An intrepid group of foodies find inspiration, wisdom, and rollicking good fun in the mountains of Southern California.
When Camp Blogaway beckons, few in the foodie world of social media know how to resist the siren call sent out by Patti Londre. She calls herself a “passionate cook and road warrior traveler,” but Patti’s Blogaway acolytes – bloggers and sponsors alike – call her Fearless Leader. Camp Blogaway has become an experience so treasured that some food bloggers return year after year.
Cabot’s @candacekaru joined a fab group of foodies 2 find inspiration & fun in the mtns of SoCal! #campblogaway http://ow.ly/MAzgJ @cabotcheese
To understand the lure of this unique bootcamp for food and recipe bloggers, you first must know that it takes place in the Barton Flats area of the San Bernardino National Forest, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles, at an elevation of 7,000 feet. It is a place of indescribable tranquility and beauty. And it is definitely a camp, complete with rustic cabins, wooden bunk beds, and a communal lodge where most of the camp activity takes place.
Imagine, if you will, a gathering 90+ food bloggers – some seasoned veterans with enormous followings, some beginners who are just learning the ropes, all eager to learn and grow in their professional lives. Add in world-class speakers – chefs, journalists, photographers, recipe developers, food stylists, all eager to share their knowledge and expertise. To round out the group, throw in national food and wine brands, eager to share information and samples of their products as well as their social media programs and strategies. The combination creates an atmosphere of education, camaraderie, sharing, and friendship rarely seen in professional settings.
From my point of view, as a representative of the 1200 farm families who own Cabot, it was exciting to connect not only with some of the members of our Cabot Cheese Board, like Gary House of Cooking Outdoors, Laura Bashar of Family Spice, and Lisa Lin of Healthy Nibbles & Bits, but to reconnect with Cheese Board member and Blogaway sidekick Mimi Holtz of Mimi Avocado. It was also a rare opportunity to get to know new blogging friends and share the story of the Cabot Creamery Cooperative and its farmers. As a cheddar evangelist, it was fun to introduce them a wide variety of Cabot’s award-winning cheeses.
Camp Blogaway is unique in that it treats bloggers, presenters, and brand representatives equally – everyone who attends is an official camper, with all the perks and pleasures associated with that status. Virtually all the activities, from panel sessions to demonstrations to lectures and hiking, were open to everyone.
For those willing to wake up with the dawn, each day started with a hike to nearby Jenks Lake, featuring breathtaking vistas. Admittedly some of our breath was taken away by the altitude, but the natural beauty of the San Bernardino National Forest could not be denied. Hikers lingered over the spectacular sight of this pristine setting before heading back for a full day of activities – so much to learn, so much to absorb.
Whether learning how to improve our natural light photography skills from renowned food photographer Christina Peters or how to visualize success in our careers from the inimitable, deeply knowledgeable, and hilariously inspirational food stylist Denise Vivaldo, each session offered a unique and valuable perspective in the highly competitive and idiosyncratic world of food blogging.
Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru, is an internationally recognized expert on food trends and consumer behavior, as well as being the food trends editor and correspondent for NBC News’ Today show. Phil’s presentation, titled ‘Walking the Tightrope,’ was a cautionary tale for food bloggers on the pitfalls that can be encountered as a paid spokesperson and how to avoid them.
Dr. Jean Layton, the Gluten Free Doctor and Sabrina Modelle, The Tomato Tart tackled the topic of Google+ and how bloggers can optimize their SEO using best practices, offering insight to this often controversial and misunderstood platform.
Dalyn Miller of Dalyn Miller PR brought his unique perspective on the world of public relations engagement with a talk on spokesperson blunders and how not to get invited back on the show with his talk titled “My Lazy Sunday Morning or How I Slept Through My Alarm and Got Banned from Fox & Friends for Life.” It was the stuff a spokesperson’s nightmares are made of, but also wildly entertaining while offering tips on how to do it right.
A how-to cupcake decorating workshop by sponsor Wilton produced gorgeous – and delicious – cupcakes for the first night’s dessert. But dessert had to wait. Before dinner, campers got to meet new friends and greet old ones on the lodge deck. As the sun set through the tall pines, the group got to savor four different varieties of Wente wines – each with a distinctive and sophisticated profile.
And of course, when the company is as knowledgeable as the Blogaway campers, only The World’s Best Cheddar would do to complete the cocktail hour. I created the signature Cabot Pinecone Cheese Ball in several different flavors for this VIP group. The pinecones fit perfectly into the rustic setting. Each one highlighted a different Cabot cheddar and was studded with California almonds, another Blogaway sponsor.
Camp food was not what I expected it to be. Tasty and imaginative dishes emerged from the camp kitchen, created from foods provided by sponsors. There was a divine vegetable slaw that incorporated Red Walnuts, crisp fresh snap peas for snacking from Mann’s, protein and anti-oxidant packed sweet potatoes from North Carolina Sweet Potatoes. There were fresh, healthy Safest Choice eggs for breakfast. We learned about their unique pasteurization process that eliminates the danger of common egg-born bacteria. And speaking of healthy, imagine my surprise when I learned how to make a lentil-based fudge from the folks at Canadian Lentils. OK, we also had a number of savory lentil dishes, but the fudge? That was a game changer. Potatoes from Klondike Brands came in a rainbow of colors and varieties. When combined in an au gratin recipe with Cabot cheddar, the results were positively swoonworthy!
In addition to daytime sessions, there were also presentations after dinner each night. Still there was plenty of time for socializing around a roaring fire in the lodge, complete with great conversation and that most traditional camp fare – S’mores. There may or may not have been a few in-cabin parties that went into the wee hours. What happens at Blogaway…well, you get the picture.
As a kid, I never got to go to sleep-away camp. Camp Blogaway was the ultimate foodie fantasy camp offering all the fun, great learning opportunities, and the kind of lasting friendships that you would hope for in a camp experience.
I’m already dreaming about Camp Blogaway 2016.
Candace Karu reports on all there is to discover and love about food and farming as well as communicating Cabot’s mission to support community, volunteerism, and sustainability. Whether online, on air, or in person, her job is to amplify the passion and commitment of the 1200 farm families who own Cabot. When Candace is not representing Cabot, she lives, cooks, and works out in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.