Style Inspiration: Henry Rollins

I went to see a Henry Rollins spoken word performance at Largo in LA. First up: Henry rocks! The occasion for this tour is his recent 50th birthday, and he delivered his monologue in the signature, rapid-fire style we’ve come to love, pontificating on a variety of topics that included how he knocked out a fan’s teeth at a Black Flag gig, read George Bush’s book aloud during a Costco visit, shared Stooges music with a kid during a trip across the globe, and hates shopping for clothes. Gulp. One woman’s passion is another man’s punishment, I guess. He pointed out his attire—a no-nonsense black T-shirt and black work pants (my guess: Dickie’s)—as evidence. But here’s the thing: he rocks the look. It’s his.

I have many years before I reach Henry’s milestone, but I’ve found one of the good things about growing older is the sense of comfort you gain with who you are and what you like. My own style uniform is not quite as basic as Henry’s, but it’s still pretty simple: I’m a jeans and T-shirt girl. It’s been that way since I was a teen (see photo of me in my “Feed the World” T-shirt—boy, do I wish I still had that shirt…) and I see no reason for growing out of this look. I am a treasure-hunter and a collector, always on the lookout for new jeans to add to my collection and for new tees to fill my heart with glee. (Actually, most of the tees I get now are from thrift shops and vintage sources, so newly acquired is just like new for me.) And now that I have figured out how best to use a pair of scissors, needle, and thread to upcycle any ordinary T-shirt, I see promise in every one that catches my eye….

Breaking the Bottle: The Dangers of Perfume

Originally published on the Care2 website.

I’ve been a lover of perfume since I was a small child. I loved to examine my mom’s collection of pretty perfume bottles, neatly arranged on top of her dresser. Like the scarves in her closet, they were lovely and mysterious. When I was old enough, my mother would spritz my wrist with whatever scent she was wearing at the time. Then, like many girls of my generation, I got my very own perfume: Love’s Baby Soft. Oh, how I loved to spray myself with that sweet scent.

That was then. Today, I wouldn’t dare use any of those commercially made perfumes. You pick your poison and I’ve decided that perfume ain’t the one for me. One of the tougher lessons I’ve learned since becoming aware of the dangers of personal care products is that most perfumes contain chemical toxins I don’t want on or anywhere near my body. Worst of all: you don’t really know what those toxins are because of old laws protecting perfume-makers from revealing their trade secrets. And this applies to all products, not only perfumes. When you see the word “fragrance” on a label, you’re being hoodwinked. “Fragrance” can include numerous chemicals that are not good for you (or the environment).

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics just released a report on a study of the health risks of fragrance: “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance.” Put simply: the news stinks. Perfume lovers who are unaware of what’s in their bottles will have a hard time with the findings–just as I was shocked and more than a little saddened when I consulted the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website a few years ago to learn about what’s found in personal care products. How bad can a little perfume be, right? Wrong–unless you’re okay with using chemicals classified as hormone disruptors that can increase your risk of cancer, or harm a developing fetus, or contribute to thyroid and other problems. It’s even worse when you consider how many other products we use regularly and how many other environmental toxins we’re exposed to. It’s black and white for me: if I know it could be bad for me, I’m not gonna use it.

After my enlightenment a few years ago–feeling like I was a graduate of the beauty school of hard knocks–I was faced with my own dresser of pretty perfume bottles I had collected over the years. They had to go. But what I discovered was more delightful than I could have imagined: there are pure and safe and stunningly beautiful perfumes being made that are far superior to the ones I had used. Now, I am a lover of perfumes made from pure essential oils–nothing artificial, nothing toxic. My dresser is now filled with small bottles of non-toxic oils and perfume blends I’ve found to satisfy my love of scent without sacrificing my well-being. You can begin your own search by finding a list of safe makers of perfume and other personal care products on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics site and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.

Mmmmm, Meatballs: Family Recipe

My grandmother loved to tell the story about how I loved meatballs when I was a baby. She told me I would eat little pieces of meatballs while seated in my high chair. This much is certain: the meatballs were delicious, so why wouldn’t I devour them? My great-grandmother was an Italian immigrant who came to Brooklyn with traditions and recipes she passed down to her family, and I subsequently grew up with Sunday suppers that almost always included one dish made with a rich, red sauce. Mmmm, marinara. The Sunday morning smell of onions and garlic and olive oil in a pot on the stove? Anticipation. Add tomatoes and cook it slowly for hours? That’s home.

