Last weekend I co-hosted a food creator/blogger retreat at Lost River Barn in West Virginia! Here’s a (long one—snuggle up with a cup of something tasty!) summary.
The world of sole traders can be a bit lonely, so I’m always looking for creative ways to connect with others who “get it” in relation to my work as a food blogger. I also find that hanging out with other bloggers always gives me a lot of energy and ideas for my own business and helps me to rekindle my enthusiasm for the work.
It all started when I heard an interview with Abbey Rodriguez, a food blogger and founder of the Tastemaker Conference series, on the Food Blogger Pro podcast about a year and a half ago.
I really liked a lot of what she talked about in the interview, most notably her desire for more personal time with others in the food blogging world, and at the end of the interview she also mentioned that she was in Northern Virginia was stopping so I decided to get in touch Go out and see if she’s willing to meet up for lunch to socialize and chat.
I hadn’t heard from Tastemaker until this podcast episode, and after doing some research I found out that they also host some smaller workshops in addition to their big annual conference, so I decided to see if Abbey would be willing to host an event together. I wanted it to be basically the best part of the conferences I’ve attended in the past: contact time with other bloggers to allow ideas to flow and be nurtured, but also a relaxed environment and some business coaching in the group, to help anyone who is feeling stuck or in a plateau in their business.
Abbey loved the idea and brought her Executive Life Coach Rachel Gainer on board to guide us through the group coaching sessions during the retreat. We also brought in V Orban, an amazing chef who lives in the area and has cooked for one of Tastemaker’s previous workshops that was held at the same location.
We ended up having a fantastic group of women at the event. Here’s the whole gang!
Clockwise from top left: Me, Rachel, Kari, Kelly, Renee, V, Daphne, Abbey and Kathryn. Plus V’s cute dog looking at us instead of the camera. 🙂
We all arrived at the Lost River Barn in time for dinner on Thursday night and left just after breakfast on Sunday morning.
The food was one of the big highlights of the weekend – it was incredibly tasty and mostly locally sourced and organic, which I really enjoyed. It was such a pleasure to have someone else cook for us!
For dinner on the first night we enjoyed delicious local sausage, pasta with spring vegetables (asparagus and peas) and a side of local vegetables with a light homemade vinaigrette.
For dessert we had some AWESOME homemade lemon biscuits that I forgot to take a picture of, along with s’mores around our sunset campfire!
It was so beautiful outside and the stars were amazing – I’m not used to star gazing as living just outside DC has so much light pollution. When the sun went down it was insanely dark out there in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia!
Friday morning started with this view:
Plus a delicious breakfast of strawberry mint smoothies, a sweet potato and veggie hash made from black beans (similar to the sweet potato hash I made before but used black beans instead of peas) and some cheesy eggs with sautéed peppers.
Everything was incredibly delicious.
After breakfast we went straight to the morning work. I led the group in an icebreaker/discovery session for the first hour, and then Rachel led a core values session, which would then guide some of our work in later sessions.
Lunch consisted of ham, cheese, honey mustard and local vegetables on homemade biscuits with a hearty and nutritious nettle, spinach and mint soup.
After lunch, we scheduled a break for anyone who wanted to hike at nearby Lost River State Park. It was a beautiful day out in nature!
Views like this never get boring.
We walked the Cranny Crow Overlook Trail and were rewarded for our steep climb efforts with a gorgeous view at the top:
Lots of hawks flying around up there and it was so peaceful. All hiking trails near DC get crowded on a nice day, but we had this one pretty much to ourselves! West Virginia wins.
After our hike we met indoors for another work session led by Rachel – this time we focused on refining our visions for our lives and businesses in the context of our core values and whether we felt aligned with them or not not.
Our post-session dinner was amazing: Asian-style pork and beef meatballs with a rice and quinoa mix and a simple cucumber salad with vinegar.
For dessert there was flourless chocolate cake with strawberries! Mmmmm.
On Saturday morning we started the day with another delicious breakfast of coconut milk and quinoa porridge with fruit, muesli and yoghurt. It reminded me a little of my recipe for berry and lemon casserole with quinoa!
After breakfast we went back to the group work with Rachel. This time we focused on calming the inner critic and determining whether we were making decisions based on our core values or based on fears/limiting beliefs.
