GET YOUR BACON BEFORE IT’S SPAM

Due to a major draught, the price of feed soared to the highest level on record this past August. Farmers can literally no longer afford to feed their livestock and sell it at a profit. While huge corporate distributors like Hormel and Tyson are still making a profit, many small farmers are not so lucky.

It’s not just a problem in the U.S. either. Russia, a major world producer of grain, has also been hit hard with draught. Canada leads the world in the exports of live piggies. That country’s two largest growers just went pork belly up.

In a rush to liquidate livestock in the U.S., 9.9 million hogs were hauled to the slaughter in early August – more than in any one month in history.   By the end of August, 31% more pork was produced that at the same time last year. September is also seeing record numbers. According to a whole slew of reports, this glut in “the other white meat,” is supposed to slash prices on pork products – for now.  Next year, prices are expected to skyrocket.

Bearing this in mind, folks are rushing out to stock up their freezers with bacon, ham and ye olde pork chops. if you want to join the herd, there are some good deals out there. There are also some prices that are not changing, and even going up already. My sister in Albuquerque noticed that a pound of bacon out there at local chain John Brooks went up precipitously. Not surprising maybe, since John Brooks cuts their own meat and buys locally out there.

Here in Los Angeles, Ralphs’ twelve ounce package of their Private Selection brand of Center Cut bacon is going for $3.99. Oscar Meyer’s Center Cut of the same size is $6.99. So is a package of Farmer Johns.

The pricing on Hormel is an interesting story. At Ralphs, Oscar Meyer and Farmer John were not on sale – a straight $6.99 – take it or leave it. Hormel, on the other hand, is $3.99, but it usually goes for $7.99. In fact, you can even get Hormel’s uncured bacon for the same price. Uncured usually costs more. Apparently Hormel is standing by its forecast of continued unprecedented profits in spite of the havoc in the wake of the draught. This quarter, the company enjoyed a 32% jump in operating profit due to the sale of Spam.

Smart and Final had the same pricing as Ralphs except that you can get two pounds of Farmer Johns or their First Street brand for $6.99.

Jons Market has Farmer Johns for $5.99; and, this week, they have a special (surprise!) on Farmland bacon of 2 for $6.

For my peeps around the U.S., the parent company for Ralphs is Kroger. In New Mexico it is Smiths. In other states it may be Dillons, Bakers, City Market, Fred Meyer, King Soopers and Frys to name a few of the many chains bought up by Kroger.

There you have it, folks. Make hay while the sun shines!  Later, we may all be eating Spam. 

BLACK DOG COFFEE: GOOD GRUB FOR A GOOD PRICE

Last Saturday night at Noche Cubana, I was a dancin’ fool. My YouTube lessons really paid off. I even started a Conga Line!  It took a few go-rounds; but, in the end, my dance partner and I succeeded in whipping everybody into a dance frenzy. We got ‘em up on the floor where most of them stayed for the remainder of the night.

After all that excitement, Natascha and I decided to meet up again the next morning to reminisce over some serious coffee and a good breakfast. With the salsa beats still ringing in my ears, I headed on down to meet her at Black Dog Coffee, where I knew we’d get just what we needed.

First on the agenda – the coffee. Back in 2002, the first thing then boyfriend and I noticed about this little gem on Wilshire Boulevard was the sign on their window: Home of the Caffe Cubano. This is their signature coffee. On our first visit, we ordered the largest ones we could get at $4 apiece. They were fantastic. All coffee drinks are delicious – made from whole bean fair trade Groundworks coffee

As then boyfriend and I continued to frequent the café, we naturally began to explore the menu. Over the years, as we evolved, Black Dog’s menu did as well. The results have always been tasty. One of the newest items is breakfast soup that’s served all day. It consists of their homemade black bean soup, topped with two poached eggs, cheese, diced tomato and onion and garnished with avocado and sour cream.  I like to dispense with the sour cream myself. Sour cream or no, the whole kit and caboodle comes in at $5.25.

There are a whole lot of great items on the menu here, and everything is fresh and wholesome. If I was pressed to choose my favorite, it would probably be what they call their signature sandwich, the roast turkey pesto. $6.50 is perhaps not the least expensive sandwich; but, for the sheer quality you’re getting with this baby, it is incredible.

First and most important, the meat is real turkey breast, not that weird lunchmeat-type processed material. The combo of the fresh pesto sauce and cranberries is outstanding; and, the bread? – It’s a quality seeded baguette that is really delicious. The size is cost effective too. For someone who’s watching calories, you can easily make two meals out of it.

