Made in L.A.: My 1940s O'Keefe & Merritt gets her close-up in Saveur

Yep, that's me in Saveur Magazine. I'm not used to being in front of the camera. In fact, the reason I became a journalist was to observe, report and have a legitimate excuse to be nosey.When I wrote this piece I spoke to home cooks, chefs, collectors, historians and stove repair people who are just as passionate about these old beauties as I am. Unfortunately, some great material didn't make it into the magazine so I wanted to share what they said here:

“I have friends with swanky 10 burner ranges and while they are massive and certainly get the job done, I say, that’s nice, but no thanks. My stove is sexy.It says turn me on, turn me off; it just has a kind of sensitivity and finesse that you don’t find with other stoves,” muses Lisa Waltz about her early 1950s Wedgewood stove. Waltz, a former caterer, has made over 1,000 gingerbread houses for charity and fed hundreds of doctors - 80 at a time since her husband is the emergency residency director at UCLA - all on her four burner, two oven, two broiler 60 plus year-old appliance. Her favorite dish: a succulent roasted beef tenderloin with Rosemary Gorgonzola sauce. “It’s full proof. At this point I’m convinced the oven knows how to make it without me.”

I understand Waltz’s attraction. I’ve had my O’Keefe and Merritt stove since 1994, it’s never had to be repaired and a low whisper of heat can achieve just the right simmer when making a Mac and Cheese roux (no scorching) and a roiling, boiling pot of water is minutes away with a burner cranked high.

But when I recently renovated the kitchen of my 1927 bungalow in West Hollywood, I thought about abandoning my beloved stove for a Viking or a Wolf. I even flirted with a red Betrazzoni but in the end, I couldn’t give up the shiny griddle (pancakes, please), the “Grillevator” broiler (yes, it goes up and down like an elevator), and since I’m a baker, I was particularly attached to the oven. While it’s not convection, it bakes like one with its innovative heat circulating design, superb insulation and a thermostat system that has helped me perfect Meyer lemon tarts and Rose Geranium Olive Oil Cakes. I also felt pride of place since O’Keefe and Merritt, like Wedgewood, was a Los Angeles company that had its hey day during the post-war industrial boom in a region that produced some of the best mid-century design in the country.

The streamlined styling of these classic appliances was at its height between 1946 and 1955 explains Skip Lau, who restores old stoves in Ventura, California and wrote Old Stoves are Hot; A History of Antique Cooking Stoves. (2012, Pilot Light Press). “Made during the golden era of American manufacturing, they were designed to be simple, durable and repairable,” he said adding that emphasizing quality is a value of the past. “If you buy a new stove today, they’ll only make parts for six or eight years and then you’re supposed to buy a new one 10 years later.”

That sort of planned obsolescence wasn’t part of the manufacturing doctrine for companies like Wedgewood, O’Keefe and Merritt or Chambers, all of which can still be found in kitchens across the country. These beauties were assembled by hand (there are 1000s of parts for just one stove), the pieces were stamped out on site using the best materials like galvanized steel, chrome and porcelain making them rust, stain and burn resistant. Fortunately a repair industry has flourished not only because there is a demand, but because there are plenty of vintage parts available.  

Jimmy Rodriguez, of Antique Stoves, who refurbished my stove and re-porcelained it Tiffany blue (my choice), says he prefers the curves of an O’Keefe and Merritt. “They’re sexy,” he said. Whereas Steve Sassone, a vintage parts dealer who raves about the BBQ sauce he cooks for up to six hours on the simmer burners of his stove, loves the cleaner lines of Wedgewood.  “These allegiances are kind of like the Ford guys versus the Chevy guys in the 1950s,” observes Lau. “Even though they were both quality products, you were loyal to one or the other.”

I guess I’m an O’Keefe and Merritt girl. Like Rodriguez, I like her curves. I also like that right there inside the oven door she gives me over 40 simple recipes:  Biscuits, 450 degrees, 12-15 minutes; Standing Rib Roast, 325 degrees, 30 minutes per pound and one of my favorites, Pie Meringue, 325 degrees, 20-25 minutes.

