Oct 302012
 

Lundberg Family Farms from bibberche.com
In the days preceding my trip north to Sacramento Valley with California Farm Water Coalition and the visit to Lundberg Family Farms, I invoked my inner romanticist and historian and conjured up the images of people in wide-brimmed straw hats hip-deep in rice fields, with water buffalo lounging in the muddy shallows of the Mekong River Delta. I was going all Pearl Buck and Louis Bromfield, until we pulled over in front of the company’s main office building.

Lundberg Rice Farm from bibberche.com

Bryce Lundberg and his mother Caroline welcomed us in their company’s lunch room

Third generation rice farmer Bryce Lundberg welcomed us to the property and led us inside, just past a tractor with shiny, red wheels, a relic from the 30s. His mother, Caroline, joined us in a spacious, modern, well-lit room that showcased many products manufactured at the farm. While we munched on a variety of incredibly delicious and crunchy rice chips and rice cakes, Caroline and Bryce told us a story that dispersed my images of the past.

Lundberg Family Farms from bibberche.com

Albert and his wife Frances left Nebraska for Central California in 1937, lured to the land of eternal sunshine by the promises of fertile soil. They were tired of the unpredictable life of the Dustbowl where there was no irrigation and the lingering consequences of the Great Depression. Once they arrived with their four small sons, they discovered, along with many other new transplants, that the familiar cultures did not thrive in the hard, heavy-clay dirt of the Central Valley. But hope quickly replaced the disappointment when they found out that the land was perfect to grow rice. The layer of extremely hard, compacted soil a few feet under the surface kept the precious water from seeping too deep, allowing rice to germinate and grow surrounded by moisture.

Lundberg Rice Farm

All the farmers collected their crop in the co-operative in the beginning. Most of the rice grown in the area was exported due to the lack of interest on the domestic market. But a few companies were leaning towards the organic rice and the Lundbergs followed their own vision: they wanted to control the quality of their rice, as they decided to take the treacherous, but rewarding route of sustainable and environmentally-friendly agriculture.

Lundberg Rice Farm

From the early days, farming was a family business, with each of the four sons getting a share of the land when they reached high school. In order to maximize the returns, they brought their separate properties together and continued to farm as one entity. In 1967 they built a mill to have more control of their crops, taking the production one step further along the vertical development concept.

Lundberg Rice Farm from bibberche.com

The view from the cockpit of a combine

Lundberg Family Farms grows seventeen varieties of rice, with seventy percent organic and the rest conventional, or eco-farm. They do not use carcinogenic herbicides nor GMO products. They have forty different farms in the area that grow crops for them, with 12,000 acres under the organic rice, and a little over 3000 acres planted with the conventionally grown rice.

Lundberg Rice Farm from bibberche.com

The buckets show the steps of processing rice

In the past, once the rice was harvested, the remaining stalks were burned to clean the fields off the debris and prepare them for planting. But modern farms, including the Lundberg Family Farms, use the flooding method, which pumps the water from the irrigation systems built around the Sacramento River all over the harvested fields, where it sits, allowing the stalks to rot and add the necessary nutrients to the impoverished soil. In turn, many of the temporary shallow lakes become natural refuges for the wild birds, with over 400 species using them to survive the winter. In spring, the flooded fields are planted with seeds thrown out of the airplanes, and even though the birds will feast on some of them, many survive to make a plentiful crop.

Lundberg Rice Farm from bibberche.com

Rice cakes facility was fascinating

It takes only about 16 gallons of water to grow one serving (1 ounce) of rice, which is comparable to most of the vegetables grown in the US. The compacted layer of dirt preserves the moisture and allows the rice to thrive. As the rice stalks mature, the water is drained, and when harvest approaches in October, the fields are ideally dry. After the harvest, the rice is dried, put into a mill to separate the grain from the hull and packaged or processed into rice flour or rice cakes.

