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…
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.
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
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.
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. Continue reading
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.
I always made fun of those girls who talked incessantly about their weddings, swore up and down and backwards that I wouldn’t be one of them. Even if you’re perfectly fine being the single girl, it’s hard to pretend you give a shit about centerpieces. And save the dates. And whether or not you’re going to have your guests ride around on a decommissioned Disneyland steam train. But I’ll get to that later.
I didn’t get it, ultimately, because I hadn’t planned my own wedding, I’d like to think, not because I was jealous or insensitive. I just had absolutely no idea how time-consuming the whole process could be. But it’s like a full time job, especially when you’re not exactly sure what you want. It took four months to find a venue and nearly a month to deal with the contracts. But now, nearly five months after Neal and I got engaged, we’re just one wedding insurance plan and a couple of signatures shy of having nailed down our venue and our date: April 24, 2010. Continue reading
What do poets and journalists have in common? Unless you’re the talented Amy Scattergood from the L.A. Times, I’d say: not a whole lot. Journalism school ruined my poetry. Wildly lyrical juxtapositions, I learned, had little place in clear communication. I wrote poetry to obfuscate, articles to illuminate. Even when I tried my hand at playfully mixing the two, a la the great Andrei Codrescu, the sentiment fell flat. And since life as a poet offered so few opportunities to make a living that I ended up in j-school in the first place, I knew I needed to find a new muse.
She came dressed at “motivation,” which is funny considering the number of people out there questioning mine in this new era that I’ve taken to referring to as “Post-FBCE” (Food Blog Code of Ethics). Nonetheless, I love finding out what makes people do what they do, to hold their beating hearts up to the world for all to see. Continue reading
Hello, my name is Leah Greenstein and I’m a food blogger. I don’t get paid much for what I write, though I’d love to make a living at it. I do it because I love food and I love writing—even if actually sitting down at the computer can be painful when the sun is shining or I’d rather be making ice cream. Nonetheless, I write. And I take what I put out into the world as seriously as I would as if I were writing for a magazine or a newspaper, not because it’s required of me, but because I think I should. I believe in honesty, fairness and accuracy, and I think everyone has a right to their opinion.
I think the tension between honesty, fairness and accuracy and subjectivity has been the bane of the “journalism” world for decades. All one has to do is watch Fox News and MSNBC to see that different people perceive facts differently. Personally, I like to know what filter someone’s looking through. I read Mother Jones because I know it skews liberal and I read the Economist because I know its writers synthesize everything through an economic lens. If I want human interest, I look somewhere else.
But when I started reading other food blogs, I frequently found myself lost. How did this person get the product they were writing about? Was this nasty review written because of one bad dining experience or two or three? I mean everyone has a bad night, right? I know I had them when I waited tables and when I managed restaurants. And then suddenly, how did my photo end up on that person’s blog. There’s no link, no attribution—that’s stealing!
I started reading commentary about blogs, nasty tirades about amateurs and hacks. I stumbled across stories about Yelpers blackmailing restaurants to get free food or risk getting panned. I learned more and more about people getting plagiarized, their images getting lifted, and people who personally attacked chefs in their reviews, but then didn’t have the courage to put their names on what they wrote.
And it made me sad.
So I started talking to other food bloggers who, I found, were frustrated with the same things. And I found that my writing partner, Foodwoolf, was particularly fired up about the subject. So we set out for breakfast one morning to talk about standards and ethics, about honesty, fairness and accuracy, and expressing our opinions.
What we came up with was this: The Food Blog Code of Ethics. It culls from our personal experiences as bloggers, journalism school grads, photographers, waiters, restaurant managers, diners and common sense. It is by no means perfect, but it’s a way to start a conversation. We hope you join in.