Tag Archives: Big Summer Potluck

Reflections on Big Summer Potluck 2013 – BSP4

Checking-in-for-BSP4Checking in at BSP4

Having attended last year’s Big Summer Potluck for the first time and having gained so much inspiration, motivation, and insight, I knew that this was a food blogger event that I wanted to put on my calendar for this year.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to commit to going to it back in February when the tickets were on sale as I was still in culinary school.  I put my name on the waitlist, and a ticket came up a few weeks ago.  I went on line and secured my place lickety-split.

BSP4 - Heading to the Anderson HouseHeading to Friday night’s potluck dinner – it’s kind of like summer camp!

The overall theme of the weekend, is Food, Inspiration, and Community.  Like last year, there were plenty of all of those things to go around with a group of energetic, eager food bloggers all assembled to share their experiences.  This year’s specific theme was Invest in Yourself.  As the program description put it: “When you invest in yourself, you not only move forward but you also put yourself in a position to invest in others, invest in the community.”  Having spent the past year, investing in my culinary education and getting ready to spend more time and energy moving my career from simply writing about food to making more of it, and hopefully even teaching about it, this topic had particular relevance for me.

Jessamyn Rodriguez of Hot Bread Kitchen telling their storyJessamyn Rodriguez – Founder of Hot Bread Kitchen

All of the weekend’s speakers shared their experiences with us.  They brought up their initial inspiration, their starting steps to realize their dreams, their professional setbacks, their course corrections, and their successes. From Jessamyn Rodriguez of Hot Bread Kitchen, we heard how this amazing, incredible business incubator for immigrant women came into being.  Their program has launched several new enterprises and allowed many women (and men) to support their families.  I’ve long been a fan of their delicious breads and have used them in several of my recipes.

HBK - demonstrating making tortillasTortilla-making demonstration by Hot Bread Kitchen*

“In 2006, I decided to invest in myself,” Jessamyn started off her story.  She was working fulltime when she decided she wanted to know about making bread.  She pursued a baking certificate at The New School and then took on an apprenticeship at Daniel, where she was taken under the wing of the head baker to learn the craft.  This lead her to think about using bread to create an organization that could help women to create their own businesses.  In order to get it off of the ground, she said it was about prioritizing, “about putting resources in the right places.”

Hot Bread Kitchen display Hot Bread Kitchen display

Her three key pieces of advice were:

    1. Trust your intuition – that crazy idea that you might have or that slip of the tongue
    2. Take a risk and go BIG – this isn’t necessarily logical; the best entrepreneurs are scrappiest and sneakiest
    3. Let your successes propel you – “successes have to be more powerful than failures”; “take successes at 10 times the value of failures”; you have to glom onto your successes and to believe in your idea

Jessamyn counseled us, “You’re not in it with both feet, until you are in it with both feet.”

Chris from The Peche introducing Jeni Britton-BauerChris from The Pêche introducing Jeni Britton-Bauer

Another entrepreneur who re-enforced what Jessamyn told us about being inspired, not losing sight of a vision, and about working through what might be perceived as failures to achieve success, was Jeni Britton-Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.  She talked about her passion for making ice cream and how, initially, that drove her to produce the flavors that she wanted to, not necessarily what the customer might want to buy from her: “I had to fail miserably to find out about [that].”  In the end, though, acknowledging this fact has made her a better ice cream-maker and has made her business stronger.

J-Bar from Jeni's Ice CreamJ-Bar from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni “thinks of every project as a train I’m on,” she told us.  Some of them have already reached their destinations, some have crashed and burned (the failures), and some have yet to arrive at their destinations.  There’s 1,000 failures for everything that works, she added.  Why did she continue? she was asked.  “Because I didn’t want to do anything else,” she replied.  I’m not sure about the times that things didn’t work, but the J-Bars that we had for our afternoon break were delicious.  That’s enough to be very inspired!

Joe Yonan telling his storyJoe Yonan telling his story

Our last key speaker of the day was Joe Yonan of The Washington Post, my hometown paper, talking about “Reassessing the Dream.”  I always love when Joe is speaking at a conference, as he has such wonderful insights into food and the state of food writing (I mean, really, who can forget his comment about someone doing a book called “the 50 shades of grey Maldon Sea Salt” from The Cookbook Conference.).  He talked about being “in need of a major change of scenery” a few years ago, after going through layoffs at The Post, the sale by the owners of the land on which he’d had his community garden plot, and the death of his beloved dog.  He negotiated with his bosses and ended up spending a year in Maine, staying with his sister and brother-in-law on their farm, where they try to raise as much food as possible and to be as sustainable as possible.

Eat Your Vegetables by Joe YonanEat Your Vegetables by Joe Yonan

“This kind of thing isn’t just a fantasy, there are real consequences to the things that you do,” he cautioned us.  It might sound appealing just to run away for a while and to have some other life (even I feel like doing that now and again), but he had to organize his leave of absence from his job, sublet his apartment, and sort out how to make money in the meantime.  He was there to contribute to the running of the farm and to be engaged in that life, about which he had hoped to write a book.  The one he did write (shown in the photo above) covers just a small part of what happened to him while living on the farm; he also took away some valuable insights.

