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June 14, 2011

What I've learned in five years of food blogging (Five? Yes!)

Five years of blogging

Five years ago today, I posted my very first words as a food blogger here on The Perfect Pantry.

After 15 years of food writing in newspapers and magazines, I was ready to blog. I had a name, I had a concept, and I had a couple of slick spreadsheets to keep me organized.

The plan? Blog for one year, four or five posts every week, everything you'd ever want to know about each of the (then) 220 basic ingredients in my fridge, freezer, spice rack and cupboards, always with recipes. Oh, and photos of each ingredient that you could take to the market and match to something on the shelf.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

Five years, 257 pantry ingredients, 1,015 posts, and countless fuzzy photos later, I've learned a few essential truths about, and from, food blogging.

None would be worth mentioning without you, the friends who come here every week to learn more about what's in your own pantries. You're smart and funny, interesting and adventurous cooks who give me feedback and correct my mistakes and share pantry photos and recipes. One especially compassionate fan even sent me a jar of chili paste with garlic last week when I sent a psychic distress call into the universe as my local supply ran dry. (I will love her forever.)

These truths are for you.

One.

1. Everyone has skeletons in their (pantry) closets, the herbs and spices bought for one long-abandoned recipe experiment, the jars of bean paste and stinky shrimp paste and anchovy paste lurking in the rear of the fridge. I have them, too. How do you think I know about the stinky shrimp paste? (At least, I think it's shrimp paste. It's been there so long that it might have started as something altogether different. I'm afraid to get too close.)

I was right to think that a blog about ways to use those things we already have on hand would be a fun blog to write. I might have underestimated the amount of time it would take each day to create the posts for this blog, but I was right about the fun.

Two.

2. Only practice can make you a better cook, but blogging will make you a brave cook. If not for The Perfect Pantry, or the dream of a perfect pantry, you and I might never have experimented with kamut, Japanese seven-spice powder, vaudovan, Ro*Tel, tamarind, piment d'Espelette, grains of paradise or curry leaves.

I've learned not to give up on an ingredient if the first recipe I try tastes like the dog's breakfast. The mission of this blog is to discover more ideas for how to use what you've already bought, so don't you give up, either. Maybe the dog will like what you make, even if you don't.

Three.

3. Looks matter. Yes, they do. Photos of food can make me curious, give me confidence, or turn me off. In the first two years, I never photographed my cooked food, because I didn't know how. Of course, I didn't know how to photograph ingredients in jars and cans and bags, either. Writing the blog has been easy, because I've always earned my living as a writer. The biggest challenge for me has been to find my own visual style, not to copy someone else's.

I continue to struggle with photography, but my goal is simple: to take photos that let you know the food was prepared in my kitchen, not run over by my car in the driveway. If ever you can't tell the difference, I hope you'll let me know.

Four.

4. Everything old is great. Don't you just love my Grandma's beef brisket? Of course you do. Everyone in my family loves it, and the recipe is at least eighty years old. (Okay, the original version called for sickly sweet Manischewitz wine, and I started using cheap dry red wine at least thirty years ago, but the basic recipe is just like Grandma used to make.)

The recipes we carry with us, even if they seem old-fashioned, are still the best, and if there's a story that goes with the recipe, embrace the story and the food: the bubbly fruit punch that went up your cousin's nose at a July 4 picnic, or the what-is-that breakfast your kids made on your birthday, or -- true story -- the cranberry sauce I unmolded over the sink and the whole thing slid down the drain. Don't cast aside a dish just because you've grown up with it, or you think there's nothing "gourmet" about it.

Five.

5. Blogging brings amazing people into your life. Some are online friends, Facebook fans or Tweeters I never get to meet, but we learn things about each other, the kind of things that friends tell friends. One long-time reader lives in a New Jersey town with a world-famous flea market. Several are Rhode Island ex-pats scattered about the country. Both a woman in the Midwest, and a friend in the town next to mine, catch my typographical errors; I'm grateful beyond measure that they care enough to let me know.

A gentleman in the northern United States has dedicated himself to improving my relationship with cauliflower. I love getting his recipe ideas and links by email, but I want to say publicly that I will never love cauliflower. Never. And if you are cilantro evangelist, please know that I feel the same way about the-weed-that-tastes-like-soap, but thank you for caring about me.

Some readers I have had the great pleasure to meet (hugs! giggles!), at potlucks or pastry shops. Of course, I've met many food bloggers, from all around the world, people whose paths would never have crossed mine if not for blogging. A few have become friends, confidantes, and partners in gustatory crimes. My life is richer because all of you are in it.

I say this every year, but not often enough:  

You are the most important ingredient in The Perfect Pantry.

Thank you all for being here for the past five years.

