Julia is a self-taught cook and baker, photographer, food stylist and recipe developer. On her blog, Sassy Kitchen, she shares gluten-free seasonal recipes and is always on the lookout for the best gluten-free version of everything. Sassy Kitchen was a finalist in the 2014 Saveur Blog Awards for Best Special Diets Blog and is a finalist again in 2015 for Best Photography.
I am so happy to have Julia Gartland of Sassy Kitchen here on the show today.
(*All images below are Julia’s.)
On Her Interest in Cooking and Food:
I liked to always cook and bake as a kid, I think it wasn’t anything too crazy but I loved having independence, being able to do that. I got more seriously into food later when I had health and digestive problems and I had to find a way to feed myself.
I found out I was gluten intolerant and decided to go vegan at the same time, so my options were very limited and I felt kind of inspired by those restrictions. It gave me the opportunity to try so many new foods and stuff.
I was always into food. I liked eating really healthy. I was raised in California. I loved hippy food and Mexican and I was always really into it, but it took a turn when it became more about health.
I don’t know if I had any real cooking mentors in my early days. I definitely think I was inspired by the issues that I had with western medicine. I remember the first time I went to a western doctor with all of my issues and I had all these PDF printouts of everything I’d been eating. He didn’t even want to look at it and just said, “Here’s some medication. You have IBS,” and sent me on my way.
I just felt like there’s something bigger going on than this. I totally believe that food is an opportunity to heal yourself and that was what got me into it in a really real way.
On Learning to Cook:
I was definitely forced to learn to cook it a new way because of my dietary issues. But through that, I really fell in love with food and I wanted to be completely absorbed in it. That’s a really good way to learn anything.
I find such inspiration from cookbooks and food blogs. Like finding someone who’s really committed to a certain way of cooking, whether it’s a cultural or otherwise, someone like Ottolenghi who has a very specific sense of food that’s so seductive and wonderful but it’s also really easy when you’re really into it.
Obviously, most of us are trying to feed ourselves. I feel like a lot of home cooks are super worried. How do you cook it? What do you do with it? They forget the aspect of play, it should be fun. It’s also not that hard.
I think generally not taking yourself so seriously. It’s okay if you make something that’s a disaster although it probably won’t be. Don’t be afraid, try new things, read cookbooks, follow recipes, pay attention and cook as much as you can.
I’m a fan of things like give yourself parameters on certain nights. Have a taco Tuesday, so you’re like, “I know I’m making tacos tonight” and you can just decide what kind of taco and then that can be the fun aspect.
On Kitchen Experiments Not Going as Planned:
I have a really good infamous one.
The first time I decided I was going to cook a whole fish was for a pescetarian Thanksgiving that I was hosting. Martha and Ina are scowling at me right now because it’s the cardinal rule of hosting to never test a new recipe. But I decided to do it and I took the fish out. It’s perfectly cooked but I had no idea how to de-bone it. I was like, “I can’t serve this to people,” and I literally just left it on the stove top and I was like, “Sorry, guys. We’re actually not having fish tonight.” And I just went on.
I was just like, “Well, I guess it’s just vegetarian, so sorry about that.”
I mean, with gluten-free baking, there’s so many. It’s just like too many to know but it always happens. It happens to everyone.
On Some Go-To Resources for Learning to Cook and Bake:
When I first started cooking and baking, I was vegan and gluten-free so my sources were super specific. But in general, I think I would recommend sources like Bon Appetite, Epicurious, The Kitchn, and Food52. They seem to have really good articles that demystify cooking and they go over actual techniques in a way that teaches you the fundamentals.
A few of them have a lot of articles about cooking without a recipe and stuff like that. It teaches you how to cook on the fly. I just think those are really helpful resources for sure.
On Starting Her Blog:
When I first went gluten-free, the best and most helpful sources were definitely food blogs. That was where I was finding all of my recipes and information. They were such a godsend at the time and through the process of changing my diet and trying new things, I craved to have the same platform to share my experiences.
I went to school for photography. I went to Parsons in New York. I was not shooting food or even still life at the time. Food or food photography was not on my radar at all, in any professional way. But through doing the blog and loving it as much as I did, I found people were really responding to that work.
The first time I ever showed food work in a class at school, the guest teacher offered me a job shooting for a magazine. So I thought maybe I should pursue this a little further.
