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Monday, June 25, 2012

BlogHerFood 2012 Seattle Recap

If you're a foodie what's not to love about Seattle? It's the home of the original Sur la Table kitchen store. AllRecipes.com is based there. The test kitchen for the molecular gastronomy pros at Modernist Cuisine is just over the bridge in Bellevue. Tom Douglas has a multitude of restaurants downtown including one of my favorites, Etta's. And Seattle is home to what may be the most quintessential culinary stop for seafood lovers on the entire west coast: Pike Place Market.

The 2013 BlogHerFood in Austin, TX is the place to be if you want to learn more about cooking, baking, publishing, food politics, photographing food or you can meet some of the country's top food bloggers and cook book authors. If you want to go to BlogHerFood in 2013 but don't know anyone else who's going, don't let that stop you. I'd heard it can be hard attending conferences alone but I felt like I was making new friends everywhere I went.

At this year's two day conference (in 2012) there were four tracks to choose from concentrating on Values, Visuals, Vocation and Voice. All were food related. I decided to focus on the visual tracks in order to further improve my food photography efforts

The conference was held at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. I would have stayed at the Fairmont but the room block was sold out. I arrived in Seattle the day before the conference started. There was a literal torrential downpour of rain (which was so cliche it was funny) as I arrived at the W, just across the street from the Fairmont, to check in. A local told me they'd never seen it rain so hard before.

It was my first stay at a W Hotel and was definitely enjoyable. I'll be choosing them again in the future when I travel. The swanky club lighting in the hallways, the spacious room with plenty of amenities including free, in-room wifi (though not included with every room) and a surprisingly affordable room rate ($169 per night) made for a really nice stay. I signed up for the Starwood frequent guest program and immediately was given 500 bonus points for opting out of having my room made up on the second of the three days I was there.

After checking in I hit the streets to wander a bit. The rain was slowing and by the time I'd walked the 6 blocks to the Pike Street Market it had stopped completely and the clouds were breaking up. There were plenty of people out and about. I spotted a mounted patrol officer right in front of the market and stopped long enough to watch a salmon being tossed back to the counter for purchase at the world famous Pike Place Fish Market.

While strolling through the market I discovered another fish monger's stand. Pure Food Fish Market had plenty of fresh, attractively displayed seafood as well as very friendly service.

It only took a sample to get me hooked on Pure Food Fish Market's smoked salmon.

As I approached with my camera in hand I was greeted at the shop's entrance and invited to come in to look around and take pictures. Isaac also gave me a sample of smoked salmon. I chatted him up and learned the shop had been there since 1911. It's a family business and he is the fourth generation to work at Pure Food Fish. The sample he gave me? It was like salmon crack. I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. It reminded me of the steelhead my dad used to catch, and my mom would smoke, back in the day when he would go fishing on the Methow River in Washington State or head up to Alaska for salmon.

Along with fish there are many other purveyors in the market including flower shops, a butcher, produce stands, a sausage maker, a pasta vendor, a bakery, crafts people and more. After walking the street level of the market place I stepped out onto Western Street and strolled along the waterfront.

I passed Beecher's handmade cheeses. Normally I'd be a sucker for stopping in for a grilled cheese sandwich (yummmmm cheese) but that day I already had a destination just a few blocks away. I'll definitely have to try Beecher's on a future visit.

The Tallboys were performing on the sidewalk and were a real crowd pleaser. They drew a large audience so I had to mosey my way up front to get this unobstructed picture for you.

At Etta's (owned by renowned restauranteur Tom Douglas) I continued on with my new pescatarian status ordering the Copper River Salmon, wild caught in Alaska. It was served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, mustard greens and a cherry and onion chutney it was a fantastic lunch!

Art can make different statements depending on the context.

