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Finding Balance

Tue Aug 24 2010

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written here, and it’s not without some regret. Friendships that evolved out of writing seem as strained as my attempts at prose. Great meals go undocumented. New recipes go unshared. Without SpicySaltySweet I’ve felt a little lost.

But the feeling is generally fleeting, like the bitter, tannic impression of a tight, young wine on the tongue that fades as the wine opens and the fruit comes to the fore. I stopped writing here because my life was ridiculously out of balance, and it was taking a toll on my health in the most obvious way. Every meal I ate tied my intestines into knots until my insides felt like macrame. I had no energy. I got migraines. My whole body was tense. And I cried. A lot. Something had to give.

Actually, a lot had to give. So I pared my life down to the minimum. I focused on my 40-hour a week job as the writer and editor for K&L Wine Merchants, started getting regular exercise again, and I began seeing a hypnotist to learn how to manage the stress and the emotional weight of being a food and wine writer with a digestive disorder.

I told myself, when I felt better I would write again. And when I did finally feel better, around the turn of the year, I couldn’t do it. I told myself I would practice living a more balanced life, and if there was room for the extra work I would write. But there was never anything leftover. I was getting ready for my wedding, I was on my honeymoon, I was recovering from my honeymoon. I was gardening. I was traveling for work, for play. I was living and loving it, but there wasn’t anything left for my blog.

And there still isn’t, I’m sad to say. But I am writing. And I would love your support. So if you’ve enjoyed my writing over the past few years, please visit the K&L blog. I’ve been having a blast interviewing winemakers, teaching myself how to edit video (and getting paid for all of it) and I even plan to work in some recipes of my own and my friends, and I’m having fun. And who knows, maybe with a little more time, and a little more practice at this balance thing, there will be a place for me as SpicySaltySweet. Until then…

Recipe Difficulty: Rants, Raves or Ramblings
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Raspberry Sorbet

Wed Sep 23 2009

Raspberry sorbet using invert sugar
Raspberry sorbet using invert sugar

The last time I was at Pizzeria Mozza I sat at the bar, stuffed full of tricolore salad and pizza, unable to stop eating the mango and passion fruit sorbets in front of me. I’ve had Dahlia’s gelatos and sorbets hundreds of times, I even watched them being made when the machine first arrived, but this time I was mesmerized. As I lifted the spoon to my mouth time after time I just kept wondering, how in the world did she get them so creamy?

When I had the good fortune of running into Dahlia at a party just a couple weeks later I asked. The answer, apparently, is simple: invert sugar.

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New post on Squid Ink: Crab Guy Returns to Hollywood Farmers’ Market

Thu Sep 3 2009

What happened to the crab guy at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market? Read my new post on Squid Ink to find out…

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Chocolate Chile Mint Ice Cream

Wed Sep 2 2009

Chocolate Chile Mint Ice Cream

Chocolate Chile Mint Ice Cream

Excuse my dusty cliché, but man does time fly. It’s been more than a month since I’ve written anything here, a month of living by the beach, trying to remember where I put things in my urgency to just get unpacked already, and now it seems that summer is waning with the moon. I’m sorry for my absence; not writing here feels like not talking to your best friend for too long.

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Movin’ and Shakin’

Mon Jul 13 2009

I’m not really one to get precious about moving; I’ve done it about 26 times by now. But I’ve been battling a case of melancholy ever since we decided to move to the West Side a week and a half ago. It’s not like we’re going far, less than 10 miles, but I have a soft spot for this apartment’s crimson-colored walls—it’s where Neal and I met just two and a half years ago. I was just looking for somewhere to live, someone who didn’t mind that I came fully furnished. When I left here the night I came to check out the apartment $1000 lighter and with a set of keys, I was just glad to have found a place with wood floors and parking. In fact, when I woke the next morning I couldn’t remember if there was a window in my future bedroom. I couldn’t remember what color the carpet was.

But sometimes life calls for change. And Neal’s new job has him sitting in East-West traffic for an hour every night. So I’m going to pack some boxes and paint some walls and take a deep breath. We’ll be closer to the beach and have a whole new neighborhood to explore. There will be new farmers’ markets to check out and a bigger kitchen to play in. I’m going to make the most of our new home, because for the first time ever, I’m not making the move alone.

That said, I’ll probably be offline for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been up to:

A new Farmers’ Market report – my monthly column for Serious Eats.

The first piece for my new food & politics column on the LA Weekly’s blog Squid Ink.

A piece on food blog ethics featuring my writing partner Brooke (aka Foodwoolf) and I in the LA Times.

Recipe Difficulty: Rants, Raves or Ramblings
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Into the Drink: Crabbing on the Sea Fever

Tue Jun 30 2009

Red Rock Crab
Red Rock Crab

Call me naïve, but I really didn’t expect the fish smell to last that long. But with this morning’s shower, I have finally managed to remove the last olfactory remnants of chum and seaweed and fish guts lingering in my hair and on my skin from Saturday’s crabbing trip in Santa Barbara. The story I was working on for EdibleLA won’t come out until the fall, but I was starting to worry that the salty, slightly fermented perfume might last that long too.