Spaghetti and meatballs were a staple for us. Sundays during autumn also meant that meals were planned around NFL football game times. This Sunday, I made meatballs for the evening game (go Giants!). I won’t print the entire recipe here because my meatball-making involves seeing and feeling the mixture (it feels like it needs more egg or it looks like it wants more breadcrumbs…). But these are my ingredients: ground beef, breadcrumbs, eggs, chopped garlic, chopped Italian basil, chopped Italian parsley, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. I mix it in a glass bowl with a wood spoon and make sure it’s combined but a little gooey, then gently form balls of the mixture—not packing, only loosely forming—and delicately drop the meatballs into the pot of simmering red sauce. As my Aunt Stef says, you want the meatballs to feel like they’re going to fall apart when you put them into the pot; this makes the meatballs tender, not tough. I let them cook in the sauce slowly, for an hour or so. Then it’s time to serve and devour them.

Reaching for the Stars with Casey Kasem and Teddy Roosevelt

I grew up listening to Casey Kasem’s weekly radio broadcast of “America’s Top 40,” even after my musical taste evolved and I began to broaden my horizons by listening to music by artists that did not often top or even enter the charts—usually the music was labeled “alternative” and could be found on radio stations on the left of the dial. The show aired on Sunday mornings where I grew up and I remember bringing my transistor radio—it was hot pink and fabulous—with me to the beach to listen during the summer months. Kasem ended each broadcast with this message for listeners: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” I loved that. During a recent visit to Teddy Roosevelt’s childhood home in NY, I found the quote that must have been his inspiration (pictured above).

And here’s the song that popped into my head when I began to write this post: “Left of the Dial” by the Replacements.

Hitting the Right Bottle: Perfume

I’ve loved perfume since I was a little kid. In chronological order, I wore Love’s Baby Soft, L’Air du Temps, Eternity, Flowers—then, well, then I went wild and crazy and divided my devotion among a collection of dozens of fragrances. I visited perfume blogs and ordered samples, always searching for magic in a bottle. I never left the house without a spritz or dab of something.

So when I learned a few years ago about the dangers that lurked in those bottles—to find out that something that smelled so good could be so, well, bad—it was disheartening. I’m sure a lot of others are feeling as dismayed after reading a report released this week from the fine folks at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance.” In short: the news stinks. Testing shows that popular perfumes are filled with chemicals that can hurt you and/or the environment. Oh, and some of those toxins aren’t even listed on the ingredients labels. (I’ve published a blog post on the topic at the Care2 site.)

So here’s the thing. No one likes to hear that something they enjoy is dangerous. I don’t like to be a Debbie-Downer, but I believe it’s important to be informed and pay attention to this report—and to try to lobby for change in the industry. Loopholes in the law to let companies hide ingredients from labels? Come on—there’s nothing acceptable about that.

But if there’s nothing enjoyable about telling someone that the perfume they love contains hidden toxins, there’s something delightful about talking up the alternatives out there. When I was faced with giving up my own beloved perfumes (ouch, it really hurt), I went on a mission to find scents I could wear without sacrificing my health. I had low expectations and resigned myself to settle for safe but second-best.

Boy, was I wrong. I started with pure essential oils, followed by blends. Then, when I worked at a website about green living, I had the pleasure of writing a story about Mandy Aftel, a perfumer who makes fragrances out of pure essential oils for her Aftelier line; she wrote a book on the subject that I’d recommend to anyone with an interest in perfume: Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume. Her passion for the art of perfumery is impressive and she is committed to creating only scents from pure sources—nothing artificial, nothing toxic. Spending time with her in her Berkeley studio (pictured, photos of her studio) was an absolute treat. I recall speaking to her about a recent hike and describing the smell of the wet fir when she pulled “Fig” off the shelf for me. Bingo. (It has become my go-to scent.)

