Mixed: Food Bloggers Conference

So now that you’ve made it through the epic Thanksgiving post, how about the epic Mixed Conference 2012 post?

Two weekends ago (November 30-December 2), I was lucky enough to travel down the road to Mixed, a food bloggers conference held at Mountain Lake in southwest Virginia. Having never been to a food bloggers conference, as soon as word got out about this one being only an hour from my house, I knew I had to go.

Swanky fireplace laden digs were provided by Mountain Lake (yes, THE Mountain Lake of Dirty Dancing) and I swear, this girl didn’t know how to handle having a king sized bed all to herself. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a sprawler–this bed was heaven.

I arrived a little late and only caught the tail end of the wine & cheese hour, but did manage to grab a few bites of some awesomely sharp & tangy cheddar before whisking off to dinner.

Dinner, catered by the resort was…ok? I’d been warned by friends who’d lived in the area longer than me that Mountain Lake’s food is notoriously so-so, and I have to agree. The only vegetarian options were salad, green beans, and rice, so I went with a heavy dose of salad, green beans, and the shrimp & scallop pasta. Nothing to write home about, unfortunately, but the wine from the pre-dinner shindig was fantastic!

After dinner, we traipsed off to a mixer featuring a rum cocktail & a cookie bake-off (sponsored by Captain Morgan & Dixie Crystals), but the sugar just couldn’t keep me awake for the midnight showing of The Shining and the mac n’ cheese party featuring the top recipes from the mac n’ cheese-off arranged before the conference.

I tried, but ohmygosh, I’m not a Friday person, especially post-work & driving. But check out that moon–insane, right?

Early morning alarm in order to get up in time for the sessions and I have to admit I was pretty glad I’d hit the sack at a normalish hour. Breakfast was a little weak too, but I grabbed a scoop of scrambled eggs, a biscuit & some gravy, hashbrowns, and blueberries to tide me over. The biscuit wasn’t bad actually and the server didn’t give me any weird looks about a cup of half caff/half decaf coffee, so that was rockin’.

Post breakfast, the epic day of sessions began–my first being food photography with Bree of Baked Bree. Bree shoots these beautiful, light-filled photographs–an aesthetic I love, but one which I have a harder time replicating in our house (I mostly shoot outdoors). Her tips were all great–my favorite being, “go home and read your camera manual”–but I really wished I’d heard her speak three years ago or so, back when I was just figuring out how to “really” shoot food. That said, she just might have convinced me to play around more with white backgrounds & the like, just to change it up. Change is good, right?

Next up was Tami Hardeman, an Atlanta food stylist with a blog I’ve followed for years, Running with Tweezers. Tami was one of the reasons I signed up for the event, now that I work with clients whose food styling skills are a…a little lacking, and I wasn’t disappointed in her tips. Tweezers. Got it, I really need those. Also, the idea of growing some balls and telling the chef/client what I need them to do with the food–a good photo won’t make up for a glop of food. I also loved chatting with her at the mixer Friday night. We caught up on the Atlanta scene and talked about weird clients and, I have to admit, I wish I were back in Atlanta so I could get to know here a little better. She’s a seriously witty, fun, sarcastic, good folk.

After all that deluge of info, my group was off to a cookie decorating sesh with Marian Poirier of Sweetopia. I wiped my icing/decorating PTSD aside and went along with the tutorial, making some semi-decent Christmas cookies and, mostly, having a lot of fun with my table partner Kristin, who really rocked out her ornament cookie (pics on her blog) and made a mean cookie decorating hand model as evidenced above.

Afterwards, lunch! Yes, that’s sliced bleu cheese you see there in the background. How they make a lunch meat sliced bleu cheese is beyond me, but aren’t you glad to know it exists?

Lunch consumed, we were off to an epic (and slightly over my head) talk on how to make rockstar cooking videos. I’m not going to pretend to even have much of an interest in making vids; I mean, I can hardly take a single photogenic snapshot of myself…let alone a video? I’ve seen my self on TV doing cooking demos, it wasn’t pretty. Lenny Ferreira’s presentation was really solid though, and I feel like if I wanted to start making a video, I’d know where to start. Plus props to Denise for being the easygoing, funny second half on the screen being taped for the demo. Definitely a fun session.

After that intense, techy session I was definitely ready for the hour long break. And with sunny, 60 degree weather, there was no better place to clear my head than a walk around Mountain Lake. Well…the dried up Mountain Lake. G saw it with water years ago, but due to its cyclical dry periods (it’s a natural lake–one of only two in Virginia!) it’s been without water since before I moved to the area. (Apparently it’s the only known lake in the world to randomly dry up and then fill up again–something to do with earthquakes maybe.)

Tromping around the used-to-be-lake-area, though, was plenty interesting, in a less traditionally scenic, but more so for me way. Grasses, of course, have grown up where the lake once was, but one of my favorite parts were the legions of baby rhodendrons encroaching on the former lake bed. The little guys were only a few inches tall, blending in with mosses and the grass, but they were a fixture on the edges, slowing gaining ground, and trying to reclaim the land for forest.

