Ok, no doubt about it I do more grocery shopping than the average person, after all I teach home cooking for OLD TOWN COOKING SCHOOL in Pasadena. We try to shop local as much as possible with the priority given to farm markets. One of our goals is to pass on any tips on shopping to those who attend our classes and also to keep up with what is in the shops. We do not take free products from anyone so that we can share our own experiences both good and not so good. Shopping is time and energy consuming and can in some cases even be unhealthful. We are pretty particular and in my case just plain lazy. Like recently when a huge new Vons opened in town I drove out to give them a try only to back slowly out the door when I realized I could not even see the back wall of the store and I was just not up to a five mile hike to complete my shopping list. I look for a human size grocery store, no split level ones or ones where you can only finish half your list. I
do make a few exceptions, the fish at Whole Foods, Arroyo the fish guys are helpful and the labeling on point, Taylor Meats in Sierra Madre because they have real butchers and I can get small portions and ask dumb questions. (They also have a good vegetable fellow there too). Roma Deli because it reminds me of back east and the owner knows everything about Italian meat and cheese. As for bake goods, we often provide desserts for our dinner classes Patty Cakes is the only place for me. (Wow, remember good bakeries?) Also important to me is that a store has staff that knows what it is they are selling. One day at my local Ralphs I noticed a some nice looking salmon for a good price. So after hunting up the counter staff I asked where the salmon was from, "don't know " how had it been caught "don't know" how long had they had it "don't know". No salmon sold that day to me and would not send a student there to buy it for her /his table
Ralph's should know their products.
Another thing I look for is the well-stocked store. Gelsons is the hands down winner. Sadly, last week I learned that our local Gilson's would be closing in Pasadena. It is a loss for us and a shame for its workers and our community because we have always found it to be an excellent store with a wide range of products including a great international goods and a stunning spice collection as well as a wide range of great frozen products not just the same old selection of stuff and best of all they do not have their own "store brands." When I want tomatoes canned in Italy I do not need to hunt for them on shelves filled with "our brand " from where? Canned by whom? But more importantly not on my list. Saving a few cents is not worth the risk of ruining your pasta sauce.
They have diversity of products and in fact it was a Jewish family that mentioned to me that now they will have to travel far for their kosher meats always a sustainable ideal, not! Most importantly Gelsons have a swell group of trained workers who know what they are selling and ask to help you. One time I needed green tomatoes and no other vendor not even at a farmers market could help me, Gelsons went out of its way to find them at a good price and just in time for our Mardi Gras Cooking Class. Do not get me wrong in my neighborhood there are many stores that have good produce and lots of products but it seems something is always missing, decent bread, King Arthur flour, plastic wrap, AND if you need some simple thing like laundry detergent I do not have to visit yet another store or buy some costly politically correct brand that is not on my list or in my budget.
Pasadena Gelsons is and was a very clean and beautiful thoughtfully stocked, and a completely helpful store. I will miss them and I am sad that I did not post about them sooner. Would it have made a difference I doubt it but shouldn't we all shout out when something works and not just when it does not? Support the markets you like and tell everyone because cheap is not always better and running around to three or four stores to get a weeks groceries should not be necessary and is certainly not a sustainable practice.
Until next time I wish you good friends, good deeds and good cooking.
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