I am now devoted to Aftel’s scents, along with others from perfume makers who don’t use nasty chemicals or hide what they use in their creations—so I can smell pretty without worrying about what my skin is absorbing. (Consult the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website for results of personal care products they test, including perfumes.) Best of all, I don’t miss anything I gave up.

7 Ways to Organize Your Closet, the Eco Way

Originally published on

You just spent the weekend cleaning out your closet and have a pile of stuff that either doesn’t fit your body or doesn’t suit your lifestyle. What do you do with the leftovers? These seven ideas will help you save money, save the planet and just feel good about yourself.

1. Repair It.
Paying to have an ill-fitting pair of pants tailored to your size is less expensive than buying a new pair—ditto for stretching a pair of shoes or giving them new soles. Simple fit issues can be fixed by your local tailor or shoemaker. (Don’t know where to go? Ask for a recommendation from your favorite local boutique.) A good tailor can also adjust the style of a piece, updating flare legs to straight or minimizing puffy sleeves on a blouse.

2. Rework It.
If it pains you to part with that XL R.E.M. tee from college, channel your inner crafter. Thread Banger and T-Shirt Surgery are among the resourceful websites that offer do-it-yourself instructions for restyling pieces like jeans and T-shirts that are easy enough for sewing novices (really—some don’t even require a needle and thread).

3. Swap It.
Before you go on a shopping spree to fill in the holes in your newly-clean closet, consider swapping. “Circulating items is definitely a green idea,” says Melanie Charlton Fascitelli of Clos-ette, a New York-based closet organizing company. Host a clothing swap party at home with friends (and friends of friends). Ask each person to bring all of the clothing and accessories she no longer wants. Then either make a big pile in the middle of the room and have a free-for-all or separate clothing into categories for easier “shopping.” You can also swap online from sites such as Clothing SwapSwap Style, and Swap Thing, which allow you to trade clothing with other registrants.

4. Sell It.
Yep, you can make money selling your castoffs! Start by checking with consignment shops in your area. Ask to speak with a manager or buyer about what they’re most interested in acquiring. (Keep in mind that many consignment shops shop sell seasonal clothing, so you won’t have much luck getting rid of a puffy jacket in June.) They do the selling for you and either offer instant store credit or a percentage–usually about half–of the resale price on items that move.

For a more hands-on approach, you can sell on eBay, either with bidding or a simple “buy it now” price. Never done it? It’s really a simple process; just upload a digital photo and description and pay no more than a few bucks per item. Save trips to the post office and lower your carbon footprint by ending each of your auctions on the same day. Items of lesser value are best sold locally on Craig’s List, where you can set up a window of time for potential buyers to shop for and haul away your goods. During fair weather months, you can plan a yard/gate/garage sale or, better yet, arrange a group one with neighbors.

5. Donate it.
The possibilities for donations are endless. Start with your local thrift store, homeless shelter or women’s shelter, which accept tax-deductible donations and serve your community. And check out these sites for donating particular items.

Dress for Success: Accepts business-appropriate clothing for female job-hunters. You can also find a local group that does the same (check their directory for more info) here.

Glass Slipper Project: This Chicago-based group re-circulates dresses for girls in need of prom gowns.

Brides Against Breast Cancer: This non-profit collects contemporary wedding gowns to benefit those suffering from metastatic breast cancer.

I Do Foundation: Resells your donated wedding gown then makes a contribution to the charity of your choice with partial proceeds from the sale.

Pick Up Please: Supports Vietnam Veterans with the sale of donated items, including clothing and accessories.

Soles4Souls: Collects shoes for victims of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina the Thailand Tsunami.

Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe: Recycles materials from worn and donated sneakers for new shoes or for materials used to build playgrounds and sports courts.

6. Give it A New Purpose.
Nothing needs to end up in a landfill. If it’s not worth selling, swapping or donating, you can find new uses for items that would otherwise end up in the trash. Torn cotton shirts become dusting and cleaning rags. Other garments can be used to stuff in handbags or shoes to retain their shape when not in use. The legs of jeans or sweats can be cut and used as covers for packing shoes.