Special thanks to my husband Ted, hand model extraordinaire, who supports The Perfect Pantry in ways too numerous to mention. He finds props at yard sales, and bakes cookies in the evening when I always forget an ingredient, and he tastes every recipe to make sure it's good enough for you. He probably got a few mosquito bites while posing for these photos in our buggy garden, but he never complained. Not once.

Comments

Oh, Lydia, I love you (and Ted)! So glad I have had the chance to meet & dine with you both. Congratulations on 5 utterly fantastic, informative & multi-talented years of food blogging. YOU have created something of which to be proud & brought a unique community together in the process. Thank you for sharing your time, talents & energy with all of us.

Those are wonderful truths! They're what it's truly all about. Congratulations on five terrific years, Lydia!

Congrats & best wishes. Your blog is always a favorite stop for me.
Cheers!

I love you and your blog Lydia. Congrats! And here is for another fabulous year. :)

You have inspired, motivated and taught me so much. Congratulations to my mentor and friend!

Happy Anniversary, Lydia, and a hearty cheer to Mr. Hand! Your friendship and the Perfect Pantry have been such an important part of my evolution over the last five years! Hugs!

Congrats on your blog birthday!

I couldn't stop laughing at the cranberry sauce going down the drain. Happy Anniversary!

Congrats and happy bloggerversary! Thank you as well for the sage advice...all to be considered.

Congratulations on five fabulous years, Lydia! I've been happily following along for at least four of those years. You've been an inspiration all the way.

Thank you all for your kind words. Sandie and Maris, I've loved being your adopt-a-blogger mom. And Christine, you just had to be there to watch my perfectly unmolded cranberry slide right off the slightly tilted plate and down the drain. It was a slow motion moment, so bad, and so funny.

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Lydia!!!

Congratulations on the blog birthday, Lydia! You are awesome and I always enjoy my peek into the perfect pantry. Here's to many many more years of good food, joy and happy blogging for you!

You and your blog are an art form! You had me at "hello"---when I was lucky enough to attend the group cooking class about 8 years ago. You are a blog guru. Happy #5.

I remember the day, and ever since have looked forward to
food inspirations, bits of fun, and oh-yes-they-are fine
photos. Congratulations, Lydia.
And, Hello to The Hand!

Happy fifth anniversary, Lydia! blogging has made me braver in trying new things. It's probably true that cilantro may taste like soap to you but I think I've finally determined that some tastebuds react differently to some ingredients. Like the hubby absolutely thinks vanilla , even the real one, taste like cough syrup.

Some very wise words. That is quite the milestone to see 5 years of work surrounding you. Congratulations Lydia!!!!!As for cauliflower, we are kindred spirits. But I am a firm believer that we will all like everythung if it is made in a way that we like. For cauliflower I cook the heck out of it (with a clothes pin on my nose), mash it add some Parmesan cheese and garlic, blitz it and put it on pasta!!!! A healthy alfredo :D

Wow - five years, it does not seem possible! Matt and I use your recipes every week and continued to be delighted any time we get a chance to cook together. We've been blessed and inspired and treasure our friendship with you and Ted!


What a lovely anniversary post, Lydia! I'm only sorry that I didn't find your blog sooner. Truly.

Hugs,
Shirley

p.s. intrigued by all the spreadsheets you started out with. ;-)

You've taught us well and refined our palates. Thank You!

others here have already expressed sentiments that cannot be surpassed so I will just say "ditto" to all the above. PP is just a wonderful place to come and visit every day. THANK YOU for sharing yourself with us everyday

Thank you, Lydia. Yours was the first food blog I followed and is still top of the heap to me!

Great post Lydia! It so exemplifies what's kept you around for 5 years. Love the visuals and the ending video.

Congratulations...and keep the door to the perfect pantry open for all of us.

I remember discovering you via a link from somewhere, then going backwards to read everything you had. Fortunately it must have been only somewhere in the 100 range then. You're prolific! engaging! intimate! knowing and learning at the same time!! Through thick and thin you've stuck with us and enhanced our curious love of cooking with ingredients, recipes and photos, even shared The Hand! I love the way you've regrouped and shifted so the focus never wanders... Best to you both.

I am so glad that you and I met through blogging. I always love reading about what you are making and your experiments with exotic ingredients. I'm still in awe over how you manage Drop In & Decorate. It's an amazing thing you've created and you should feel very proud of it. *hugs*

You are all such a special part of my blog, and of my life, and I can't thank you enough for your kindness. Wendy, my cooking classes really inspire me! Marcia, you were my very first blog reader, before I told anyone that I'd started the blog, and I thank you for being here for every minute of the past five years. (Even though you no longer live up the road, your gifts to my garden are always with me.) Veron, you must find yourself a vanilla-loving husband! Bellini, maybe the clothes pin would help me.... Mary, we love cooking with you, too, and I hope you don't mind that I shamelessly steal some of your recipes! Shirley, spreadsheets for keeping track of ingredients, recipes, and the balance of what types of foods I was writing about so you wouldn't have to read about 10 spices in a row.

happy bloggerversary! Your article is meaningful, inspiring and well written. Congratulations on the 5 year milestone :)

You are truly an inspiration to cooks and food bloggers around the world, Lydia, and you deserve special recognition for 5 years of bringing your pantry and those of others into our lives. Here's to many more years of inspiration!!

