Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: kitchen garden

Urban gardening project to provide food for families


It is, of course, time to plan a summer garden. But if it just seems like one more chore, all is not lost.

An urban community-supported agriculture (CSA) project is getting started, using front- or backyard gardens at five homes west of downtown.

Here's the idea: Subscribers to the CSA and volunteers will plant the first yard at the end of March. The others will follow, for a total of about 1,000 square feet. The folks at the firm Heart Beet Gardening will plan and tend the gardens, harvest and box the food. Then, if all goes as planned, subscribers will pick up a box once a week at a central location, starting in July.

It's a twist on the usual CSA in which subscribers get shares in the harvest of a farm.

Sara Carnochan, who runs Heart Beet with two partners, says people who volunteer their yards will get to eat whatever they want from their garden, plus get a discount on the weekly boxes, which they expect will cost $25 to $35 a week for a variety of summer produce.

Anyone who wants to subscribe for the season or offer up a yard in the area bounded by Citrus and Western, Olympic and Wilshire, can contact Heart Beet Gardening.

— Mary MacVean

Photo credit: Kathleen Redmond, Heart Beet Gardening

Time for tomato planning

TomatoA generation ago, planting tomatoes was pretty straightforward for backyard gardeners. No longer. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from.

If you live in the San Fernando Valley, the botanical garden at Cal State Northridge has organized some help. Scott Daigre, owner of Powerplant Garden Design and Tomatomania, is teaching a class that includes strategy for tomato planting and how to select the varieties of tomato that are best suited for the San Fernando Valley. He will also share his thoughts on his favorite varieties.

Registration begins today for the March 7 class. The class is free, but registration is required by e-mail. Driving and parking instructions will be sent upon confirmation.

The Cal State Northridge Botanic Garden serves as a field site for botany, entomology, photography, painting and other classes.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Small Bites: Rooftop gardens, retirement parties and signature kitchens

Lawrystheprimerib Sowing the seeds of change: Blue on Blue, the poolside restaurant at the Avalon Hotel of Beverly Hills, has planted a rooftop garden with two worthy intentions. The first is to provide the freshest possible ingredients for chef Scott Garrett to use in his dishes (and to inspire the creation of new dishes and cocktails). The second is to use the garden as an educational tool via the restaurant's new "Small-Space Food Gardening" series, which costs $150 per person, but is available free of charge to low-income families. The classes are scheduled for Feb. 21, 28 and March 7 from 7 to 9:30 p.m., and will be taught by Darren Butler of EcoWorkshops.com. 9400 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 407-7791, www.avalonbeverlyhills.com.

More Nancy Silverton: Signature Kitchen has opened at Macy's South Coast Plaza Home Store. The new shopper-friendly restaurant features the food of three chefs on Macy's "culinary council." They are: Nancy Silverton, Cat Cora and Marcus Samuelsson. Silverton will offer fresh sandwiches, salads and paninis under the La Brea Bakery moniker, while Cora dishes up barbecue, and Samuelsson his signature burgers. Think of it as a gourmet food court for shopaholics. It opens daily at 11 a.m. and closes one hour before the Home Store closes. South Coast Plaza, Macy's Home Store, Level 1, 3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa. (714) 708-3333, Ext. 3601. www.southcoastplaza.com.

Wine that's good for your wallet: The Patina Restaurant Group wants to thank its customers for all the challenging recession dining they've been doing. To that end, every last one of the group's offspring is offering 25% off all bottles of wine sold through the end of February. They're calling the promotion "Wines for the Wise." I'm calling it: "My Friday night." Patina Group restaurants, www.patinagroup.com.

Congratulations, Feathers! It's come to our attention that tonight a server named Jennifer Williams (who is affectionately called "Feathers") is retiring from Lawry's the Prime Rib in Beverly Hills after 45 years of service. Her retirement dinner commences at 9 p.m. The service industry is a rough but rewarding beast and that kind of time spent feeding it merits sustained applause. 100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 652-2827. www.lawrysonline.com.

-- Jessica Gelt

Illustration: Gibbs Smith

'Farming in Torrance and the South Bay': A look back at L.A.'s farm belt

TorranceYou would hardly know it today, when South Bay towns like Torrance and Gardena seem composed of little but suburbs and strip malls, but it wasn't so long ago that this broad, flat plain included some of the choicest agricultural land in California.

Beginning in the 1880s (even before if you count the cattle-running ranchos) and continuing until as recently as the 1950s, there were thriving farms producing strawberries, beans, sugar beets and dairy cattle, among many others.

Torrance author Judith Gerber beautifully captures this history in her new book "Farming in Torrance and the South Bay," part of the wildly popular "Images of America" series run by Arcadia Publishing.

Mining collections of historical photographs at local libraries and museums as well as from the personal stashes of many family members, Gerber has come up with a trove that vividly illustrates the wealth of the area's farms.

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Father's Office, the best bagels, ribs, absinthe and more

If we can't have ketchup with our fries at Father's Office, we'll go with the soft-shell crab.

