Category Archives: Uncategorized

Beans on shaved ice and chile on fruit

Shaved Ice + Azuki Beans

Sometimes I feel like when I moved to LA, I actually moved to a different country. Several countries, actually. Good thing I’m not running for President because at this point I am completely out of touch with middle America, at least culinarily speaking. I eat “meat and potatoes” literally once a year – when my boyfriend and I commemorate St. Patrick’s day with a special meal (note that neither of us are of Irish descent).

I’ve always been a California girl – I literally do not remember a time in my life when tacos, pad thai and sushi weren’t part of my basic diet. Since moving to LA, my eating has only gotten more adventurous.

I’m referring, of course, to dessert. This is where it becomes evident that people from different cultures don’t just eat different food; we actually have different palates.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Los Angeles, Uncategorized

“Gifted Students Have Special Needs Too”

I’ve never heard anyone say this ever except for my mom. That is until I recently read an op-ed with exactly that title which got me reflecting on my experiences as a “GATE student” in California’s public schools. I’m writing this post specifically for teachers and principals and parents as food for thought – this is my story, draw your own conclusions. Hopefully something I’ve written here reminds you of some of the kids at your school and could be applied right now to feed that student’s life-long love of learning and to better set him or her up for both academic and personal success down the road.

I could easily be negative and whiny about some of my experiences as a K-12 student, but that is like complaining about everything I hate about horse-drawn buggies when they’ve already been replaced by cars. That is how much technology has changed since I was in kindergarten. I constantly look at what is happening in some of California’s most innovative schools and say, “Gee, I wish they had THAT when I was a kid!”

A Tale of Two Teachers

I want to start with a tale of two teachers that illustrates pretty darn well what needs to end and what can be. First off, I’m no genius. I’m a very curious person and I love learning. School always came easily to me, so in a class of 30 kids, if the lesson was at the exact right level for 20 kids and five were completely lost, I was one of the five who were bored. My point? There are lots and lots of kids out there just like me – enough that I ask you not to say or think things like: “Liza is bright, so she’ll be fine no matter what we do,” and just leave it at that.

As a sixth-grader, I was in a unique school within a school at our big, overcrowded middle school. We had traditional English and math classes, then every afternoon, we had a block period for project-based learning integrating science and social studies with a mix of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. We would work on a project for six weeks, then start a new one. For every assignment, we had seven options for completing it based on the seven multiple intelligences, and a lot of the projects were group work where they would put together a strong student, a struggling student and two average students (Teachers: don’t think we weren’t on to you!).

My math teacher hated me. I was always bored out of my mind in her class because she went super slow through the material, most of which I already knew, then if she gave us an in-class assignment, I’d finish quickly and ask her what to do next. She would snap at me and tell me to just sit there for the remaining 20 minutes of class or, another favorite approach of teachers, make me help other students. I have more sympathy now – after all, she had 35 kids with widely varying abilities and she was supposed to get all of us ready for algebra the following year. However, at the time, I was so bored at school that I was actually getting depressed and, being a goody two-shoes, I was distressed that my teacher hated me.

Fortunately, I had an amazing teacher for our project-based class in the afternoon. He made me feel special – I felt like he took all of us seriously and listened patiently to our concerns. In response to my complaints of boredom, he devised a special project for me – rather than just writing an essay or whatever else we were supposed to do – he had me create a Hypercard presentation. He showed me a little bit, then basically set me off on my own to figure out the program. I’d work away at the one classroom computer while he worked with the rest of the class. Most importantly, he didn’t give me an A based on how my work compared to that of my classmates. He compared me only to myself and pushed me to the edge of my abilities. Now THAT’S differentiated instruction!

I had many, many teachers like these two during my years in school – those who found me annoying and those who saw me as an opportunity to try out something new. In high school, I was much happier than I was in middle school for a couple of reasons:

  1. They tracked us. There is a lot of rightful criticism around tracking and I am still bothered by the few Latino and low-income students in honors classes at my old high school. However, I personally thrived by having challenging material and being surrounded by bright students who loved learning.
  2. My mom. I was one lucky kid because my mom is a fighter. She was an advocate for me – she worked with my teachers to make sure I was challenged. She found opportunities outside of school for me to develop myself.  And through a combination of volunteering for everything at the school and cajoling/harassing the principal, she would ensure I was always assigned to the toughest teachers for any given subject and the ones that loved teaching kids like me. Unfortunately, most kids aren’t as lucky as I was.

