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(article, Liz Crain)
[%pageBreakSettings nobreak=true] Four years ago Lydia Walshin, a food writer and cookbook author, started cooking on a monthly basis with eight friends in rural northwest Rhode Island. These days, the group’s culinary adventures have expanded to include regular, open-to-the-public cooking groups and two spin-off blogs: The Perfect Pantry and Ninecooks. [%image promo-image float=left width=350 caption="A latte-decorated cookie from a Drop In and Decorate party." credit="Photo courtesy Lydia Walshin"] p(blue). Blog: The Perfect Pantry Average posts per month: 16 Blogger: Lydia Walshin Age: 54 Blog place of origin: Rhode Island On her Perfect Pantry blog, Walshin keeps a daily tally of the food items in her pantry (which includes her fridge, freezer, and cupboards). She might write about the origins of vanilla beans or urge readers to value their vittles and not take food for granted. Her annual Drop In and Decorate is a lively winter holiday gathering at which folks gather to bake and decorate cookies for local shelters and charitable organizations. And every week, in The Bookworm in the Pantry, Walshin highlights her readers’ favorite food-related non-cookbooks. How big is your pantry and what does it look like? Not as big as you'd think! In the kitchen, I have a large spice rack, a four-foot-square cabinet for dry goods, oil and vinegar, etc., and of course the fridge and freezer. In the cellar, I have another fridge/freezer, and three racks that are six feet tall by three feet wide. Goodness, that sounds like a lot! But if you go into your own kitchen and begin to count every spice jar and every jar of beans, flour, vinegar, etc., you'll be amazed at how many items you actually can fit in your own pantry. [%image kitchen float=left width=450 caption="Walshin's kitchen." credit="Photo courtesy Lydia Walshin"] Do you have a chalkboard tally for every item you retrieve? No, I don't count, but when I started The Perfect Pantry I created a database of every item. As I add or subtract things from the pantry (yes, I do subtract, occasionally), I adjust the database. I confess that I add more than I remove. The pantry reflects my cooking moods, too; right now I'm into Moroccan cooking, so the pantry has harissa, ras el hanout, and of course lots of cinnamon. What's in your pantry that you won't write about? Items that I don't use on a regular basis. We all accumulate things in the pantry — gifts of homemade pickles and jams, or specialty food products we pick up on our travels — that are once-in-a-lifetime pantry residents. If I can't replenish it, I don't write about it. When did you discover blogs? Believe it or not, just two years ago. My kids suggested I start a blog because it's similar to the newsletters I've produced for nonprofits for more than 25 years. I told them I needed a blog like I needed a hole in the head. But then I began to look for some food blogs, and I found many that were so well written and conceived. Of course, my kids were right. Do you get any help with your blogs? A wonderful artist, Shawn Kenney, designed the banner for The Perfect Pantry. He's also my collaborator on Will Paint for Food, a project that raises funds for hunger relief. Every few weeks, Shawn adds an item or two to the Pantry shelf, but I do the rest of the design work, which is pretty basic. I'm much more concerned with getting quality information out than with a fancy layout with lots of bells and whistles. I did have help to set up the Ninecooks website; I had a design concept, but not enough technical knowledge to implement it. I do all of the updating and maintenance on that myself. You often donate time and food from your online projects and cooking groups to charitable organizations. Which causes are the most important to you? Food and cooking are powerful tools to bring people together, and strengthening community always has been an important part of my life. I have a long involvement in hunger relief, both as an active volunteer for organizations like Share Our Strength and as a creator of projects that help end hunger through outreach, education, and food distribution. Drop In and Decorate is a project I started five years ago, and Will Paint for Food began just last year. [[block(sidebar). h1. Liz's favorite posts [[block(smalltext). 1. Pantry dreams 2. Dried chile peppers 3. Yeast 4. Mexican chocolate ]] ]] If you could continue with only one of your food-related projects, which would it be? Please don't make me choose. If my editor at Rhode Island Monthly is reading this, she might be hoping that I'd want to continue writing for the magazine. I'd love to be a full-time blogger, though for most of us blogging is a labor of love. I'm committed to expanding Drop In and Decorate nationally (and internationally) this year. And I'm working to create a sustainable model for Will Paint for Food. It would be hardest for me to give up the community work, which is at the core of who I am and what I believe. What will never be in your pantry? Bacon. Anything made with cauliflower. I can't even imagine what that would be — cauliflower pickles, maybe? p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer in Portland, Oregon.