Four Brothers

Four Lundberg brothers, Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer

Lundberg Family Farms is still a family business, with third and fourth generation involved in day-to-day operations from many angles. Some of them have vowed never to become a part of the agricultural concept, studying law, business, or history. But inevitably they are drawn back to the family enterprise, proud of the accomplishments and eager to continue the legacy their ancestors started almost a century ago, proving that it is possible to grow food that’s as good for us as it is good for the environment.

(Lundberg Family Farms products are sold in natural and health food stores around the country, as well as at co-ops and major grocery stores. For the store locator in your area check the News&Info category on their official site.)

May 262012
 
Igalo, Montenegro from bibberche.com

My sister (on the right) and me

It has been two years since those two ubiquitous words “Hello, world!” appeared on the first page of my newly-hatched blog. You would think that I should have been a blogging pro, having spent several years reading various blogs from their inception to  celebrity status. But no, my blog started out on an impulse and I was like a startled rabbit, scrambling to come up with a name, design, and a theme. I did not think for a second that I would have to pronounce the name of my blog EVERY SINGLE TIME I found myself surrounded by fellow food bloggers. It did not cross my mind that I would have to recite the etymology of my blog’s name at every meeting, conference, or workshop.

I was happy with my choices in my self-absorbed little universe, completely unaware that there are other human beings out there who would be reading my words and having a hard time relating to my seemingly innocuous and vague word associations. I wish I could go back in time and change some features of my blog, but as I am not on speaking terms with any branch of physics that would enlighten me to the ways of making a time-travel machine, I have reconciled with my blog being the way it is, awkwardly named and verbose. I find it charming, if unpopular, and decided to embrace it and plunge forward, damn the SEO and Google Search.

I do not want to deceive you that I am an utterly impractical person, but opportunism usually comes to me too late in the game, and I scramble to salvage what remnants I can. One day soon I will publish another blog that will exemplify everything I learned since I started blogging. It will be a site some of my blogging mentors would be really proud of.

It might be serendipitous, but today I was nominated for a Food Stories Award by Lisa of Parsley and Sage. I hate to admit it, but it felt a little bit like back in high school when one of the most popular, gorgeous guys asked me to go out on a date. (We lasted for almost four years, which made me reassess the pecking order and realize that the high school hierarchy is bullshit. This does not mean that I expect to rule the blogosphere for the same time.) Lisa, you have made my day! Thanks for all the smiles that appeared on my face today:)

The rules of the game state that I have to write one random fact about myself to be considered for this nomination. So I am sitting here chewing on my virtual pencil not because I cannot come up with a random fact, but because I cannot pick one from the many. OK, here we go. When I was in eighth grade, I won an essay contest titled “What You Know about Traffic”. Instead of winning a few hard cover books as I expected, my reward was a curse: I had to compete in the town’s bicycle race. It was on a weekend and the course ran from our school, through the city park and on throughout closed-for-the-traffic city streets, which were lined by eager-looking parents and students. I was a socially awkward child and riding a bike was not a boasting point for me, as I considered myself lucky if I avoided the trucks and crazy motorcycle riders on my way to my friend’s house. Here I was exposed in front of my whole town, my crush included, trying to navigate the curves of an “8″ drawn on the concrete of the playground, trying not to touch the lines and attempting in vain to keep my front wheel straight enough to balance through the ten yards of an “as slow as you can go” stretch. Do I need to reiterate that I finished close to the bottom two? And all because I could write?

In order to further qualify for this award, I have to nominate at least five bloggers whose writing I enjoy, which was even harder than coming up with a random fact about me. I encounter talented writers every day and every day someone’s words seduce me. Here are my favorites who have not been chosen yet:

The Kitchen Witch: Dana has a great sense of humor and her everyday stories usually make my stomach hurt from laughter. I wish I had her penchant for snark. I turn to her blog whenever I need a dose of weirdly colored sunshine.

Anecdotes and Apple Cores: Who does not feel the effects of Monet’s beautiful writing? Even when the fates deal her hand after hand of ugly, she keeps on writing, offering us insightful pieces of her soul.

Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Maureen Abood’s writing is wistful, evocative, and beautiful. In every sentence you can feel the love for her family and her Lebanon.

Food for the Thoughtless: I have no clue how I stumbled on Michael Procopio’s brilliantly written blog, but I don’t care. Every post he writes is a literary gem, an essay worth of publishing in the best of magazines.

Sasa Sunakku: I did not expect to discover such fresh and beautiful writing when I clicked on Sasa’s Harissa Carrot Salad recipe. But I was smitten from the first click and even though she does not update her blog as often as she did, I await every post with eager anticipation.

Lentil Breakdown: Adair is the master of the metaphor and her wit can slice through the toughest armors. The only predictable thing about her posts is that they will make you smile.

You might wonder about the significance of the photo. It was one of the best vacations: me, my sister, and my girls in beautiful Montenegro. And I like the way I looked. yes, I am that vain:)

May 112012
 

Leftover Tostada from bibberche.com

When the times get tough financially, my instincts kick in and the survival mode becomes default. But I don’t really change my modus operandi, as frugality is somehow ingrained in me, and I just keep on doing what I do best: digging through my pantry and my freezer and putting healthy, nutritious, appetizing food in front of my girls, playing with ingredients, pimping up the leftovers, and offering colorful and enticing meals that would make them appreciate all aspects of the culinary world.

Sometimes the prompts come from them, if they feel inspired and creative – in  the rare moments when they are not entranced in a fantasy play or a puppet show. But most of the times it takes a few minutes poring through the contents of my legume drawer or taking inventory of every refrigerator shelf to come up with a perfectly balanced meal that would be cost-effective, creative, flavorful, and overall nutritious.

It breaks my heart when I see food being wasted. I collect the tough asparagus stems, cauliflower stalks, celery leaves, and lettuce cores to make a vegetable stock. I salvage the roasted chicken carcass with all the gelatinous deposit on the bottom of the pan and make a hearty chicken stock. I collect egg whites for a future angel food cake, and pork fat for the day I feel inspired to render lard. I place parsley and cilantro stems in bags and add them to stews and soups, reluctant to waste even a smidgen of the goodness they impart.

My freezer is a repository of oddly shaped bags containing fish heads, shrimp and lobster shells, chicken gizzards, and stock. There are labeled plastic containers with leftover tomato sauce, chopped herbs, and duck fat, along with neatly wrapped packages of beef and lamb bones destined for a soup.

The girls rarely know what they will have for breakfast or dinner, because I employ all my resources when I start to contemplate it. They are adventurous and open to new culinary challenges, which makes my thought process much easier.

School lunches are limited in creativity as they have to be stored in a locker for hours, eaten within fifteen minutes and relatively easy to handle. They eat outside and have no access to a microwave. I smuggle a Ferrero Rocher treat or a square of dark chocolate in their paper bags to give them a sense of adventure.

This week they had state testing and school let out earlier, which allowed me more freedom with their mid-day repast. They arrived from school famished and I had a perfect meal for them every single day, taking advantage of the amenities I had at home, excited to offer them something different than the usual sandwich or wrap fare.

True to my nature, I had to be frugal, and most days the lunches were spruced-up leftovers. But every single time their faces lit up and they brought the plates to the kitchen licked clean.

These tostadas elicited a whole lot of squeals. I loved how my girls’ faces alighted with excitement when I poked the eggs and released the yolks. This lunch did not cost me anything, but a few minutes of my time and some kilowatts of energy. But it made my daughters feel special, loved, cherished, and adored. And in the times when every dollar spent has to be spent wisely, that’s the only thing that matters to me.

LEFTOVER TOSTADA WITH POACHED EGG

Ingredients:

  • Corn tortillas
  • Remoulade (recipe bellow)
  • 1 Roma tomato, diced
  • Black bean and corn salsa (recipe bellow)
  • Jack cheese, shredded
  • Poached eggs (recipe bellow)
  • Cilantro

 Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450F. Place corn tortillas on a cookie sheet. Spread remoulade all over the tortilla. Spoon salsa and diced tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with cheese and place in the oven. Bake for five minutes until the cheese is melted. Take out of the oven and place each tortilla on a separate plate. Place a poached egg on top, sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Remoulade:

Mix together ½ cup of mayonnaise, 1 tsp of capers, 1 tsp of lemon juice, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard, a bit of salt, and 1 tablespoon of chopped dill.

