Tuesday, November 30, 2010

BlogHer Food 2010 - Day 1: The Sessions

The InterContinental San Francisco

Finally, with all of the holiday posting over with - back to the conference! So let me tell you... despite only having the one small glass of wine {or was it two?}, did I sleep hard the night after the Deen Brothers event!  My flight the morning of my arrival day before had been at 6:00 a.m. which means I had to leave the house around 4ish for the airport, which means basically I tossed and turned all night and didn't sleep but maybe 2 hours max. Once I hit the bed at the hotel, I crashed.  By the way, I use one of those sleep machines at night and yes, it travels with me.  If you are bothered by extraneous noises from noisy hotel guests and slamming doors when you travel, you might want to check this baby out - I love it!

Registration started early Friday at 7:00 a.m. and breakfast was at 8:30 a.m.  I got up, showered and headed downstairs to register, received my lanyard, and a copy of the conference guide that included the agenda, session track details and a map. We also received a big, fat swag bag that was already packed full of goodies, but was intended to collect more products, promotional samples, and coupons from sponsors located in the ballroom foyer and side rooms. There were great sponsors - the likes of Kraft, Athenos, Philadephia Cream Cheese, Cas Cal, Pepperidge Farm, Scharffen Berger, Cuties, Nature's Path Organic, Nutella, Stacy's and Underwriters Laboratory.

Best I can remember, breakfast was a collection of typical continental type fare - croissants and bagels, yogurt, fruit, that sort of thing, and of course, coffee, which, in the absence of bacon and eggs, was really all my jet-lagged self was remotely interested in this first day! Note to the conference organizers - how about at least some scrambled eggs and bacon next year? Just sayin'...

By the way, if I were going to pinpoint a typical style of dress for the conference, I have to say fairly casual to business casual was the norm. I actually wore blue jeans one day and black jeans another with business casual blouses, and reserved the dressier slacks for the parties. A few people broke out the off-the-shoulder stuff and sparkly clothing for the parties, but most folks were dressed pretty casual and comfortable even for those.

This first day, following breakfast, there was a 30-minute welcome from the founders of BlogHer, three full sessions, each an hour and 15 minutes long, with break-outs in between for demonstrations and samplings by the sponsors, lunch and two keynotes, one during lunch and one after the last session and before the BlogHer/Food Fete Welcome Party finale in the evening.  It was definitely a full day.

I really liked the way that they designed the sessions along a group of tracks. There were no pre-session sign-ups, so you could follow one track completely through the entire conference, or you could mix and match tracks. In fact, the setting was pretty casual so that if you found yourself in a session you maybe didn't care for much, you could walk out of that one and right into another one at any point. There were four tracks - Values, Visuals, Vocation and Voice, each led by a moderator along with 3 to 4 experienced bloggers who were asked questions both by the moderator and the audience.
  • The Values track dealt with topics concerning food safety and health, blogging ethics, urban farming, and the old school arts of canning, preserving and foraging.
  • Visuals dealt with topics covering food styling, photography, and multimedia.
  • Vocation dealt with the business side of blogging - working with brands and media, search engine optimization, recipe and cookbook writing.
  • Voice dealt with topics representing writing tips, storytelling, social media, and the cultural and geographic elements of a a blog.
It was difficult to decide which tracks to pick - I wanted to attend at least 3 out of every 4 for every session! I won't get into the specifics here (maybe in another post), but I stuck to the straight Vocation track for day one. Session I covered the topic of "How to Stand Out in a Crowded Blogosphere," and was led by Nataya Anderson of Fête & Feast, Marla Meridith of Family Fresh Cooking - who you may also remember as my competitor in the recent POM challenge, Amanda Rettke of I Am Baker, and Carrie Vitt of Deliciously Organic

Session I was followed by the first break-out Demos and Samplings, sponsored by CasCal, makers of a hand crafted, all natural soda. Marketed as an alternative to wine, it is a fermented soda. I tried one and it was interesting - sort of reminded me of a fruity malt liquor in a way, but non-alcoholic. Basically you just wandered from table to table for tastings of product, to watch demonstrations, and take away samples to add to your swag bag if you wanted to.

Lunch was sponsored by Kraft, who fed us choices of pasta, grilled chicken and fish, along with a several varieties from their new line of Philadelphia Cooking Creme sauces - a new product to be released in February 2011. That's my plate and as you see, I had a little taste of all of them. Since I didn't eat breakfast, I was a little bit hungry!
I have read some criticisms about the food around the blogosphere, and heard that some foodies took off to the hills of San Francisco for lunches, skipping out on afternoon sessions to experience San Francisco cuisine and that's fine, but I was there to learn and experience so I wasn't going anywhere! Besides, I'm not much of a food snob and along with the pasta, chicken and fish, there was a very nice soup, a gorgeous salad, with tender baby greens, veggies, grapes and raspberries, an assortment of grilled vegetables and slices of prosciutto with melon, so essentially I was pretty okay with the food.  It was way better than any conference food I've ever had before, and I think I took about a bite of everything offered just about and it was all delicious. There were even separate buffets set up with gluten free selections, and plenty of vegetarian options as well, throughout the conference.

During lunch, there was what they call an Innovative Interview with Dominique Crenn - Chef at Luce Restaurant at the InterContinental, but if you are a fan of Iron Chef America on Food Network, you may recognize her as a challenger who beat Chef Michael Symon. Basically there was a moderator who conducted an interview with Chef Crenn basically about the progression of her career from her home in Vesailles to running the Luce restaurant.