For lunch I had one of my favorites: watermelon! My friends at the Watermelon Board sponsored the retreat and sent cool gifts for attendees, and it was fun working with V to add some watermelon to the weekend menu.
We enjoyed a variation of my watermelon rind salad with feta and arugula, which includes both the pulp and the rind of the watermelon (did you know you can eat the white part of a watermelon? It’s similar to a cucumber but a little crunchier!):
Served with homemade falafel, homemade honey butter bread and a hearty root veg mash that went really well with the falafel!
After lunch we took another break!
Some people wanted to stay indoors and relax; I could have gone either way but kinda wanted to get back hiking and luckily two of the others were dying to get back on the trails too so we went!
Kelly, Renee and I walked back to Lost River State Park and did another loop with a beautiful creek and another steep hike through the woods.
We had a great time and even couldn’t get lost thanks to a paper map I brought (we didn’t have cell service in the parking area). While we underestimated the length of the hike a bit, we got back just as the afternoon session was due to start – phew!
In Rachel’s weekend closing session, we focused on learning the power of no and setting boundaries in our organizations to prevent burnout. Great way to complete the work portion of the retreat!
For our final dinner of the trip, we enjoyed another watermelon-infused dish: chicken enchiladas with a homemade watermelon salsa recipe from my blog, served with guacamole and roasted Brussels sprouts. I went back for seconds!
For dessert there was homemade lemon cake with buttercream frosting and blueberries. It was so good!
Our last breakfast of the trip on Sunday morning before we said goodbye consisted of some incredible homemade strawberry scones (similar to the vegan strawberry scones recipe on my website!) as well as a veggie-filled frittata.
I was so sad when I had to say goodbye to everyone after breakfast on Sunday morning! We had a great group and I’m really looking forward to staying in touch and seeing what changes everyone implements based on the work we do together.
A big thank you to Abbey for working with me to host this event, to V for the amazing food and to Rachel for leading these helpful work sessions.
I decided to pack lunch with some leftovers we had and on the way home I stopped at a trailhead for a short hike in the Wolf Gap Recreation Area (right on the WV/VA border) to break up the drive.
I was dying to do the Big Castle Overlook hike but it was going to take a bit too long and I had to get home so I decided to just do a small stretch of the Tibbet Knob hike instead. However, I misunderstood the information about the hike – I thought it was a total of 1.6 miles round trip, but when I got to the trail I saw it was 1.6 miles round trip, so a total of 3 miles .
Damn – I didn’t have enough time for that. I decided to do just a short hike on the trail anyway, but knew I wouldn’t make it to the lookout. Oh well!
However, I found a nice little offshoot of the trail that led to a gorgeous lookout point and sat there enjoying my jam-packed ham, avocado, and mustard sandwich with some cucumber and orange slices.
On the way back to the car after lunch I had a scary experience – I kept walking and thankfully watching my feet (the path was a bit rocky and there were a few roots so I didn’t want to trip) when suddenly I screamed and jumped backwards because I was almost a foot away from stepping on a giant snake.
I walked back until I was standing pretty far away (the picture below is zoomed in a ton) trying to figure out what kind of snake it was/if I should totally freak out or just freak out because the snake was between me and my car (about a 15-20 minute walk) and I was alone and had no cell phone reception when the snake lifted its head and looked at me and clattered its tail and I was like OH SH!T that’s a rattlesnake! !!
Y’all, I was so incredibly lucky that I didn’t step on it by accident! I did some research later when I got home and am convinced it was a timber rattlesnake, the only species living in the western Virginia/West Virginia area.
Timber rattlesnakes are actually an endangered species – what luck?! Apparently they are very venomous but not overly aggressive in nature and will only bite you if you step on them or really startle them – and they will warn you with a rattle before they do anything.
It was a difficult area to get around the snake as the side of the trail further from it was very wooded/rocky and then was basically a cliff but that was obviously my only option as I would go up Don’t take the risk of jumping over them.
So, just in case, I grabbed a giant stick and took a trail as far into the forest as I could safely walk without being practically on the mountainside, and once I was back on the trail I was running like crazy in good measure. gah! I really hope this is my first and last encounter with a rattlesnake…
And that’s that! Aside from the rattlesnake situation, it was a lovely weekend with really great people and absolutely delicious food. Until next time, friends!