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Last month I was invited to participate in a food blogger retreat called The Fresh Air Retreat. This is a recap of my experience in Austin, Texas!

The Fresh Air Retreat is hosted by Liz Della Croce from The Lemon Bowl and Lauren Grier from The Curious Plate. The idea is that it’s an opportunity for food bloggers to connect for three days of conversation about the business and learn from each other. I was so honored to be included! Food blogging can be a pretty solo endeavor (although I do have some amazing contractors I work with to support my business) so I jumped at the chance to talk shop with the ladies who would be going.

The event I attended was in Austin, Texas (they rotate locations). We stayed in a beautiful rental home close to downtown. Every detail of this trip was meticulously planned and nothing was spared. Executive Chef Trimell Hawkins stayed in the house with us. He created elaborate five course meals I’m still dreaming about! I felt genuinely spoiled to eat so well! His creativity in the kitchen and thoughtful stories made him such a wonderful addition to the week.

A photographer, Amanda Kamppinen (@amanda.kamppinen on Instagram), also stayed with us to document every moment. All the beautiful photos I’m sharing in this recap post are her work.

Several brands came to speak with us during our time in Austin. I was familiar with most of them prior to the retreat but didn’t know about their history, missions, or what set them apart from other companies/products in their fields.

Dave’s Killer Bread is one brand I already knew and loved because I buy their bread every week. We enjoyed their yummy breads with breakfast each morning (I always grab the cinnamon raisin bread, my personal favorite) and they led us in a 90’s themed workout class. We all came prepared with 90’s inspired outfits and boy was it fun!

What was especially fascinating to learn about this brand was that Dave spent 15 years in prison. After his release he poured all his energy into his family’s bakery to grow it into the #1 organic bread in America (which doesn’t surprise me since my family can’t get enough of it). Dave’s Killer Bread is a Second Chance Employer, meaning they believe in the transformative power of giving someone who wants to change their life a second chance. They are committing to hiring the best person for the job no matter their criminal history. I really appreciate this perspective and it’s so refreshing to see a company striving to do some good in our world, isn’t it?

We eat a lot of apples in my home but I’ve never thought too much about how apples compare before. Envy Apples really intrigued me because the white of the apple doesn’t brown as quickly. I had a lot of questions about this and learned their apples are created using natural plant-breeding methods and they’re a cross between Braeburn with Royal Gala apples. The benefit to an apple that stays white longer is that you can send apple slices with your kids to school and not worry about them looking brown by the time lunch rolls around. You can also use them in fresh dishes like salads and your salad will look prettier longer!

I don’t consider myself to be a rum expert by any stretch of the imagination but I do enjoy a rum cocktail when it’s available. So I was quite tickled that we’d be getting a special tasting courtesy of Flor de Cana. Luis Baez led this tasting, shared their story with us, and guided us through making an espresso martini. (PS I adore espresso martinis!) He was so charming, I could listen to him to talk all day. Flor de Cana is the world’s first spirit to be carbon neutral and fair trade certified. It’s a family owned company that started in 1890. Their delicious rum contains zero sugar and no artificial ingredients. My goodness it is so tasty! If you’re looking to try a new rum and want to support a company committed to sustainability this is the one for you! This is definitely the rum I’ll be purchasing going forward.

Now you probably know a lot about Zwilling already. I’m very familiar with their knives (they are the best!) and their Staub cookware (I have so much). I use their products in my kitchen everyday so I was so excited to see them on the list for the trip. Zwilling’s Executive Chef Bernard Janssen came to lead us in a knife skills class. We were all feeling the pressure to not embarrass ourselves and I walked away with some new methods and tips. For instance, I’ll be purchasing a fillet knife to add to my collection immediately. I’d always thought it was just for fish but its flexibility actually makes it amazing for removing the skin from tomatoes or peeling an orange! I had no idea!

On our final night in Austin we had what was easily one of the top three best meals of my entire life so I refuse to not share about it here. We visited the Four Seasons Hotel where we started with champagne at the Teardrop Trailer (a champagne airstream bar). Talk about the cutest set up! The cork flew like I’ve never seen before and then we enjoyed drinks and a relaxing time chatting before moving to our seats.

Dinner was at Ciclo, which is also at the Four Seasons and just a few steps away from our champagne sipping. We sat outdoors. There’s really not much better than a delicious meal under the stars when the weather is perfect. I had the filet and what felt like 101 different appetizers and desserts. The food was never ending and your girl is a bottomless pit so I ate it all. I really can not recommend Ciclo enough if you ever find yourself in Austin. This meal was truly a one of a kind experience and I’ll be back!

I left this retreat with so much goodness in my brain so let’s chat about that. Obviously a big part of my job is creating recipes and the food I was so lucky to enjoy definitely provided me with plenty of recipe inspiration.

Having said that, my two biggest takeaways are really about the side of the business that you friends don’t get to see every day. The part of my job that’s forward facing to you is of course the food. But behind the scenes that are so many parts of this work that actually take up the majority of my time. There is recipe research, search engine optimization, writing, social media management, management of various contractors, website design/development/support, photography, video creation, accounting, and more. Those are the things that actually drive the success of the business more than anything. I can create tasty dishes all day but if these other areas aren’t performing well then nobody will see or make the recipes anyway.

Knowing that, what I most appreciate about this retreat experience is the head full of ideas for my business that I left with (which I immediately began putting in place) and the profound appreciation I have for my peers and their friendships. I’m making some more strategic decisions about how I’m addressing SEO and the website development (changes scheduled to come in the Spring). I am also revisiting how I tackle Pinterest. These are all things that bring me so much excitement and I hope that you (my readers, devoted recipe-makers, and biggest encouragers) benefit from them soon!

This week in Austin was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. It was just the recharge I needed to bring you the very best I can in this space. I’m so grateful I was able to participate!

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