Happy Blog Birthday, Mz Lydia, you are an inspiration and friend to so many. I'm proud to include myself in that number. Food blogging is so different now than five years ago -- but so much of the good remains.

Congratulations on five years of blogging, Lydia. You inspire me. I enjoyed the sound of the birds tweeting in the closing video with Ted's hand waving! Looking forward to more of your adventurous recipes.

Hi Lydia, and Congratulations!! Your blog reunited us, too! I love reading your posts, and knowing we're still connected, even if we live far apart.

Keep up the great work, and for the record - I despise, I mean, really don't like, cauliflower ; )

What a great post Lydia! You are always an inspiration to me, especially your willingness to try just about any ingredient. :-)

Congratulations on 5 years of blogging!! You're a wonderful inspiration and I hope you keep blogging for years and years to come :)

You all inspire me! Alanna, the food blog world has changed, but blogging is fun in many new ways and the friends I've made along the way are always there to laugh, commiserate, and advise. Donna, every food blogger should have a Ted; he's the biggest fan of this blog and helps in countless ways. Steve-Anna, I'll always be grateful to blogging for bringing us back together (and I'm so glad to know that you feel as I do about cauliflower!). Elise, you are still teaching me by example, every day.

Congratulations Lydia - kind of cool to have known you through the whole process and watched you morph! and so looking forward to see where this all goes next. And please tell Ted to take care of those hands...are they insured?

I love this post! And it's true, we had no idea what we were getting into. I remember fondly when I first discovered your blog, and I'm so happy we have become friends through our blogs even though we live so far from each other.

Lydia, Congratualtions! After being a reader during all five years, I am so excited to have finally met you in person this year. You and your blog have been an inspiration, making me laugh, learn, and love cooking even more.

And hosting/participating in Drop in & Decorate parties have been some of my fondest memories. Thanks for all you do...Here's to the next upteen years of fabulousness. :)

Well done, my friend.

Happy blog birthday! Your blog has become such a great resource and inspiration for your readers and for us fellow bloggers. Now I must search to find what you made with RoTel, one ingredient I always have in my own, imperfect, pantry.

Well I'm smiling from ear to ear..soo happy for you & so happy for ME that I've been able to follow along these last couple of years. Bummin' that I missed the first three! I didn't know you had an aversion to cauliflower & cilantro. TWO OF MY FAVORITE FOODS - I don't exaggerate a bit. Really Lydia? :) How can I change that? Love Love Love #4...everything old is GREAT. Who would we be to think we're the ones concocting the best of recipes worth repeating? My guttsiest memories are around food - near every one of 'em. You're blog has been like a friend that I run to on Saturday mornings & others. You've made me smile sooooo many times and I can only say THANK YOUU thank you for providing me with brain food & table food alike. Congratulations!!!! Love you!

Wow! We started our blogs the same week, Lydia, only mine has pretty much been neglected lately.

Yours was one of the first blogs I discovered. Not sure how. Doesn't matter. I've learned so much from your blog.

Glad you are here!

What a lovely anniversary post! I remember the day I discovered your blog- and felt immediately like I had met a friend. Happy Anniversary to The Perfect Pantry! Hugs and warm smiles and raised glasses of wine to you! xox Karina

Congratulations on 5 years!

Congratulations, Lydia! Yours is one of the first food blogs I came across when I first started blogging, and one of the blogs I still come back to regularly for excellent writing, recipes that get my juices flowing and photos that NEVER make the food look as though it was run over in the driveway. I have been privileged to meet you and hope to have many other chances to do so in the future.

I'm so grateful to all of you! Peter, I still hope to convince you to come back to guest post here. Kalyn, I remember that you were one of the first people I didn't know to discover my blog, and I'm so glad we've become good friends in real life. Chris, so happy that we met in Atlanta! Mimi, I miss your wonderful posts about life, and about life in France, and I hope someday life will give you the time to write again. Karina, thanks for being a soul sister. Canuck, I hope our paths cross again soon.

Lydia, congratulations on your five-year anniversary! I look forward to many more years of reading your posts. Your writing, curiosity, and passion have created a unique place where people feel welcome, where they are supported in their own food exploration.

Your Drop in and Decorate is inspiring. You care not just about food, but about feeding people, belly and soul. That care pervades your blog.

