A few weeks ago I gathered with a group of blogging friends for a weekend at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, UT. The purpose? To kick off our shoes and cozy up on the couches to learn from one another in an easy and relaxed setting. It’s the best way to conference in my book.

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Even with the constant drone of tweets, Instagrams and Facebook updates, not to mention our actual blog posts, you’d think we’d all be totally in tune with one another. But working in a virtual space makes it hard to connect with peers. While I could tell you a lot about what’s going on in each of my blogging friend’s lives, there’s nothing better than connecting in person.

Thats why Maria and I assembled a group of bloggers to spend the weekend at a lovely mountainside Deer Valley home where we could all hang together and talk about new ways to better our blogs, our businesses and share ways to find balance between work and our personal lives. Because when your business is on 24 hours a day, you have a tendency to be too.

Today I’m sharing some of the highlights of what I learned at the retreat with you. For my fellow food bloggers, I hope you’ll find it helpful. And for non-food bloggers, I think you’re going to love this Garlic and Herb Gnocchi Salad I’m sharing at the end of this post. It’s a win win either way!

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Welcome to Deer Valley Resort in Park City with dinner at Riverhorse on Main.

 

Better Blog Retreat Notes

The success of a retreat like this is the sharing and the learning that happens all day long, in formal sessions, on hikes, in car rides or simply while toasting the day while visiting at the dinner table. We share tidbits—and sometimes floods—of knowledge we’ve each gained in hopes our experienced might help one another.

To get the how-to-be-a-better-blog conversations started, on Friday our group met with brand representatives from Land O Lakes and Blue Diamond to talk about what they see happening in food, blogging and the interplay between the two.

Following are a few highlights I learned that I’m incorporating into my work—and life—routine.

Welcome

Noshing and appetizer-ing with President CheeseWhole Foods Utah, and QSquared.

 

Who is my reader?

Whether you’re a blog with a large following or one with a smaller following, there’s an audience for you as long as you inspire and create with “them” in mind.

We’re all talking to an invisible reader. But who is that reader? What reader do you want to attract? Ask yourself these character questions and create your content for them and as they say in Field of Dreams, “They will come.”

  1. Who is my reader? Define who he or she is, their age, interests, hobbies, lifestyle and even give him or her a name.

  2. What style of cooking does this reader have? Do they want 5 ingredient or 20 step by steps, healthy or gluttonous, family oriented or meals for two, beginner or gourmet?

  3. Then do the litmus test: Write your content and create every single recipe for that reader and ask yourself, does it speak to them?

Set yourself apart.

In a sea of food bloggers and with more and more joining the ranks every day (hello and welcome!) what sets you apart from the others? How can you and your talents distinguish yourself from the fold?

For example, I create mostly family friendly meals. As do so many other bloggers. But, I’m also a veteran magazine designer so I took my experience and created a magazine about food bloggers. I create and design ebooks. I feature other bloggers in my food blogging interviews and 5 Food Blogs I’m Following Now series. I have my weekly list of Friday Faves. Does that set me apart? I think so. I hope so. And there’s so much more I want to add to that list and improve on!

Take a good hard look at not only what you’re doing now, but where you want to be and become the blog YOU want to read.

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Breakfast with all the flavors thanks to Blue DiamondAlmond Breeze and lunch with Whole Foods Utah, DeLallo and Tillamook taste testing.

 

Readers are craving global flavors.

Bye bye bacon, hello harissa. People searching for recipes are craving big flavor in a big way. Global flavor. World flavors are seeing a surge and are crossing borders into every kitchen. While Italian food will be eternally loved, Asian, Mediterranean, Moroccan and other global cuisines are rising in the ranks of most searched for foods, featuring dramatically different flavor combinations.

The Land O Lakes gals shared this great Global Flavor Forecast from McCormick that I highly recommend you check out. Thank you ladies!

Readers want more real life and less posed and precious.

Between Instagram selfies, Facebook likes, and Twitter trendings, we’re all hyperconnected in today’s digital society. Ironically, we’re all beginning to disconnect because we’re overloaded with social media’s portrayal of perfect lifestyles. Instead of making life look like a perfectly poised fairyland, KEEP IT REAL.

