make 1-ounce scoops and roll them into balls. Dip the top in unsweetened flaked coconut. Place on prepared sheet and flatten. Bake 9-11 minutes. Yields 18 cookies. VANILLA EXTRACT 10-12 vanilla beans Fifth (750 ml) of 70-80 proof vodka or other liquor Split beans lengthwise and put in alcohol. May have to remove some to avoid overflow. Soak for up to a year, at least 4 months. Filter if desired. Shake occasionally. Note: Carmen Stamey uses brandy in her recipe.
Carmen Stamey helps her son, Finn, make a selection from a variety of freshly baked cookies.
Carmen Stamey with one of her cookie flower arrangements