1. Leaving on a jet plane | 2. It's sunny somewhere | 3. Airplane reading | 4. What Neel and Callum ate | 5. The snow that missed me | 6. Hounds in the snow | 7. Breakfast | 8. Swag | 9. Lunch | 10. Everyone had iPads and I had a clunky laptop! | 11. Helene working @ the Food Photography and stying demo | 12. Keynote address | 13. - 15. Someone frolicked in the snow and didn't miss me at all! | 16. Afterparty at Good People Brewing Company | 17. Coffee Oatmeal Stout. | 18. Helene Dujardin and Tami Hardeman take selfies | 19. Me and Helene | 20. - 21. (Late) dinner and drinks at Bettola in Birmingham | 22. Aloft Birmingham | 23. Leaving the SEC for the ACC | 24. Snow in Virginia | 25. Lucy helps with dinner | 26. Neel's favorite swag | 27. Welcome home dinner.
So, I did it. I'll have a lot more to say about the actual conference tomorrow. It was a really clarifying experience for me, and I learned a lot. As you know, and my wonderful friends, really understood, it was hard for me to leave the warm cocoon of my home this time, but it was really good to go. Violet is doing great! She didn't miss me at all! She's practically prancing about the place and is even wagging her tail a little bit again. I hated leaving the snow behind too, but Neel and Cal had such a good time together...it's good for those guys to hang, just the two of them.
My flight was delayed into Birmingham, and halfway there a miserable headache kicked in. Nothing like cabin pressure, social anxiety, and a 20+ degree temperature change to wreak havoc with my sinuses. I felt simply awful by the time I got to the hotel, and I knew I couldn't manage the pre-party. I grabbed a bowl of edemame at the hotel bar and called it an early night. Should I have gone to the preparty? Maybe. But not going? I was totally down with that. The conference itself started with an amazing breakfast that focused on the international influences on Southern cooking (honeyed couscous, scrambled eggs, scones with whipped butter, meats and cheeses). Morning sessions ranged from "How to Write a Really Great Blog Post" with the witty and charming Adam Roberts of the The Amateur Gourmet to "Gathering the Stories Behind the Food: An Introduction to Collecting and Sharing" which was presented by the Southern Foodways Alliance (Now that's an orginaztion I'd like to learn more about!) and a panel of food bloggers including Lindsay Landis of Love and Olive Oil sharing basics of blogging. Lunch was an amazing soul-food Southern BBQ and included a fascinating talk about "Global Eats in the South," which I again quite enjoyed. An afternoon panel on niche blogging featured Caitlin Van Horne of Roost, but I went instead to a branding workshop presented in part by the ever-delightful Virginia Willis. "Blogging About Restaurants," a talk by a former restaurant critic rounded out the afternoon. That was fun!
By far, the whole reason I was really there, was Helene and Tami's Food Styling and Photography demo. Of course the room was packed and of course they knocked it out of the park! These two women are used to working together and they clearly have a lot of fun. I stood in the back and it was hard to see, but I still learned a lot. I always do when Helene is around, and I always end up leaving inspired. More on that tomorrow. Promise.
The Keynote was a great talk by Kenji Alt-Lopez, who writes The Food Lab for Serious Eats. He was awesome as he dissected the science behind blogging. Have you ever seen this post? It actually made it onto In-N-Out's Wikipedia's page, and Kenji talked us through the whole post from conception through publication. Pretty cool stuff.
The after party was held at a great brewery in Birmingham (see #16) and afterwards, I tagged along with Helene and some other new friends for a late-night dinner. Definitely the high point for me, along with making some lovely new friends and meeting the super-charming Taylor Mathis (I would LOVE to hightail it to Charlotte to follow him around on a photoshoot or eleven, and I'm definitely buying his book when it comes out!) and it was totally worth staying up past my bedtime. Coming home was easy and happy and totally lovely to find my happy boy, Neel's special Beer-Butt Chicken and three (!) wagging tails waiting for me. It was a good trip, and I'd do it again with much less trepidation (and hopefully less worry) next time! But it left me with a lot to think about too, and I guess that's a good thing. I'll say a bit more about that tomorrow, if you'll indulge me. (wink) I hope you all had great weekends, my dears. I have a ton to catch up on (grocery store, blog, emails!), and I missed you all. Time to hunker down, but that's okay.