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Market Tour coming to Hollywood!

July 1, 2010

Hey all – quick update!  I’ll be conducting a special tour of the Hollywood Farmers Market on Sunday, August 8th.  Some details…

The Hollywood Farmers Market is a Sunday morning delight, full of sensual experiences from the creeping tendrils of nag champa incense to the taste of sun-warmed berries in the sample trays to the sounds of blues being sung in deep and scratchy Japanese.  During this market tour, we’ll talk about the difference between “certified organic” and “no-spray” farmers, what “local food” means when you live in L.A., and what’s in season, with a couple of special visits to some of my favorite vendors for a “talk and taste” of their best harvests and recipe suggestions.  The end of summer is a festival of abundance at the markets, so we’ll also be talking about smart shopping and getting to know your vendors.

We’re going so early because it’s nice and cool and it’s the best time for a group to listen and learn about the market while the vendors aren’t busy with too many customers.  But not to worry, there will be coffee from Groundwork Coffee Company so we can get our early morning perk.  They’ll also be offering my tour guests a special tour-only discount on their coffee beans.

There will be a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes and clothes.  If your are prone to sunburns, you may wish to bring a hat or wear sunscreen as most of the market is uncovered and in open space. Also, this is an adults-only tour, though I loosely define adults as anyone 15 and over.

Details about the meeting location will be provided upon ticket purchase.  Parking is not included in the tour fee.  Ample parking is available at the LA Film School for $5, or if you don’t mind an early morning walk, on adjacent streets in the vicinity of the corner of Ivar and Sunset, or you can walk over from the Hollywood and Vine Metro Station.


Cookbooks: Vintage, antique, and lovingly used

April 1, 2010

Slightly shorter version posted to KPCC’s Off-Ramp blog. Which by the way, is a slice of radio heaven here in L.A. Listen online.

My attraction to cookbooks started early  in my life with my dad’s carefully cataloged library of clipped recipes, magazine folders, and cookbook collections.  There was never an unused book or clipping.  He took notes.  He marked pages with post-its and stickers.  He created binders full of meticulously tabbed clippings.  He taught me very early on that there was nothing really sacred about a book or recipe except in its usability.  Its ability to add to your life was its real value.  And from that I learned to value vintage cookbooks, not for their condition or whether or not they still had their original jacket sleeves, but for their content.  And not just their original content, but what was added later by the book’s owners.

The Haul

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Part I: Food Photography Workshop with Penny De Los Santos

March 19, 2010

It all started with one tweet. Granted it was a tweet from Penny de los Santos, the doyen of the DSLR, and it was announcing that she was holding a photography workshop in San Francisco in March, but it was just that one little tweet that introduced me to 22 new people, including a side of myself that I never knew existed.

The original plan was to spend the weekend up in SF and do some wandering. But the schedules didn’t quite work out on the homefront. So I buckled down and decided to do a day trip – 6AM flight up and a 10:30PM flight back. I’d get there in time to try the famous pastries of Tartine and then hoof it over to Contigo, where our workshop would begin at 10AM.

Saying goodbye to SFO from the AirTran to the BART station.

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Saturday Farmers Market Trail: Monterey Park, East L.A., and Burbank

March 6, 2010

I love you, Pasadena. And on Sundays? You, Hollywood, always have me at hello. But there was a time, just a few years ago, when I was a little less loyal. I wandered the markets of L.A., not looking for anything more than a new view. It’s been a while. So today I’m hitting the market trail to see what’s what in the Saturday market jungle.

There are over 40 farmers markets scheduled for Saturday between Thousand Oaks in the west, all the way to Laguna in the south, and as far east as Riverside. Obviously I can’t hit them all in a day.  My selection criteria? Had to be a market I’ve never been to before, which eliminated about a dozen off the Saturday list. Also, it had to be within a reasonable distance to the homestead – I have a lot going on today and can’t invest in a trek out to Calabasas or Irvine…yet. And they had to be markets that are community-driven. And what I mean by that is that they are markets that fit the community and the community fits them and they dance and chat and talk and connect.

The South Pasadena Market on a still sunny summer evening.

In the decade since I first established my market obsessions in Baltimore, I’ve visited probably 50 markets, give or take a dozen, both here in LA and around the world. A market doesn’t have to be big and bustling to be a slice of community building heaven – I’m looking at you, Honoka’a – I still dream about the aroma coming from a pile of ginger that could have been considered an island in the Hawaii chain. But I digress…

Hollywood Farmers Market
The Hollywood Market on a cold, Sunday morning.