After lunch it was time for Session II.  For me that was "How Bloggers Work with Brands and Media," with Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, Georgia Pellegrini, Anupy Singla from Indian As Apple Pie, and David Leite of Leite's Culinaria.  This session led directly into Session III, which for me was "Beginner Level Search Engine Optimization," led by Stephanie Stiavetti of Wasabi Mon and Stephanie Manley of CopyKat Recipes. Both sessions, like the first, were informative and I enjoyed them.

Course there was great wine everywhere to be tasted - it is wine country after all - but one of the most popular cocktails at break out were the Clemen'thyme Sparkles. Made by Chef Kathy Casey they contained Cuties - California mandarin oranges - plus fresh lemon, vodka, a bit of fresh thyme, and a splash of champagne. They were mighty fine, I tell ya! Check out the recipe at the bottom of this post.

The final keynote of the day was another Innovator Interview, this time with Aida Mollencamp star of the Food Network Show Ask Aida (I watch her all the time). She seemed a bit uncomfortable and kinda nervous to me. Isn't it funny how you think somebody like that who is on television and doing all these public things to be a total natural in front of a crowd and turns out often they are as shy as the rest of us?  I guess being on a stage in front of a bunch of folks staring at you is a little unsettling for anybody. To be honest, I really didn't get a lot out of either one of the Innovator Interviews - I guess because I don't see becoming an Executive Chef or Multimedia Mogul Food Network Star anywhere in my future, and had I known that, I would've likely just skipped the keynotes altogether, though it was nice to have the break to settle down a bit from brain overload.

After the closing keynote for the day there was just enough time to run upstairs, freshen up and change clothes to head across the street to Élan for the BlogHer/Food Fête Welcome Party. Now this was really foodie fun. Three solid floors of tasting and samplings from all kinds of food vendors, we were instructed to start at the top and work our way downstairs. Silly me, I didn't bring my swag bag, so I basically walked out with just a few things in my hands - cookies mostly for midnight snacking later.

After the Welcome Party, I had to high-tail it back across the street to meet up with some other bloggers and a few folks from ZipList who were treating us to dinner.  ZipList is a free shopping list management tool that you can compile from your favorite recipes. To see it in action check out the recipes on Martha Stewart's website!

Instead of catching a cab we took a very brisk stroll across a couple of city blocks, which frankly I was not too crazy about. I may be a small town girl but I know that big city downtown transforms into something totally different when the sun goes down! But there's safety in numbers so I felt a little bit okay with it.  We finally arrived at Mint Plaza, a small area of restaurants and bars in downtown San Francisco

We ate at the French restaurant, Chez Papa.  I'll be honest with ya. It was a nice place, but far too packed, way too hot, dark and so noisy, that it was impossible to even have a decent conversation at this restaurant.  We sat in the very back where you see that big shell colored headboard looking backdrop on the wall.  I wish I could remember the exact description from the menu, but I had the fish, which on this night it was a sautéed Cod, on melted leeks, with an amazing butter sauce. It was delicious, though the fish was a little on the cool side and the leeks were stringy.  Ah well, not the best food experience for a visit to San Francisco, but the company was nice and the staff at the restaurant were very attentive.

Again, I didn't know any of the other bloggers who had been invited to the dinner previously, so it was nice meeting them - well briefly anyway given the darkness and the noise level of the restaurant. Invited were Tricia from Once a Month Mom, Kathy from Panini Happy, Maris of In Good Taste and Vanessa of ChefDruck Musings.  {I'm sure I've missed somebody.} After the meal, most everybody took off for some other commitment and the restaurant emptied a bit, so it got quiet enough that those couple of us left there were able to at least talk a few minutes before the trek back to the hotel. That was kinda interesting.

As we passed the Old Mint building on 5th Street, there were obvious homeless folks making their spots on the wide stairs for the night.  They shouted at everyone on the street, and some just to themselves it seemed, but I followed the lead of our fearless leaders, kept my eyes straight ahead and walked quickly by. It made me sad though. We have our own homeless in the south of course, but they are generally not so bold or vocal and pretty much keep to themselves hidden in the wooded areas rather than out in the public.

Got back to the hotel, got ready for bed, and hit the sack, exhausted again. What a full day!  Here's that cocktail I told you about.

By the way, I haven't tested all the links here yet, so let me know if any of them aren't working!

Clemen'thyme Sparkle
Courtesy Cuties

1 large sprig of fresh thyme
1-1/2 ounces of vodka
1-3/4 ounces of Cuties Citrus Mix (recipe below)
Splash of champagne or sparkling wine
Small sprigs of fresh thyme and wedges of Cuties, for garnish

Drop the thyme into a shaker; add the citrus mix and vodka and fill the shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into martini glass, topping with a splash of champagne. Garnish if desired.

Cuties Citrus Mix:

1/4 cup of hot water
1/4 cup of local honey
5 Cuties, juiced (about 6 tablespoons juice)
1/2 cup of lemon juice

In a pitcher, mix the honey with the hot water until dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and refrigerate for up to 5 days.  Makes enough mix for about 6 drinks.

Non-alcoholic:  Use the mix on the rocks with a splash of soda water.

For more recipes visit Cuties on the net
Follow Cuties on Facebook


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