The op-ed that sparked this post  summarizes very well why gifted students often don’t get much attention – not from the principals and teachers entrusted with educating them nor from policymakers or education reformers. This includes worries about elitism, the idea that equity only matters for income, minority status and handicapping conditions, the belief that high-ability students will do just fine no matter what….not to mention there’s no clear definition for “gifted” nor clear research on what works. I went through school before No Child Left Behind, so I’m guessing if anything, there’s now even less focus on gifted students.

To me, it’s very simple – all students have special needs and that absolutely includes gifted students. In the same way that you take it upon yourself to help a struggling student – “intervention”, take it upon yourself to reach a student who is bored or who is coasting, not pushing herself to the best of her abilities. Every student needs more than a mom and dad – they need a whole community of diverse adults who care about them.

Coming next week: My Dream School and reflections on how we can truly have awesome 21st century schools…

And a plug for the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance – mentor a kid!

This post is dedicated to my mom, Bobbie Jenkins.

1 Comment

Filed under California, Education, Uncategorized

Where our water comes from, why your water bill is going to go up and some one-liners from water people

“California’s water situation is like a bald man with a beard – it’s all there; it’s just not distributed right.” – MWD representative

Like most Californians, when it comes to water, I simply don’t think about it that much. I just turn on the tap and fresh, potable water comes out. Then I get a bill with a bunch of random line items with inscrutable descriptions and I pay it. And then sometimes they tell us it’s a drought so I try to be a good citizen and I don’t clean my sidewalk with a hose and I give my neighbors the stink eye when they do. And that’s about it.

Well, I now have no excuse for total ignorance. Over the past 10 months, I have been a part of Leadership LA and through this program, I recently had the opportunity to spend the day at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWP) and see our local water infrastructure up close with a tour of the Joseph Jensen Treatment Plant in Granada Hills.

I learned all sorts of complicated and fascinating and eye-opening stuff, but I’m going to focus this post on the most surprising things we learned and what all Californians need to know.

Where does our water actually come from?

LA is basically a desert – 89% OF OUR WATER IS IMPORTED! (Source: LA Dept. of Water and Power (LADWP) Fact Sheet 2010) That is both complete insanity and an incredible feat of human ingenuity and engineering. To our predecessors and I’m talking to you, William Mulholland, I say: I don’t totally agree with what you’ve done here, but wow. It’s not worth dwelling on it too much because we have too many problems to deal with right now to entertain the idea of having done things differently in the past…Here we are folks.

That said, we can’t keep going with business as usual. Basically, we keep adding more people while there isn’t any more water (and, in fact, might be less in the future) so our conservation impulse here in southern California is less altruistic and more “Oh shit.”

Our imported water comes from basically three places (See a map.):

The State Water Project & the Delta

Being a Nor-cal native, some of my first words as a child probably involved complaining about those damn So-cal people stealing OUR water. That is partially true. I will start our tour of California’s water system in the mighty Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which, if we were a more spiritual people, could be considered the state’s fountain of life. How essential is it?

The Delta provides water for 25 million Californians (out of 37.7M of us in total) and, more staggering, irrigation for half of all fruits and vegetables for the entire United States. It’s amazing and critical to all of California – however, we So-cal urbanites are not the #1 users. Of all the Bay-Delta water, 4% makes its way down the canal of the State Water Project for use down here. The biggest chunk goes to agriculture.

The Delta is that big flat area you see as you drive to Sacramento – all those canals, etc. – it’s where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet and it goes all the way to the San Francisco Bay. If you’ve road-tripped down the I-5, you have seen the SWP – it’s that blue stripe of a canal wending its way down the state. It’s massive – it’s also old and it’s screwing with the environment. More below.