7. Don’t Give Up!
Even old hangers can use a new home! Return excess wire hangers to your local dry cleaner for re-use and donate plastic hangers to your local thrift store. Down to the bottom of the pile? The last of your unwanted items can be distributed free through Freecycle.

Rethinking Pink: Petitioning Estee Lauder

I’ve made a rule about keeping toxins out of my makeup bag and use every opportunity I get to encourage others to choose beauty products made without toxic chemicals. “That’s bad for you” is never a message I like to deliver, but I delight in the fact that I can suggest better-for-you products and I usually end my sermon with the recommendation to visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website for more info and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website for ratings of products. We’re deep in October and I find myself wanting to grab a megaphone, as I spot cosmetics and personal care products that contain carcinogens–on the shelves being marketed for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Slapping a pink ribbon on a product is not enough. Estee Lauder has a big campaign each year to raise money and awareness for the cause and I cheer those efforts, but it’s time they started making safer products. Lauder owns Origins and Aveda, two companies that make products with less-toxic ingredients, but the their other lines (MAC, Clinique…) don’t deserve to be pink-ribboned. What you can do: sign a petition asking them to do the right thing.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Picking the Right Products

Today marks the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and you’ll find all kinds of products on shelves with a pink ribbon to indicate that the company is donating a portion of proceeds to groups that support the cause by helping victims of the disease and/or researchers working for a cure. Here’s my buyer-beware, buzz-kill plea: be mindful of beauty products with the pink ribbon because many of them actually contain carcinogens. Seriously. Of course it’s good to give credit where it’s due and to be grateful for companies with big bucks that are donating money to the cause, but it’s a shame that some of these companies are aware of dangers (or possible dangers) of chemicals in their products and continue to use them, putting the public at risk. Luckily, there are pink-ribboned products made with safer ingredients, like the lip gloss pictured, from one of my favorite beauty lines. Jane Iredale has been in the mineral makeup market for years and formulates products without harsh and hazardous chemicals. You can investigate the safety of other personal are products at the Skin Deep database and, as always, find more no the subject at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website.

Nailing It: Picking the Right Polish

Nailing ItOriginally published on the Care2 website.

I skimmed the L.A. Times story in Sunday’s paper with interest: a new nail salon was opened that sounded like my kinda place. The structure was described as “eco-friendly,” “a completely green structure” and a “safe environment.” Fantastic, I thought. Finally.

But I noted that it was an OPI nail salon and I had long ago stopped using nail products by OPI. When I learned about the dangers of nail polish a few years ago, I began to bring my own toxic-free products with me to nail salons. Then I began to go to salons less frequently because of the fumes I had to inhale while inside those walls (wondering every time I sat in the chair about how the health of the nail technician could be compromised). OPI is a nail salon favorite but I read that the company was reportedly reluctant to remove the big, bad three chemicals found in nail products: formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). For several years, experts have identified these three chemicals, commonly used in nail polish, as harmful; formaldehyde is a known carcinogen as well as a skin and respiratory irritant, while toluene and DBP are known or suspected reproductive developmental toxins.

The European Union (EU) has banned the use of these three ingredients in nail (and other) products and I had heard that OPI complied with the EU rules for the products they made for overseas sales—but they continued to use the chemicals in U.S. products. Hold on. Now OPI was getting attention for its new eco-friendly salon? This felt like a case of “green-washing” to me, with OPI riding the environmental wave. Fitting a building with solar panels or stocking your bathroom with Seventh Generation toilet paper does not make a company green. What about the nail polish with the toxic chemicals?

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics targeted the company, along with many others, imploring them to make changes to their products and I went online to find that OPI finally decided to reformulate its products to eliminate these ingredients. The L.A. Times story quoted someone from OPI as saying that because they’re a chemical company, they felt they should give back. I’d never want to fault someone for doing the right thing and I like to give credit to those who see the light, but I’d much rather give my business to companies that don’t make me think twice. Luckily, there are better choices out there—and more every day. Find some of them here.

Toxic Tub Time: Time to Wipe Away the Suds

Originally published on the Care2 website.

