Last weekend, I snuck away to the picturesque Mountain Lake Resort in Pembroke, Virginia, and completely immersed myself into food blogging at the Mixed Conference. It was so awesome, I didn’t want to come home. I just wanted to stay there eating cookies and drinking cocktails, hanging out with my new blogging friends and watching movies.
I’ve never been to a food blogger conference before, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I can’t imagine an event being any higher than this one was on the “wow” meter.
It was hosted by two lovlies, Paula from Bell’ alimento and Susan from She’s Becoming Doughmesstic. I’d never met Paula before, but her down-to-earth fun attitude was infectious. I kept thinking all weekend about how much she reminded me of a friend from high school I played on the basketball team with. I’ve known Susan for a few years through a mutual friend, and she’s been trying to talk me into getting onto the food blogger conference circuit for the past couple years. I can’t thank her enough for talking me into registering for this conference. I’m totally drinkin’ the kool-aid now.
I was pumped to go the conference to learn how to do this better. But the dizzying array of prizes and giveaways that Susan and Paula put together didn’t hurt either. Oh, yeah… and the chance to decorate cakes with Duff Goldman. I’m serious.
Upon arriving at the resort, each registrant got a swag bag bursting at the seams with goodies from sponsors such as OXO, Dixie Crystals, KitchenAid, Way Better Snacks, Hershey’s, Dreamfields Pasta, Roland Foods, Duff Goldman, California Raisins, and the like. Score!
Friday night, there was a KitchenAid “Mixer”, where the bloggers could mingle with each other over Captain Morgan cocktails supplied by Diageo, the importer of the rum, as well as many other brands. In the weeks leading up to the conference, Dixie Crystals sponsored a Bake-It-Forward cookie contest, in which bloggers could submit their best cookie recipes using Dixie Crystals sugar. Two finalists were chosen, and at the mixer, we got to sample the two finalists’ recipes and vote for our favorite. Dixie Crystals would award a cool $500 to the winner, so a lot was riding on our tastebuds! Congrats to Aimee Broussard for her Pecan Praline King Cake Cookies recipe–a nod to her home state, Louisiana!
After the mixer, the fun continued with a Midnight Mac and Cheese party, hosted by Dreamfields Pasta, that featured another winning recipe submitted by a blogger. Dreamfields had requested bloggers to submit their best mac and cheese recipes, and the winner walked away with a case of Dreamfields pasta and $200. Ali from Gimme Some Oven won the hearts and stomachs of Dreamfields with her roasted veggie mac and cheese. It was divine! We all got to try it at the party, while we watched “The Shining.” I love that movie, but it was a little creepy watching it in an old hotel that also happened to be closed for the season.
Saturday morning, we started early, learning food photography from one of the best–Bree Grossman of Baked Bree. Since I know next to nothing about any kind of photography, I was soaking it all up like a sponge and taking notes furiously. I think this was probably my favorite session because I learned SO much. I’ve already started playing around with some of the techniques she went over, and even using my iPhone camera, I think I’m getting way better pictures.
We had a session on food styling from fashion stylist-turned professional food styler, Tami Hardeman from the Running with Tweezers. There were so many tips she shared that, once I was hearing them make perfect sense, but just had never really dawned on me before. She addressed what to do with brown food–which is usually something delicious, but not that pretty. Some of the info was probably a little advanced for me, but what I took away from the presentation will definitely help me now, and down the road as my little blog grows!
Next, I got to decorate Christmas cookies with Marian from Sweetopia. It was a hands on session, and I love that. Not only did I learn a few tricks, I (well, Jeremy, mostly) got to eat my homework!
I had never worked with royal icing before, but I’m excited to try this for a cookie exchange I’ll be going to next week. The session was sponsored by Real Butter, and we walked away with a little kit to take home with cookie cutters and wilton icing bags and tips.
I saw in the program that there was a session on videography, which completely intimidated me before it started. I never dreamed I would even attempt something like producing a video for my blog, but the presenter, Lenny Ferriera of ChezUs, made it seem completely accessible. I’ve even got a couple ideas for simple videos I want to experiment with. By the way, all of the presenters blogs are absolutely beautiful and you should definitely check them out. But Denise and Lenny’s blog is simply stunning–and I want to make every single recipe on it. Isn’t that the point of a really great food blog? To make you want to cook what they’ve made?
My next session was the one that everyone had been eagerly awaiting–cake decorating with Duff Goldman, of Ace of Cakes fame. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while, and I have to say that in person he comes across just exactly like he did on the show and on his twitter feed–totally low-key and fun to hang out with. Had I not been nervously giggling like a schoolgirl the whole time, I might have actually gotten more out of the session, but I was too busy just watching him bounce around the room from table to table helping out participants with their cakes–spraypainting, airbrushing, making black fondant. Finally, I realized I had to get something completed or I would be so embarrassed, and I got to work. I was paired up with Lindsay from Laughing Lindsay, and we made the cutest snowman cake. Even Duff said it was adorable!
We wrapped up the educational part of the weekend, with a session from Heidi of Foodie Crush Magazine on producing an eBook. The eBook market is exploding, and the same is true, if not more so for cookbooks. This session was way above my level, but it got me thinking of the eBooks I’ve bought from cooking sites over the past year or so. It never occurred to me that I could make my own, AND make money on it, but Heidi walked through some basics and gave us some tips from her own experience.
After a full day of sessions then dinner, we assembled for the closing party and quite possibly the most impressive display of kitchen-related prizes ever gathered and poised to be doled out. The closing party was again sponsored by Diageo and Wisconsin Cheese, and featured the most adorable three-piece band in all of western Virginia, that played covers of Mumford and Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show songs. Each registrant was entered to win the prizes, and extra tickets were sold with the proceeds going to Cookies for Kids Cancer, the charity started by two OXO employees that raises money for pediatric cancer.
I was the lucky winner of a Le Creuset steamer set, which looks like the bomb from the picture. Le Creuset will ship it to me in the next few weeks. I am stoked. So is the hubs. The first thing he requested was steamed shrimp!
When the closing party ended, we headed back to the hotel for another midnight movie, this time Dirty Dancing. Mountain Lake Resort was where it was filmed, and it served as the Kellerman’s in the movie. It was completely exhausted from the full day of learning bloggity stuff, so I couldn’t even stay awake to watch the movie.
The conference was worth every penny considering how much I learned, all the swag, and the wonderful friends I made networking with other peeps who are just as passionate as I am about creating and eating good food–then putting pictures of it on the internet. Susan and Paula were kicking around ideas for a Mixed Conference next year, and I encourage anyone who is even remotely interested to go. There was something for everyone. Not everyone there had a blog. I gained a few
pounds new blogs to add to my RSS feed through the presenters and fellow bloggers, and I learned a few tricks, which I am super excited to roll out on my blog–at the beginning of the year. Stay tuned!