I saw some very striking public art as I wandered my way around the city including an exhibit called "Borders" by icelandic sculptor Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir combined with an exhibit called "The Blue Trees" by Konstantin Dimopoulos. As a young girl played on a sculpture with her friends I was moved when a homeless man (inadvertently?) parked his shopping cart, full of his worldly possessions, beside a different sculpture, huddled on a bench out in the cold.

The giant squid I saw at Pike Street Market.

Seattle's modes of transportation: The monorail, public buses and a duck boat.

I was very impressed with the transit system in Seattle. Not only is there the monorail, an elevated train system that winds through the city using only a single track, the public bus system was huge. It seemed as if I could stand on any street corner between 4th and 1st Streets and could easily see anywhere from 8 to 12 buses at a time. The buses were plentiful and you could tell they were clean and well maintained. I wish the Bay Area had a similar transit system.

The following day was the first day of the conference. I went to the Food Photography Trends: Beyond Pretty session with Anita Chu from Desserts First and Stephanie Shih of Desserts for Breakfast. Together they led a great presentation about eight different ways you can photograph the same dessert. Most importantly I learned about the use of white boards, in controlled settings, to bounce light back onto the dark side of your subject matter. It's such a neat trick. Once I try it I'll blog about it and show you how it works if you're not familiar with the technique.

After the session it was time for lunch. The Fairmont put out quite a spread for us trying to set up the buffet as we snapped away like food paparazzi. Lunch included skewered spinach salads and petite sandwiches.

There was also gazpacho soup, fruit with chewey meringue cookies and skewered towers of I'm not exactly sure what. I recognize bacon, a pearl onion, a cornichon and a hardboiled egg. The base looked like it was cooked daikon or parsnip (ETA They were potatoes!) and was that a tiny ball of blue cheese with an even tinier bottle of mustard of some type?

There was a smaller side table with a combination of vegan and non-vegan but gluten-free bites.

As the staff continued to set up lunch I began browsing the booths around the room and chatted with many of the sponsors. The most fascinating of which was the American Heritage Chocolate chocolate making demonstration. I'd never seen where chocolate comes from. Turns out the inside of a cacao (pronounced kuh-cow) pod is white and looks more like a pumpkin or squash filled with seeds that are the cacao beans. They're roasted then ground down. The granulated nibs are then put on a hot, flat stone and are further ground down and, because of their fat content, liquify and melt. Flavors like sugar, vanilla and spices can be added during this stage. The liquid chocolate can be mixed with water to create a non-dairy, drinkable chocolate. It wasn't overly rich or thick. I love the idea of having a delicious vegan chocolate option!

And though I don't normally care for yogurt I must say the Blood Orange Chobani Greek Yogurt was quite delicious. It's thicker and creamier than traditional yogurt. I chose a flavor, pulled the top back and stirred the fruit up from the bottom. It was so good I ate the whole container. Because I'd spent so much time watching the chocolate demo when I turned around the buffet had been opened and it looked as if a pack of starving wolves had descended upon it. There was some food left, but not much. So I appreciated the standard serving of Chobani yogurt even more.

This was funny. Supervalu was having a vegetable sculpture contest so people had been building all kinds of creatures out of vegetables and marshmallows with peanut-butter glue to help stick things together. The cutest (imo) was the artichoke and broccoli owl by Tanya Wang from Microsoft.

I really appreciated the tweets of support by Andrew Wilder @eatingrules and @blogtutorSamantha @noveleats, and FoodInsight.org @Foodinsight during our session.