The Owens Valley

Have you seen the movie Chinatown? Enough said. A driving tour podcast was recently produced about the Owens Valley – looks pretty sweet if anyone wants to road trip with me!

The Colorado River

The LA aqueduct was pretty great…but still not enough!!! So thirsty! So William Mulholland and the City of LA formed the MWD to build the 242-mile long Colorado River Aqueduct. Flash forward to today: the Colorado is the most litigated river in the world! And it’s in distress!

If you want to go deeper – this blog post is a really solid overview.

Why your water rates are going to go up

Let’s kick this off with a horror film – this is what would happen if we had a 6.4 earthquake in the Bay-Delta, something which has a very high possibility of happening.

Earthquakes, global warming causing rising sea levels and snow melt, salt water intrusion, the invasion of non-native species and loss of habitat – just a few of the major issues for the Delta. Good luck sleeping at night. The State Water Project was built in the 1960s and is in serious need of an upgrade – plus we’ve learned a lot in the past 50 years and need to mitigate some of the environmental harm we’ve already done and restore habitat.

The situation is so bad that the state legislature/governator actually managed to pass a plan – the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. All of us in California will be paying for it – here in LA, the projected cost is $5-6 a month per household. And that’s just for the Delta water we get. Don’t complain – the Bay Area residents passed a bond to upgrade the Hetch-Hetchy water system and build a tunnel under the bay that will cost them way more per capita.

And that’s just the start.

The Nexus of Water and Power and why desalination and wind power aren’t all that awesome

“20% of California’s electricity goes to moving water around.” – Jack Sahl, Ph.D. – Director, Environment and Resource Sustainability for Southern California Edison (SCE)

Jack Sahl from SCE who joined some great folks from TreePeople and Heal the Bay for a panel on Water, Energy and Environmental Sustainability in LA had lots of good one-liners that were more like Buddhist koans inviting further reflection. Chew on these:

  • “It takes a lot of water to generate electricity and a lot of electricity to move water around.”
  • “Electricity you don’t use is the cleanest and least expensive.”
  • “Historically, we have stored water in California as snow.” (Put that in the context of global warming.)

I’m going to pause us here. We Americans have a history of looking to new technology as the messiah that will deliver us from our energy problems. THERE IS NO PERFECT SOURCE OF POWER WITH ZERO ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. It’s likely all these new green technologies will be part of the picture and they keep getting better, but any of them is not a singular solution to our problems.

Desalination sounds awesome – look at all that ocean water, all we have to do is take out that darn salt! Well, taking out the salt, much less moving all that water from sea level up the hill to us takes a ton of power…which has to come from somewhere. Wind power? The wind is out in the desert which means massive power lines for miles and miles to get the power to consumers in LA, not to mention that is incredibly inefficient because a lot of power is lost in transit. It doesn’t have the same sex appeal, but the meta approach to these problems is an overall move from a “command and control power system” to a distributed system.

And on to a final koan from Jack:

“Don’t talk about sustainability in terms of being good people – we have to be laser-focused on the value proposition.”

That last one bears a little more explanation. The world is changing constantly and people and organizations aren’t always so great at changing. So even if we know what we should be doing, how do you actually get people to change? If you’re talking to a CEO of a corporation, you show him the numbers AKA the value proposition. Ditto for those government folks. Ditto for those water and power consumers – am I more likely to use less water because you gave me a magnet with a pithy slogan or because you gave me a rebate to get a low-flow toilet?

At government policy-level, Kristen James, Director of Water Quality with Heal the Bay cast it in this light:

“The environment shouldn’t always come last. It can integrate with economic needs.”

And from Nurit Katz, Chief Sustainability Officer, UCLA:

“We could be zero impact. We have enough resources and technology – the blocks are political and budgetary.”

Basically, we all have to work together and, furthermore, trust each other – across departments of government, across business, non-profit and government groups. Easier said than done, but here’s your value proposition – We have no choice. With limited resources, we simply can’t get away with the way we’ve been doing things in the past.

