Ramblings, Road trip
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Road Trip: The Big Harvest Potluck 2014

Why are you calling yourself a “D list blogger”?

The salad line stretches out in the shadow of an ancient tree. It’s lunchtime at The Big Harvest Potluck, and Cheryl Sternman Rule is giving me a swift kick in the pants about my attitude.

Why do that to yourself? Who are you comparing yourself to?

Cheryl is a skilled interrogator, asking questions that make me think. And she is not pleased with my answers. After slowing down and listening to myself, neither am I.

Why do you write about food? What moves you? Are you just doing it for page views, or do you have other reasons?

I could spend the rest of this post doing what I normally do after a conference – rambling on about the fantastic location, the fun things we did (balloon rides!), the great speakers, the wonderful people I met.


Not today.

All you have is your perspective.

Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton of Canal House Cooking gave us an assignment. Take one apple from this crate, and take a picture of it from your point of view.

You have *your* message, and you have *your* voice.

At dinner, I walked by the slide show of apple pictures. I stopped, wanting to see my picture, hoping it would come around quickly so I could get back to the pasta Bolognese. It’s just an apple, after all.

And then I couldn’t stop watching. It’s just an apple…in a pattern of shadows thrown by the window. It’s just an apple…with a bite taken out, and the serendipity of a bee landing on the bite. It’s just an apple…sprinkled with water, droplets shining in bright sunlight.

It’s just an apple. The point of view makes all the difference.

Fix it, make it look like you.

This didn’t start with me…

Cheryl Sternman Rule of Five Second Rule, done grilling me at lunch, is asking us to change our perspective. Blog writing follows a particular style – short, punchy, informal. Does it have to? Stretch your writing, she suggested. Don’t lose who you are, but try a different style. See if a different angle will give you a better story.

My lip quivered…

Then she gave us three writing prompts, each related to food and memory. And I got stuck. Oh, I had ideas, but I kept getting lost in memory. I couldn’t write “My lip quivered…” without my lip starting to quiver. There’s a story in there, one I need to write. It’s not ready to come out yet.

Later, we had an open mic to share the stories from the writing prompts. I can’t share the stories themselves; it’s not my place. They were nostalgic, vulnerable, heartbreaking, and funny. By the time the stories finished, my lip wasn’t just quivering.

I close my eyes, and see the scene unfold…

What is it about? What story are you trying to tell?

Rod and Deb Smith of Smith Bites say “Break into groups of five”. Suddenly, my table is a video production team with an hour and a half to design, shoot, and edit a thirty second video of Sabra hummus. (Official sponsor of our video class – thank you, Sabra!) Rob, Deb, and Mackenzie will judge the videos, and the winning team gets microphones.

All I can think is “can we eat the hummus now?” Then the ideas start to flow from the team. Fall, seasons changing. Abundance. Shots of things dipping into the hummus. What’s their tagline? “Dip life to the fullest.” Perfect, we can work with that. How’s the lighting? Maybe we should move outside?

Oooh – in front of that tree is perfect. Get a shot of her walking by with the basket of food. The table looks bad, use this scarf as a tablecloth. Try your camera over here – I can’t zoom. Overhead shot – everyone reach in and dip some hummus, some yogurt, some salsa, one, two, three…go. You get a shot of the tree, we’ll go inside to shoot a voiceover. Wait…the microphone is off. OK, try again.

Who has a laptop? Do you have Adobe Premiere installed? Yes! OK, we’re editing. You edit, it’s your computer…while the five of us sit behind you and backseat drive. “I for in, O for out – cut that one shorter.” Look for the clip where we pan up from the tree to the sky. Star wipe! What if we use the closeup of the hands as a b-roll shot here? Five minutes? We’re almost…let us drop in one more audio clip. Hit play, let’s see how it looks. Holy cow! Look what we did! We are so going to win! #TeamWinning. Exhale. Eat hummus while watching all the videos.

The Big Potluck didn’t feel like a conference. It wasn’t just a series of sessions and classes, broken up by meals and networking breaks with my fellow bloggers. The Potluck felt like more. It was a chance to leave the world behind for a couple of days, to be inspired and motivated. My emotional intelligence is slow – I understand myself, eventually – but I’m still processing everything I learned at the Potluck.

Why do I write about food? What moves me? Sharing stories about food and memory, bringing people together as family and community at the table. I love food, and stories. I needed the whack in the head to remind me what matters.