For breakfast, I favor either the breakfast soup or their Mexican scrambled eggs, once again without sour cream, for $4.75.This dish is eggs or egg whites, tortilla strips, cheese, diced tomatoes, a little red onion, and their original salsa, with sour cream and avocado garnish. A meal for under $5 is always a plus.

The other item that’s really outstanding is the homemade soups that Black Dog dishes up every day. Every day is a different group of soups and they are all outstanding. Clam Chowder with Bacon, Barley Mushroom, Corn Cactus, Chicken Noodle – from the exotic to the familiar, from healthy to er, a bit less, they’ve got something for every palate. The soups are reasonably priced, coming in at $3.75/$4.50, depending on size.

Finally, you might guess from the name that Black Dog is pooch-friendly. You and your dog can sit outside at the sidewalk tables, no problemo. You can enjoy a leisurely meal prepared and served by the friendly staff while you read the paper or people-watch on Wilshire Boulevard. There’s always fresh water outside for your canine friend; and, inside, a big bowl of free doggie treats awaits. Nice to know your buddy can also get a little treat while you enjoy the tasty grub.

NEED TO KNOW:

Black Dog Coffee   5657 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036  (map) http://goo.gl/maps/gWREh

Phone: 323-933-1976

Hours: Mon-Fri 7a.m. – 6 p.m.    Sat-Sun 8 a.m. – 4 p.m

Metered parking and several 2 hour unmetered spots on nearby side streets such as Masselin.

FOOD FROM THE SOUTH AND SOUTH OF THE BORDER

Guess what? Everybody’s eating at CJ’s. And their menu is nearly as diverse as their clientele. On the front, it reads: CJ’s Café. From the South to South of the Border. For breakfast, you can get your basic bacon and eggs, omelettes or egg sandwiches. The sandwiches are a great deal. They range from just over $4 to just over $6; they are really big; and they come with fries, fruit or cottage cheese.

They’ve got an awesome waffle and wings deal for $8.50; and, they’re dishin’ up soul food to beat the band: Red Snapper and Eggs or Catfish and Eggs, each at a little over $11; or Corned Beef Hash and Eggs at a little over $8.

I spoke with Jesse Cisneros, part of CJ’s namesake, for a little minute this afternoon.

Jesse’s Mom’s name is Jessica. She opened the place in 1988; and named it after herself and her son, Jesse – only she flipped the initials. She didn’t want anyone to get it mixed up with JC Penney.

Jesse tells me that, back in ’88, the neighbors wanted some soul food on the menu; but, Jessica didn’t know how to make it. Determined to offer what the people wanted, she asked them to show her how it’s done. So, that’s just what they did. The soul food offerings at CJ’s came from the recipes of the grandmothers and grandfathers of folks who still come to CJ’s to enjoy that good home cooking.

The Mexican portion of the menu is nothing to sneeze at either. If you’re feeling spry, you can opt for Chorizo and Eggs, Platanos Con Crema y Frijoles, or the good ole stand-by that everybody knows – Huevos Rancheros. For those who don’t know, chorizo is a spicy type of sausage. Platanos Con Crema y Frijoles is Plantains with cream and beans. I love that stuff!

The burritos are enormous and delicious. You can get them smothered with chili if you like; and, yes, menudo is available!

Lunch is a very affordable affair, with most of the sandwiches, burritos, burgers, soups and salads coming in at right around $6 or $7. The soul food entrees range in price from $10 to $12. These plates include Catfish, Pork Chops, Short Ribs or Oxtails, and come with a choice of two sides like black eyed peas, candied yams, and collard greens, among others.

Did I mention the staff? Wow. I feel like I’m visiting my small hometown when I come here. Everyone is so welcoming. Service is prompt and friendly. It seems like they have some kind of team policy, because you will often get more than one server taking your order, bringing your grub, refilling your coffee – but it is never overbearing.

This place is one of my true faves. I always bring friends and family and so far, everyone has been charmed. Nothing fancy. Just solid affordable good home cooking in a comfortable spot.  And, the thing I love the most about CJ’s is the same thing I love the most about this city of Los Angeles – the diverse nationalities that come together in one special place.

NEED TO KNOW:

CJ’s does not serve dinner.

