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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

So Much Promise, So LIttle Produce

What's not to like about growing your own food on your very own land?  Going to the garden center and picking out the very best soil and organic plants and seeds to have exactly the things you want  whenever you want them.  Standing with the garden hose and zoning out to the sensation of spraying water. To watch each seed grow and each plant change from day to day, first a little sprout then a stem, a leaf, a flower, a zucchini.  "You've planted too much and you won't know what to do with it all" friends warned and so I braced myself for pick-up truck loads.

So Much Promise

 Local.  Sustainable.  "Farm" to table.  I am one with my garden.  Well actually not so much.  I tried, I really did.  "Good morning zucchini, how are you doing snap peas, love you tomatoes, blah, blah, blah."  Instead of being one with my garden it's more like I'm one with the DWP - now that my water bill has gone up double digit percent and they've upgraded my account to platinum.  I was in way over my head, not realizing that not only a lot of water, but a lot of care, cleaning, trimming, weeding, pruning, and feeding among other things went into this little old fashioned grow your own experience. Garden creatures apparently like collard greens and snap peas as much as I do so it's been a race to get them first - Losing!  That abundance of zucchini has amounted to a sum total of 1, one, uno, aka the Lone Zucchini.  Seven, count 'em, 7 snap peas.  A few tops but not a carrot to be found.  Lots of tomato leaves, and only 2 measly albeit teeny green fruit.  A lonely bell pepper the size of a malted milk ball, something that looks like an exploded yellow cauliflower, and not a cilantro stem in sight.
The Lone Zucchini
So Little Produce

I will not abandon the "crops" now, but this will be my first and last vegetable garden.  It's too much work, water, and worry.  That one zucchini cost about $136.  Now I know this much is true - store bought vegetables are a bargain.  I truly appreciate how much is involved in turning a seed into a snap pea, and have renewed respect for farmers big and small, from near and far.  Let the farmers do what they do best, which is make things grow in ways I apparently can't.  Let the markets, both farmers and super, do what they do best which is make it all available every single day, at extremely reasonable prices, so that I can do some of my best things - shopping, cooking, and eating.  Oh, and maybe I'll  keep the the cute hat too.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sunday Swapping and Sunset Boulevard

Where's the 405?
The biggest challenge we face living in Los Angeles isn't the closure mid-July of part of the 405 freeway in a week or so.  It's the ongoing, always growing, never ending, sometimes confusing, constantly enticing array of things to do, places to go, people to see.  Festivals, farmers' markets, premieres, sporting events, book signings, flea markets, conventions, volunteer opportunities, cultural events unlimited, plays, concerts, gallery openings, meetup groups, which classes to take, restaurants to try, day trips to take, etc., etc., make weekends in L.A. no place for social sissies.

If you do nothing you can feel very guilty, lazy, or at least left out - yikes, could I be a loser?   So you pour over the Times' events calendar, check your online notices, and try your best to pick and choose what's best for you, i.e., still leaving a few dollars in your no-interest earning bank account, and maybe time for reruns of MI-5 and a short nap.  One recent Sunday had so many options I seriously thought about going back under the covers and waiting it out until Monday.  But my two main events actually sounded so good that I changed into some clothes and headed out for new adventures.

Event #1 was my first visit to one of downtown L.A.'s classic movie theaters, to see one of Hollywood's classic movies.  It was the 100th anniversary of the Palace Theatre, with a screening of "Sunset Blvd.", and Gloria Swanson and Bill Holden were better and bigger than ever (remember, it's the pictures that got small)..  Part of the Los Angeles Conservancy's (  25th Last Remaining Seats' series, watching a classic movie on a big screen with a theater full of people was a unique experience.  Glad I went. 

Event #2 was my first food swap, which is the latest craze for crazy people like me who love to craft food and wrap it up real nice.  This swap, one of several now held monthly in various parts of the southland, was in Santa Monica (  About a dozen or so fellow foodies were there with a nice array of home made, hand made, or hand picked goodies up for swap.  I brought little jars of my sweet/sour pickled grapes, a white & milk chocolate bark with dried rainier cherries, pecans, and orange zest, plus macadamia nut brittle with Hawaiian sea salt (recipe below).  Came home with walnut pesto, chimichurri sauce, teriyaki marinade, tomatillo salsa, granola, cake pops, and snicker doodle cookies.  Really glad I went.

Life is a big adventure and all you need is a little planning and the right attitude to fill your's with great experiences.  Discovering new places, revisiting old favorites, seeing your city with all of its opportunities and in all its diversity is a fine way to spend any weekend.  Go out and explore - you'll be glad you went.

Macadamia Nut Brittle with Hawaiian Sea Salt
(adapted from
3/4 stick butter + more to spread on pan
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup clear corn syrup
2 cups macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. Hawaiian sea salt

Lightly butter a baking pan.  Dissolve the baking soda in the vanilla.

In a heavy pot over medium heat mix the sugar, water, 3/4 stick of butter, and corn syrup until the butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.

Add a candy thermometer to the pan, increase the heat,  and cook until mixture turns a dark golden brown (like Loving Care #52 before I decided to embrace the gray), stirring from time to time with a wood spoon.

When the thermometer reaches 335 degrees (this could take anywhere from 20-30 minutes or more but stick with it), then remove the pot from the heat and carefully mix in the soda/extract mixture and chopped nuts (mixture is bubbling up now), and immediately pour onto the prepared pan.  Using the wooden spoon quickly spread out the goop so it's a nice, even level.  Let it cool about 5 minutes then sprinkle with the sea salt.

After about an hour at room temperature this buttery, nutty, crunchy, incredible concoction will be ready for devouring.