It’s killing me to skip a “this is a list of great things at the conference” post. Forgive me, I can’t help myself. There were so many people who made The Big Harvest Potluck such a treat. Thank you to:

  • The sponsors: Gourmet Garden, Sabra, KitchenAid, Oxo, Burpee, Kerrygold, Anolon, and Terra Chips. Thank you for supporting this fantastic event. (And for the herbs, hummus, ice cream, espresso, vegetables, coffee mugs, cheese, butter, cookware, and chips. Yes, they fed us well. It’s weird talking about a food blogger conference, and not really mentioning the food.)
  • My apologies about the quotes of the speakers in the post. (Especially Cheryl, in the opening section.) Those quotes are from memory, based on the feel of the conversation and my sparse note taking. The words had an impact on me…even if they’re not the actual words you said.
  • Thank you to the speakers I haven’t already mentioned: Barry Estabrook and Karen Thornton. Barry wrote one of my favorite nonfiction food books, Tomatoland. He told us about the book he’s working on now – Pig Tales. Karen’s story about ancestry and stacked pies was a fascinating look at tracking down your own history.
  • Thank you to everyone who worked the Potluck, serving, cleaning, guiding, serving…so we could focus on the conference. Special thanks to Chris Thornton for keeping us organized…and being such a kind and loving tyrant as he ordered us to the buses.
  • Thank you to Sharon Damelio for the cocktails that gave me a shot of courage to get in the balloon. (So, so high up.)
  • OK, never mind, I have to mention the food. Pam, Maggy, Sharon, Christopher, Melissa, and everyone who brought something for the potluck – ohhhh…that tasted so goooood….
  • Food people are the best people. Thank you to all the new friends I made: Mallory from ForkVsSpoon (and Cleveland!) , Victoria from GardenCookTravel, Isabelle from Crumb, Stacey from Stacey Siegal Photography, Mackenzie from MackanneCheese, Veronica from @VeronicaChan (and Oxo), Carrie from Poet In The Pantry. I forgot a bunch of people – I have no memory for names, and I was enjoying our conversation too much to write things down. Please forgive me, and remind me of your name next year?
  • Thank you to Maggy Keet and Erika Pineda-Ghanny for creating and running The Big Potluck.
  • Finally, thank you to Pam Anderson. I wouldn’t be here, writing about food, without you pointing me towards the path.

I can’t wait for the next Big Potluck.

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Filed under: Ramblings, Road trip


Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.


  1. Faith @ Pixie Dust Kitchen says

    It was so wonderful to meet you this weekend at The Potluck! Even if you don’t remember me, haha! This is a beautiful recap of the weekend- I love how you described it as a chance to leave the world behind, to be inspired and motivated.

  2. Jenny @ Honey and Birch says

    It sounds like you had a great time Mike! Makes me want to go to The Potluck next year. 🙂

  3. Chris Lukowski says

    About those potholders, are they large enough to use as trivets when putting a hot pot on the table?

  4. Mallory @forkvsspoon says

    It was great meeting you this past weekend! Lovely and perfect recap. I always have such a problem explaining what happens at a potluck but you nailed it!

  5. Isabelle Boucher says

    So glad we had a chance to chat this weekend, Mike! I think you really captured that magical je-ne-sais quoi of the Poluck events in this post… and totally in awe that you were able to put pen to paper so quickly (or cursor to screen, as the case may be).

  6. DuckandCake says

    Mike, loved being on #TeamWinning together! Even more, loved this recap and your beautiful photos. The Big Potluck is a touchstone for me every year, and clearly now is for you too. Until the next time around…

  7. Thank you! One of the highlights was sitting with Eric, your daughter, and Kelly, watching you go up in a balloon. Who are you going to see at Disney World? “windepoanpiget”…WinDeePooAnPiget…ah! Winnie the Pooh and Piglet!

  8. Ditto what Courtney said! Great time chatting with you, if only briefly. Maybe see you next year!

  9. I’m so glad I got to meet you at the Potluck this year! It really is so much more like a retreat than a conference, and I love it for that. Thank you for all your help in the hot air balloon! 🙂 Hope to see you next year!

  10. Zainab @ Blahnik Baker says

    I love this recap!! I wish I talked to you more at the Potluck but I am glad I met you! Next year for sure 🙂

  11. Dawn Chase says

    Hi, this is Dawn from Endless Mountains Hot Air Balloons! Thanks for flying with us and for posting such nice photos of the balloon. I’ve shared this page over on our FB page so all our friends can check it out, too!

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