Bring in human connections and incorporate a more personal story into your blog’s story and photos. You don’t have to divulge every last personal anecdote or family secret by any means. But do create a connection by simply talking about how you cooked the recipe, what worked, what didn’t, what wasn’t perfect that you’d fix next time.

When writing, instead of worrying about making your posts so they sound traditionally “written”, talk on your blog like you do in real life, like you’re chatting it up with your sister or friend. One of my favorite posts is one I wrote as my mom dictated it to me. It was silly, it was different and it was fun.

Take recipe photos that are less preciously posed, more messy, more simple with hands in the photos, kids reaching in for the cookie or the whole dinner table or event to share. And share your cooking flops too, because nobody’s perfect and we like seeing that we’re not the only ones who screw up.

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Jewelry making with Katie Waltman Jewelry, lunch at Deer Valley Resort’s Grocery Cafe and spa going at The Spa at Stein Eriksen Lodge.

 

You can’t share a lifestyle if you don’t have one.

This is one that I have to constantly remind myself of. If I’m not out there living life and enjoying time with family, friends or just all on my own, I’m not going to have anything to share with my readers.

So get up from behind the computer, leave the dirty dishes in the sink, and get out and enjoy this life you’re living. Make the life you want to share online, the life you lead.

People want to share their story too.

Give your readers the opportunity to show they’re part of the blog story by asking them to let you know if they made your recipe by sharing it on social media with your blog’s hashtag. I’ve started doing this by stating this right before each recipe: If you try this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment below, or take a photo and tag it on Instagram or Twitter with #foodiecrush! Minimalist Baker via Gimme Some Oven was the inspiration behind that tip, so thank you!

Be an authority and an educator that brands want to work with.

Do you want to work with brands and companies but can’t figure out how to get your foot in the door? Start by mentioning them in your posts whether you’re paid or not to show your value as an educator for your readers and so your readers see you as an authentic user of the product.

Content doesn’t always have to be quantitative (measured by numbers) to be deemed successful and is often more valued when it is qualitative (delivering quality information that can’t actually be measured) because so much information is passed by word of mouth.

Mention brands in social media and then approach them and point out the work you’ve already done. If you know a blogger who’s already working with a brand you’d like to approach, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’ll share their contact. They can always say no but they might say yes! And if you know of a blogger who would be a great fit for a brand partnership, recommend them to the brand. It’s good karma and there’s plenty of room for us all to contribute.

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Dinner and drinks at Deer Valley Resort’s Brass Tag and Friday night’s Land O Lakes dinner at home with menus and decor thanks to Minted.

 

Be your own PR person.

When working with a company or brand, be your own cheerleader and share your accomplishments and results with them. Be sure to follow up with them and share benchmarks for your post or partnership. This is where the rah-rahs come into play.

Don’t feel it’s too brazen to share your social media likes, shares, pins, post impressions etc. with the brand. You’ve done a great job, now tell them! And if the recipe was featured on major sites like Huffington Post, Buzz Feed etc. absolutely give the brand a shout out to let them know you were featured. Like us, they can’t be everywhere knowing all and so they appreciate the tip. It’s perfectly okay to brag.

Be more and do less.

My friend Courtney of Be More With Less and the minimalist fashion project Project 333 joined us on Saturday to lead us in a discussion about taking our brands beyond the blog and how to incorporate balance into our work and personal lives. Here are a few takeaways from the conversation with links to her blog where she talks much more eloquently about these things than I do.

Courtney shared this quote with us and it pretty much sums it all up. “Unless you are prepared to give up something valuable, you will never be able to truly change at all, because you will forever be in the control of the thing you can’t give up”. – Andy Law. Try these 8 simple ways to let go.

Ask yourself this one important question and answer yes or no: Is this joyful work? If yes, stick with it and congratulations! If not, it’s time to reassess, reevaluate and realign.

Don’t judge yourself or your business by the success of others. Some blogs have huge numbers, some don’t. And it can be daunting when you’re in the don’t category. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. We all have our own story to tell and our own inspiration to spread. We can all compete in this space.

Help yourself by mentoring others and sharing your knowledge. The greatest teachers are always learning.

Take a digital sabbatical for at least 1 hour a day and 24 uninterrupted hours a week. Here’s how to unplug. 

