"I started with one table, 50 empanadas, and my baby boy in a backpack." Meet Ana Araguas of Ana's Empanadas.
Before she lived in Vermont, Ana Araguas lived in Brooklyn. And before she lived in Brooklyn, she lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And when she lived in Argentina -- before she made a living during the summer making and selling her incredibly popular empanadas -- she was a ballet dancer. So the next time you sidle up to her stall at the Lebanon Farmer's Market, know there's some history here.
She started making empanadas back in 1996. She and her husband were living in Brooklyn, and went to a Super Bowl party. She decided to bring empanadas. They were a hit. In fact, they were such a hit that not only was she required to bring them every year, but the party crowd began calling her "Empanada." One of her fans was her husband's--and for a bit, her--boss, Mario Batali.
After the September 11 attacks, she and her husband moved to Rutland, Vermont. "He told me there was nice weather here," she says. They're no longer married, though that's not why.
A solo empanada business is not for the faint of heart. "I sleep very little during the summer," she says, matter-of-factly. The day before I talked to her, Ana had gotten up at 2 am to prepare for a food festival in Woodstock. Then she got up early -- though not quite as early -- to prep for the farmer's market, put everything together, and make the long drive over from Rutland, where she still lives with her two sons. And that was even with having made fillings a day or two ahead of time, since they need at least 24 hours to sit in the refrigerator. "The fillings have to come together," she explains.
Ana's blueberry lemonade and a chicken empanada
It took her three years to perfect her dough. The flour is different from what's used in Argentina, and the persnickety weather here -- heat, cold, wet, dry -- "changes everything." But over the years, she's come up with 25 different fillings: beef, chicken, chorizo (which she makes herself, using red wine), pulled pork (that one's 24 hours of cooking time, even before it spends its day flavor-melding), sweet onion, a Salteña -- which she went to Salta, Argentina, to learn to make -- which includes potatoes, green onions, cumin, and... oh, just go buy one.
Press her a bit, and Ana says she persists with the long hours and the summertime lack of sleep because she's still got two sons to worry about, one of whom is headed to college in the fall. "I’m doing this for my kids," she says, smiling. "Because for me, I don’t need much: a bottle of wine and empanadas."
But there's something else, too. She's effervescent, kinetic. The dancer hasn't left her. In the winter, she's got a successful ballet and dance studio in Rutland. "I love dancing!" she says, happily. But then quickly, she adds, "And I love cooking! I love markets, I love people. People make me happy! And I want that they eat well. That the meat is local, the vegetables are from the market."
Go. You'll find her at the Lebanon and Woodstock markets, and if you happen to be farther afield, in Rutland and Dorset, too.