I started in photography but I will say food photography is completely different. I was not immediately good at it. I had to work. It’s a total learning curve and it’s a lot harder than it looks I will say.
On Gluten-Free Foods:
Well, I’m sure everyone’s heard of it by now. It’s a big buzz word since it’s on every product now, even hummus, which has always been gluten-free says gluten-free on it. But it’s technically the elastic protein in wheat, it’s what makes pizza and croissant so lovely and it can also be in all of these other products like soy sauce and dressings, which it doesn’t necessarily need to be there.
That’s when I think it gets tricky for people and they don’t understand what it is. But there’s also a huge variety of gluten-free grains and products to choose from. I just saw the other day a quinoa kale puff popcorn product.
Now is the time to be gluten-free because there’s just everything. Rice is gluten-free, all rice products are gluten-free. A lot of people don’t know that. I get asked that all the time.
When in doubt, a piece of meat is always going to be gluten-free unless it’s battered. It’s like there’s a certain aspect of logic to it, but it is tricky for sure.
I do feel a lot better than I used to. Eating this way definitely suits me. I have some moments where I’m reminded of all the pain and discomfort I used to feel all the time. So I’m definitely happiest when my diet’s pretty strict and pure. That being said, it’s still not perfect. I don’t feel absolutely amazing and energized every single day, but it’s constantly evolving with what I feel best eating.
On Gluten-Free Ingredients:
There are so many, especially with the baking. I’m obsessed with gluten-free baking flours.
Even cornmeal, things that you wouldn’t think of as being gluten-free are so amazing to cook and bake with. And then things maybe you wouldn’t have heard of are things that you use kind of to mimic gluten like xanthan gum and potato starch and tapioca flour.
But they’re so fun. Even if you’re not gluten-free, baking with buckwheat or something like that, it’s just a new thing you wouldn’t maybe go towards.
Buckwheat is this dark grayish tint and it’s very beautiful when you bake with it. And I love almond flour. I buy five pound bags of it off of Amazon. I use it very quickly. I love anything with almond flour. It’s super good and they all have a very lovely different flavor.
On Some Good Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking Resources:
I love La Tartine Gourmande and Cannelle et Vanille are both really amazing sources of inspiration. I highly recommend both of their books, especially Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga. She’s a trained pastry chef and she has this amazing Basque influence on all her recipes. They’re super great.
Also, Bojon Gourmet. She’s another ex-pastry chef and she has a ton of super great gluten-free recipes as well.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
Well I don’t really watch any shows besides Ina obviously, but I need to stop name dropping.
But I’m the biggest podcast person, I love America’s Test Kitchen. I’ve such a soft spot for them and I feel like no one gets how great they are. I love Splendid Table and Heritage Radio Network and Good Food on KCRW, and obviously, The Dinner Special as well.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
I am in love with Amy Chaplin. I recently got her book and went through like a food renaissance ’cause her recipes are just so lovely. I so recommend her and her blog is amazing.
And you know, I keep coming back to Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. She’s still so relevant and amazing and I’m always inspired by her essence. She’s living my dream life.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
Well, I’m huge into Instagram. That’s my favorite thing. So on and Instagram, I recently followed the chicks from Broad City who are super fun.
I’ve mostly been loving non-food ones lately, like Sight Unseen and Academy of New York. And Niche is a great one where they just post quotes from creative artists and all that stuff. And Official Sean Penn, which is just funny and great.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
I love everything in my kitchen.
I’m constantly trying to get rid of stuff because I live in New York and that’s just the life, but I love everything in my kitchen. My favorite things are probably . . . my boyfriend has gotten me ceramics as gifts over the years. That was one of the first things he ever bought me and they’re definitely my treasured pieces.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Capers and olives I hated until I was probably 20 years old, but now, I almost always have them in my fridge. I love them.
I think I was not into that brininess and then I went to Spain with my family and they served green olives on every table like it’s bread. I kept trying, thinking if I keep trying it, maybe something will click and it did. So keep trying!
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
It’s gotta be something on the up-side.
There’s always music in my house. My boyfriend’s a musician. He’s constantly manning the record player. But for cooking, I think Elvis Costello always puts me in a good mood.
On Keeping Posted on Julia: