Half a dozen years ago, when I started blogging, I didn’t anticipate that one of the best parts of it would be making friends with other bloggers. But being a blogger can be strange, and scary, and somewhat isolating, and finding other people as passionate as you are about food, and cooking, and maybe health, or fashion, or motherhood, or any number of other topics–people like you who are just crazy enough to share their passion online? It’s a blessing. It’s the comfort of finding a tribe.
The bloggers I’ve come to know and befriend aren’t just wildly talented cooks, writers, and photographers; they’re also these deeply kind and generous people. They’re grateful and hell-bent on giving. If one blogger breaks through the ceiling of success to some soaring new height, it’s not uncommon for that person to pause, look down through the hole they just created, and shout advice to the rest of us. “Make collage pins on Pinterest!” they’ll say. And we do, and we grow. We pass it on. And the whole community of bloggers gets better. We lock hands and give each other boosts to reach up and to the next level, hoping the floor above is sturdy enough to hold all of us and the crazy celebration we’re going to have once we get there.
It becomes easy to look up at the next crack in the ceiling where fresh success was made, and see that it’s not a shame that it wasn’t me who broke that ground; it’s a sign of possibility for all of us.
Of course it’s not always easy, because blogging itself is constantly evolving and has so many moving parts. It’s never without its with peaks and valleys. Doing it solo, it can be hard not to let perfectionism consume you, or paralyze you (Lifetime movie: The Andie Mitchell Story). But when I feel the seasons change from sugar you got this! to oh, babe, you never had this…I look to these friends for inspiration.
A month or so ago, I flew out to Park City, Utah to meet a dozen of them in person for the Better Blog Retreat, a long weekend to learn from each other, share ideas and advice, meet with a select group of fantastic brands, and more than anything, just to bond. The weekend was hosted by two of my favorite blog friends: Maria of Two Peas and Their Pod and Heidi of FoodieCrush.
It was one of the highlights of my entire year, and that’s really saying something, because turning thirty has been spectacular. So much of my affection for the experience has to do with the women who attended. Having three days together, staying in one big house, and being a small group, I was able to spend time with each person. It’s so rare to be able to do that, and made it all that much more meaningful to me.
I talked to Maria (Two Peas & Their Pod) about how she met Josh and fell in love. I pretty much tackled my longtime friend, Ali (Gimme Some Oven), and asked her everything about her amazing relationship, and how much has changed since we last saw each other. Kristin (Iowa Girl Eats) gave me an idea for my next vacation, and reminded me that being in close proximity to people I love is my priority for choosing a place to live. Laura (Blogging Over Thyme) and I laughed to the point of tears more times than I can count–especially when we decided I would be her life coach. I had the realest two-hour-long conversation with Ali (Inspiralized) about everything from weight to vulnerability. Kathryne (Cookie + Kate) and I shared a bedroom all weekend which made for lots of late night conversations and one particularly good one about our shared realizations about others people’s success.
On a walk through the mountain roads, Heidi (FoodieCrush), Liren (Kitchen Confidante), and I chatted about the things we really want in life (hint: it’s not marble countertops), and how different those things are from what we thought we wanted years ago. Monique (Ambitious Kitchen) and Sarah (Broma Bakery) were already very close, and they’re just about the warmest, most fun weirdos around. Sarah probably didn’t even realize how much of a compliment she was paying me when, after we’d spent the morning talking, she said, “I like that you’re weird, like us.” Liz (The Lemon Bowl) didn’t end up just being a sunny spot, like I knew she would when she started the weekend by texting me a gif of Jonah Hill going crazy; she also grounded me, and reminded all of us that we need to embrace exactly where we are once in awhile. Long before this weekend, Kelly (Just a Taste) and I had joked that the two of us were separated at birth. Spending time with her confirmed it, especially when we talked at dinner about the importance of real friendships.
Getting together for a weekend to learn from each other and share ideas was truly one of the best things I’ve done for my work, of course, but also for myself. The tips and lessons are invaluable–of course they are, but the inspiration, encouragement and support was nothing I could ever measure, or have paid for, or Googled, or found at a conference.