All this stuff can make you really depressed and frustrated. Jack Sahl put this in a rosier context, pointing out that we’re past the worst of it in a sense and we have made progress – We reached peak CO2 emissions and gas use in 2009-10 even as the population has continued to grow and that if you want to talk air pollution, the ‘60s and ‘70s were when we had serious problems. In short:

“We have had uninterrupted progress in the last 100 years.”

Go humans! We’re got this.

Leave a comment

Filed under California, Los Angeles, Nature, Uncategorized

Alaska: “The Last Frontier”

If going to Hawaii is more like visiting a foreign country than another state, then a trip to Alaska might qualify as a trip to another planet.

Another planet? Nope, just a glacier in Alaska

The landscape is so beautiful, it could easily be described as otherworldly. Plus, this is a place where something so basic as sunrise and sunset book-ending 10-12 hours of daylight doesn’t apply. I visited Alaska in the summer and was in the southern part of the state – the sun didn’t go down until 10:50 p.m. each night. In the winter, Fairbanks, which is in the middle of the state, hits a point at which it only gets 3 hours and 42 minutes of sunlight. Barrow, Alaska often sees 84 continuous days of darkness.

If such natural rules don’t even apply, the human rules are also in stark contrast to what we live down here in what Alaskans call “the lower 48.”

I went swimming at a City of Los Angeles pool this weekend. The lifeguard yelled at the kids not to run, not to splash water, not to dive into the shallow end, not to use kick boards in a particular quadrant of the pool – pretty much anything fun or remotely dangerous is absolutely not permitted.

Whereas in Alaska, you still maintain the right to go out and get yourself killed. Sure, there are some occasional warning signs here and there, but those occasionally get nibbled on by bears. So pretty much, it’s on you.

Not that Alaska is as wild as those of us from the lower 48 might imagine. After all, the second biggest employer in Alaska is Walmart. I think few of us picture going to the last frontier to work retail.

But it doesn’t matter. Alaska feeds our collective secret fantasy to “go off the grid” and “live off the land.” Most of us are as urban and pampered as all get-out, but with our backyard chickens and home-made pickles, we still play with the notion that somehow, we could just walk away from everything and live off our wits in the wild.

An inhabitant of the planet called Alaska. In Alaska, you can definitely rock beards.

Even if you were barely listening in history class, you probably remember something about the pioneers and the Homestead Act of 1862. The rules were simple – go out, put up a flag, work your patch of land and it’s yours (Native American occupants be damned). The U.S. ended homesteading in 1986 – the last claim was in Alaska. It’s over, but folks from the lower 48 continue to call about it.

Most of us will never walk away from civilization, but we Americans still desperately need for there to be a frontier. We need a place where the pavement ends and wilderness rules, a place where you could get yourself killed.

Which is why Alaska has an inordinate number of reality TV shows about it. It’s our escape valve. Just as we watch American Idol and pretend we could be pop stars, we watch and pretend we could be burly fishermen and pilots or sled dog racers.

After two weeks of summer camping in Alaska, I know I’m not going to walk away and go build a cabin in the woods. But it gets me through a day at the office to feel like I could.

Need a little escape? Enjoy my pics!

Just for fun…some Alaska facts:

Unusually high per capita

  • Pilot’s licenses
  • Duct tape sales
  • Vanity license plates
  • Glaciers (100,000!!)
  • Spam consumption

Rural Alaskans eat an average of one pound of wild food per person per day.


Filed under Nature, Uncategorized

And we’re live… Halloween Photo Shoot 2011!

I’ll be the first one to say it: Our Halloween photo shoot got completely out of control this year. What started two years ago as an hour-long black and white photo shoot in my living room (German was  gangster, I was a flapper) has now reached a new level of insanity with multiple locations, not to mention historical costumes and some Photoshop magic. This new level of craziness is a combo of two major factors: 1) How do you top “I Love Lucy”?! and 2) German is a huge Back to the Future fan.

How far were we willing to go to fulfill our artistic vision? Barstow, CA, my friends. This is the sort of place where people ask if you are on your way to Las Vegas or Los Angeles because Barstow is NO ONE’S terminal destination. Besides “patch of desert outside Barstow,” our locations also include: “Calico ghost town,” “railroad track near Norwalk,” and “Heritage Park,” which is nestled in an industrial park in Santa Fe Springs.