Other good bits? The detritus of once was. Floating docks lay moored in the middle of grass, steps led to nowhere. Canoes floated peacefully in mud.

I did, eventually, find a trickle of water–likely left over from the snowfall a few days earlier, but a bit of cool normality in the amber dryness.

I enjoyed imagining what it would be like to time lapse the eventual rise of the water, to see the canoes start floating again, the paddle boats paddle off to the middle of the lake.

But those daydreams had a limited time period. Soon enough it as off to my cake decorating with Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes.

I think I watched the show, or half of it, once. I guess he’s a cool food celebrity. Frankly, I thought he ran a pretty crappy session. He said something to the effect of ‘hey, your cake is in front of you, have at it,’ and then left us to our own devices with a fondant covered cake, tubs of colored fondant, an airbrush machine (edible airbrushing, I hope), and other tools of the trade. Cool. Except I’ve never used fondant in my life. So what do you do with it? Ugh.

Thankfully, Kristin is a genius at figuring the stuff out and we decided to make a cute little underwater cake with a fish on top and seaweed on the side. Isn’t her fish on top the cutest? And that worm? She had all the best ideas! I was stoked to work with her on the cake and, while it wasn’t the epic spaghetti and meatballs or sushi cake, it was pretty darn good for two girls who had never decorated like this before.

(I did also enjoy jabbing at the Ravens since he’s from Baltimore. As a Steelers fan, I’m glad they let me stay in the room, heh.)

And, finally, last but certainly not least,the lovely Heidi Larsen of Foodie Crush led the closing session on the secrets of ebooks. Oh hey there, never thought about those. Maybe? I do know that I definitely have the design skills under my belt with Adobe (night class, you gotta be good for something besides boring corporate schlep), so I don’t know if I’ll do up my own (anyone think I should? Any suggestions on the topic?) or if I’ll throw my hat out there to offer to do the design work for someone else (interested in making an ebook? Let me know!), but I’m definitely putting my thinking hat on.

And that there ends my recap of the weekend.

But, wait, you say, that only covers Friday night and Saturday day. What about Saturday night & Sunday morning? Unfortunately, something came up at home and I had to travel back to Roanoke to deal with it. That meant I missed out on the closing party (a Appalachiany-alt-bluegrass band played covers, tons of prizes were given away) and the remaining meals with folks at the conference. A bummer, for sure, but I was glad I was able to stay for all the sessions and meet all the wonderful women (and a few men) that I did.

Many many many thanks to Susan of Doughmesstic & Paula of Bell’alimento for putting the conference together–you ladies did an amazing job of wrangling together speakers and sponsors and fantastic attendees. And many thanks to the wonderful sponsors included, but not limited to (heaven knows I’ll forget some) KitchenAid, Dixie Crystals, Hesheys, Attune Foods, Way Better Snacks, REAL Butter, Dreamfields Pasta, Le Creuset, Lucky Leaf, etc.

I’m so glad I was able to attend most of it & I look forward to seeing if there’s a Mixed 2.0 next year!

And if you’re jonesing for more Mixed recaps, check out these great ones from different attendees:
Paula – Bell’alimento
Kristin – Once Upona Twin
Jennelle – Delicious Potager
Lauren – Climbing Grier Mountain
Kita – Pass the Sushi
Melanie – Melanie in the Middle
Katie – The Hill Country Cook
Brandi – Bran Appetit
Mackenzie – Susie Freaking Homemaker
Jen – Savory Simple
Angry Asian Creations
Carrie – Bakeaholic Mama
Nosh with Nash
Monique – Ambitious Kitchen
Erin – Eat Bake Drink Cook
Lynda – Me & My Pink Mixer
Angie – Big Bear’s Wife
Stephanie – Stockpiling Moms
Books n’ Cooks
Heather – Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks

9 Responses to “Mixed: Food Bloggers Conference”
  1. brandi says:

    it was so great to finally meet you in person – you got some beautiful pictures!

  2. Kristin says:

    Thanks for the complements. And glad my nails weren’t all chipped. I had fun decorating cookies and cake with you too. Come visit Baltimore, even if you are a Steelers fan.

  3. Eileen says:

    It sounds like a really interesting weekend, even if it was also crazy busy. The best part of conferences is always meeting so many amazing people! (Of course, all the conferences I’ve gone to have been academic…but still.) :)

    • Jes says:

      I know! This was my first non-academic one. Definitely different (like, my brain didn’t feel like exploding or turning to mush at the end of the day) but totally good.

  4. Hannah says:

    Oh so jealous- Blog conferences are the best! Okay, so I’ve only been to one thus far, but it was incredibly fun. It’s just awesome meeting all of the people you’ve spent so much time chatting with already. Wish I could have been there!

    • Jes says:

      We need to get an east coast vegan bloggers conference organized! I’ve always wanted to go to Vida Vegan Con, but there’s no way I can float the whole west coast thing.

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