Don’t apologize for saying, “No” and say goodbye to guilt.

Thank you Courtney for all of your insight and inspiration, I wouldn’t be in this blogosphere without your mentorship. You always point me in the right direction and talk me off the ledge when I’m about to jump. You rock.

A whole lot more thank you’s go to the awesome sponsors who the weekend wouldn’t have been possible without. Thanks to Deer Valley ResortLand O Lakes Sauté ExpressBlue DiamondAlmond BreezeDeLalloTillamookPresident CheeseWhole Foods UtahMintedQSquaredKatie WaltmanAlbion Fit, The Spa at Stein Erikson Lodge and Riverhorse on Main for making our weekend a total better blogging success.

And thank you, thank you, thank you to the talented crew of bloggers who made this year’s Be a Better Blog Retreat the weekend that it was meant to be.

Retreat-Bloggers

SkinnytasteGimme Some OvenCookies and CupsMountain Mama CooksA Southern FairytaleA Spicy PerspectiveLove and Olive Oil, me, Reluctant EntertainerPicky PalateThe Little KitchenCookin’ Canuck, and Kevin and Amanda.

 

The Recipe

Land O Lakes sponsored our Friday night dinner and shared some fresh and tasty recipes from their new line of Sauté Express seasoned meal starter butters. As a home cook who’s weaned herself from pre-mixed food as much as I can, I wasn’t sure about the flavor of cooking with a butter that already has the garlic and herbs mixed in, and I was curious to see how it would taste.

I was happily surprised with the first bite, and the second, and the third and so on, and so on. Caramelized Onion Dip, Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna and Turkey Meatballs in Marinara were just a portion of what was on the menu. This Herb and Butter Gnocchi Salad was so good I wanted to share it here. The folks at LOL said, sure, go ahead and share away.

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About the recipe:

This recipe comes together quickly and easily and with very minimal effort. You could easily serve it as a main course or side dish for lunch or dinner.

The herbed flavor comes from the Sauté Express garlic and herb seasoned pats. While the pats of butter do have flavor built in, rest assured it is REAL butter, not fake butter.

I used DeLallo gnocchi in this recipe. Next time I might try it with their mini gnocchi for a little bit of variety. The gnocchi is browned in the butter so it has a nice little crunch on the outside, and a tender inside. There’s no boiling required. But cook beware, don’t leave the gnocchi and forget to stir it in the butter like I did or you’ll end up like me, with a few gnocchi nugget casualties that got a little browned for my taste.

I love the play of salty and sweet so the blue cheese and cranberries were little jewels of flavor with each bite.

This salad doesn’t have a dressing, just the caramelized Sauté Express. It’s really all you need.

 If you try this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment below, or take a photo and tag it on Instagram or Twitter with #foodiecrush!

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Garlic and Herb Gnocchi Salad
 
Serves: makes 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 3 Land O Lakes® Garlic & Herb Sauté Express Squares
  • ½ cup walnut halves
  • 1 (1 pound) package DeLallo Gnocchi
  • ½ cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 6 cups baby arugula
  • ¼ cup blue cheese crumbles
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
Instructions
  1. Melt 2 Sauté Express® squares over medium heat, add walnuts and gnocchi, stirring to caot. Cook 8-10 minutes or until gnocchi are golden brown.
  2. Push gnocchi and nuts to one side of skillet. Add remaining Sauté Express® square, continue cooking until melted. Add cranberries and red onion, toss lightly. Add arugula, toss to coat.
  3. Spoon mixture onto serving platter, top with blue cheese and basil leaves.

Better Blog Retreat Recipe Cover

Retreat Recipes

Get more recipes from the retreat by downloading this free PDF  to print or view on your computer or e-Reader and start cooking in your own kitchen.

Thinking about hosting your own retreat? My suggestion to you: DO IT! Check out Lori’s post on how to make it happen.

As always, thank you for reading and for supporting companies I partner with, which allows me to create more unique content and recipes for you. All opinions are always my own.  

Are you following me on InstagramTwitterFacebook and Pinterest? Thanks for reading and  subscribe to FoodieCrush to have each post delivered straight to your e-mail box.  


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