Thank you for many ideas, recipes, new ingredients, and inspiration. Thank you for recommending food places in Providence. Thanks for a wonderful space that feels alive and vibrant, even in an online world.

Judy

5 years (and also my wife's birthday)....Congrats....your wit and writing style keep us coming back for more....and of course, the great ideas....what do I do with chick pea flour for example?

Congratulations! This blog has inspired my cooking and curiosity about new ingredients! Of course, best of all is the strong sense of community you foster online and in your kitchen! What a gift!
PS Let me know if you need a royal wave - elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist, wrist, pause, pearls.

You made me laugh!! Now, forget the food blogging because you and your husband need to hop on a train to NYC and sign a hand modeling contract! Go on, Go!

Congrats on five fabulous food blogging years!

You're all making me blush (and smile)! Judy, thank you for being there for all these years. Ben, if you use the search bar up at the top of the page, you'll find the recipe for salmon tikka. You will love it. Lucia, everyone should have one friend who can do the wave and make great biscuits! Jennifer, I've passed your advice on to Ted; I think he has very photogenic hands, too.

I am so happy for you. 5 years of blogging is a huge accomplishment. I have been so lucky to have you as a part of my blogging support network. Glad you are out there and appreciate all you do for everyone! Congrats!

Congrat's on 5 years of blogging. I have been following you for quite awhile. This was a great post!!
I'm celebrating two years today and am really enjoying the journey also.

High fives Lydia for five years of blogging goodness. Here's a clink-clink to the years ahead!

Yes. this is the ONLY place to go for excitement and adventure in cooking. I tell everyone I know that blogs, that this is the one they need to put 1st on their list of where to go. The photos are wonderful! I tell gals and guys standing baffled in the spice and vegetables aisle to go here! Stay with us--we learn and love alot!!!--sideline sharing, my cranberry sauce slithered directly on Granny's favorite lace tablecloth! Came out, fortunately!

Wow! Five years! I remember having coffee with you in my garden when you first told me about your blog. I was skeptical, but oh have you proven me wrong. What a wonderful space/community you have created. I've enjoyed reading and being a part of it. xoxo

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY and THANK YOU for everything - you are my first and only food blog that I follow regularly.
Thank you for exposing me to so many new things like Chinese 5-spice and Sriracha and just about everything interesting.
Thank you for inspiring me to cook more beautiful and interesting food.
Thank you for the laugh-out-loud moment at the office I just had reading about the cranberry mold.
Thank you for inspiring bravery in cooking and in life. I truly owe you and your beautiful oven-roasted tomatoes full credit for inspiring me to think I could blog too!
You truly touch people's lives in many wonderful ways and it shows in everything you do.
Here's to another 5 years!

ps my husband thanks you too as the lucky recipient of many yummy meals.

Lydia,
Congratulations - wow 5 years! I have really enjoyed (and will continue to look forward to) all your wonderful recipes and introductions to different ingredients, often used in was I would not have tried. I feel so fortunate to have been able to meet you in person - you are as a sweet and generous person. Thank your husband too for picking up those little dishes too and letting you use him as a hand model - loved the short video of his hand! Congrats again - you are an inspiration to me as a fairly new blogger!

Congratulations on your blog birthday! I've enjoyed your blog for about two years now. Your writing, recipes, AND your pictures are terrific! Thanks for sharing them with us all these years.
P.S. Ted's hand modeling gives a totally different meaning to the phrase "talk to the hand."

You are all so kind! Kristen, your adopt-a-blogger program inspires me every day. Lori, special congrats to you on two years of blogging. Pat, thanks for the cranberry sauce giggle (I laugh at my mishap now, but at the time I was in tears). Julia, I always feel re-energized in your garden. Wish I had your green thumb. Carol, I'm so glad we've been able to expand your husband's palate! Jeanette, meeting you was one of the things I really loved about BlogHer Food this year. Maggie, I'm laughing and sharing your comment with Ted.

Lydia, this is really a lovely post... I always enjoy visiting your blog so much.

Congratulations, Lydia! I enjoyed reading this post - and thanks for the laugh re the cranberry sauce mishap. ;)

Happy anniversary! You rock. I look forward to
your posts. Thanks for hanging in there so
that we could get to know you!

Congrats on 5 years, Lydia. I especially love your comments on keeping those nostalgic recipes alive. I was browsing through my husband's grandmother's old recipe "book", which was really just a notebook with pencil-scribbled guidelines on how to make a few of her favorite dishes. One even had a note - "tried June 1937." 1937!! I love it. I'm hoping to recreate a version of her butterscotch pie soon. Thanks for all that you do on your blog. I love it and have followed you for gosh, 3 of these 5 years. It's been a blast.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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