CJ’s Café  on Pico  5501 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles 90016

Hours: Mon-Sat  6:30 – 6:00; Sun 7 – 5

Phone: 323-936-3216

Limited parking behind the restaurant; Plenty of free and metered street parking

CJ’s Café Baldwin Hills  3655 S. La Brea, Los Angeles 90016

Hours: Mon-Sat  6:30 – 6:00; Sun 7 – 6

Phone: 323-292-9221

The restaurant has it’s own free parking.

Web: (link)  http://cjscafe.net/Home_Page.html

A LIGHT PROLETARIAN LUNCH FOR ONLY $2

My Mom has really taken to keeping up with Deals and Discounts, even though she doesn’t live in Los Angeles, and she’s been after me for some time to say something about Mao’s Kitchen. She says it’s her favorite Los Angeles restaurant, and definitely a great deal. That’s saying something too, because I’ve been living here for a while now; so, she’s been to quite a few.

I think she is a little partial to the place because she knows something about the way women lived in China before 1949 and, she was inspired to learn about it because of her visit to Mao’s!

As it says on their menu, Mao used to love to say, “Wei renmen fuwu!”  “Serve the people!” That’s what’s going on at Mao’s Kitchen. The food is fresh; the produce is never taken from a can; dishes are made to order and priced for the proletariat – no MSG.

Mao’s is full of cultural accoutrements, from the décor at the two locations, right down to the visual arts and music on their website. I love to click on the site and listen to the little guy on the accordion accompany the chorus of children chanting militantly.

It’s a real education to dine in at Mao’s. The first thing you notice is the artwork on the walls. They are sporting genuine Chinese pop posters. These posters, created over the decades, reflect the many social, cultural and political changes China has gone through since 1949. Chinese opera is also projected on an overhead screen.

While you soak up all this revolutionary culture, you can order plates with names like Gang of Four fried shrimp – $6; Peace not War won-ton soup – $8 and Long March camp-fry – $7.  If you’re really down on your capitalist luck, you can surely afford a light lunch of a humungous and scrumptious egg-roll and a tasty salad for $1 each.

They’ve got the best ginger ale around – homemade right there in the restaurant. They don’t serve alcohol; but you can bring your own bottle and there is nary a corking fee! If you haven’t thought to bring a bottle, there’s a little liquor store within the next couple of blocks west on Melrose.

Mao’s now has lunch combinations and they’re on offer all afternoon – from 11:30am to 5pm.  This is great. Don’t you just hate it when you don’t get to lunch til 2:00 or 3:00 p.m.; you look at your watch; and, you just missed the lunch special? For take-away & delivery, lunch combinations include your choice of entree plus steamed rice, salad & spring-roll –   $7.50 ($8.50 for seafood & smoked tofu entrees).

The Venice Beach location is a block from the beach. As we all know, that’s a double edged sword. Nice for some beach time but parking is catch-as-catch-can. Free parking is available right beside the restaurant at the Melrose locale.

NEED TO KNOW:

Web: www.maoskitchen.com 

7313 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 90046
Hours: 11 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.    Delivery: 323-932-9681

1512 Pacific Ave., Venice, 90291
Hours: 11 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.    Delivery: 310-581-8305

SUSHI CAM -DO THE DRAGON BALL DANCE!

Hands down, happy hour at Sushi Cam is a great deal. A deal is a deal and it is not a trip to a five star dining experience. The key to enjoying the happy hour here is to refrain from trying to make a monkey into a raccoon. Relax, and take the place for what it is. The sushi is $1.50 a plate and you can get a glass of tap beer for the same price. Wine and hot sake are $3.00 (regular price). If your game is on television, you can catch it on one of the big screens at the bar.

Friday and Saturday nights are extra special. Starting at 8:00 p.m., you can get your groove on, dancin’ to the beats of Murasaki. Spinning jazz, funk, hip hop, rock and disco, they are three talented local DJs, who will get you moving in between your Dragon Ball and your Sapporo.

Now I know that when it comes to sushi, there are sushi eaters and there are sushi eaters. Folks like my sister, who is somewhat of a sushi aficionado, might not add this place to their list of sushi bars offering up the most divine and succulent plates. Still, I don’t think they would be disappointed either.

Sushi Cam – just a clean, friendly, decent sushi place with an awesome staff and rock bottom prices. Keep in mind, those prices are to be IN CASH. NO PLASTIC ACCEPTED.

Sushi Cam. 8300 Wilshire Blvd. (where Wilshire and San Vicente meet). Beverly Hills.

Happy hour is Monday thru Friday from 4-7p and Saturday/Sunday from 11:30a-4p and 9p to closing. Prices during other times are still very low at $3 for sushi, wine, sake and beer.