I found out this week that a friend is expecting her first child. Kay knows that I’m an enthusiastic “greenie,” and in the last year she’s asked me at various times about what kind of nail products I’d recommend, what kind of deodorant, what kind of shampoo. I am not shy about these opportunities and I always provide the website address for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the organization I counted on when I greened my own makeup bag a few years ago. When Kay complimented me on a fragrance recently, I revealed it was from a perfumer who uses organic essential oils and who advocates against the use of anything artificial and then I went on to tell her about how most commercial fragrances are filled with harmful or potentially harmful ingredients. I will delicately offer unsolicited advice to friends about beauty products on occasion, being careful to not offend choices they’ve made. But when a friend opens the door for me by asking, I take the podium.

Kay’s recent interest in making better personal care choices is particularly encouraging because I now consider the door wide open for me to offer oodles and oodles of advice on the baby products she should choose in the months ahead. Since I’ve greened my life, I’ve had several friends and family members welcome bundles of joy—and I am proud to be the “green girl” at baby showers, offering cute organic cotton onesies and bath products that are gentle and made entirely of pure and truly natural ingredients. I stress the “truly natural” part because the “natural” label has been abused and so many people are unaware of the hidden danger in the products that line the shelves.

Tell someone that lead can still be found in some commercial brands of lipstick and they might be surprised but not necessarily shocked. But toxins in baby products? It’s hard to accept. And, let’s face it, it’s sickening. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics filed a report this week, “No More Toxic Tub: Getting Contaminants Out of Children’s Bath and Personal Care Products,” on what is found in a sampling of dozens of baby products, including bubble bath and baby lotion. They sent the products to be independently tested and found traces of the 1, 4-dioxane and formaldehyde (chemicals the EPA lists as probable carcinogens).

How can it be that Sesame Street Bubble Bath and Huggies Naturally Refreshing Cucumber & Green Tea baby wash contain these toxins? And what about Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo? The cosmetics industry is largely self-regulated and neither of these chemicals are listed on the labels—but they showed up in testing of the products. Now I see “no more tears” on a bottle of kiddie shampoo and think no—no more toxins. Passing off these products as natural and safe is shameful, especially since safer ingredients are readily available for use in these products. You know how soft a baby’s skin is—and how delicate and vulnerable. Splashing around the tubs with a rubber ducky—and harmful chemicals?

Naysayers argue that the level of toxicity is negligible, but just think about the accumulative effect of exposure to numerous “negligible” levels from various sources (the water, the air). We can’t get hysterical about the dangers but we can be aware and take action. At this point, it’s up to the consumer to be educated and make the right choices. Thankfully, alternatives are out there and you can support the companies making the safer products by spending your dollars on their goods (while also sending a message to the companies still peddling poison).

Since I’ve become involved in the green world, the best stories I’ve heard are from new moms who have made deliberate steps to green their lives, who say they discovered that the baby products they were using were not as safe or environmentally friendly as they had been lead to believe—or, expectant moms like Kay, who are beginning to think twice about the products that they use daily. They begin by making safer choices for the sake of their babies and then they take a hard look at the products they’re using on their own bodies and then at the products they’re using to clean their homes, and so on. There’s power in action and also in making your voice heard; you can also take action by contacting your legislators and asking them to support regulations on cosmetics and to help regulate the industry.

Charmed, I’m Sure

I go through fashion phases and one involves wearing a plain black T-shirt or tank with a cardigan or jacket—complimented by a bold necklace. Perfect for this: some fun charms given to me by my mom, which I wear on roped chains or leather cords. Here’s a typewriter charm from mom I recently found at the bottom of my jewelry box. A friend told me that her son saw a typewriter in a shop window and asked about what it was. Before computers, kiddo. I’m sure he’s asked her about record players, too. To add to my collection, I’m searching on eBay for an old record player charm and found some adorable boom box ones. I see a boom box and I think of sitting on the front stoop at my friend Lisa’s house, blasting “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett until Lisa’s mother shouted from inside the house that we needed to turn down the volume. Oh, the good old days. I’m bidding on boom box and jukebox charms now…


Blume for Banned Books Week

It’s Banned Books Week! Makes me want to go back to high school and sneak one into physics class to read (Mr. Masters would occasionally bust me for reading poetry during physics—yep, I was a real badass). Or maybe I should go to graduate school to become a librarian so I would be able to create a display to promote the books. Be a rebel: Read these!

