My First BlogHer (Food) Conference Experience
By FoodFit4Real on June 27, 2012
For years I have read the recap posts, poured over the pictures and scanned all the tweets about BlogHer conferences. I was envious of all the other bloggers who attended but I was too nervous? scared? intimidated to sign up myself. I did come thisclose to attending BlogHerFood in Atlanta last year, but other vacation plans managed to get in the way.
This year was different. This year I was going to attend my first BlogHer conference.
Initially I planned on going to BlogHer in NYC, but then I realized I would have to explain to my daughter why I would not be home to watch her blow out six candles on her birthday cake. Let's be honest, if I jetted off to NYC for the BlogHer conference then she wouldn't even have a birthday cake, because I would not be there to bake it! However BlogHerFood had three things going for it: 1) It was in Seattle, a city I have never visited before, 2)Focused on Food, one of the main interests on my blog and 3) Did not conflict with any family birthdays, anniversaries, or my full-time job (beyond needing a few days of vacation).
Let me tell you upfront how hard it is to put my BlogHerFood experience into words. Of course I will show you tons of pictures from my weekend but even those will not be able to capture the feelings or the moments I shared with other bloggers. Like when Tom and Diane, the White on Rice couple, shared some of their personal stories during Friday's opening breakfast session and described how sharing a meal with someone is an intimate act. You can meet someone for the very first time, share a meal with them and by the end of dinner you have made a connection with them over food.
This entire weekend was about meeting new people, sharing meals with them and forming an immediate bond over our shared interests of blogging and food. From the barrista who gave me my first cup of coffee in the original Starbucks store, to my roommate who was willing to share two bowls of ice cream with me (we switched halfway through), to breaking bread with three other women to soak up the broth from the mussels shared during happy hour - last weekend at BlogHerFood, friendships were formed over food.
After and early morning flight from Dallas, I arrived in Seattle on Thursday morning around 10:00 AM. By the time I loaded my luggage into the hotel shuttle, I had already met two other ladies who were also attending the BlogHerFood conference. Once I checked into the breathtaking Fairmont Olympic Hotel and dropped off my bags in my room, Patty and I headed over to Pike Place Market for lunch. (Check out my earlier post with a full picture tour of the market).
Around 1:30 that afternoon, I said goodbye to Patty at Starbucks and ran back to the hotel to attend a Microsoft event for BlogHer conference attendees. Unfortunately I got caught in a rainstorm on my way back to the Fairmont (what, it rains in Seattle?) so I quickly headed up to my room to change into dry clothes before I caught the shuttle to the Microsoft store in University Village.
Have you ever been to a Microsoft store before? I had not either, so the folks from Microsoft were happy to have one of the friendly employees give me a tour of the store. From PCs to laptops to phones and video games, the store is set up so that you can pull up a stool and test drive all of their products. I also completed an in-store scavenger hunt, where I learned that images on the walls around the store are made up of 100 screens.
After returning from my Microsoft tour, I finally met my roomate for the weekend - Jackie from The Seaside Baker. Jackie has three kiddos at home, including a 7 month old baby so she desperately needed this time away. After kicking off our weekend with drinks in the bar, we met up with Patty and took the monorail to the Space Needle to take in the 360 degree view of Seattle. We also decided to dine in the rotating restaurant at the top of the needle, which we later discovered was not one of the best choices in Seattle. A few of our dishes were good, like the soup and the salmon, shrimp and tuna appetizer. However my chicken was salty, the risotto was still chewy and Jackie's scallops were undercooked. Thankfully we had an excellent waitress who made sure we did not have to pay for inedible food. 4 Real Tip: I recommend just paying the admission price for the Space Needle tour or even buying the dual ticket for Space Needle and newly opened Chihuly Garden and Glass museum instead of dining in the restaurant.
By the end of the day, I felt like I had already experienced a lot in Seattle. In one day I had; watched fish being tossed in the market, listed to a musician playing on the street corner, watched the workers at Beecher's making fresh cheese, eaten lunch at a Russian bakery, visited to the first Starbucks location and had my first (of many) cups of coffee, got caught in the rain, attended an offsite BlogHer sponsored party, drank a local Seattle beer, rode the monorail, went shopping for food props, captured photos of the breathtaking Seattle skyline from the top of the Space Needle and made new friends over a bottle of wine and dinner. Around 11 PM (which was 1 AM Dallas time), I feel into bed exhausted but looking forward to the first day of the actual conference.
The next morning I was greeted by a beautiful breakfast display at the Fairmont Olympic, complete with tangerine cocktails. During the breakfast session, we were welcomed by the co-founders of BlogHer and treated to the touching video stories from Diane Cu and Todd Porter, known as the White on Rice Couple. They use videos and photos to draw you into their lives, because they believe that sharing stories is a way to connect with others. Diane talked about how food builds friendships and Todd reminded us that your own food story is unique and based on your family and experiences (then we were treated to an over-the-top cute video of Todd as a little boy on horseback at his family's farm). By the end of breakfast they had made us laugh, cry and feel as if we were already old friends. 4 Real: Diane and Todd are AMAZING people.
Later that morning I attended the Food Photography Trends session, which not only showed us 8 different ways to photograph a cake but also provided insight on how to set up different shots that portray different emotions. In the future when I set up a food shot, I will first think about what story I want to tell, what emotions I want the viewer to feel and what elements I can use to help create that feel.
While I was busy learning about photography trends, the Fairmont staff was busy setting up another amazing display for lunch. My two favorites were the stacked spinach salad and the "deconstructed" potato salad with bacon,egg and blue cheese. I also sampled three different sandwiches and the petite fruit salad. It may look like a huge plate of food but I needed the energy to get me through a busy afternoon.