Even chefs, like Suzanne Tracht of Jar restaurant in Los Angeles, appreciate the post-war ingenuity and quality. While she certainly has access to some of the finest commercial cooking ranges, she had been eyeing an O’Keefe and Merritt in her friend’s garage for years. When she bought her house, it was the first thing she purchased. It has since braised and broiled many a Sunday dinner. “It produces amazing heat, it’s beautiful, it’s the focal point of the whole kitchen and it’s not too big,” she said. “It’s the perfect example that great things come in small packages.” 

Today Is His Birthday

B.K.S. Iyengar was born on December 14th. Today he turns 95.For those who aren't familiar with this yoga master, his 1966 book Light on Yoga was the first rigorous tome on the practice of yoga asana. Many scholars say it's publication launched the modern Hatha yoga movement that we know and (mostly) love today.

As Rodney Yee told me: "Did Einstein affect the entire world of physics? Without question.Iyengar is the Einstein of yoga in our century and he will continue to influence yogis for hundreds of years to come."

Perhaps Iyengar's biggest impact has been on therapeutic yoga. Scores of research exploring the  benefits of yoga for those with with HIV, cancer, arthritis, back pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and more has been published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals. The inimitable Iyengar teacher Scott Hobbs, who opened the first Iyengar Yoga Institute in Los Angeles, said, "Iyengar's strength is that he's a genius when it comes to understanding the human body and he learned most of that experimenting on himself."

In his book Light on Life Iyengar recalls this self-exploration explaining that he was a sickly child plagued by typhoid, malaria, tuberculosis and didn't overcome these maladies until he went to study yoga with his brother-in-law Krishnamacharya."My poor health was matched, as it often is when one is sick, by my poor mood," he wrote.

I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Iyengar (also known as Guruji) for the Los Angeles Times in 2005. During this visit, his mood was not poor; acolytes literally kissed his feet and he seemed happy to impart his teachings. Yet, like the stern nature of Iyengar yoga, Guruji was not a gentle.He was powerful physically, intellectually and sharp-tongued, too.I also found him to be thoughtful and frank. He was a great interview - focused, clear - and the one nugget I remember most was his idea about the nature of good health and personal accountability:

"Health is a dynamic endeavor that requires tremendous intellectual attention. You can't walk into the pharmaceutical shop and buy health. It has to be earned with persistence and sweat."

Exfoliators Multi-task as Plastic Polluters

I love a good exfoliation just like the next gal but I recently discovered many facial exfoliators contain teeny tiny plastic micro-beads to get the job done. These small spheres can also be found in shampoos and even toothpaste.While they may leave us clean and shiny, new research suggests they're a pollution nuisance. 

And since these "exfoliators" are designed to go down the drain, they inevitably end up in oceans and lakes. Such micro plastics were so pervasive in samples taken from the American great lakes that one researcher declared: "It was like someone had taken an entire bottle of facial cleanser and poured it into our sample container." What's worse, marine life mistakes them for food. Yuck, micro-bead plastic plankton isn't good for marine life or the humans who ingest them. 

The good news is that organizations like the 5 Gyres Institute  pressured manufacturers to eliminate plastics in their products and they've received pledges from companies like The Body Shop and L'Oreal to phase our their use. But some products won't be micro-bead free for a few years so in the meantime, check to see if your exfoliating cleanser contains polyethylene, which is the International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredient name for micro-beads. 

A Micro-bead Alternative

If you still want to gently exfoliate try a product like Tata Harper's gorgeous regenerating cleanser which uses apricot kernels to get the job done. Harper produces her products in small batches at her Vermont farm using natural ingredients, some of which she grows on site.

I'd heard of Harper's products for a long time but didn't get to try them until I met her recently at a media event.Of course the Colombian-born mother of three has a perfect complexion and her no nonsense, no synthetic approach to beauty has led her all over the world to source the best ingredients.

Harper's products fall into the luxury category and range in price from $75 for the Regenerating Cleanser to over $200 for the anti-aging products in her new SuperNatural collection. I'm hooked on the Regenerating Cleanser. Wouldn't you rather get your polish and shine from apricot kernels than contribute to the global plastic problem?  

Are You Buying Bee-Toxic Plants?