Kimchi Deviled Egg with Poblano Tapenade

Kimchi Deviled Egg – my new favorite food – and Poblano Tapenade from Joe Yonan’s new book with Hot Bread Kitchen Lavash Crackers

He told us, “I learned more than I ever could have imagined about growing food.”  More importantly, he said, he learned about “uni-tasking,” something that is more and more foreign to us in the fast-paced, overly-stimulated environment in which we usually function.  He shared with us that even now that he’s back working in Washington, DC at the paper, he’s still “reassessing the dream that we talked about” and learning the lessons from that year.  He doesn’t know how the experience will affect him in the long run; he’s also not sure that he really needs to know that – yet.

Mango Queen - Filipino BBQ Pork SkewerFilipino Pork BBQ Skewers by Mango Queen

As others will mention in their own write-ups, a weekend at The Big Summer Potluck is not an easy thing to summarize in a quick post.  There’s the new friendships that are made, the people whom you connect with whom you’ve only “met” previously on social media or via their blogs, the advice and insights shared by the featured presenters, the delicious food and new recipes to discover from all the dishes that everyone has contributed (yes, it really is a potluck), and the swag bag contents to explore using.  This year, in particular, with all the changes and investments that have been going on in my life, my finally pursuing a long-held dream of attending culinary school, and in changing my career to one working in food, the tidbits and life lessons from the speakers are ones that I hope to take away and incorporate as I continue to pursue my own dreams.

Buon appetito!

*According to Mexican legend – if you can get your tortillas to puff when you cook them, you are ready for marriage.  I’m so going to practice doing that before BSP5 next year!

Reflections on Big Summer Potluck 2012 – BSP3

BSP 3 ProgramBig Summer Potluck 2012

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.

Triple Chocolate Brownies by Chef Dennis

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.


A star on the farm

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

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.


Getting set up outside where it was cooler

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.

Table setting on the farm

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!

Buon appetito!

Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup for Big Summer Potluck

Tart Cherries at the Union Square Greenmarket

Wednesday afternoon, I was passing through the Union Square Greenmarket, heading back uptown after having attended a lunch meeting at WeCreate NYC that was put together by a fellow blogger friend Emily Hanhan of Nominvorous, when these beautiful, shiny crimson orbs caught my eye.  I had actually thought that cherry season had passed me by for this year, so I was a bit surprised to see them.  I picked up a pint, not even knowing yet what I was going to do with them, their deep, ruby color just calling to me to make something special.

Tart cherries washed and ready to pit

It didn’t take long for me to figure out what to fix using the cherries.  For the past week or so, in person and on line, many folks in the blogger community have been discussing what they would be bringing to contribute to this year’s Big Summer Potluck, which starts tonight.  I’ve never been to this gathering, and with so many fantastic food folks and amazing cooks as my fellow attendees, I knew I wanted to make something that showcases what my website and food philosophy are about.  After doing a little research about recipes, I decided that whipping up a batch of Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup would be just the thing to add to the mix.  This recipe turned out so well, in fact, that I’ve decided to enter these into the Oxo Cherry Recipe Contest.

Pitted cherries – only a tiny mess created

After pitting a pint of cherries over the sink, so as to minimize staining, I threw together a simple sugar syrup combined with a bunch of spices that I had in my kitchen that I thought might add an exotic twist to the mixture.  Then, I spiked it with brandy, added a bit of lemon peel for some freshness and kick, and dumped in the cherries to cook.  They released their gorgeous red color and cooked down to become mouth-puckeringly tart on the inside and smoothly sweet on the outside.  I have no idea how we’ll consume them during the weekend, but I can see these as an ideal garnish for refreshing summer beverages, folded into ice cream, ladled over waffles or pancakes, or as part of a cheese platter for an alfresco meal.  Now that I write this, I wonder if I should have made a few more batches just to hang onto for myself rather than giving them all away this weekend.

Brandied Spiced CherriesTart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup

Prep Time: an hour or so

Serving Size: 3/4 of a Mason jar full

1 c. organic Cane Sugar
1 c. Water
6 whole Allspice Berries
8 whole Black Peppercorns
2 whole Anise Stars
3 whole Cloves
1/4 c. Brandy
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/2 Lemon’s worth of strips of Lemon Peel
1 quart Tart Cherries, pitted*


Starting sugar syrup

Put first 6 ingredients into a large saucepan over low to medium heat and boil the mixture until makes a thick syrup. All the sugar should be dissolved and the liquid should reduce by 1/3. This will take about 10 minutes.

Syrup ready for cherries

Remove the pan from the heat and turn off the flame. Pour in the brandy and the vanilla extract. Add the strips of lemon peel. Stir to combine.

Cherries added to the syrup

Then, add the cherries, making sure to immerse them as best as you can in the syrup. At first, there will be some of them bobbing up on top of the liquid, but as they cook down and release their juices, all of the cherries will slowly melt into the syrup.

Cherries cooked down in syrup

Place over a low flame to boil for at least 45-50 minutes, until cherries start to break down and the sauce reduces by almost 2/3 to become a very thick liquid.

Jarring the cherries

Ladle the cherries into a jar and then pour the syrup over top of the cherries. Close the jar and keep it refrigerated until being used. These are not preserved cherries, so they should be eaten within a week or so.  I also removed the lemon peel and the whole spices from the syrup as I found them as I didn’t want the syrup to become overly-dominated by those tastes.

Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

This Oxo cherry pitter was in our goodie bags at Eat, Write, Retreat this year. I hung onto it thinking I that maybe, possibly, I might use it if I made a pie or something. It is fantastic! It made pitting the cherries so neat and only minorly messy, as you can see from the photo of the pitted cherries further above. If you are looking for a hand-held pitter, I recommend trying this one out to see if you like it.