A low carb chocolate layer cake with caramel coconut frosting and chocolate drizzle. A fun healthy and sugar-free take on the classic Girl Scout Cookie!
Bloggers love nothing more than to sit around with other bloggers talking about blogging. I know that may not sound very interesting to the rest of the world but it is an infinitely interesting topic to us. It’s still something of a nascent industry and we don’t have too many people to talk to about it outside of each other. It’s new enough that I often find myself having to explain exactly what it is I do for a living. It often becomes easier to simply say I am a writer or that I run a website. Those are respectable professions, it would seem. But a blogger is still a bit suspect, someone who doesn’t really want to work at all, just wants to throw some words and pictures up on the internet. If only they knew just how hard we actually work.
So it’s immensely gratifying to get together with other bloggers and brainstorm, talk about what works, what doesn’t, what the new trend is. In late January, I gathered with 10 other Pacific Northwest food bloggers for a three day retreat so that we could talk about blogging all. day. long. It was glorious! And it just so happens that I was co-organizer of this intimate event, along with my friend Alyssa of EveryDay Maven. I think that Alyssa and I need to pat ourselves on the back for this one. It went beautifully and we had a really wonderful mix of people, topics, and activities.
We aimed for a very local, PNW-oriented event, and we were hosted by McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, OR. McMenamin’s is quite legendary around these parts, having snapped up a number of old historic properties and turned them into interesting restaurants, hotels, and brew pubs. They are all different and all incredibly unique, and the Grand Lodge was no exception. It used to be a Masonic retirement home and the rooms are all decorated in different themes, many named after former residents of the home. It has a bit of a fun-but-creepy element to it, with rumours of the Lilac Lady ghost wandering the halls.
The Grand Lodge was undergoing some extensive renovations while we were there, to create more guest rooms on the third floor. We got a sneak peek of the rooms (which are now all finished and ready for guests) and the fun “secret passageway” made to look like Gollum’s Cave. Really, staying at the Grand Lodge is an adventure unto itself, with great pubs and restaurants, a spa, a soaking pool, a movie theatre, and weekend entertainment all right there on the premises. They don’t have a brewery at this particular McMenamin’s but they do have a fermentation chamber and we were treated to a tour and a tasting of some seriously spicy kimchi, as well as some shrub-based cocktails (shrubs are sweet drinking vinegars).
The town of Forest Grove is a sleepy little place just off Highway 26 as you head from Portland to the Oregon Coast. But it’s also smack in the middle of Tualatin Valley wine country. Travel Oregon and the Washington County Visitors Association were eager to show it off to us and took us out for an evening of sake tasting at Sake One, one of the best craft sake distilleries in the country. We then headed over to Bites Restaurant, which specialized in Korean fusion. It was brightly lit and welcoming and the food was fabulous. And they were more than willing to serve me a Bulgogi burger on a lettuce wrap.
There was a bit of a mix up on our second evening, where we were meant to be dining at one place and ended up at another. We made the drive over to Dayton, OR in the Willamette Valley, famous for its Pinot Noir. Despite the confusion, we had a delicious multi-course tasting meal at The Barlow Room. Kudos go to the kitchen and wait staff there for scrambling to accommodate and serve us. They were utterly gracious and handled it all with aplomb. It’s a restaurant I would highly recommend, if you are in the area.
So yes, it’s clear we had some fun times and ate some REALLY good food. But we also did a lot of real work while we were there. Every morning was spent in a conference room, discussing the topics most pertinent to food bloggers. What a great group of women we had assembled, each bringing a unique voice and perspective to the table so that we could all learn from each other. I am grateful for all of them. Dara (Cookin’ Canuck), Taylor (Food Faith Fitness), Heather (Farmgirl Gourmet and the entrepreneur behind Spiceologist), Fabiola (Not Just Baked), Karista (Karista’s Kitchen), Meghan (Fox and Briar), Samantha (Little Ferraro Kitchen), Dani (The Adventure Bite), and Deseree (Life’s Ambrosia). And of course, my awesome co-host, Alyssa of EveryDay Maven. She’s a powerhouse, that one, and I am just happy to ride her coattails most of the time. And she stepped up to the plate when my dad died in December, taking over much of the organization so I could focus on family. Love you, girl!
Of course, you can’t pull off an event like this without sponsors. Well, unless you happen to be independently wealthy (which, for the record, I am not). Alyssa and I decided early on that we wanted our sponsors to be local to the Pacific Northwest. I was delighted to be able to bring two of my favourite brands, Bob’s Red Mill and Organic Valley, on board. Organic Valley is national, of course, but did you know that they work with local farmers and distribute the milk, cream and yogurt locally? So the cream I use over here in Portland is sourced from local PNW farmers, whereas the cream you’re using in Boston is local from New England. I am never without their cream, pasture butter, and grass milk yogurt in my fridge. They supplied us with plenty of these items, along with some of the amazing raw cheddar, for our coffee and snack breaks.
And Bob’s…yay, Bob’s Red Mill! We low carbers love our Bob’s but it turns out that “regular” people do too. They gave us granola, oatmeal, and some of the new Paleo Muesli, along with a fruit platter, for one of our morning breaks. Can I just tell you that the Paleo Muesli with some Organic Valley whipping cream is a divine low carb snack? Just saying…
On the dairy-free front, Pacific Foods provided us with a wonderful selection of their nut milks and hemp milk. I hadn’t tried the hemp milk before but Alyssa swears by it. It seems to be a great nut-free and dairy-free alternative (comes in at 1g of carbs per cup) so I’ve been making myself some healthy cappuccinos lately. I plan to test drive it in baking as well. New Seasons Market also sponsored one of our lunches. Have I ever mentioned how much I love New Seasons? It’s like Whole Foods but better, in my opinion. Great selection, locally based, and it has wonderful initiatives for local entrepreneurs, to help them get onto store shelves. I love going to New Seasons and wandering the aisles looking for new and exciting products.
We also had Mary’s Harvest sponsor a snack break, and our gift bags included treats from the Seattle Chocolates J.CoCo line. And the San Juan Islands travel bureau put together a gift bag highlighting all they have to offer as well. I need to make it a priority to get up there and do some exploring! Are we an incredibly lucky group of bloggers or what?
So of course my recipe for the day features several of these wonderful sponsors. And since it’s Girl Scout cookie season, I just couldn’t resist making Samoas. In cake form, naturally…