I’ve been dawdling a little bit all day, trying to write this post. It’s not that the topic is exactly difficult or challenging but that I’m not quite sure how to put all of my thoughts together after spending a fantastic weekend in the country in Pennsylvania at Big Summer Potluck. This was my first year attending this food blogger gathering, which I’d followed on Twitter last year, reading about how much fun everyone was having and the special bonds that seemed to develop between attendees that carried over well after everyone went back home.
Tangerine KitchenAid stand mixer as flower pot
My mind is still processing all of the inputs that it was given in just a few short days. In looking at my photos from the weekend, I think that the tagline from the program is the key take-away: Food, Inspiration, and, above all, Community. Here is an all-too-brief look at how these things came together to create a special experience unlike any other conference or activity that I’ve taken part in since I started taking part in the food blogging world.
Chef Max Hansen tending to the pig in the smoker
What else would a food blogger weekend be without some incredible edibles? From the Friday night fried chicken fest hosted by the Andersons at their lovely home to the final morsel of breakfast scoffed down at the end of the weekend, we ate lots of delicious dishes, catered by Max Hansen Caterer and provided by our sponsors along with bowls of coleslaws, noodles, salads, and even some chutneys and pickles supplied by fellow attendees as part of the spirit of the potluck.
Waffles & Ham with Tart Cherries in Brandy & Spiced Syrup
I contributed my No-Mayonnaise Carrot Salad for the pig roast on Saturday night, and my Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup made their way on to the waffles and sliced ham that were part of Sunday morning’s farewell buffet.
One of my favorite desserts of the weekend, and there were plenty of sweet things to try, were these Triple Chocolate Brownies by Chef Dennis, whom I’ve gotten to know through Google+. It was so nice to have a chance to meet him in person this weekend. His website is a treasure trove of fantastic, easy recipes as well as tidbits about how to be a better participant in the food blogging community.
Speakers gave us tips about how to write better and how to organize and formulate our ideas as well as just how to be better observers of the world around us. Brooke Burton-Lüttmann spoke to us about creating “mindfulness” and about becoming more in the moment, aware of what is taking place as we go through our daily lives, which can often get very cluttered and busy. She said that we should take some time to reflect on where we are right now, where we were when we first had the idea for our blogs, and where we would like to go. As someone who has written a website for going on seven years, this really resonated with me, especially as I figure out the next chapter of my life personally and professionally.
Molly O’Neill shared some jewels from the treasure trove of her food writing career. “This is a life-long sport,” she said, encouraging us to dig in there and set ourselves up to be in the game for a while. “We’re all works in progress,” she added, “The key is to nurture life and live a life that allows you joy, growth.” Looking around the top floor of the re-configured barn where we were meeting, she confided in us that she “couldn’t function without a strong peer group,” some of whom might be in the room right there with us.
View at Silver Buttons Farm
From one of our hosts, Pam Anderson, we heard more about the craft of writing good recipes. She walked us through her methodology as a professional recipe tester, habits that also translate to putting together posts on her website, Three Many Cooks. As she said, if we have a food blog, “We are first and foremost test cooks.” Get other tastebuds’ opinions was one helpful hint, as everyone has a different idea of what works and what doesn’t. Test a few different variables in each recipe, adding more or less flour, using a different type of chocolate, etc. to see if you really do have the right combination for the flavors for which you are looking. These are among the skills to develop well in order to create your own style and way of coming up with recipes.
At any conference or retreat, it is mostly about the people you meet first and foremost. It was wonderful to get to know a whole batch of new folks who are also lovers of good food and cooking, including a bunch of people from the New York City area whom I’ve never crossed paths with before. Then, there was also the opportunity to have some real time to talk to friends I have made at other conferences and events. Relaxing in the country allowed us all to take time to chat, rather than running off to the next activity or meeting as is usually the case in our frantic, over-booked lives.
I have to give a special “Thank You” to the fabulous Betty Ann (aka @Mango_Queen) and Elpi of Asian in America magazine, who let me hitch rides with them all weekend, as I needed to carpool having arrived there originally via bus. This gave us some extra time to catch up on each others’ lives and to compare notes about writing about food. We met last year at Eat, Write, Retreat, and it is always a pleasure to see them at other conferences to hear about their latest news. I feel very privileged that they are part of my personal community of fellow bloggers.
Pam Anderson whipping up waffle batter
Big hugs and many, many thanks to Pam, Maggy, Erika, and all the other volunteers for a fantastic and fun weekend filled with lots of laughter, fantastic food, plenty of sangria, and energizing discussions, not to mention a few spells of rain, a Bluegrass band, ketchup chips I never got to try, and an impromptu Patsy Cline rendition by The Diva That Ate New York. I’ve got my Sharpie at the ready to block off the weekend for next year’s Big Summer Potluck!