"The minute you go one step out of your comfort zone, miracles happen." ~Michele Northrup
This was my second year attending the conference in hot and sticky Orlando, Florida. It was once again held at the jaw-dropping Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. It rises in the distance and beckons visitors from the moment they turn off of Universal Blvd. to the long, winding drive. The scope of it all sort of takes your breath away. From the four lanes of cars, vans, and shuttles dropping off and picking up in front of the hotel, to the bustling lobby hidden just behind a tinted bank of doors, the feeling that "you've arrived" awaits you as you roll your bags inside.
What's even better is walking into the grandness of the hotel only to see a smiling, bustling group of people with familiar faces. Hugs with friends you haven't seen in a year. Hugs with friends you've known virtually for ages and are finally meeting in real life. Hugs (hey, why not) with people you're only now meeting for the first time anywhere. There is a real feeling of camaraderie ingrained in the spirit of the Food and Wine Conference.
food (and wine), of course:
Come hungry, that's all I have to say. Friday kicked-off and wrapped-up with food. We enjoyed one heck of a wine and cheese party when Gallo Family treated us to a Blogger Blend, at which they rolled out their newest varietal for the first time! With its notes of juicy peach, ripe citrus, and honeysuckle, Gallo Family's Riesling is a bright wine that just dances on your tongue. It is a sweet wine that is very versatile, showing its range by playing nicely with a large variety of cheeses on offer that night.
The night closed with the Taste of Rosen Shingle Creek, an extravaganza of tasting plates offered up by the seven eateries that populate the resort. Also featured was what wound up being my favorite dish of the entire weekend, Peppered Tenderloin of Beef over Polenta. I didn't know it at the time I was enjoying my second (okay, third) plate, but this dish was created by my friend and fellow Sunday Supper member, DB of Crazy Foodie Stunts. That makes it even better! In my defense, they were tasting plates.
There was more great food and wine to be had throughout the weekend. From the simple things like a Bloody Mary with Duda Farms celery to Stonyfield's new Petite Creme yogurt to what is now one of my new obsessions, Cabot's Alpine Cheddar cheese, we never left hungry.
Saturday night we enjoyed a big Sunday Supper-style family meal, along with Gallo Family wine pairings.
"Get YOU out there. Get people talking about YOU." ~Jamie Schler
Another great thing about having a smaller, more intimate (if you can call a couple of hundred people intimate) conference is having the chance to sit down and talk to the people that represent some of your favorite brands. For the most part, the sponsors stayed to attend sessions and draw inspiration right alongside the bloggers.
I was thrilled to meet Veronica from OXO in person, as well as Don from Idaho Potatoes, Alexis from Gallo Family, and Chantel from Safest Choice Eggs, just to name a few.
"If somebody offers to help, tell them what you need." ~Erika Kerekes
There were some amazing sessions this year, full of inspiring people who shared their hints, tips, ideas, and encouragement for turning YOU into YOUR brand. Here's a look at the sessions that stood out to me, to my brand, this year.
- The SEO Recipe with Dan Cristo and Nicole Cook. I think I enjoyed this so much because SEO is such a mystery to me. Formulas and theories on what to do and what not to do seem to change with the wind (or with Google), and basically, I'm clueless. Dan offered a real-life view at how an SEO expert might go into evaluating a website/blog, using everybody's favorite Skinny Chick as an example (with her permission). Now, if only I'd had the nerve to volunteer my own site. I need an expert on-call.
- Let's Sizzle!: Out of the Box Ideas from Blog to Business with the queen of all that is saucy, Michele Northrup of Intensity academy and Erika Kerekes of Not Ketchup. If you've never met Michele, you're missing out. Her sauciness is contagious (no really, it'll rub off on you), as is her passion and go-get-it attitude! Both Michele and Erika have gone through the process of turning a recipe into a business. I don't know that it's necessarily something that I want to do, but listening to them, I almost want to.
- Writing Wisdom with Jamie Schler, Monica Bhide, and Janet Keeler. Now, if you know me, you probably knew this would be a favorite of mine. I want to be a published writer, not just online, but in print. I was very excited to hear Jamie talk, as we've been friends online for around 5 years, and I've watched her journey to professional writer unfold. Plus, Janet Keeler, a wealth of approachable knowledge. I was introduced to Janet last year at the Food and Wine Conference and left wishing that I could spend the day with her (the workshop was entirely too short). Sharing the stage with them was somebody I was not familiar with, Monica Bhide. Monica brought me to tears. Not only is she an amazing writer, cook, and speaker, she is kind and genuine. I was a ball of crazy opposing forces inside when this far-too-short session ended.
- Cooking Up a Cookbook with Marisa McClellan. Marisa is the author of Food in Jars, and for her presentation, she took an entirely different approach than I've ever seen. Instead of talking about "how to" get a cookbook deal, she talked about what to do after you get your deal.
- From Blogger to Professional Writer again with Jamie Schler, and Monica was there offering advice, as well. Again, because it's what I want to do. Lots of great ideas, notes, and takeaway from this more in-depth look at writing professionally.
- The Picture Perfect Story: from idea to masterpiece with Janet and Scott Keeler. This session was not so much about the writing process itself, but more about how the story and the picture come together. I already mentioned my admiration for Janet, and well, let's just add her husband Scott to the list alongside her. She is a professional writer. He is a professional photographer. They are an amazing (and funny) pair, and I wish again that I lived closer so that I could take classes with both of them.
"You've got to tell a story that makes people want to stay, or come back." ~Janet Keeler
It's all about you, you ARE your brand. It's about where you are now on your journey, and where you'd like to end up. Although it's easy to find inspiration at every turn during the conference, I bet each person latches on to something different. Each person has that speaker, that brand, or that goal that is now etched in their mind; something that they want to act on.
For me, this year was a bit of punch in the gut. I realized that I'd lost my way. About this time last year, I was on the path that I wanted to be on. I'd set some goals, and I was working towards accomplishing them. But somewhere over the past 10 months, I strayed from that path. I veered off. I dropped my notebook and forgot to go back and retrieve it.
Over the course of the entire weekend, although I wanted to feel inspired, I actually found myself feeling deflated. And to tell the truth, a bit discouraged. I'd lost myself. I'd neglected my brand.
Now, I "over" analyze and "over" think things and I'm "too" emotional. Or so I've always been told. But that's who I am. It really has taken me these 2-1/2 weeks since the conference to start breathing in fresh air again and turn some of what made me feel inadequate into fuel. Afterall, I am the only one who can make me feel inadequate, right? I'm ready to turn around and go find that notebook I dropped, so that I can hop back on that path.
The Food and Wine Conference helped me remember that I am the one who controls what happens next in my life. I am the only one who is going to go out and get what I want.
"Tenacity trumps talent." ~Monica Bhide