We started off the day with a delicious breakfast from Au Bon Pain. Pastries and coffee? Yes, please. And then we kicked off the conference with an awesome tour of the production facilities - from the warehouse to the canning line!
Then they took us through their main office! It is unbelievably gorgeous - I would love to work everyday in a space like this. It's creative and welcoming - exactly the type of place that encourages and supports a healthy working environment.
After the tour, we split into our groups (blue & orange) to head off to our first sessions. First up for blue? Restaurant Reviews! Led by April White, this session was an excellent look into what makes a good review, the best ways to write them and why above all else, honesty is key to a good review. As an occassional restaurant reviewer, April had some great tips and you can definitely expect a few more reviews from me in the future!
Then, we had a short break before our next session to enjoy some of Wyman's of Maine TO-DIE-FOR blueberry juice. Seriously, I didn't even think I was going to like it, and I could have had ten glasses the stuff was so good.
After the break, the blue group headed over to the Stonewall Kitchen photo studio (oh my gosh, their props are breathtaking - I wish I had at least a 1/4 of a shelf of their selection!) with Michael Cabelin - Stonewall Kitchen's photographer! Michael shoots all of the photos that you see from Stonewall Kitchen and the man is a genius! He gave us a ton of great tips, from telling us that we can use a sheer white sheet as a diffuser shade to the fact that consistency is key - but his #1 tip? Daylight, daylight, daylight!
After the second session we were on to the culinary highlight of the day - a cooking lesson by Patty Roche!
Yesterday, I told you that I wasn't blogging for the day because of the food coma that I was in from all of the delicious food and I wasn't kidding. We started off with Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup. I was literally scraping the bowl when the server came back to clear it - it was so delicious. The dollop of sour cream added a touch of creaminess to the otherwise savory soup and the pepitas offered it the perfect crunch. It seems like a perfect Fall soup and I cannot wait to try making it at home myself!
After soup, came the main course: Prosciutto Wrapped Pan Seared Chicken Stuffed with Ricotta and Sage and drizzled with a Lemon Garlic Buerre Blanc. The picture doesn't even do it justice (especially the Instagram photo from yesterday) - the sauce, the cheese, the polenta, oh my gosh - it all came together in the perfect combination of flavor complements and I was in heaven. FOOD HEAVEN.
Except, I didn't actually discover what food heaven was until I had dessert. Pear and Fig Cobbler with a Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream and Balsalmic Reduction. Did you get all of that? Pear and Fig COBBLER with HOMEMADE vanilla ice cream paired with a BALSALMIC REDUCTION. And then I knew what food bliss was.
By the time lunch was over, and Patty had finished with her incredible presentation - I was left wanting to take every single one of her classes. She was funny and engaging and shared a ton of tips with us along the way, including these gems:
- Do you ever forget to save pasta water when a recipe calls for it? Place a cup in your colander when setting up your cooking station to remind yourself.
- Don't roast food with a pan higher than what you're roasting.
- Use a brush to swipe olive oil around a pan to increase coverage, but use less fat.
- When making polenta, use chicken stock instead of water to add some more flavor.
- Use the lowest sodium stock available to you, if you buy chicken stock.
- Buy a copy of Food Lover's Companion - it is the best cooking guide you can have.
First up for the blue group - Recipe Development with Kim Gallagher and Christine Rudalevige. Kim and Christine shared a few power points and a ton of recipe tips with us. Some of the key things we learned in this session were that the more descriptive you are in a recipe - the more successful the recipe will be, the top mistakes that recipe writers make and that a list of ingredients cannot be copied, but text and instructions can be. One of the biggest things that I took away from the day - and especially from this session - was the importance of recipe showcasing. I will definitely be changing a bit of the way I showcase recipes here and I will be adding a feature of printable recipes where all of the directions are all in one place! I will keep you posted on when that will be happening!
After Recipe Development, and a delicious snack from Stonewall Kitchen (jams and sauces - mmm!!!), we headed to the final session of the day - Photo Editing! This session, led by Kristyn Ulanday, was a great look at the steps we can take to work with our photos - both in Photshop and in iPhoto! It was really awesome to be able to see the editing done in iPhoto because as a Mac user, it's a cheaper editing software alternative and being able to learn a few tricks with it were great. I still think that I may upgrade my software at some point, but for now, I'm glad to know how best to work with what I have.
Finally, our day ended with all of us coming together to talk to Amy Allen and Alana Brooks, the fearless leaders behind Blog Better Boston! We talked about how great the day went and some of the wonderful opportunities that we can explore from this point. We also got to hear a bit more from Stonewall's Director of Marketing, Janine Somers, about some of the opportunities we may have to work with her, and Stonewall Kitchen, in the future. The day was a wonderful chance to learn a bit more about food and food blogging, and a way to make some new friends! I spent much of my day with Meaghan, of 2 Sisters 2 Cities, and Michelle, of The Economical Eater. I also enjoyed getting to meet Kate of The Superbanite and Amanda of Manda Loves - such incredible women! And really, the entire group was so sweet - I was so happy to be able to spend time with them!
We left the conference with an incredible "swag bag" - filled with chocolates (from Lake Champlain Chocolates in Vermont! And their Marketing Specialist, Meghan Fitzpatrick, is such a sweet woman!), gluten-free treats from Au Bon Pain's new line, Wyman's of Maine blueberry products, Stonewall's Holiday Jam (I cannot wait to try it!), and so much more!!! We also got a couple of other gifts to take home - one from the amazing company Wayfair (formerly CSN where Josh and I picked out our awesome bed from!) - that I promise you will hear more about tomorrow because you'll have the chance to win the gifts in FOREVER AND A RECIPE'S FIRST EVER GIVEAWAY!!! All of the details will be up tomorrow morning - so be sure to check back then for a chance to win!
Of course, I did make a quick stop at Stonewall Kitchen's company store before I left - really, how could I not? - and restrained myself to buying only a small spatula, some all natural dog treats for Nash, and just a few jars of delicious product - the Wild Maine Blueberry Jam, Maine Maple Champagne Mustard, Horseradish Mustard and the melt-in-your-mouth-too-good-to-count-calories Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Sauce.
The day was truly a fantastic experience - I'm so glad I got to take the time to enjoy myself and learn so much with such a wonderful group! I huge thank you goes out to Amy and Alana for putting together such a perfect day, Stonewall Kitchen for opening their doors to us, Wayfair for being such a generous sponsor, and to everyone else who helped sponsor and make this day everything that it was - I wish that we could have spent even more at this event!