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