In 2006 the idea of Colony Collapse Disorder was a mysterious, inexplicable syndrome.All we knew is that something was killing a precious resource: nearly 50% of the honeybees necessary to pollinate our fruits and vegetables were dropping dead.Was it a virus?A mite?Were cell phone signals the problem or were they just stressed?

Nearly seven years later, food safety consumer watch dog groups, scientists and some beekeepers believe the culprit is most likely a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids.Last year the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a scientific review of three studies to back the hypothesis.The problem is particularly treacherous because these pestitcides, also known as neonics, can be systemic which means they're applied at the seed stage.When plants mature, bees are exposed to them when they do what they do naturally - pollinate.

What's even more insidious is that that many of the plants purchased at garden centers like Home Depot, Lowes and Target are pretreated with neonics.So those sunflowers you purchased in hopes of attracting bees into your garden just might be killing them, too. The Center for Food Safety has filed a lawsuit against the EPA to restrict their use and recently launched a petition campaign to discourage the use of neonics in "bee-friendly" plants. In fact, home garden stores in Europe have already banned them.

Not everyone believes neonics are responsible for the diminishing bee populations though it’s important to note that much of the naysaying comes from the establishment agriculture industry. I say let the big guns battle it out on the industrial fields of big agriculture but in my home garden, let me choose neonic-free, bee-friendly plants for own private ecosystem.And then,let the pollination begin.  

Olive Oil and a Ponzi Scheme; Say it Isn't So

I've been a fan of Pasolivo olive oils since I visited the farm and tasting room in Paso Robles nearly 10 years ago.I was charmed by the owner's wife Joeli Yaguda, the setting on a 130 acre ranch was bucolic and the product was packaged beautifully. And the oils tasted spectacular and bright. The family-owned business was also at the forefront of the California Olive Oil revolution having received accolades from among others, the New York Times, Bon Appetit, Saveur and winning tasting competitions including a top ten ranking by Der Feinschemker, who hosts one of the world's largest international olive oil tastings.

So when I recently ran out of Pasolivo's Kitchen Blend - my go to favorite - rather than ordering one bottle, I decided to join their olive oil club.But I opened the box today and discovered the company had been sold. My heart sank a little and I immediately consulted the google machine.It turns out not only did the family have to sell Pasolivo, Joshua Yaguda and his mother Karen Guth are in jail for perpetrating a Ponzi scheme through their company Estate Financial. According to The Tribune in San Luis Obispo, the mother and son bilked tens of millions of dollars from more than 1,000 people including parents who have lost college funds, elderly or disabled people and even a community church which can no longer pay their pastor. 

That's the bad news.

The good news is that the company has been purchased by the Dirk Family of Newport Beach. Even though the Dirks are in the toner and specialty ink business, they apparently have a passion for the central coast and plan to expand the tasting room and enhance the surrounding property.They will continue to produce premium extra virgin olive oils from 11 sustainably grown varietals that are hand-picked, milled and master-blended on site.They've also brought in General Manager Cheryl Wieczorek, who is well known in the community for her work at Justin Winery - one of the area's leading wine producers. 

Now I can toss my raw shredded beet and carrot salad with Pasolivo's Tangerine special blend, add a splash of sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and know that in this case, change is good. 


I went to Las Vegas recently to attend Cosmoprof North America, which is pretty much ground zero for the beauty industry.With nearly 900 exhibitors from all over the world, it's heaven for product junkies like myself.While I ogled countless nail polish lines, sniffed all kinds of organic hair and skincare products, what made me smile was Besame Cosmetics.I'm late to this party but in this case I say, better late than never.

Besame co-founders Gabriela Hernandez and her husband Fergus are charming brand ambassadors. They truly are cosmetic diplomats since their Los Angeles-based company exports the line to over 10 countries (Dubai included).It's easy to see why Besame has universal appeal.

The 1930s inspired packaging is not only attractive but compliments the classic ideal of beauty it represents.My favorite product is the Crimson Cream Rouge for both cheeks and lips.Its moist texture makes for easy application without streaking.It's the perfect shade of red for a saucy pout and just a dab on the cheeks will have you blushing with delight.This is low-maintenance beauty at its best.