A market should fit snugly into the rhythms of its neighborhood, neither intruding nor hiding away. Just there, like an aunt you like to visit because she has a great orange tree and a good biscuit hand. It’s a hard, and admittedly very subjective balance to achieve, especially when so many cities are told by so many consultants that in order to have a good image, a good quality of life, a well-thought-of city, perceived or otherwise, you have to have a market.  Some grow and morph into little slices of community heaven because they’re given the support and care they need from both the local government and the people that live there.

Some? Well, some are not those things.  Some aren’t really certified California markets, or don’t have much in the way of variety, or are more flea market than farmers, or are facades for larger corporate interests, or are just plain eye sores. No one of these things alone is a total deal killer for me.  Flea markets do have their place and even the smallest of markets – Claremont’s winter markets come to mind – have a warmth and selection that count them among the bigger players when it comes to quality and just plain friendliness.

The three markets I’m visiting today –  Monterey Park, East L.A., and Burbank – are reputed gems of their respective neighborhoods and all for different reasons.  Pictures later. Off to gear up.

Beets in the rain

February 28, 2010

Rainy weekends, even during our alleged rainy season, aren’t terribly common. A lovely little El Nino has brought SoCal three so far, which explains the spike in Abuelita sales at the local Super A. It seems an odd sort of complaint, but when it’s nice out, I feel called to actually be out. Which means less kitchen time. And since this is SoCal is pretty much nice most weekends (really, not gloating here…much) it’s really nice to have an excuse to stay in and play in the kitchen.

I do go to the market though, even on rainy weekends. Most of the markets here in LA are rain-or-shine and I figure if our farmers (I always call them ‘our’ or ‘my’ farmers…it’s as easy as saying my partner/my mom/my friend. It’s not a vocation. It’s a relationship.) are going to go through the trouble of setting up shop in a downpour, I can at least show up and support their efforts. The weather at the market on Saturday morning was very wet and sloppy, and since I’m a bit chicken about pulling out the camera in the rain, even when I swath it cumbersome cling wrap, I managed only all of two pictures, of which this was one.

DSC_0679Bull’s Blood Beets, Weiser Family Farms

Under a tarp that was somewhat scarily bellied with a small pond’s worth of water, I quickly aimed and fired, a subconscious seed planted in my brain that popped open when I scooted over to the Underwood Farms booth to nab some early season artichokes (3 for $5 – not bad). They always have a giant wall of gorgeous beets at the market and the wet weather had washed them clean and saturated their rainbow colors in a most appealing way.

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Tired of f/1.4

February 22, 2010

I admit it. I’m a prisoner of wide open apertures. It creates drama, in part, by making portions of a picture veiled and inaccessible (the wider the app, the shallower the depth of field). The photographer gets to control you see by making you focus on what they want. But they (and by that I mean me) tease you a bit with the blurred background. You might see something there, but it’s more of a suggestion of an image.

Scarlet Tea RoomTea at The Scarlet Tea Room in Pasadena. We were parked in a corner so ambient light wasn’t great.  And I refuse to use a flash in a restaurant.

And to be honest, I’m a bit guilty of over doing it. But the other reason I’m almost always parked in f/1.x range is because I’m almost always trying to take shots in very low light – wide open =’s more light. During the day, I’m parked in an office doing all manner of work not at all related to blogging, food, and/or photography. By the time I’m out the door in the morning or walking in at night, the sun isn’t out and I’m taking shots under three different types of light bulbs in a granite-lined kitchen. Yes, a lighting rig for photography is high on the ‘must buy’ list. But for now I make do.

Xmas 09Mom’s cherry and apple pies at Christmas. Lots of dramatic direct light.  The wide open app on this was on purpose.  I wanted to make it seem like the cherry was sneaking up on the apple ala film noir.  A bit overdone. But fun.

I’ve been going through a lot of my photos lately and have been a wee bit disappointed. Tons of narrowly focused shots where about 75% or more of the image was blurred out in a shallow depth of field. Even with the stuff that’s shot outdoors on weekends at the markets. Bad habits, I think. That and lazy photography. So this weekend, I got bold. Daring even.

