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by Diane Leach

12 Nov 2014

Sometimes I can’t wait to get home before opening my mail. Instead, after stopping at my Post Office box, I tear into my packages indelicately on the Bay Area Rapid Transit, trying not to appear overly animated. As all public transit regulars know, it’s essential to maintain “train face” at all times, lest you attract the attention of transit crazies. But I must have failed to keep my blasé BART face when I brought the Ovenly cookbook home. 

When I looked up from its pages, I noticed people starting. This should tell you how excited I was about the book.

At least, how excited I was at first.

by Diane Leach

10 Oct 2014

It took three tries to figure out what all the excitement was about.  An ardent lover of Chinese food, I drooled my way through Fuchsia Dunlop’s three cookbooks on the subject. Two of them are devoted to Sichuan cookery, a cuisine famous for its extensive use of chili and Sichuan peppercorns. 

Dunlop’s rapturous descriptions of the Sichuan peppercorn’s mysterious tingling and numbing effects piqued my curiosity. My quest took me to the local 99 Ranch, the West Coast chain of Chinese supermarkets. No Sichuan peppercorns. I did, however, find a dusty canister at my local American market. When I opened it, I found what looked and tasted like brown woodchips. I tossed them, rooted around in another market, bought another packet. More woodchips. On my third attempt I ripped open the tiny bag and popped a couple into my mouth while unloading groceries.

by Diane Leach

12 Jun 2014

I can’t imagine the work that went into revamping Deborah Madison’s 1997 magnum opus, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The title says it all, and despite its 740 page heft, this welcoming cookbook became the go-to manual for vegetarians and their veggie-curious friends. Now, 17 years later, Madison has revamped her masterwork. Et violà: The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Re-reading an old favorite was deeply enjoyable after page one and the kefir lime incident. O Proofreaders at Ten Speed Press, it is kaffir limes, not kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk drink commonly found in supermarkets near the yogurt. Kaffir is a type of lime, often associated with Middle Eastern cuisines. Being a publishing concern specializing in cookbooks, I suspect you know this. And hasn’t the poor lime sustained enough abuse lately?  This once-cheap fruit now costs almost $4 a pound due to extreme weather; crates are now going for as much as $30, drawing the unsavory attentions of organized crime.  The least you can do is properly name the poor fruits.

by Diane Leach

11 Jun 2014

Marisa McClellan, bases her second canning cookbook, Preserving by the Pint, on the practical notion that most people do not require a winter’s worth of jams, pickles, or chutneys. Instead, she offers literally pint-sized canning recipes, perfect for smaller households or those who just don’t want five dozen jars of blueberry jam.

McClellan isn’t exactly burning new territory here. Eugenia Bone, master chef, mycologist, and expert canner, led the way in 2009 with her seminal: Well-Preserved whose subtitle says it all: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods.

Bone’s book is the bible, a clearly written manual well-suited to those whose kitchens resemble broom closets. A canning novice could pick up her book and end up the happy producer of canned tomatoes and perfectly pressure-canned corn. I know. I was that person.

by Diane Leach

23 Apr 2014

Above: Beautiful lettuce photo from

In reviewing Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food II, I returned to its predecessor, The Art of Simple Food, published in 2007.  I’d recently been immersed in multi-step recipes with complex techniques and arcane ingredients. And while flaming cognac, blanching salt pork, and messing around with shrimp paste are all highly diverting, The Art of Simple Food reminded me that all are unnecessary when a delicious meal is desired. 

One only needs a basic kitchen: iron skillet, a knife, a heat source, and some food: a vegetable, a protein perhaps a piece of fruit. Et viola: dinner.


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