Photos: Daniel Restrepo
By the time she’d reached her mid-20s, Sassy Kitchen blogger Julia Gartland was at her wit’s end. Since age 15, she’d battled stomach issues for which there was no obvious cause and tried every diet imaginable in an effort to quell them.
There were the vegetarian and vegan regimens and then, on the other end of the diet spectrum, her flirtation with paleo. She tried dairy-free and all-raw diets too, and even sought out the services of a holistic doctor. At that point, what did she have to lose?
“I tried so many restrictive diets, and I had pretty much cut anything you can imagine out,” Gartland told Yahoo Food. She wasn’t happy about it, either. Although food hardly played a starring role in her Los Angeles childhood, now it was all she could think about.
Early on, Gartland had tested negative for celiac disease, but later, one of her doctors suggested that she might have a gluten sensitivity. In the months and years that followed, Gartland found that avoiding gluten was the only thing that alleviated her symptoms — although it certainly wasn’t a silver bullet.
“I’ve never really found the answer to what’s wrong with me,” Gartland said with resignation. “I don’t even think that gluten is the ‘thing.’ I think it just helps. I still have issues here and there, but it’s the only thing that’s really made a dent.”
Gartland went gluten-free in 2009 and almost immediately became frustrated with the lack of culinary options. “It was just when gluten-free was becoming a word people knew, so resources weren’t super-great,” she recalled. “I started reading food blogs to find information about what I could eat, and that’s how I fell in love with the whole food blog thing.”
She started Sassy Kitchen not long after as a means of documenting her exploration of gluten-free fare, but over time, Gartland developed a personal diet that belies any conventional label. It’s sort of like a best hits from all the diets she’s dabbled in: mostly vegetarian, a very small amount of meat, little dairy, and no gluten.
“I just didn’t want to have to clarify the way that I eat anymore,” she explained. “It was really exhausting to carry around the vegan badge all the time. I wanted to eat what I wanted to eat and not answer for it.”
Sassy Kitchen itself is a collection of beautifully photographed and styled recipes, a reflection of Gartland’s day job as a New York City photographer and stylist. (Food isn’t her only subject: She’s also an accomplished still life and lifestyle photographer who’s worked with brands like H&M, Staub, and Trish McEvoy, to name a few.) The recipes are in line with Gartland’s diet, of course, but also reflect an innate California-ness.
“It’s very clean and seasonal, but very California. I didn’t realize that was part of my sensibility until I talked to other people,” Gartland said. “I grew up eating sprouts on my sandwiches, and that’s not a thing anywhere else. Hippie California food is very dear to me.”
That includes “hippie bowls,” which according to a blog post are “those meals-in-a-bowl that have an air of West Coast hippie and are more about foraging in the fridge than actual cooking.” They’re stuffed with nutritious grains, including quinoa, sorghum, amaranth, millet, black rice, beans, and lentils, plus raw and cooked vegetables, eggs, feta, and even kimchee.
For now, Sassy Kitchen is just a side project. Gartland’s focus remains on her photography and styling business. But it’s a deeply satisfying hobby, in more ways than one.
“I’m very open to not doing just food,” she said. “That’s not my whole world. But I do love it at the same time.”
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