How I Got and Lost My Column for the LA Times Syndicate


When I was born, my mother named me Rose Karen (Levy). Her aunt Pink proclaimed it to be the name of a writer. So it was destiny that this became my future profession--but not very far into the future. I still have my first diary from when I was about 9 years old. When people tell me that they want to be writers my first question is: Do you write? I am a writer because that's what I do. It's my nature to tell stories. So when in 1991, I got a call from Russ Parsons, who was the food editor of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, asking me if I would like to write a weekly column, and saying that there were plenty of recipes but very little good food writing, it was like Breer Rabbit being thrown into the cabbage patch. He even said that I could write about anything I wanted. I was, quite frankly, flattered and frightened. The fear was how I could work in the time to do a 500 word story with all the other things going on in my life. So I called my friend, the esteemed writer, journalist, and baker, Marion Cunningham, who had a column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Her advice: Once a week will seem like every day; once a month will feel like once a week. So I told Russ that I would be happy to do a once a week piece. It turned out to be 7 years of total delight for which I will always be grateful.

How delicious it was to sit down by myself for an hour on my laptop and tell a story, ending with a recipe. What freedom not to be limited to desserts. But all that ended when Jim Burns became my editor. Stick to your subject he admonished. Not surprisingly, being restricted cramped my creativity and at the same time brought out my rebellious streak. So I started to write about wine. Oh dear. It turned out to be some of the best writing I've ever done--first a special Margaux dinner at the Four Seasons Restaurant, followed by a story on Eiswein, after an extraordinary wine tour of Germany, and that is the one that broke the camel's back. Jim had been a wine writer so this time, not only did he remind me that I was not sticking to my subject, he took issue with my statement that Germany was the northern-most region for Eiswein in the world claiming, mistakenly, that it was Canada. As I am married to a Canadian, I could, without hesitation, cite the exact latitude of the Canadian Eiswein growing region which was 1 parallel lower than that of the German one. I won the battle and lost the war. It was my last article for the LA Times Syndicate and Jim left shortly thereafter. If you are interested in seeing my email to Jim in defense of this article, it follows. And soon I will post the article itself.

Dear Jim, I am faxing you the revised copy of the Eiswein story but I'll address the queries separately here. Eiswein is a story of love, romance and the Xmas spirit. I think the opening will draw the reader into this magic world. The vineyards All OVER the German wine growing regions had this sudden freeze on Xmas eve. Normally a freeze does not occur until much later. People appreciated how rare and valuable this was and volunteered to help pick all night in the freezing vineyards. I do find this heart warming. How can I defend that? A vintner's life is a very hard one. Eiswein is a gift, literally, that they don't have to work to create (unlike TBA and BA). They are actually more proud of TBA and BA because it requires greater skill. But Eiswein is nature's or God's gift to them and they treasure it. The analogy of a profound love and this wine, I think, is an apt one. Though most people will never taste this wine, I believe they want to read about it and experience the poetry and dream of it. It was my goal to give conscientiously accurate information. To this end, I submitted the copy first to the German Wine Institute in Germany. They made a few subtle modifications but evidently thought that the information was correct. To be more specific: I was told by the German Wine Institute that Eiswein was invented in 1965 in Germany. The Canadian wine growing region is on the 48th parallel; the German wine growing region is on the 49th parallel. Last month I tasted a Chardonnay Eiswein. I believe that Eiswein is also made from the Reislaner grape and the German Wine Institute did not change this in my copy but it's fine to just mention the more known Riesling and Scheurebe Eisweins. I reworked the comparison to TBA for greater clarity but I see no need to mention BA--if Eiswein is at least equal in intensity to TBA, it goes without saying that it would be more intense than BA. Sugar and concentration are two different factors. Concentration has to do with the amount of liquid remaining. In Eiswein, all of the water freezes whereas in TBA, not all of the water necessarily evaporates. But I reworded it so that it is no longer confusing (hopefully). I originally wrote that Eiswein can age for 75 years as a conservative estimate. The German Wine Institute changed this to 100 years. This is still conservative! Not all Eisweins are created equal which is why I listed producers whose Eisweins are worth the price if one can afford it. Please don't think I disregarded your request about leaving out articles in the recipe text. I left out almost all of them, only using them where I thought they seemed desirable but you've made your point and I got rid of all of them. I remember your asking me to call when I modem. Quite honestly I forgot because I routinely modem immediately after faxing. I've written it on my calendar so I won't forget to fax, modem and call. Your point about short-changing my dessert recipe is well-taken. I have addressed that. All in all, I do think the piece benefited by being reworked, but I want to say that though it is a very complex subject, it is also a very exciting and fascinating one and, I think, worth the leap of faith that people will enjoy being educated and have the opportunity to dream a little. And I am leaving them with my best cookie recipe. Sincerely,