And then it was time for me to sit on a guest panel with Jaelithe Judy and Dawn Brighid to talk about "Taking your blog activism to the next level." The key points I wanted to share with the audience were:
  1. That being an advocate doesn't mean you have to make a full time commitment. Help when you can even if it feels like you're helping in bits and pieces.
  2. Don't worry that you're not an expert. There are two ways to solve this problem: The first is to learn more and become an expert. The second is don't be afraid to call experts for an interview.
  3. If you do reach out to an expert research ahead of time so you know which questions to ask. If you're going on a site tour be sure to know what pictures you'll want to take before you get there.
  4. Being an advocate can mean many things. To me, it mostly means raising awareness about worthy causes. You can volunteer your time, knowledge, physical help or money but mostly being an advocate means letting others know about the cause you care about so they can care about it too.
  5. How to avoid emotional burnout: Ask for support. If you're not sure how to handle the stress related to the cause you care about ask other established advocates what their coping mechanisms are.
  6. You can advocate for and write about more than one topic. For instance I consider myself an advocate of the National Marrow Donor Program, shelter dogs, health and nutrition issues, hunger in America and more humane practices in factory farming.
  7. Be sure to give your readers a call to action asking them to extend your call for help to their friends and people they know. IMO a good call to action is one that gives the reader options to help a little or a lot by giving time, energy or money so that there's always a way anyone can help.
  8. Don't worry that telling people about your cause means that you are somehow showing off. The problem is that if you don't tell people they may not know or realize there's a way for them to help.
  9. Don't worry too much about losing readers if you begin advocating online. While you may lose some, you'll also gain new readers who support the same cause you care about. I try to keep my advocacy posts limited to one per week maximum. Sometimes I'll only post two per month. And I swear, when I've wondered if I'm posting too much advocacy someone will send me an email or leave a comment thanking me for being a resource with meaningful content. Every time :)
One of my takeaways from the session? Andrew Wilder who was in our audience mentioned he hosts a 30 day challenge every october called "October Unprocessed" where he challenges his blog readers to not eat processed foods for 30 days! Wow. I'm going to have to think about how I can participate and pull that off. It's not as restrictive as it sounds. His premise is if you could reasonably make a food in your own kitchen using whole ingredients it's fine to eat as part of the challenge so long as it's not full of preservatives and chemicals.

After the session I grabbed a drink, I was so glad both flat and sparkling water were available. Sometimes I'll be somewhere that only offers sodas or wine and I wander around feeling like a parched cartoon person seeing mirages in the desert while contemplating if it's too gross to drink water from a bathroom faucet. I never done it but I've thought about it more than once. LOL

After sessions I went to meet up with a local friend for happy hour. Jen and I went to elementary school together but drifted apart as we grew older. Thanks to Facebook we reconnected a couple of years ago.

The Seattle Art Museum

I walked from the hotel down to First Street. Right across from the Seattle Art Museum is an area called the Harbor Steps. The stairs are intermixed with fountains and lead down to the Puget Sound Harbor. Midway down the steps is where you'll find Lecosho.

I wrote a post about Lecosho last week.

Happy Hour turned into dinner as we ordered several small plates to share. The food was fantastic and I'll definitely go back again the next time I'm in Seattle. We had some leftover baguette and chopped olive spread which I thought would be my late night snack but instead I gave container to a homeless lady who asked me for money for food as I walked back to my hotel.

I've said it before but I'll say it again. I've often given homeless people food. Sometimes I go buy them a meal, other times, like in Seattle I give them what I have. Never has anyone ever been anything but appreciative. People often warn me I shouldn't offer food because they say the person will get angry because they want money for drugs or alcohol but it's never happened to me yet.

The next morning I was up bright and early to attend a breakfast session moderated by BlogHer Co-Founder Jory Des Jardins with a guest panel of two brands and two food bloggers who have successfully monetized their blogs. The first was Jaden Hair who writes the blog Steamy Kitchen. I've been a fan of Jayden's for years. I even won a knife in a contest she had back in 2008. I was able to meet her the night before the conference started and am embarrassed to admit when she came to my table with no name tag on I had to ask who she was. *Blush.* As soon as I heard her name I was wowed that I was meeting her in person :D She was very nice and friendly.

I wasn't familiar with Elise Bauer's blog Simply Recipes but am now and will be checking it out on a regular basis.

The two brand representatives were Alicia McGlamory (Masterbuilt) and Cassidy Stockton (Bob's Red Mill). The goal of the session was to help us learn how to work with brands to either monetize or create symbiotic relationships with them whether it's receiving a free sample of a product to review, the pros and cons of freebies, being paid outright by a brand, or through ad revenue.