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Jam for jam’s sake – Blueberry Jam

February 17, 2010

When I bake, it’s usually because I want brownies, or cookies, or bread, or whatever the final product may be. Sometimes I’ll bake to use up something leftover from other cooking projects (egg whites leftover from hollandaise, etc.). But most of the time, it’s because it’s something I want or SJ wants. It’s not to “put up” flour, eggs, butter, milk, or what have you.

I can probably count on one hand how many jars of jam I go through in a year. I like jam. I just don’t like jam. So I make it when I want it, and in very small batches, usually not meant for preserving in the strictest sense – there is no sterilization of jars, canning bath, or cupboard lined with homemade jams.

I used to do the whole “save the harvest” thing and ended up with over a dozen jars of blood orange marmalade one year after trying to save a bumper crop off the tree. Which is fine, if you like blood orange marmalade. A lot. And if you like giving away your jars of blood orange marmalade. A lot. At the end of a year, I inevitably had jars that would end up emptied into the trash, their contents a mockery of the word “preserved.”

Jamming is just another way to prepare something. It’s an ability that everyone should add to their skill arsenal in the kitchen. Small batch, as-you-want-it jam has the added advantage of being more fruit forward and fresh tasting than something you have to boil twice in order to properly seal it away from the world of microbes. And it’s immediately enjoyable. All you need is some fruit, some sugar, maybe a little pectin, and voila – jam.

jam making

Here in SoCal, we get blueberries at the markets year round. And I like blueberry jam, but I’m not so crazy for it that I want or need jars of it sitting around. So I made a nice small batch out of one carton of berries. Just enough for me to enjoy in the coming month or so on some toast as I head out the door. It’s a recipe that can be adapted with small changes for almost any kind of fruit – strawberries, oranges, peaches, raspberries, etc. As you make more jam, like with any cooking skill, you develop a better sense of what each fruit needs more or less of – more pectin for some berries, less for other fruits, more sugar in one to balance the acid, less in another to let the fruit really shine. You’ll get the hang of it.

Blueberry Jam
Makes about ¾ pint

1 carton whole blueberries (about 2-3 cups worth)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 Tbs pectin
1 tsp fresh lemon zest

Mix the pectin and sugar while dry and then toss everything into a pot on medium high heat. When the liquid starts to boil, reduce heat to low and maintain a steady simmer. The length of time for cooking a small batch varies according to a few factors, including how much water is in the fruit itself. For a batch this size, I let it cook on very low heat for about 30 minutes uncovered and then check on it every five or ten after that. Test it on a cold plate. When a puddle of syrup on the plate starts to thicken up after a few minutes, your jam is generally done, depending on if you like a soft jam or something that requires more spreading. Cook a little longer for something thicker. The jam will set up as it chills so don’t judge the jam by its warmed state in the pot.

jam makingThis is after about 25 minutes of low simmering – the berries jammed up really quickly.

When it’s done, put it in a clean jar or Tupperware in your fridge. No sealing required as it’s not jam meant for the cupboard. Though if you wanted to preserve one jar, you could. This recipe makes one full half pint and a half of a half pint – so save the full and fridge the half.

Not the greatest shot in the world, but the only one I took where you could see the real color of the jam. So pretty.  That’s Sunday’s Strawberry Jam next to it – almost gone 🙂

I’ll go into the details of actual preserving another time. There are a ton of places you can go to read up about safety precautions and proper technique, the USDA being the most reliable and scientifically tested. But for now, this is jam for jam’s sake.

Bittersweet brownies ala Alice

February 8, 2010

I first “met” Amy Scattergood (my editor at the LA Weekly) in the pages of the LA Times. She was named The Saucier there, which I thought was a strange name for a woman who so obviously loved to bake. I thought back then that her prose was more poetry-like than the standard reporter fodder. So it was no real surprise when over the course of our acquaintance I would learn, well, yes, she was actually a poet.

A writer by trade, who examined food with a trained poet’s eye? And why aren’t there more of them?

Since that first getting-to-know- you set of e-mails, Amy and I have been enjoying the occasional dinner at the house, soaking up the view and some good conversation. During one of these dinners, I had told her  that desserts were the soft point in my repertoire, and she must have stowed that info away.  Because the next time I saw her,  a book was placed gently in my hands, complete with a thick wine-colored satin ribbon set into the page with the cocoa fudge sauce recipe – Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert.