Deer Valley Resort
Better Blog Retreat completely reinvigorated me, and the environment certainly had a lot to do with me feeling so refreshed when I got home. Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah might just be among my top favorite places I’ve traveled in the U.S. Everywhere you turn is a postcard view of the mountains. Since we were there in October, the millions of trees in all directions were full with blazing red leaves, and orange ones, and yellow. Driving to Deer Valley Resort from the airport, I couldn’t so much as pass a 7-Eleven without thinking it was more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen–and I’m not even just limiting that to other 7-Elevens. That’s Park City, though: a picture-perfect ski town with breathtaking views for miles. The freshness of the air alone just makes you want to be outside more often.
Deer Valley Resort is a sprawling ski resort with views of Park City and the mountains all around. There are a number of lodging options, but we stayed in Solamere, a gorgeous six-bedroom house in one of the neighborhood properties on the resort. It had a full kitchen, washer and dryer, two living rooms, deck, garage, and a private hot tub. I loved the rustic beauty of every inch of the place, from the honey hardwood floors to the calming earth tones and the cozy stone fireplace. Even with thirteen of us, there was more than enough room. I’m already eager to take a trip back to Deer Valley and bring my whole family; that’s how much I loved it.
The brands that joined us at the retreat were Arla, Private Selection (found at Kroger stores!), and Lindt. They made meals, shared products with us, and throughout the weekend, I was able to talk with folks from each of the brands, which to me, made all the difference. Face-to-face interaction is everything, isn’t it? It’s so personal, so thoughtful. You just get such a better sense of something when you’re able to talk to people who know it inside and out…and um, eat a whole lot of it, too :)
Snack Spread by Delallo, Sabra & Arla
On Thursday afternoon, we had this delicious spread: a quinoa salad loaded with feta, kalamata olives, arugula, and roasted red peppers, made using Delallo Salad Savors (I need to buy these immediately), veggies with a variety of Sabra Hummus and Sabra Greek Yogurt Dip (I’m in love with the Cucumber Dill flavor, and brought it to Sabrina’s for a party a few weekends ago!), Arla cheeses (my favorites: Dill Havarti and Jalapeno Havarti!).
Dinner at Brass Tag
Brass Tag had a lot of lip-smacking comfort food, but with an upscale twist and a focus on local, seasonal ingredients.
Meadowlark Double Cream Brie (house pickled onions, whole grain fig mustard, foraged elderberry jelly)
Oven Fired Chimichurri Chips (Gold Creek Farms cheddar, gruyere, bacon)
Oven Seared Scallops(smoked ham and wilted baby spinach, local micro greens, basil pesto, strawberry vinaigrette, pan jus)
Breakfast Toast Bar!
Friday morning, I woke up to the breakfast of my dreams: sourdough and seeded breads for toasting, various flavors of Arla cream cheeses, lox, tomato, mashed avocado, Private Selection jams and spreads, peanut butter, and some chopped Lindt chocolate!
Arla Mac and Cheese Bar
Private Selection Antipasto Spread
The folks from Kroger Private Selection put out an antipasto spread/cheese board like it was their solitary commitment to make me happy. And you know what? Mission accomplished, Private Selection! Because I was crazy happy.
Private Selection Dinner
Private Selection made us the most delicious meal on Saturday night using Private Selection products: grilled lamb chops and chicken thighs with a chunky, sweet-meets-tangy tomato jam, balsamic roasted butternut squash with gorgonzola and walnuts, pasta, salad, and for dessert, an assortment of White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies (these were chewy, buttery, and seriously hard to stop eating), Turtle Brownie Cookies, and ice creams. I need to remake that butternut squash recipe (up on the Private Selection site) along with the chicken thighs and tomato jam! What a meal. It also goes to show that you don’t have to make everything yourself when you’re hosting a dinner.