Paul Chopping Chum
Paul Chopping Chum

Saturday’s trip was far from a pleasure cruise, not that I expected or wanted it to be. The Sea Fever, my subject John Wilson’s boat, is meant for one thing—catching crab and lobster. There is no bathroom, just a bucket in the small cabin down below, no running water to wash your face if you’re stomach is pitching with the sea, and no comfy chairs to sit and watch Roxy the Golden Retriever bark at the dolphins and seals playing around the boat as John and his deckhand Paul haul in another trap clammering with crab.

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Blueberry Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

Tue Jun 23 2009

Blueberry Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

“Nothin’ but blue skies for now on…”

Anyone who tells you Seasonal Affective Disorder is a load of crap should be subjected to a Pacific Northwest winter. Eugene, Oregon, where I went to graduate school, layered days upon days of glary, gossamer grey light. It’s not that it rained that much there. Don’t get me wrong, it rained. But the greyness was what was most oppressive, climate-coated  emotional shackles. I prefer the monotony of 300 days of sunshine. Blue skies, blue skies with puffy white clouds, blue skies and wind-whipped icicle cold air, as long as there’s sunshine, I’m happy.

Which is to say, that my least favorite month living in Southern California is June. The hazy, foggy mornings that fall under the umbrella of June Gloom are such a downer. I find it hard to wake up, hard to concentrate, hard to do anything but laze around and watch baseball. And since May Grey seems to precede June Gloom with more frequency than it used to, by half way through June I’m cranky as all get out. And by the behavior of my fellow Angelenos, I’d say it’s getting to them too.

Fortunately, I’ve learned that the shortest route to an attitude adjustment has to be ice cream. Continue reading

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Photo Gallery: Beginning Bread Baking

Wed Jun 3 2009

Baking bread isn’t easy; though watching someone bake it really helps cement the concepts and break down the mystery. Here are some photos from a recent class at Sur La Table taught by Tina Rogers.

Mise en place. In baking, have everything measured ahead of time.

Salt and heat kill yeast.

Kneading the dough. Do it by hand to get a feel for the texture.

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Recipe Difficulty: Rants, Raves or Ramblings
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Bread Baking, Math & Fear

Tue Jun 2 2009

I got really excited when I heard food writer Michael Ruhlman had a new book, until I heard the title—Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. I hate math. I mean I loathe it. Math makes me feel like I have poisonous spiders crawling all over my body, like I’m in a horror movie and I know what comes next but I’m helpless to stop it. Just writing about how math turns me into the same anxious little girl who scribbled in her journal about how mean her mommy was making her try to memorize multiplication tables.

Fortunately I’ve found my math anxiety doesn’t get in the way of much. Sure, I occasionally tip the pizza guy really well, but I just chock that up to good karma instead of my inability to do math on the fly. I can pay my bills. And with the calculator and the Little Chef converter app on my cell phone, I’m pretty much good to go, even in the kitchen. Except for one thing—baking.
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Will the Revolution Finally Be Televised? Fresh, the Movie

Thu May 28 2009

What, no Alice? I wasn’t sure it was possible to make a movie about food politics, particularly about local and sustainable food, without the obligatory homage to the queen, Ms. Alice Waters. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not among the nouveau-Alice-bashers—I lover her food, her cookbooks and what she stands for—but I don’t think the she carries the weight of the sustainability movement on her back like a sherpa up Mount Everest. These days there are more climbers.

Fresh, a new documentary by Sofia Joanes, aims to shine the spotlight on the farmers, journalists, markets and academics that are working day and day out to re-invent our food system as something that is healthier, more sustainable and more accessible to our entire population. If you’ve read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, or if you saw the documentary Food Fight last fall, then you’ll probably recognize Polyface Farms owner and pioneer Virginia farmer Joe Salatin and Will Allen, founder of, a education-oriented community farm and store in Milwaukie, Wisconsin, who both play a prominent roll in this well-made film. Joanes doesn’t just point out the “evils” of the industrial food system—food deserts, obesity, poor rural economies, more prevalent and antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria like salamonella and E. Coli—she mounts a counterattack to the arguments made for the status quo that say local or organic (or both) are too expensive and inefficient to feed our nation. She interviews independent market owners like David Ball, who’s Missouri market chain, Hen House, works directly with the Good Natured Family Farms coop to get food produced by small, local family farmers like meat, eggs, cheese and produce to people in the community for a fair price, creating jobs and keeping more money in the local economy.

My qualm with this film and those like it is this: who is the intended audience? I requested a press screener because I missed the movie when it came to the film festival in Orange County last month, but I’m already committed to change. Will the people who need to see this, the politicians, the traditional farmers, the poor people being exploited in our inner city food deserts see Fresh? It may have only taken 50 years to shift our food system to one reliant on the industrial food chain, to chain supermarkets touting shelves chock full of processed corn and soybeans, but it will take a revolutionary grassroots movement to turn it into something better.

Get your mom to a screening of Fresh in your area, or contact Sofia to set one up. It doesn’t look like the revolution will be televised—but at least it might be available on DVD.

Recipe Difficulty: Rants, Raves or Ramblings
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About Leah

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