The American Library Association has links to lists of the most challenged and banned books. There are some literary heavyweights that have been banned, but I will admit to being most happy to see Forever by Judy Blume on a list. Here’s my copy, along with my Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. I wish I could say the Forever copy was one I had when I was a kid, but I had only the PG-rated Blumes in my childhood library and had to grab glimpses of the “dirty,” dog-eared pages of Forever in the school cafeteria, holding the tattered paperback under the table so no adults would see. I picked up this copy at a yard sale a few years ago and gleefully read it cover to cover in one sitting.

Rock T-Shirts That Rule

When I was a teen, I remember the excitement of arriving at a music venue to see one of my favorite bands perform and going right to the merchandise stand to see what the T-shirts looked like. If I liked the artist or band, there was no question about the fact that I would splurge on a tee. (I still have many of the ticket stubs but I regret not saving all those T-shirts.) Then I grew up and stopped buying rock shirts, but I’ve made some good purchases this year. It started with a Wilco tee; I loved the color and the design (see it above) and when I found out it was made of a bamboo and organic cotton blend, I was sold (“it’s eco-friendly” is one of my favorite rationalizations these days). At yesterday’s Radiohead show at the Hollywood Bowl, I was tempted again. The shirts come from the band’s merchandising company, called W.A.S.T.E. (We Are Sensibly Talking Endlessly), and it’s made of a polyester that comes from the fibers of recycled plastic bottles and organic cotton. Yep, easy sale; I got one for me and one for Mr. MVP (both pictured).

Amelia Saltsman: On Farmers’ Markets and Good Food

The complete version of this interview was originally published on

Below, my interview Amelia Saltsman, an educator and the author of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook.

How did you get involved in your line of work?
I thrive on a sense of community— that’s how my connection to the farmers’ market began. I began to write about my experiences and the farmers’ stories and the ingredients themselves and then the farmers’ market became a focal point.

Best part of your job?
When a reader or student comes to a demo or class and says, I can do that. We think everything is so hard and we’re reluctant to change habits and we often think we need to have to do everything all at once or it’s not good enough. But you can do a little at a time.

Is there a particular environmental nonprofit you support?
Sustainable Table and I do a lot with the Southland Farmers’ Market Association. Also Heal the Bay.

What’s an eco-friendly gift you like to give?
Small food items that are unique to Southern California. For instance, I love to bring freshly dried dates or special citrus—an offering from my area and something that evokes a sense of place.

Do you have a favorite environmental book?
Omnivore’s Dilemma. I love the way Michael Pollan writes and I think he has the most wonderful way of writing about the issues.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
Blenheim apricot tree. We had one in my backyard when I was a kid and my grandmother would come to visit from Israel and make apricot jam. It’s a beautiful tree with sun-kissed fruit.

Describe your path to green: how and when you became eco-conscious.
Flavor. When you look for foods that taste great naturally, everything falls into place. Once I found farmers’ markets in my local community, I never looked back.

Behind the Green Scenes: Amelia Saltsman

Originally published on in December 2007

I meet Amelia Saltsman at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Arizona on a Wednesday morning as she’s preparing for a cooking demo and book signing for her just-published book, The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook. She’s pushing a cart that is already loaded with cardboard boxes full of heirloom tomatoes when I greet her and then she stops to speak with a vendor about cucumbers. “Whatever’s best,” she tells him.

Next she selects a bunch of purslane and invites me to taste it. “A lot of people consider this a weed,” she says. “But it’s great to throw into salads.” She unloads the vegetables at a table in an area that’s being set up for her cooking demo before she making a final stop for olives and olive oil. She moves quickly through the crowd and navigates the cart with ease, stopping occasionally to greet others in her path and to invite them to come to her tent for food.

Today she is serving a plum crisp with a corn meal topping and tomato and cucumber bread salad-both recipes from her book-and she’s demonstrating how to make the salad. Under the tent, students from a local culinary school have already begun to prep for the day’s offerings, slicing the cucumbers and chopping tomatoes, as market shoppers approach to find out when the food will be ready. Two friends of Saltsman have also come over to help with the book sales and passersby have begun to thumb through the pages of a display copy.