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Saveur Photo Contest – because I want everyone to win

February 5, 2010

I’ve been blogging, in general, since around 2002. The food blogging kicked in around 2005. And when everyone starts out, it’s a messy business. Out of focus shots. Rambling text about your grandmother. Hyperbolic spewing about the cherry you tried from the sample tray at the market. It can be painful looking back at some of those entries.  Ugh.

But thankfully, things evolve. And the internet is a lightspeed evolver, wormholing us in a few years time to a place where people are doing amazing things with their blogs. The pictures (and photographers) that have been born from this crucible have not yet ceased to amaze me. Shoot, there’s a whole website dedicated entirely to checkering your brain with some of the most delectable food porn available.

Despite this digital cacophony, the grandaddy forum of food porn is still in old school print. Saveur Magazine. The sometime home of my food photography idol, Penny de los Santos. The birthplace of Canal House Cooking. And since the demise of Gourmet, Saveur has taken a yet more revered place in my heart. I review each shot and watch the lighting, the placement, the styling. I take mental notes. I experiment with a page open nearby to see if I can mimic the feel, the tone of an image. Maybe you do, too?

This is the new world we live in, the product of blogging forcing us to take picture after picture to tell the story the way we want it told. And to do it again and again in each new post. There are some amazingly talented folk out there. People who five or ten years ago wouldn’t have given much of a thought about having their photo be a focus of attention or a point of information. And the liberating part is anyone can do this. Anyone.

But there is that line. We want to evolve. And while the Internet may have formed us? It’s a print publication like Saveur that some of us strive for. And now they are having a cover photo contest.


That screenshot above is the closest I have come to seeing the Saveur title above one of my shots. Even though it’s a contest and it’s on the reader submitted page – I love seeing it there.  And I did take a moment to actually read the contest rules. There’s a lot of the typical contest rule hoohah, but the thing I was looking for was the limit. How many can I enter?

The answer is one.

A few other entrants didn’t read the fine print and have deluged the entry page with a half a dozen images each. Multiple entries, according to the rules, will disqualify you.  Choose carefully.  Choose wisely.  And get input from others that you trust.  I chose the above shot for the contest because SJ loves it.  It’s not my favorite shot, but SJ had a grocery list of reasons why he felt it was Saveur worthy, and all of them made sense.  And in this, where I have emotional ties to not a few of my pictures, I trusted his judgment.

I don’t work for Saveur.  And I’m not an art director.  But I do work with some magazines in my day job and I have an inkling of what makes for a good cover shot.

It’s a magazine cover – so vertical orientations are a good thing.  Choose a shot with decent ‘headspace’ to allow for the Saveur title on top.  The image subject can run into it, but you want the main focus of your image to be much lower.

If you can, choose an image where the lighting is coming more from the right.  Saveur tends to put their content text on the left side of their cover images.  They adjust according to the image, but they have that inclination.

Like you leave room for the header?  Also leave room for that pesky delivery label at the bottom – it’s about two inches up.

Of the past several issues, almost all of them are of prepared food.  I know, I know, I chose a raw food shot, but that’s what I do.  But their big focus is food travel and stellar recipes.

They seem to LOVE texture.  And props.  Gorgeous silverware.  Dulled pewter platters. Wood.  Cloth.  Char marks on the food.  Whatever is appropo to making the food seem more alive.

Enter.  You have until the end of the month.  And good luck!

Some bits of pretty…

February 3, 2010


I love some of the vegetable colors we get this time of year. The purple cauliflower above is just one example. I usually don’t care for it, foodwise – too crunchy raw and when you cook it you lose some of that vividity that drew you in in the first place. But oof, it makes for some delicious looking eye candy.


See what I mean? You can get beets here any time of year. But for some reason in winter, they have these extra shocks of hot pink in them that just sing.


And the greens. Also proof that timing is everything. Five minutes later when I walked past these asparagus at the market they were bathed in blinding sunlight. This is why I go so early in the morning. The lighting can get overly dramatic. Works for some shots. But not a lot.

So what to do with the above? Roast the beets and the cauliflower on high heat with a little salt and olive oil. Peel and gentle steam the asparagus. Chop and toss with a light vinaigrette of white vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, sugar, and a little water. Add fresh chives for pungency and verve. Add the freshest chevre for creaminess.