On the east side of Altadena, where aging mansions from the turn of the century share fences with a hodgepodge of bungalows, novelist Michelle Huneven lives at the end of a long driveway in a house that seems to be a feature of its garden as much as a place to live. She has a chicken coop. She has a writing studio that looks like an extra-tall shack. A canopy of citrus envelopes her kitchen. A James Beard Award–winning food critic, Huneven’s fifth novel, Search, came out in April.
The architects Fung & Blatt in Highland Park did our kitchen. We’re still really close friends with them. If you can be close friends with your architect after a job this big, that’s saying something. The kitchen plays with inside and outside in the most spectacular way.
Sometimes I write in my studio in my garden, and sometimes I go to The Huntington, where I have library privileges. I put on a lot of clothes because it’s cold in there to preserve the books. There are all those scholars. They’re really concentrating and focusing, and I just vibe off that. It gets me very focused and quiet, and I can work. They don’t even let me take a friend in to show them the room. That’s how sacrosanct it is, which is why the focus is so strong.
I grow a lot of things from seed, but when it comes to plant stores, I like Lincoln Avenue Nursery. I like Ramon. He’s always helpful. Even if you come in with a question and don’t buy anything, he’ll always talk to you. They have a really good selection, and their plants are healthy.
For groceries, I love Super King. Everybody’s there. I sometimes just feel like I’m in the river of life at Super King. I always fall into conversations. I’ll talk to some old Armenian guy about how to cook okra. I got into a conversation with a chef in line because I had 13 pounds of lamb shoulder all cut up in a huge bag, and we started to talk about the food industry.
I do a taco crawl with my food-writing students at UCLA. We start in the Piñata District. The Piñata District on Saturday morning is wild. It’s just a scene of all these street vendors. A guy comes from up north; he makes Oaxacan string cheese and some fresh Mexican cheeses that are just superb. There are all of these people making regional tacos from all over Mexico.