Well, THAT’LL learn me!


Today is a guest post from Andrew, who contributed a couple of sections to my second book, Starting From Scratch. You can see a ton of Andrew’s stuff at his site, Clove Garden. If you ever have a question about specific ingredients, go check out his ridiculously thorough (or is that “thoroughly ridiculous”?) ingredients section.

Take it away, Andrew.

I wanted to do a recipe today that included stuff I didn’t have on hand. Mascarpone, Parmesan soft enough to shave, and some Hazelnuts. So off to Trader Joe’s.

What? Trader doesn’t have hazelnuts? Damn.

So I was thinking, “I don’t really want to go all the way over the hill to Sunland Produce for just a little bag of hazelnuts”.

Now I do not buy food at supermarket chains, just toothpaste, shampoo, paper towels and paper napkins — that’s all, but I decided, “Well, maybe I’ll pay a little more there but save the trip”.

So I walked across the street to Vons (Safeway). Yes, they had small bags of “Premium” (whatever that means) Hazelnuts . . . . for . . . . $11.99 per bag!

So I took my $11.99 over the hill to Sunland Produce. Came back with a bag of hazelnuts, a bag of chestnuts, 2½ pounds of grape tomatoes and two bottles of Jerry Water (aka Gerolsteiner). Out of the $11.99 that left $1.50 to pay for the gas.

Supermarkets are insane!


  1. I totally agree about supermarkets! Unfortunately for me, I live in an area without large chain supermarkets…. or anything else! (We don’t even have a decent farmer’s market and we’re a rural community!) *sigh* Too bad there’s not a decent (i.e. low cost) place to buy produce and such online.

    Hey, I’m really enjoying reading your blog! Have a GREAT Monday!

    • @Steph, Depending on where you are, you could get high quality groceries delivered to your door every couple weeks. I get all my grocery basics from AzureStandard.com, a bulk natural foods company headquartered in Oregon. They deliver to drop sites in every state west of the Mississippi including Alaska & Hawaii, except Texas. They have most everything you’d find in a typical supermarket except for highly processed junk food. Much of what they offer is organic, but don’t let that scare you–their prices are far better than what you’ll find in just about any store. You can buy in bulk or typical retail packages. You do have to meet an minimum to have your order delivered for free, but there are no doubt others in your community wishing for access to better food too. East of the Mississippi, there’s United Natural Foods that apparently does something similar, though I’ve not dealt with them.

      @Andrew, I agree with James…not much difference between TJs and most supermarkets…a few more “ethnic” things, but they pretty much only sell processed food in itty bitty, overpriced packages.

      • Oh, I don’t disagree with that part – as I said, they cater to the yuppie community, and they sure do know how to market to that set – I just object to the term “supermarket” – they just aren’t that “super-sized”. They’re a niche marketer

        They do make a bit more effort to vet the ingredients than the supers do, but, as I said, I buy beer there (once a week), once in a while a lump of cheese or such (about every other month) – and OK, I admit, about once a year I buy a bag of their blue corn chips.

        People in the East anticipated TJ openings so they could buy “Two Buck Chuck” (Charles Shaw wines at $1.99), but in the East it turned out to sell for $2.99 or more.

        Personally I agree (perhaps for the first time ever) with a New York critic who said, “It can stand up to any $2 wine in the country” – talk about faint praise. I don’t even cook with $2Chuck, finding the $2.99 Crane Lake wines at Sunland Produce far superior.

  2. Hate to tell you, but Trader Joe’s IS a supermarket. And not all that great.

    • Trader Joe’s is definitely a chain, but to call it a “supermarket” is a gross exaggeration. It’s a specialty market catering mainly to the yuppie set. An average TJ store is less than 1/5 the size of an average chain supermarket store, at least around here.

      Of course, about the only things I buy from TJs is beer (they carry the cheap Dutch beer in large cans that I use for my daily guzzle), and an occasional specialty item.

      With a choice of Sunland Produce, Super King and Jon’s Markets selling all the meat and produce I need at 1/2 to 1/3 what the big chains sell for, and with as good or better selection, the only problem is timing. They are all supermarket size with supermarket size parking lots – but finding a parking slot is not easy much of the day – these stores are busy!

  3. Andrew, where do you live??? We have nothing like what you have available in our moderate-sized city in the east. Trader Joe’s in D.C. looked great to me, having only a large new Kroger here for organic produce and a wide cheese selection. The rest of the store could be any supermarket. I turned green with envy at the choices that you have, not to mention the prices paid at Sunland Produce!

    • I live in Los Angeles County, actually in an unincorporated county community. Between LA and Orange counties we have a continuous city covering well over 1000 square miles. This is a huge and highly competitive market.

      It is also a very diverse market with huge enclaves of just about every ethnic group you could think of. In Armenia they joke that Armenia is the only country with two capitals, Yerevan and Glendale. I have barely been able to scratch the surface of the food resources available here.

      But there is hope for you. 30 years ago things didn’t look so different from the rest of the country. This region was settled by rather conservative folks from the Midwest and looked much like the rest of the country, except for the large (now largely vanished) aerospace industry.

      Two things changed the food scene radically, The first was the establishment of certified farmers markets, which proliferated and have become both highly successful and competitive. The one nearest me (Sunday, 10 to 2) has about 8 large produce stands, but one in nearby Pasadena (Saturday 8:30 to 12) is about twice that size.

      The second is the huge influx of ethnic groups. Every time we loose a foreign war (and we haven’t won one recently) a large part of that country moves to Los Angeles. These populations set up communities, and within the communities markets. Farms were established to supply familiar fruits and vegetables to those markets.

      It wasn’t long before these markets found they could not only compete with the big chain supermarkets, they could pound them. Many expanded into vacated supermarket facilities . I count 8 of those big ones that I visit regularly.

      So, as with other trends that start in Los Angeles, perhaps these will spread to the rest of the country.

  4. In my town on the eastern seaboard, I find the opposite of your situation, Andrew. The large supermarkets and local chains have amazing deals in their weekly sales and good prices in general. The farmers’ markets have beautiful produce, but the prices are at least twice the prices of the supermarkets. The $2 bulb of garlic comes to mind.

    • Your supermarket prices probably look good in comparison, but $2 garlic bulbs suggest it’s a very bad comparison. Here in the very highly competitive Los Angeles County market, at the farmers markets, locally grown organic garlic runs $0.50/head or 3 heads for a dollar (and it’s much superior to the Chinese garlic sold nearly everywhere else).

      To me prices at the farmers markets (there are several to choose from every day of the week around here) look high, but they are not high compared to the supermarkets – they are high compared to the huge independent produce and ethnic markets we have here. At these markets, for instance, red bell peppers sell for between US $0.69 and $0.99 per pound depending on season.


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