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Eat, Write, Retreat 2012 Conference Recap

For a few months now, you’ve seen this graphic in the sidebar of the front page of this site.  This past weekend, it was finally here, the second annual Eat, Write, Retreat conference in Washington, DC!  Last year, I had found this gathering of food bloggers, writers, PR folks, brands, and others involved in the culinary media industry to be eye-opening and inspirational.  This year, I walked away with my head and my heart full of all the wonderful things I had learned and the amazing people that I had met during a few short days.

I will not fall for Monica’s joke at conference next year; I will not fall for Monica’s joke at conference next year; I will not fall for Monica’s joke at conference next year! 

Having really enjoyed her presentation last year, I was eager to see what valuable insights Monica would have for us.  For me, she pried open those creaky wheels in my brain that have gotten stuck in terms of my writing and this website and made me shine a light on why I started doing this in the first place.  What is the driver?  What is the motivation?  Why me?  In our group exercise, we had to turn to the person next to us and come up with One Word – ONE – that describes our websites.  Try this.  It isn’t as easy as it sounds to distill the essence of what you do, what makes you passionate, in just One Word.

I’m still mulling over my word – GUIDE.  Kathy Hester of Healthy Slow Cooking was my partner for this exercise.  For her, it means that I try to help people discover resources, recipes, things going on in the food-oriented space around them.  I like to encourage folks to learn more about their culinary environment through visiting area markets, eating locally-grown seasonal produce, and enjoying food festivals, so I guess in a way I do see this website and the information that I try to communicate through it as a guide to exploring all of these activities.  Let me know.  What do you think?  Does it fit?

Andy Schloss

Andy Schloss of Chef Salt spoke to us more about the business side of food writing and blogging.  For the most part this site has been a hobby for me, an extension of my longtime interest in food, travel, and the recipes I’ve collected along the way.  On the other hand, I would welcome the opportunity to be able to support myself doing what I love.  Andy’s words of wisdom are that, at this point, you need to build several lines of business in order to survive in the culinary world.  Ads on websites are only a small part of this.  Teaching, affiliates, consulting, recipe development, brand spokespersonship, writing, and other avenues are also necessary to generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining.

Styling Carrots

Food Styling Prop Table (see carrots in background)

One of my favorite parts of the conference from last year was back as well.  We had a hands-on food styling and food photography workshop with Lisa Cherkasky and Renee Comet.  Lisa and Renee took several photos, let us see how lighting and angles have an impact on the final shot, and showed us how they do post-production editing using Lightroom.  They then let us get our own hands in the mix working with beans, carrots, watermelon, and other food props trying to create tantalizing pictures.  I don’t use any extra props in my own photos other than to try to avoid glares on the food and the plate and trying to capture those extra drops of goodness that might drip down the sides of an assembled dish, so it was fascinating to me to see how the pros do it.

Green Juice Shooters (apple, spinach, parsley)

Aside from the opportunity to sharpen our skills and to pick up new ideas for our website, we, of course, had a chance to eat during the conference.  One of our lunches was at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw in Northwest, Washington, DC.  For us, they prepared a special Organic, Raw-Vegan Menu, which we were told takes a week to come together.  Before you turn away, just look at these photos and tell me that some of these dishes don’t look just amazing.  We were told that Elizabeth was inspired to embark on a raw-vegan diet after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  She has been able to heal her body through food.

Lunch plate at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw

Kale chips with spicy coating; vegan “sushi” made with shredded jicama and wasabi sauce; red pepper hummus; a “cracker” made of nut flour; and a cashew mousse “pastry boat” with shaved fennel, red onion, spinach, and truffle oil

Mock “Millionaires Shortbread”

The hit of this lunch was probably the cashew mousse creation, which was creamy and soul-satisfying with the earthy aroma of truffles and delicate anise tones from the shaved fennel.  The “pastry boat” was made from nuts and held everything together with a hearty, crunchy backnote.  While we were munching away, Casey Benedict, one of the conference organizers, interviewed Michael Natkin about his new book Herbivoracious, based upon his exploration of vegetarian cuisine on his own blog.  Then, we all flocked to the table again to enjoy some more of this delicious food.

Guinness Beef Stew

Dinner that evening was what one person termed the antidote to our healthy lunch.  We headed over to AGAINN, a contemporary gastro-pub in Washington, DC that works to source ingredients from local farms as well as organically.  This was hearty pub food at its best, with some of my favorites on the menu including Bangers & Mash with caramelized onions and this dark, rich Guinness Beef Stew.  We even had little jars of Banoffee Pie for dessert, which were gobbled up before I could even get a photo of them.

12-year old Scotch Whisky by The Balvenie

Part of that evening was also spent tasting scotch whisky from The Balvenie.  We were able to sample the 12-year and the 15-year varieties.  The smooth, caramel-like liquid slid down my throat with a slight burn, leaving a warming sensation in my stomach.  I’ve never been a whisky drinker, much as I try, but I can appreciate the care and craft that goes into making these beverages.

Barboursville Cabernet Franc (opening night dinner)

This is a conference that keeps you on your toes, literally in the case of the square dancing exertions from the opening night gathering; tests all your senses between the food, workshops, and exercises; and builds strong bonds among its participants.  What is unique among conferences is that it is a smaller event where bloggers, brands, and media folks interact and get to know each other over several days of exchanging ideas, personal cooking stories, and points of view about what is going on in the culinary world.  We leave the conference with new friends, re-energized spirits, and lots of great new tools to try out in our kitchens, courtesy sponsors like Oxo and Calphalon.  I can’t wait to see what the program will be like in 2013!

Buon appetito!

Here’s some post from the other attendees from this year’s conference, too:

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