Was it worth it? You be the judge – we hope you have as much fun looking at our photos as we had taking them! Now taking suggestions for Halloween 2012!

Back To The Future 3

Back To The Future 3

Back To The Future 3

Back To The Future 3

Back To The Future 3

Back To The Future 3

Back To The Future 3

Back To The Future 3

See the whole photo shoot on Flickr.

If you missed last year’s shoot, here’s I Love Lucy – 2010.



Filed under California, Los Angeles, Uncategorized

Mexico vs. USA: The Breakfast Showdown

If you’re from California, you probably grew up on Mexican food – tacos, burritos, carne asada. But how often did you hit up the chilaquiles, champurrado and conchas? Americans don’t usually eat Mexican food for breakfast (probably because it doesn’t come with margaritas). This is a big mistake because Mexican breakfast is DELICIOSO. I’m already hearing you: “But American breakfast is the best! It can’t be beat! It’s world-renowned!” That may be true, but let’s put it to the test. It is time for an official round of BREAKFAST vs. DESAYUNO.

Round 1: Baked goods

We may be off to a slow start here, folks. As we well know, baked goods are not a national strength for either of our two contenders today. US loses two points for plagiarism – pretty much all their baked goods were ripped off from Europe: croissants from France, strudel from Germany, donuts from…Dutch people? However, I’m hearing a counter- argument “Isn’t that the American way – taking the best every culture has to offer and making it our own?” The Dutch did this:

Americans somehow made it THIS:

Well-played, USA. Let’s turn our attention to the Mexican bakery. Two points for the interactive experience. Rather than pointing at things behind the counter, at the Mexican bakery, you grab a metal tray and tongs and grab everything that strikes your fancy and take it to the counter in the back. That’s great, but the selection is not…we’re getting a lot of booing from the Mexican fans, who are starting to chant: “Conchas, conchas, conchas…” The referee is conceding that conchas are pretty darn delicious, but everything else is pretty so-so…The Americans have brought up the Mexican chain: Los Bisquets Bisquets Obregon, pointing out that their “bisquets” are “weak sauce.”

Bisquets from Los Bisquets Bisquets

Referee has stated that the big, buttery, flaky traditional American biscuit is an estimated 10 times more delicious.

American biscuits

It’s not looking good for Mexico, but wait…what is this? It appears Mexico is bringing one last item to the table – is that a fresh CHURRO? Smothered in cinnamon and sugar?! Mexico appears to be breaking the churro in half…something is oozing out…that’s right, folks, the churro is filled with hot caramel sauce! This is going to be a tough round to call!

Churros filled with cajeta (caramel sauce)

Conclusion: Americans won’t get dinged on plagiarism since they took European baked goods to a new level – they get one point for sprinkle innovation and one point for baking powder biscuits. Mexico gets two points for interactivity, but loses two points on overall quality, regaining two points on the strength of churros alone. That’s right, folks – we have a draw.

USA: 2

Mexico: 2

Round 2: Beverages

The US opens the round by putting it all out there…and it appears that all they have is coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice, not a strong start…Mexico points out that they actually get to keep coffee since they grew the beans. Excellent point. However, for being a coffee-producing country, they sure drink a lot of instant Nescafe – ouch! Then again, so does the American midwest….what’s that? Did I hear cafe de olla? One point for Mexico in coffee-brewing style points – brewing coffee in a mega pot with cinnamon and sugar was a brilliant idea. We’re getting some whispering from the Americans – one word, “Starbucks.” Well-played, USA! Two points for gourmet coffee chain domination! Mexico is taking the hit – they appear to be admitting they can’t deny their intense love of Starbucks.

Starbucks Coffee in San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico

Mexico appears to be reaching deep for this next hit…CHAMPURRADO!

The Americans tried to answer that with…

Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Mix with Mini-Marshmallows

Are you kidding me, America? One point for marshmallow innovation, but Abuelita kills Swiss Miss any day, much less bona fide homemade champurrado!