For breakfast I had a mini croissant, mini bran muffin and lots of fruit along with a very glam tangerine juice drink. It looked like a cocktail. But it wasn't.

After breakfast I attended two sessions, one by Taylor Mathis, of Taylor Mathis Photography. It was about " Taking Your Food Photography Outdoors and On Location." Taylor shared tips about lighting and the use of diffusers, something I'd already considered doing but now I'm definitely going to take this next step in my photography skills.

As often happens at conferences there were two sessions I wanted to watch at the same time. One was Taylor's, the other was called "Vittles: Food Techniques from the Pros." I left Taylor's session about fifteen minutes ealry and made my way to the Vittles presentation.

Sara Tetreault, Jennifer Perillo and Hank Shaw

There I caught the end of Sara Tetreault of GoGingham going over the basics of keeping backyard chickens. We'd had a chance to talk earlier. She was very kind and friendly so I was glad to see her speak. The thing she said that resonated with me most was to have a re-homing back up plan in place before you even get your first chickens.

Next Jennifer Perillo from In Jennie's Kitchen gave a knife demonstration.

And last but certainly not least, the reason I'd run over to the other end of the hotel, was to see Hank Shaw fillet a fish.

Hank is planning his next salmon trip on the Bay on August 4, 2012
I would go but I'll be in NYC for the Blogher Conference

As it turns out Hank is a friend of a friend I was recently referred to when I decided if I'm going to eat salmon I want to catch at least some of what I eat myself. We'd been emailing back and forth about his upcoming schedule. Hank runs salmon fishing day trips here in the Bay Area (and clamming excursions) and, as it turns out, is the author of "Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast." I honestly had no idea he was a culinary "somebody." I just thought he was a nice friend of a friend I wanted to go fishing with. LOL. I can be so clueless!

After the last conference session I attended on Saturday I had 45 minutes to run from my hotel down to Pike Street to Pure Food Fish to buy some smoked salmon and make it back to the hotel in time for my ride to pick me up curbside.

If you'd like to try their smoked salmon you can order it online! They ship nationwide. Shipping is a flat $45 rate but you can fill the box with a mixture of seafood and it will arrive on your doorstep packed in dry ice. I think the best thing to do is to get a friend or two to also order some smoked or fresh fish or seafood and split the shipping charge three ways.

All in all going to BlogHerFood was a great experience. I learned a lot and met a lot of new bloggers to follow. Seeing Anita Chu's presentation and bumping into her each day at the conference made me feel like I knew at least one person there! And meeting Jayden Hair and Hank Shaw was icing on the cake :) Somehow I managed to never bump into Elisa Camahort Page or Irvin Lin but I'll see them back down here in the Bay Area :)

Here are the bloggers I met for the first time at BlogHerFood2012 whose cards made it back to San Jose with me :) Some I met briefly while others I got to know better learning more about who they are and what they blog about.

Alexis Hinde of WaveTheStick.com
Amber K. Stott from AwakeAtTheWhisk.com
Andrew Wilder EatingRules.com
Christina Masters of RowdyChowgirl.com
DPaul Brown photographer for Hedonia
Hank Shaw Honest-Food.net
Hannah Cordes of BlueKaleRoad.com
Kamille Scellick at Redeeming the Table
Karen Humphrey of ChasingTomatoes.ca
Kim Watkinson NinjaBaking.com
Sara Tetreault GoGingham.com

Disclosure: As a guest panelist at one of the sessions I received a complimentary conference pass allowing me to attend the sessions I wasn't speaking at. Also, because I am self employed and don't have any kind of significant travel budget Blogher is reimbursing the cost of my hotel room and my flight to Seattle, for which I am grateful. I absorbed the cost of the flight home as I swung over to the other side of the state for a few days before heading back to San Jose.

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