Lindt Chocolate + Wine Pairing
Is this the most genius party idea ever or what? I was in heaven tasting different chocolates with red and white wines. I’m already planning a party to do it again with friends! We also got to meet with one of Lindt’s master chocolatiers, who taught us all about how Lindt’s chocolate is made, and then led us through a proper chocolate tasting, which was just as challenging a job as you’d imagine.
Favorite Pairing: Pineapple Dark Chocolate + Chardonnay
The pineapple bar is so satiny smooth with that bold chocolate flavor that Lindt always has, but strewn with bits of zingy sweet pineapple and (gah!) caramelized hazelnuts. I didn’t think I’d love it half as much as I do, because I generally don’t like fruit with chocolate, but this flavor is out of this world, especially paired with a crisp white wine like Chardonnay.
Other Lindt favorites:
A Touch of Sea Salt EXCELLENCE Bar – Smooth dark chocolate with just enough Fleur de Sel to add a little brightness)
Arabica Intense EXCELLENCE Bar – This bar has the deep, robust flavor of Arabica coffee beans in it, and it just serves to up the richness and intensity of the chocolate. Swoon)
I also got to taste a handful of secret flavors that Lindt is testing for release and I swear I tried to smuggle them home with me, but no luck. Hopefully they’ll make it to the market soon and you’ll get to taste them, too!
Montage Deer Valley Spa
Montage Deer Valley has won more awards than Meryl Streep. It’s luxury to the max and a stay at this resort would easily make you feel like a celebrity.
We spent 3 blissed-out hours at the Montage Spa, where I got an Alpine Body Rescue massage. It was 90 minutes of knots releasing, aromatherapy, and stress melting away. I’d like to move to there.
Dinner at Riverhorse on Main
“Overnight” Buffalo Short Ribs with Pappardelle Pasta, Mushrooms, Roasted Carrots, and Gremolata
My meal at Riverhorse on Main was outstanding–so good that I couldn’t stop eating it, well past the point of fullness. The short ribs were falling apart and rich with flavor, but I’m telling you, the fresh pappardelle was just as memorable as the meat. I’m still thinking about this meal.
Breakfast at Deer Valley Grocery Cafe
Deer Valley Grocery Cafe is as cute as can be, and the breakfast is top-notch in quality and taste.
Avocado & Beet Toast (beet hummus, avocado, goat cheese, micro greens, black Hawaiian sea salt, toasted house made wild rice harvest bread)
Skillet Fried Dutch Baby (lemon ricotta pancake, blueberries, raspberries, orange vanilla bean butter, powdered sugar)
Altra Run Better Clinic
The Altra Running team met our group on Saturday morning to share tips on how to Run Better (reduce impact, injury, and generally feel better while running). I learned so much about form, stride length, and cadence that I’d never known — and definitely would have helped me quite a bit when I ran regularly years ago (and maybe helped with the sciatica I developed in the process).
Run Better Clinic Takeaways:
Proud Posture – Run tall, run proud! Straighten your back and push your chest and hips forward.
Compact Arms – Short pumps of the arm and keep them back. Arms shouldn’t be swinging in front of your chest!
Land Softly Under a Bent Knee
High Cadence – Shorten your stride and aim to take quick steps. Slowly work toward an ideal cadence (the number of steps you take in a minute) of 170-180 steps per minute.
Altra also gave each of us a pair of running shoes, and we were able to choose which kind we wanted based on how we’d use them (cross-training, trail…) and what kind of cushioning we preferred. Mine are the lightest cushioning One 2.5 and from the minute I put them on, it was as if my foot had found its forever home. The sneakers I’d packed for the trip? I never wore them again. Donated. These shoes are as lightweight as can be, and I feel as though I’m standing on a thick yoga mat. They’re so comfortable. Here’s why: Zero Drop soles, which keep the heel and forefoot completely aligned, and their foot-shaped toe box.
I am so grateful to have been a part of this year’s Better Blog Retreat! Thank you so much, Maria and Heidi! A big thank you to Deer Valley Resort for hosting us and all of the amazing brands who took part in the weekend!