The new Father’s Office location in Culver City is much like the original location in Santa Monica. There’s no table service. No substitutions. And no ketchup allowed with your fries. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila’s review kicks off this week’s Food section. Here are other highlights:

  • If you want to start a fight in this town, bring up bagels. Here's a guided tour of the two biggest bagel bakers in L.A -- even if you’ve never heard of them, you’ve probably eaten their hand-crafted wares -– as well as a list of the city's best bagel shops and the best cream cheese. For you DIY-ers, making bagels at home is easier than you might think, as long as you’ve got the time. The best part? You can pile them high with the toppings of your choice. Here’s your recipe and a photo gallery taking you through it step-by-step.
  • Why does “Ma Gastronomie” –- the embodiment of the late legendary French chef Fernand Point –- have such a devoted following? The newest edition, hitting shelves this month, certainly isn’t filled with the lush photographs or detailed recipes that we’ve come to expect. Times staff writer and editor Betty Hallock explains why it’s a book that chefs love to love –- and why it's beloved by food-loving readers.
  • Our Find this week is Copper Chimney. You wouldn’t know it by the name, but it’s a new Indian restaurant in Woodland Hills where the entrees run $8 to $16. You can’t go wrong with any of the Tandoori dishes, but make sure you don’t miss the stuffed naan or the homemade, ice-cream-like kulfis.
  • Bob Foutz of Huntington Beach loved the sweet-and-spicy ribs at Sage in Newport Beach, so much so that he just had to have the recipe. Times Test Kitchen Manager Noelle Carter –- who runs our Culinary SOS feature -- was glad to help.
  • If you're looking for something to do, check out our datebook: We've got complimentary absinthe, cooking classes, truffles and a workshop on growing your own veggies.
  • If absinthe is not your thing, Virbila suggests the moderately priced 2006 Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc as her pick for wine of the week.

And finally.....

--Rene Lynch

Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Photo caption: If we can't have ketchup with our fries at Father's Office, we'll go with the soft-shell crab.

In sync with the seasons

Cropped_in_season_6I misread the news release months ago and thought Dan Barber, chef of the phenomenal Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Pocantico Hills of New York was coming out with a cookbook this fall. He isn't (or at least not that I know of).

Instead he's written the introduction to a fine cookbook by British garden guru Sarah Raven called "In Season: Cooking With Vegetables and Fruits." I have a couple of her excellent gardening books in my library — "The Great Vegetable Plot: Delicious Varieties to Grow and Eat" and "Cutting Garden: Growing and Arranging Garden Flowers." And her cooking style is as easy as her way with flower and vegetable gardens.

This is a book you'll want to use for inspiration and low-stress entertaining. Thumbing through, I see lots of recipes I'd like to make: Sally Clarke's young carrots with freshly shelled peas and tarragon leaves; cranberry bean hummus with anchovies, garlic, yogurt, lemon and olive oil. Or pappardelle with walnuts and cream.

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First harvest: borlotti beans


I've just been rambling through my overgrown garden for something -- anything -- for lunch and found that my first borlotti beans are ready to harvest. Those are the marbled beans used to make pasta fagioli, that hearty soup of beans and pasta that's beloved all over northern Italy.

Usually I just use dried ones from the market, but this year I planted an Italian heirloom variety called lingua di fuoco -- tongue of fire. I guess it's the red marbling on the pods, and slightly on the beans, that gives them that name. Whatever you call them, they are real beauties.

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Hollywood Farmers Market hosts Peak of Summer Tomato Festival

Getprev1_4 Even for those of us who think we can’t possibly get enough of good tomatoes, this time of year can be a bit of a test. It’s very nearly an over-abundance of riches. They seem to be everywhere, and the variety and quality is unbeatable. To honor this bounty, the Hollywood Farmers Market is hosting its annual Peak of Summer Tomato Festival Sunday. As always, it will feature samples (this year more than 30 varieties will be available), as well as tips on canning and drying, and a demonstration of preparing “heirloom tomato juices” by someone called “Chef E.”

But for true tomato lovers, the real highlight of the day will be an appearance by Amy Goldman, who will be signing her new book “The Heirloom Tomato.” Like Goldman’s previous books “The Compleat Squash” and “Melons for Passionate Growers,” this book sets tomatoes up as art objects, highlighted by gorgeous color photography by Victor Schrager.

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Economy's down so kitchen gardens flourish

Cauliflowerdetail With its temperate, sun-soaked climate, Los Angeles is prime home-garden territory, so it's little wonder that Marta Teegen, the founder of Homegrown Los Angeles, which offers gardening classes to green-thumbed Angelenos, says her courses are regularly filling up these days.

Surely her packed rosters also have something to do with a smattering of recent news reports about the renewed bloom of the American home garden. With the economy in a slump and gas and food prices riding high, it seems that families feeling the pinch have taken to growing their own vegetables, much like they did with the liberty gardens of World War I and the victory gardens of World War II, as well as during the economic downturns of the '70s and '80s and briefly after Sept. 11.

In May, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the nation's largest mail-order seed company projected that "sales of herb and vegetable plants and seeds might outpace last year by as much as 40% to 50%."

Teegen, who grew up on a farm and started her gardening career helping private chefs plant gardens at their clients' homes, says she expanded her reach to helping citizen gardeners because of the enthusiasm shown by the public.

"People are much more interested in learning how to do it themselves," says Teegen, adding that her most popular class is her "container gardening" class.

"People don't have much space," she says. "But you don't need to have much. You can grow an

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Easy summer antipasto: pinzimonio

When I was young and poor and hanging out in Tuscany, I fell hard for pinzimonio. It was inexpensive. It was incredibly delicious. And it took a while to eat, perfect if you want to linger over dinner without spending too much.

Forget the dish of olive oil with your bread served at Italian restaurants here: nobody does it in Italy. But pinzimonio is a better way to assess and appreciate the virtues of a special bottle of extra-virgin olive oil. It’s basically a platter of raw vegetables -- baby fennel, celery, red bell peppers, cauliflower, carrots, scallions, et cetera, cut into strips or pieces and served with a small bowl of that deep-green-gold olive oil, the very best you can afford. (Peppery olio nuovo, new oil, is the ultimate.) It’s usually accompanied by sea salt. Some like to add a grinding of black peppercorns, too....

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