Grandma is smiling because she knows she can kick that little Swiss girl's butt any day

America is faltering, but Mexico does not appear to be backing down. They’re going in for the lethal blow…Fresh-squeezed juices including el vampiro and jugo anti-gripal (anti-flu juice)!

Mexican Juice Stand

Jugo Vampiro/Vampire Juice: Mix of beet, celery, orange juice

Jugo Antigripal/Anti-flu juice: Mix of lime, orange, guava, pineapple and honey

That’s it, folks, America is down and doesn’t appear to be getting up!

Conclusion: US gets two points for Starbucks, Mexico racks up points with cafe de olla and champurrado, garnering two more points for their outrageous selection of fresh-squeezed juices, and they didn’t even have to pull licuados out of their sleeve!

US: 2

Mexico: 4

Round 3: Main dish

It has been a knock-down, drag-out fight so far. It’s a hard one to call at this point…Main dishes are America’s strength, but the Americans team admit they don’t really know what Mexicans eat for breakfast. Will their hubris and ignorance be their undoing?

America opens the round – they are holding up a picture of American folk hero, Paul Bunyan, and daring Mexico to come up with a breakfast big enough to feed him.

Paul Bunyan: American folk hero and big eater

An interesting approach – America could have come out on the quality of its offerings, but they appear to think they’ll dominate based on serving size alone. Those ARE some pretty huge flapjacks!

Obesity epidemic? What obesity epidemic?

Average American Breakfast

The Mexican team looks slightly shocked, and possibly a bit disgusted…but they are quickly regrouping…Their answer – that staple of American breakfast menus everywhere – Huevos Rancheros!

Huevos Rancheros

It looks like it’s coming to blows…America answers with: Biscuits and gravy!

Biscuits and gravy

Mexico: Chilaquiles!

Chilaquiles: Fried tortilla dunked in red or green sauce, with eggs or chicken on top, plus sour cream and cheese

America: Pancakes with real maple syrup!

Pancakes/Flapjacks, known in Mexico as: "Panqueques"

Mexico: Tamales!

Tamales...for breakfast?!! Simon!

The American team has a question for the judge – it appears they did not know you can eat tamales for breakfast in Mexico…that threw them for a loop…We didn’t catch their other question, but they seem to have regrouped and have a response…Denny’s Grand Slam!

Denny's Grand Slam

A new tactic – we thought they might present egg dishes and bacon separately, but they seem to be trying to overwhelm Mexico with the ultimate breakfast combo, at prices that can’t be beat…

Mexico: Machaca con huevos!

machaca con huevos y frijoles refritos

The Americans look really confused – they clearly did not fully investigate their competition – one of the Americans appears to be looking up machaca on his cell phone. For our viewers, machaca is dried beef, which may sound a bit peculiar, but we can confirm that it is indeed delicious. How will the Americans answer that one?

America: Breakfast burrito!

The Breakfast burrito: Origins unclear, Genius unquestioned

Wait a second! Are the Americans attempting to claim the breakfast burrito? Is that not Mexican food? We have a debate starting to emerge…The referee is asking for clarification about what exactly the Americans are talking about…it appears their point of reference is the Jack in the Box breakfast burrito, made with sausage, American cheese and hash browns. The Mexicans have confirmed that they disown that concoction. They are smiling and laughing – they clearly don’t think they need this one in order to win…The Americans are retracting the breakfast burrito and substituting the: Egg McMuffin!

Egg McMuffin

Mexico answers with: Huevos a la Mexicana with a side of chorizo!

Mexican-style egg scramble with tomato, onion and jalapeno

Mexico seems to be running out of options…their team is discussing some regional specialities for its next move…The Americans are clearly seeing an opportunity to secure their domination here, they are conferring with the ref….they are stepping out with:


Brunch: You cannot resist its charms

The audience is confused…Many Mexicans do not appear to be familiar with brunch…we have a debate between the judges about whether brunch is an off-shoot of breakfast or another meal entirely. The Americans are being asked to clarify what they mean by brunch. They have put up a definition on the main screen:

Brunch = all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional American breakfast foods + seafood buffet with crab and shrimp cocktails + eggs benedict + quiche + Bagels and creamcheese with lox + baked goods + mimosas + Bloody Marys

WOW! America is throwing down! But it’s not clear if this is entirely legal…folks, we can’t call it – it is going to a vote of the people – Post your votes in the comments section below or on my Facebook wall. Who will prevail?!!

