Sunday, September 20, 2009

Arroyo Food Co-Op Market: More Hip than Hippie

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

By now, most of us are familiar with these words of wisdom from Michael Pollan. Sounds simple doesn't it?

Too bad our quest to eat the right thing has become so complex and confusing. Is it green? Sustainable? Organic? Local? In season? Grass fed or corn fed? Free range or caged? Farmed or wild? ( offers great tips on purchasing fresh, frozen and canned fish.) And how much of this really matters? It's enough to make any well meaning cook throw in the toque.

The good news is that I have no shortage of options for picking up produce. And the bad news is that I have so many choices: my own back yard, swapped produce from neighbors' back yards, two Pasadena farmers' markets, two buyers clubs (NELA and Our Little Market), CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Super King, traditional super markets and a half dozen Armenian produce markets.

Factor price, convenience and flavor into my decision-making matrix, and I'm so overwhelmed that I'm ready to comfort myself with a bag of potato chips fried in saturated oil and a can of dip made with processed cheese.

That's why I'm supporting the development of the Arroyo Food Co-Op Market, a "homegrown community market" that will serve Altadena, Pasadena and the surrounding communities. The market will be committed to providing a simple alternative for fresh, healthy, local and sustainable food choices at competitive prices. What I really like about the proposed co-op market is the opportunity to strengthen an already vibrant community.

If you'd like to learn more, come out to one (or both) of these two upcoming events or visit the Arroyo Food Co-op Market's website.
Now how simple is that?

Monthly Social

What: Find out about the history-making Arroyo Food Co-Op Market at one of Altadena's most historic estates. Light refreshments (including homemade Sangria) will be served.
When: Wednesday, October 7, 7:30 pm
Where: Zane Grey Estate, 396 E. Mariposa, Altadena
For more details, visit the website.

RSVP: Please email your name and number attending to

Community Membership Launch Meeting
What: Unveiling of the business plan for the Arroyo Food Co-op, a brief presentation by representatives from Santa Monica's successful Co-Opportunity Market and the opportunity to become a charter member of the Arroyo Food Co-op. Continental breakfast will be served.
When: Saturday, October 10, 9:00 am
Where: Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Dr., Altadena

For more details, visit the website.
RSVP: Please email your name and number attending to

If you have any questions, you can also email me at susancarrier at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Getting Figgy With It

Enough with the tomatoes already.

The backyard figs have suddenly burst from green to deep purple and are behaving like typical toddlers. They want my attention and they want it NOW. And if I ignore them? They act out by throwing themselves on the ground.

Up until this year, I simply cut the figs in half, squeezed on a little lime juice and ate them greedily over the sink. If I was a little more ambitious, I'd make a simple salad of arugula greens, figs and shards of machego cheese (bitter, sweet and pungent).

This year, I followed the lead of the Food Librarian and made a fig tart. And guess what? It couldn't be simpler. Roll out the puff pastry. Crimp the edges. Scatter brown sugar over the crust. Arrange sliced figs. Top with melted butter and a little more brown sugar. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the crust is brown.

A cheap tart: $2.00 for a sheet of puff pastry (from an Arenian market) topped with free figs

How to get "picky eater" to eat a fig? Make a fig tart. "This tastes like it came from a bakery."

As I write this, a small pot of drunken fig jam is cooking on the stove. (I'm not canning, so I divided the recipe by 8.) I have been craving fig jam ever since I spread goat cheese and the nectar on top of a cracker, thanks to poet Linda Dove. At the moment, my experiment at small-scale jam making does not look very jam-like, but we shall see.

In the meantime, there's always the tart. (The fig tart, that is. Not the toddler tart)

Fig Jam Upadate: It worked! Now that I've fig-ured that out, I just need to pick up a log of chevre.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tower of Tomato Power

Anyone flying over Altadena could spot more than a hundred seven foot cylindrical towers, including five in our back yard. Aliens might wonder about the concentration of tall towers in our foothills community.

Altadenans may have a reputation for being independent and quirky, but the tall cages aren't an attempt at inter-planetary communication or an art installation, ala Christo.

They're the result of a group effort by our local produce-sharing group, COFE. Earlier in the spring, we constructed more than 100 cages from seven foot fencing, and now they're providing support for thousands of tomatoes.

After cutting the fencing, we didn't need any special equipment to connect the ends together into the shape of a tall cage. You can see in the photo below how a horizontal piece of wire was wrapped around a vertical length of wire. Some ingenious gentleman even figured out how to use a six-inch piece of pipe to bend the wire into place.

I purchased eight-foot stakes from OSH, wove them through the fencing and then pounded one-foot of the stake into the ground. Those cages aren't going anywhere.

I'm still enjoying the fruits of our collective labor. Today I made panzanella, a traditional Tuscan bread and tomato salad, for a lunch for one. It was a good way to use up the rock-hard chunk of baguette and the bounty of heirloom tomatoes.

You really don't need a recipe for this, but the basics are:
- Cubes of stale country bread
- Fresh chopped tomatoes
- Chopped basil
- Dressing of olive oil, red wine (or balsamic) vinegar, salt and pepper

Other delicious add ins:
- Chopped pepper
- Diced cucumber
- Sliced kalamata or nicoise olives

Toss and let the salad sit for at least 15 minutes to soften the bread and mesh the flavors.

A chunk of stale bread + garden tomatoes, pepper and basil = satisfying lunch

And for more ideas on what to do with those bushels of tomatoes, check out this article in the Food Section of the LA Times, Got Tomatoes? We've Got Recipes.