Photo by Anne Fishbein

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This time of year,

even we stay home and cook. Los Angeles, of course, is a wonderland of local organic produce, a hub of farmers’ markets and sustainably raised meat, of boutique gourmet shops and supermarkets representing the finest cuisines of every continent. But occasionally, most often around breakfast, the most important tool in our kitchen can be a laptop computer.

1. Yes, it is one of the last water-powered artisanal grain mills left in the South; yes, it sits on a picturesque Kentucky stream; and yes, the industrial craft-paper sacks speak of countless café kitchens across the South. But Weisenberger’s real, stone-ground grits (utterly unavailable in Los Angeles markets) have been the basis for some of the best breakfasts I’ve ever eaten, and the soft, unbleached white flour makes biscuits light as the premise of a Fox sitcom. Its seasoned flour, some claim, is what originally made Colonel Sanders famous. Unbelievably cheap: The UPS charge is inevitably higher than the price of the actual products.

Have mornings around here been the same since we discovered Monkey & Son’s colossal Krakatoa coffee, a muscular blend of African and Sumatran beans strong enough to put hair on a bald ape’s chest? No, they have not. All of Monkey & Son’s coffees are organic, Fair Trade–certified and locally roasted — all of that save-the-planet stuff — but the flavor comes roaring out of your cup like an early Stooges record.

3. Are we serious about bacon around here? Does a porcupine have fleas? There are a lot of dry-rub artisanal bacons out there, funky as hell and salty as sin, but Father’s Bacon, sometimes known as Gatton Farms Bacon, is about as good as it gets — rural, handmade Kentucky bacon that is as intense as a J.M. Coetzee novel but usually a lot less sad. The country ham, which has won many national awards, has rarely been the source of many complaints.

4. Armandino Batali’s fennel salami, sopressata and the unusual salami flavored with Oaxacan mole rank among the very best salamis in the United States, and unless you brave the crowd on Mozzarella Mondays at Jar, you’re just not going to get the chance to taste them anywhere but in your home. Salumi’s lardo, Tuscan-style cured fatback, is the only decent version commercially available.

5. Do we obsess too much about cured pork? Very well, then. But some people would argue that the only acceptable spaghetti carbonara, spaghetti alla gricia and bucatini alla amatriciana, three of the greatest inventions of the Italian kitchen, can only be made with guanciale, Roman-style hog jowl cured in the manner of pancetta. You can’t get real Italian guanciale in the U.S. — and at least not legally — but Biellese makes the best guanciale in America. If you can persuade them to ship you some of their first-rate boudin noir, French blood sausage, so much the better.

6. When James Beard died a decade or two ago, one of the friends of the great cookbook writer, knowing only that he spent a great deal of time talking on the phone to Col. Bill Newsom, asked the proprietor of the tiny Kentucky smokehouse whether he had any thoughts to contribute to the eulogy. “He did call me several times a week,” the colonel allowed. “But all we ever talked about was ham.” Col. Newsom’s ham, made now by his daughter Col. Nancy Newsom, is ham worth a lifetime of obsession, available presliced — if fried country ham with redeye gravy is your thing (it is ours) — or whole. Include a jar or two of Windsong blackberry jam in your order — breakfasts will never be complete without it again.

7. If you are serious about bacon, you are probably already getting Nueske’s dreamy, hickory-smoked Wisconsin bacon at the local Gelson’s or Bristol Farms. But man cannot live by bacon alone; frequently there must be pepper bacon, and Nueske’s is the best there is. The smoked ducks are pretty great, too.

8. Expatriates from Los Angeles seem to mail order See’s Candy like crazy, making sure they are never without a ready supply of caramel suckers or assorted nuts and chews. Expatriates from Greenwich Village keep Li-Lac’s number close at hand because you never know when a craving for marzipan acorns, almond bark, raspberry truffles — or, in our case, pretzels covered in dark chocolate — might strike. Also offered: elaborate chocolate molds of the Empire State Building, golf balls, giant schnauzers and that sort of thing, should you be in the mood.

9. Corti Brothers is a supermarket from the 12th Dimension, a smallish place near downtown Sacramento that looks like a Jon’s or a Howie’s but is laced with products so far out on the cutting edge of cuisine that it will take the rest of the world 20 years to catch up: Japanese sugar ground as fine as flour; amazing vintages obscure enough to stump your wine-snob brother-in-law; special pistachios from Sicily and coffees from Bali and olive oils from pretty much everywhere; bricks of 50-year-old Russian tea; artisanal soy sauce as precious as gold ingots; and the best bitter-orange marmalade anywhere, made from the produce of street trees on Sacramento traffic islands. The store’s catalog is making a slow, painful transition from newsletter to the Web, but it’s an incredible document to browse.

10. Broadbent, located in Cadiz (rhymes with “ladies”), Kentucky, the buckle of the ham belt, is famous for its bacon. Its country ham was declared grand champion this year at the American Cured Meat Championships, a competition that some of us consider more important than the Olympics. But the real star here is the profoundly smoky country pork sausage packed into impossibly fragrant muslin sacks. Another Kentucky pork producer? Get used to it.


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