Don't let those alcoholic breakfast beverages addle your mind!


Filed under California, Food, Mexico, Uncategorized

Jamie Oliver, would you mind popping over here?

The thing that I love most about Jamie Oliver is his relentless optimism. The man will not be daunted! Whether taking on the lunch ladies or the FDA or kids from the inner city, he will never sway from his fundamental conviction that it is possible for anyone to prepare healthy, fresh food from scratch.

Now, I agree with Jamie. I too am all about fresh, healthy, organic, locally-sourced food. I grew up in Sonoma, a bastion of back-to-the-land foodie culture if there ever was one, not to mention I put in several years in Portland surrounded by vegetarians, vegans, freegans and the odd fruititarian. That said, I no longer live there.

I now live in a majority Mexican neighborhood, within a short drive of Monterey Park, a diverse Asian community. Which is to say, I have to go out of my way to buy hummus. However, I have no problem getting a wide variety of great produce, any cut of meat and practically any ingredient needed for any ethnic cuisine. The issue is fish.

For Christmas, I got Jamie’s book “Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook.” I was particularly excited by the sections on fish and meat since I’m not particularly adept at preparing either of these, nor do I know anything about how to select the right items at the market. I realized Jamie is from another planet when I reach the section: “At the Fishmonger’s.” I have never seen a fishmonger in my life, which will probably make it tough for me to befriend him and call him in the morning to check on the latest catch. So I moved on to the other tips.

Fresh fish shouldn’t smell fishy.

Ranch 99, the massive Asian supermarket, has a vast selection of fish. That said, the entire place reeks of fish – all the way over to the produce on the opposite side of the store. I’m not sure about the particular fish I’m considering buying because the stench of fish is overpowering me as I sniff it. Is that a bad sign?

The eyes should be clear, bright and shiny.

One day I was at Ranch 99, when suddenly there was a stampede. I had a pretty great view, since I am a full head taller than all other people in Monterey Park, which would be awesome if there were more rock concerts over here. I realized one of the guys had just popped out with an enormous tub of live fish that he dumped into a vat in the aisle. People went CRAZY, grabbing the wiggling fish and wrangling them into their bags. Confirmed: the eyes were bright and shiny. On the down side, they were all gone by the time I got up there. Jamie, you might want to add a tip about the need to be assertive and not hesitate to use your elbows in the quest for fresh seafood.

If there are sustainability issues with a particular fish, it’s probably a good idea to use something similar in its place.

Since going to Monterey Bay Aquarium years ago, I’ve been carrying their Seafood Watch Guide in my wallet. Talk about buzz kill. Mercury in tuna!? Overfishing of Chilean sea bass!? Will it never end?! This guide has a bajillion varieties of fish in it – however, it was no match for the staggering selection at Ranch 99. There were varieties that I googled that only came up on the some sort of international fishing website that sounded like it was written by the CIA.

I mapped it. Click here to see all the varieties available on an average day.

I was able to pretty conclusively decide that farmed anything wasn’t going to cut it and imported was generally a hit against it. That left me with U.S. wild…fish paste. It looked like quivering gray mass of fish-based jello. And no-go on the salmon, usually my staple. At the end of the day, the only two items I could decisively conclude met sustainability standards were the lobsters and crabs. So I guess I’ll be eating like a queen…

So, Jamie, I could definitely use a hand over here pinning down this fishmonger business. I know you’ve been slumming in LA lately, so I’m not asking you to take a transatlantic flight or anything. Those westsiders you’ve been hanging with will probably not actually be able to locate my neighborhood. Just go east. You’ll know when you get there. I’ll treat you to a taco – and a boba tea.




Filed under Food, Los Angeles, Mexico, Uncategorized