This Blog Was Bound for Failure

In the summer of 2009, my family participated in a Community Supported Agriculture farm share […]

Carrie Willard / 7.26.16

In the summer of 2009, my family participated in a Community Supported Agriculture farm share for the first time. We “subscribed” to a crop share with a local farm, and each week, we planned our meals based on whatever variety of organic vegetables came in that week’s farm box. I (kind of) gave up my tight-clenched first of control over our weekly menu, breezily mentioning to friends that we “ate with the seasons,” lah-dee-dah, so whatever showed up in the box each week is what we ate. I read Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, watched “Food, Inc.” while my husband cringed from the next room, and preached the gospel of sustainable agriculture. I researched heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving (which my husband vetoed first, because he thought it would arrive live at our house, and second, because they are approximately the cost of a mortgage payment). We cheerfully chewed threw kohlrabi and kale. Nothing has ever made me so virtuous and ridiculously sanctimonious. We were eating organic arugula pizza on whole wheat crust, for crying out loud.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Community Supported Agriculture is amazing, and I love it. We ate well while supporting a local farm. It was great all around. And I still think that everyone should read Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Pollan. But I think that the superiority high I had from that first year’s crop share, and our general feeling of “success” surrounding it, went to my head. I can hear my great-grandmother laughing from beyond the grave at my high-mindedness about locavorism – “Sweetie, that’s what we just called ‘eating’ back in my day.”

Later that same summer, we saw the movie Julie & Julia, based on the book with the same title, which I had read a few years earlier. The premise of this true story is that a young woman named Julie (played by Amy Adams in the movie) cooked all of the recipes in both volumes of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book tracks Julie’s progress in teaching herself to cook, using the cookbooks as her guide, and blogging the experience. The movie offers a parallel arc of the life of Julia Child, played by Meryl Streep, based on her memoirs and letters. Both Julie and Julia struggle with stubborn souffles, along with attendant personal and professional hurdles, but in the end, they prevail, at least in Hollywood fashion. Julie learns to cook and gets a book deal from her blog, and Julia Child, of course, goes down in history for making French cuisine accessible to American home cooks.

The inspiration I felt from watching the movie, paired with the superiority high that I was still surfing from our first year as farm share stakeholders, along with an impending sense of boredom and uselessness that can only come from being underemployed while weaning one’s first baby… all of these factors led me to the possibly misguided decision to start a cooking blog of my own.

For my blog, I decided that I would cook everything from Ina Garten’s cookbooks. Ms. Garten is perhaps better known as The Barefoot Contessa, the name of the food store she owned in the Hamptons and the cooking show she hosted on FoodTV. At the time I started the blog, she had published six cookbooks. There are now nine cookbooks, with a tenth due to be published this Fall. There were several hundred recipes to be cooked, baked, shaken and stirred. Over the past (almost) seven years, I’ve made and blogged 672 recipes (more than the original goal, when there were just six cookbooks), with 114 left to go. Since 2009, I have also: had a second baby, moved twice, held various part-time and full-time jobs, volunteered on Boards and in classrooms, cleaned, laundered, sticker-charted, written, read, interviewed, and … lived.

The blog has morphed into more than just a cooking blog over time. When my family moved from Minnesota to Texas for my husband’s job as the rector of a large Episcopal parish in Houston, I blogged about the transition and sought advice from our new friends about life in our new neighborhood, while sharing some information about our family. When the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina occurred last year, I knew I had to write about it, and the blog gave me a platform to do that. I’ve shared our family transitions and our explorations of our new city. I met Ina Garten … kind of.


But it seems there will always be the to-do list of those recipes yet to be made. Sure, there’s the fact that the cookbooks keep on getting published, adding to the not-yet-cooked list of recipes every few years. But what is it about those last hundred or so recipes that I just can’t bring myself to finish? For one thing, a lot of them just don’t appeal to me. Blue cheese, pears, swordfish – gross, gritty, and full of mercury. What did I think would happen to all of those recipes back when I started the blog? I think I took a cue from Scarlett in Gone With The Wind … “I’ll think about that … tomorrow.” I made the burden of undesirable recipes Future Carrie’s problem. Would Future Carrie suddenly like blue cheese, or not care about the mercury content of certain seafood? Probably not. Will I suddenly feel like a sanctified success when all of the recipes are complete and blogged? I think I’ve always known that the answer is a resounding “no.” Future Carrie is now Present Carrie, who is rolling her eyes, big time, at Past Carrie.

So why did I start the blog in the first place? And why do I keep chipping away at it? I do it because it’s fun, and because it gives me something to create. Ironically, the high-mindedness that got me started has been chipped away with the recipe list, one failure and procrastination at a time. It reminds me that whatever we’re doing, we’re doing imperfectly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. There is some grace in that, I think – grace that we can just keep swimming, even when our freestyle isn’t what it used to be. There’s grace in the meals we’ve shared with friends, even when, or maybe especially when, I forget to set the table. There’s grace in the GMO-laden, non-organic peanut butter sandwiches we’ve eaten over the sink when the meal doesn’t turn out as planned. There’s definitely grace in the ability to laugh at myself for starting this ridiculous project.

Beyond the reminders of grace and the humility I’ve learned through eating (figurative) crow, there’s joy in the doing of it – in the creating of meals and writing about them. Why train for a marathon that you’ll never win? (My kids and I were watching the Houston Marathon runners as they passed through our neighborhood last year, and my then-seven-year-old was aghast that people were walking. “They’re never going to win that way!” Cue long conversation about doing things for the sake of doing things, even though it didn’t look like there was much joy on anyone’s face, frankly.) Why would anyone bother to learn to play the piano, knowing that, statistically speaking, the chances of ever playing in a packed concert hall are very slim? Why do we have children, knowing that they will have pain, and almost certainly have pain because of us, their parents, at some point in time? Why create? Why do? For me, the cooking and the blogging bring me great joy. The meals we share at our table with our family and friends are worth all of the fallen cakes and sinks full of dirty dishes. And the grace in those shared meals is just, so to speak, the icing on the cake.