“Look—you’re in it!” Saltsman says to a vegetable vendor when she walks over, opening the book to the “History of the Market” chapter that features portraits of smiling faces and still life shots of fresh produce from the market. Through her work in print and on TV as the host, writer, and producer of Fresh from the Farmers’ Market on Los Angeles cable TV, Saltsman has become an ambassador of sorts for the farmers’ market. The food stylist, teacher, and author had published numerous magazine and newspaper stories on her farmers’ market experiences when suddenly she had found a niche—and a platform to celebrate and support local farmers who produce sustainably and without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other additives. “I feel passionate that people need to understand what it takes to choose to be a small farmer, what it takes to get beautiful produce to market within 24 hours of harvest—and what a difference it makes to shop at a farmers’ market.”

The Los Angeles native’s own love of the farmers’ market is “about flavor and community,” she says. “I started as a shopper looking for delicious vine-ripened and tree-ripened and field-ripened ingredients. My passion for writing about farmers’ markets and farmers started with childhood food memories and childhood experiences shopping abroad in open air markets with relatives.” She fondly recalls foods from her youth and named her publishing company Blenheim Press for the Blenheim apricot tree from her childhood backyard. “We took it for granted but it has great importance to me.” Taking history for granted is not something that sits well with Saltsman, who is also passionate about the history of culinary arts and vintage cookery. For this, she also edits The Food Journal, a publication for the Culinary Historians of Southern California.

A sense of community is evident at the market today, just as Saltsman’s passion for food and cooking is revealed. At the table, she’s getting ready for her salad-making demonstration when a book-buying customer asks if she has a recommendation for a dinner for her son’s birthday. “Try Rustic Canyon,” Saltsman says, adding that the menu includes seasonal offerings from this same farmers’ market. “The chef is probably walking around right now getting food for the week.”
Quite a few books are sold—some purchase multiple copies and explain they’re starting their holiday shopping early—and quite a few more friends from the market stop by. A line forms and she needs to delay the cooking demo for a few minutes to sign books.

When she begins to make the salad, she tells her audience about the importance of using seasonal ingredients that are fresh and produced by local farmers. The time is right for heirloom tomatoes and she tosses them with pieces of bread (“it’s good to use day-old bread for this”), then the cucumbers. She’s using basil in the salad but encourages others to try different herbs they find or grow themselves. While working, she’s greeted by the chef from Wilshire restaurant and then the owner of Michael’s—both local restaurants that serve dishes made with farm-fresh ingredients they get here or directly from nearby farmers. “She knows what she’s talking about,” shouts Michael as he walks away with his full cart.

Also: Q&A with Amelia Saltsman


Greenopia Interview: Andy Lipkis

Below is a portion of an interview originally published on the Greenopia website in 2007.

Since founding TreePeople in 1970, Andy Lipkis has put his heart—and time and effort—into greening Los Angeles (two million trees and counting). Lipkis talked to Greenopia about his work and living green in L.A.

What’s the best part about your job?
I love so many aspects of it. Right now I like giving people a chance to see and understand that they are managers of the ecosystem.

What would you say is the city’s undiscovered or underrated jewel?
One is TreePeople’s headquarters: Coldwater Canyon Park. We have trails and a little amphitheater nestled in the woods that’s like a mini Hollywood Bowl.

Where do you like to take out-of-town visitors?
Almost anywhere in nature that will blow their minds. We might bike through the Ballona Wetlands or walk through the Venice canals or take hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
The Metasequoia glyptostroboides. It is know as the dawn redwood and it looks like coast redwood. It was only known in fossils until about a hundred years ago when living ones were found in China. They are beautiful with leaves that are soft and bright green until autumn when they turn red. There are a couple in the UCLA Botanical Gardens.

Describe your path to green: how and when you became eco-conscious.
I grew up in this city when the air pollution hurt and I watched open spaces I had played in disappear. I started planting trees when there wasn’t a professional for it and as a teen I had quite the crisis in following a green path when it wasn’t a known one. Back then I kept saying, I’m only going to do this for a while and grow up to be a professional of some sort. Now it’s a different story.