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Follow the Anchovies

By Frank Gruber

If you made my cannellini bean recipe, you might want a good vegetable to go with it. Nothing goes quite so well with white beans as greens (nothing so well as a leg of lamb, that is), and I like to cook them with anchovies.

Use spinach, kale, collards or Swiss chard for this recipe. Unless you are cooking spinach, you need to steam the greens first. I use an old James Beard technique: remove the toughest parts of the stems, wash the greens, and stuff the still-dripping leaves into a big pot. Add salt, cover and cook over medium high heat. Stir several times over the course of about fifteen minutes, until the greens have cooked down and the stems are "al dente."

Drain the greens. Rinse with cold water or let them cool, and then squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Chop.

Heat two or three or four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (nothing fancy: the kind you can buy at Trader Joe's for five or six dollars a liter) in a skillet and add several cloves of chopped garlic and half a dozen chopped anchovy filets. Cook for a moment or two until the anchovies dissolve, then add the cooked greens or uncooked spinach.

Saute for a few minutes, remove from the pan, and serve hot or cold with lemon.

Anchovies are my secret ingredient. Most times when I saute a little garlic in oil, I add a few anchovies. Just about any dish that is good with garlic is better with anchovies, too.

Home cooks don't cook much with anchovies because the little cans are a mess. Forget them. The filets inside resemble bits of leather shoelaces, and since you typically only need a few, you are stuck with a half can that spills or gets lost in the refrigerator.

Better you should buy anchovies in jars at Bay Cities Imports on Lincoln (13 varieties at last count). Guidi Marcello on Tenth Street also carries anchovies in jars, including fat whole anchovies in oil and parsley.

Sometimes Trader Joe's, which apparently will not be building a new store in Santa Monica, carries anchovies in thirteen-ounce cans. That's more than even I will use in months and months, but they are good quality and you can drain the oil they come packed in, dump the anchovies into a plastic container, replace the oil with extra virgin, and keep them in the refrigerator. They will last forever, and you can take two or three filets out whenever you need them.

The best anchovies come salted in one-kilo cans at Bay Cities, but you have to rinse off the salt, soak them in water, and filet them yourself. Standing around filetting anchovies is not everyone's pleasure, but it's something to do while listening to City Council meetings.

A good anchovy in good olive oil is one of life's small sublimities. Toast a little piece of stale bread, top it with an anchovy privileged to have bathed in extra virgin olive oil, and pop it in your mouth. That's quality of life.

"Quality of Life." The be-all and end-all of local politics.

Tuesday night at the City Council hearing on budget priorities City staff presented a summary of the City's 2001 Resident Survey. The City uses the survey to identify its priorities.

Staff reported that the three issues people in Santa Monica most often identified as the most important facing the City were "too many homeless," "traffic," and "too much growth."

But staff did not mention out loud the actual percentages of Santa Monicans who are concerned about those issues, although if you looked closely enough, the percentages were included in the overhead projections. The percentages are not included, however, in the survey's Executive Summary.

According to the survey, in fact only 22 percent of Santa Monicans said they were concerned about too many homeless, only 21 percent were concerned about traffic (and this after years of having our streets torn up for sewer repairs and other projects), and only 14 percent were concerned about too much growth.

For that matter, among other issues, only 11 percent were concerned about parking and only eight percent about crime.

Not only that, but survey respondents could mention up to three "important issues facing Santa Monica." Meaning that even given three chances to complain about something, only small fractions of Santa Monicans mentioned what staff called "the three most important issues facing Santa Monica."

Call me speculative, but I'm guessing that the failure of staff and the survey's Executive Summary to highlight these actual statistics means that someone is kind enough not to embarrass those politicians who have staked their political careers on the dubious premises that Santa Monicans are in an uproar about any of (i) traffic, (ii) parking, (iii) development, (iv) the homeless, or (v) crime.

Obviously, more than 75 percent of Santa Monicans wouldn't waste their breath on any of the above.

So what should Santa Monica do with its money?

Let's start with the premise that a kid involved in a gang has different quality of life issues than either me, the resident who likes anchovies and olive oil, or Kelly Olsen, the resident who worries about traffic and development and who didn't want a Trader Joe's at 12th and Wilshire.

When it comes to the City's priorities, it's the kid in the gang, or the kid who's at risk of joining a gang, and probably his mother and father and his girlfriend, who needs the most attention. Beyond basic services, the City's resources should go to education, jobs, housing, and recreation before they go anywhere else.

But when it comes to choosing between the ready availability of olive oil and anchovies, or restaurants and shopping, or a theater or movie, or whatever else makes urban life enjoyable, and traffic, don't tell me that the people of Santa Monica value their ability to make a left turn more than they value their ability to taste life in its fullest flavors.

* * *

Next week Caltrans will conduct two public "scoping meetings" about a project that is almost too big to comprehend, but will probably receive almost zero attention. The agency is "seeking public comment on plans for proposed improvements to Route 405 between National Blvd. and Greenleaf St.;" i.e., the 405 from the 10 to the 101.

Caltrans has allotted two hours for the public to makes its comments at each of two meetings, one on each side of the hill.

Caltrans is looking at various alternatives, including "double-decking" the freeway by adding four HOV lanes on an elevated viaduct. What happens to the 405 will have more to do with the future of the Westside, the Valley, and the South Bay than anything else. If you are interested, or if you might have some comments, here are the details:

January 16, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., at the Veterans Administration, at the corner of Sawtelle and Dowlen Drive, Building 500, room 1281.

January 17, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., at the Radisson Hotel, 15433 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks.

You can also send comments in writing, no later than January 30, to Mr. Ronald J. Kosinski, Deputy District Director, Division of Environmental Planning, Caltrans, 120 South Spring St. (MS 16 A), Los Angeles, CA 90012. Sorry, no e-mail address or website.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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