My good friend Monica Bhide put up a feature about CookShelf this morning which reminded me of how CookShelf got started, and so I wrote a little story about it for her site – you can read it there, following her post (and enter for a CookShelf giveaway!).
The short version is that it all began at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference in the middle of February, when a snowstorm almost brought the city to a halt and we all were scrambling around in the slush and kind of wishing we were on a beach somewhere. I had gone with no particular plan other than to see friends, speak on a panel, meet a few new faces. But talking with those friends forced an idea to take form, and before long I was forming what-ifs in my mind…as in what if I developed a cookbook-rating system? What if I wrote an app? What if I worked really really hard and got it out by Mother’s Day?
I’ve learned that those what-ifs tend to lead to unforeseen consequences. Previous what-ifs have included: What if I agreed to run down Central Park South in an evening gown and heels after a horse-drawn carriage while playing a saxophone? What if I tried to make the apple cake my mom made when I was little? What if I tried to write my own personal ad just for fun? The first got me $100 and a really amazing pastrami sandwich. The second led eventually, with many twists and turns, to A Spoonful of Promises. The third led to my husband, two kids, and this whole crazy make-it-up-as-you-go life in New England.
Not all my what-ifs have turned out so great. What if I do a backflip off of the edge of this swimming pool? What if we tried to make our own funnel cake (this at age 6, with my sister)? What if I take this scenic detour to Vermont, the one with all the “Moose Crossing” signs? What if I balance this 4-pound strawberry-rhubarb pie on a spatula while transferring it to the cooling rack?
So far, what have the what-if’s I asked 12 weeks ago in a midtown hotel while the snow fell all around us led to? Well, firstly, 12 weeks of the hardest work I’ve done in my life – early mornings and late nights, with much leaning on the husband that other what-if brought me 15 years ago. Secondly, much greater mental clarity in the evaluation of cookbooks. Thirdly, increased speed and fluency in writing (what happens when you make yourself produce 200 words at a time in 10-minute intervals). And lastly, the CookShelf app itself – this curious, shiny hybrid of authorship and convenience, produced by a person who 12 weeks ago barely knew what an app was – and still doesn’t have a smartphone.
I never really can say, even afterward, whether any particular what-if was a game changer or a goose chase. And there are probably better ways to live your life than chasing down one thing you don’t know after another. There are probably lots of people – and maybe they’re right – who believe Why bother! is a much more sensible reply to life’s conundrums than What if?
But I’m still going to keep asking.