Unfortunately I did not make great picks for my afternoon sessions and left them early, so I ended up trying to charge my computer in the lobby so I could edit all the photos I had recently taken. That is when I got the most exciting news of the entire weekend...
YES! I won a laptop from the fabulous people at Microsoft!!! I also won a copy of Office 2010 for my new laptop!!! During the Microsoft tour I put my business card in the drawing and I WON! I'm not sure I could even speak in complete sentences for the next hour because I was so excited. Thank you again Microsoft!
I had a private event to attend later that night but first Jackie and I walked 9 blocks to try out Molly Moon's famous ice cream.
After sampling several different flavors, I chose a single scoop of honey lavender. Jackie and I also got the Beecher's cheese ice cream but we were not impressed. 4 Real Tip: Cheese should not be an ice cream flavor. If I had a second choice for my favorite flavor, it would have been the strawberry balsamic.
After catching a cab back to the hotel (so I would not have to walk another 9 blocks in heels), I got ready for the Stonyfield Organic event at Purple Cafe and Wine Bar. I was excited to meet Kath from Kath Eats, who's blog I have been reading for over two years. She is expecting her first child at the end of the August, so we spent lots of time talking about babies.
I also had the pleasure of meeting the girls from Stonyfield, Brandi from Bran Appetit and Amelia from Eating Made Easy. All of the food, including the desserts pictured below featured Stonyfield products. Unfortunately a dark wine bar is not the best place to take pictures at night, so the rest of my pictures did not turn out.
The next morning I filled my plate with a multi-grain bagel, breakfast pastries, fruit and a greek yogurt parfait. Plus another breakfast cocktail and plenty of coffee to wake me up. The second breakfast session was a spirited discussion about the ethics of brands and bloggers working together. As a relatively new food blogger, this was one of the most helpful sessions during the entire weekend. Representatives from Bob's Red Mill and Masterbuilt spoke about how their goal is to build a relationship with a blogger, instead of just mass product giveaways and reviews. This gave me a lot to consider when working with brands in the future.
Following breakfast I attended my second favorite session of the weekend, "Food Bloggers as Storytellers: Telling Your Own Stories and Stories of Those at the Table". Writing and storytelling are both big passions of mine. When I started blogging over four years ago, my blog was focused on stories about my children and the challenges of being a working mother. When I switched to food and fitness blogging, I feel as if I was trying to imitate other healthy living bloggers and I started to lose my own voice. After my blogging break last December, I have been trying to be more authentic in my writing. This session restored my enthusiasm for storytelling and has inspired me to make changes to how I blog in the future. In fact, this post took so long to write because I wanted to share my experience at BlogHerFood, more than just showing you pictures from the weekend. My hope is to inspire you to attend a BlogHer conference, because a single session can inspire changes to your blogging process.
So come join us in Texas next year, when BlogHerFood comes to Austin in June 2013.
Before the conference, I signed up through BlogHer for the Pike Place Market tour during lunch on Saturday. It was an audio tour given by Savor Seattle and highlighted the shops, history and restaurants in the market. If you ever go to Seattle, I highly recommend that you take a food tour of Pike Place market. My only regret is that I did not get to take this tour earlier in the week, as our tour guide recommended so many fabulous restaurants that I did not have time to try them all.
Once the tour concluded, Jackie and I searched for a quick place to have lunch and we hit gold at Tom Douglas' Rub with Love Cafe. Jackie raved about her salmon burger while I barely spoke once I had my first bite of this rubbed pork loin sandwich. Of course lunch could not be complete without dessert (or two, or three). Our first stop was at the french bakery, La Panier for macarons then we tracked down the Cupcake Royale cart where they were selling cupcakes AND ice cream.
I ordered a scoop of Red Velvet and Jackie got the Maple Bacon Caramel ice cream, then we switched cups halfway through because we could not decide which one we liked best (which explains why the picture below on the right is a little melted). Sadly the cupcakes were a MAJOR disappointment and we threw them away after one bite. The macarons were eaten in bed later that night.
After our triple dessert stops, I rushed back to the hotel to attend the last session of the conference, where I got the chance to meet Joy the Baker in person and hear her talk about "Making the Most of Kitchen Mishaps". Basically Joy works to perfect a recipe before she posts it on the blog, so she rarely writes about her cooking failures. Unfortunately, even when I follow her recipes - I can turn them into a failure.
BlogHerFood 2012 went out on a high note, with a closing party hosted by The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. Ree is even more beautiful in person than I expected and was very personable with all her fans throughout the evening. We even showed off our sky high matching heels, although it looks more like we were comparing pedicures.
Do you know what happens when you bring a bunch of bloggers together for a party, serve them a cocktail or two then add in the craziness of the video booth sponsored by AllRecipes? They start burning up the dance floor!
Then one of them might even break out into a spontaneous rap session. Bloggers if you left early, you missed seeing Recipe Boy's dance moves and Alex's rap skills! After the party, I turned down my roommate's offer to hit the town for more drinks in favor of going back to the hotel to pack for my early morning flight. Less than four hours of sleep later, I was getting on the shuttle for the airport and leaving the Seattle skyline behind.
I left BlogHerFood with new friends, new goals for my blog and a new perspective about my writing. I learned that the stories behind a meal are more important than a perfect picture of the plated food. I learned that food should be shared and recipes should handed down through generations. I learned that blogging is my way to connect with my readers, to tell my story and to capture the memories I am making with my young children as we cook and bake together.
More importantly, I left Seattle knowing that I MUST attend another BlogHer conference soon.