Black Bean Salsa:

Combine 1 can (14oz) rinsed black beans, 1 cup frozen cor kernels, 1 chopped jalapenñño, ½ shopped onion, salt, pepper, and lime juice.

Poached eggs:

Heat the water in a small stainless steel pot until it boils. Turn the heat down to simmer. Add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Break an egg into a ramekin and pour it carefully into the boiling water. Fold the egg white over the yolk with a spoon and cook for 1 minute. Using the slotted spoon remove the egg and place it onto a plate covered with a few layers of paper towels to absorb the moisture.

Apr 062012
 

Creamy Rice Pudding from bibberche.com

There was no kindergarten when I was growing up in Yugoslavia, and my first attempts at socializing started at the ripe age of five in preschool. While most of my classmates in senior grade were veterans, jaded and resilient, skillful at banter and repartee, as well as avoiding elbow nudges in the lunch line, I was a novice… a wide-eyed, timid, and precocious child, too serious and mature to fit in, and not at all flexible enough to fight for a spot at the forefront.

Zoe's CardMaking friends was never an easy game for me and it took a lot of time and a few amazing people to convince me that I was someone good enough to call a friend. I decided to switch continents more than twenty years ago and putting the ocean between me and my friends was one of the most difficult decisions in my life. I have several shoe boxes filled with letters framed (from the days before email) with that old red, white, and blue airmail insignia that used to thrill me when I’d open the mailbox. These magical letters travel with me every time I move.  I cannot part with pages and pages of words that arrived from afar when I felt I was utterly alone in my new country.

I depended on my tribe to help me with advice, to encourage me when I needed a prompt, and to admonish me when I was taking a wrong turn. They were on the other side of the world, but airmail letters (par avion) turned to emails and webcam calls thanks to the technology that I despised as a haughty Liberal Arts college student. We were as connected as if we were living on the same street. I embraced every facet of communication trying to stay close to my family and friends, knowing they were only a Skype call away when I needed them.

But I am in California now, nine hours behind European time. When I am sipping my second glass of wine close to midnight, they areAnya's Card wide awake at work, blinded by sunshine and completely removed from the melancholy mood that engulfs me. In a state of utmost desolation a few weeks ago, when it seemed that the world was collapsing all around me and I was sinking deeper and deeper into a quicksand pit, I called one of my best friends and when he answered on his cell phone, I sobbed my story to him, utterly displacing him and forcing him into a state of panic induced by the abrupt cessation of the call, as my Skype credits evaporated.

Unbeknownst to me, that call started a chain reaction with him calling my sister in Germany, who called my daughter in Berkeley, who in turn called me as soon as she woke up that Sunday after St. Patrick’s Day party somewhere on campus. My tribe was pulling together for me, reaching through the ether and joining to come to my aid. I called for their support and they aligned forces beautifully, prepared to listen to my incoherent cries and offer as much comfort as they could from that far away.

But another tribe was reaching out to me, enveloping me in soft, billowy words of support, anchoring me while I was adrift, convincing me that California sunshine is for real and that one day soon the clouds in my eyes would disappear. For a moment, I felt abandoned and alone just like in preschool, but when my email, Facebook, and Twitter exploded with words of concern and wishes to help, I was overwhelmed. I knew I still had an enormously steep slope to climb to get myself out of the hole, but realizing that I would not be alone on that adventure, made it appear easier.

GiftsMy birthday on March 20th was threatening to be one of the worst days of my life, but instead I floated on this cloud of warm and fuzzy feelings and I felt as if I were receiving small injections of energy every time a new wish would come my way. I was not able to lift myself up and face the ugliness that surrounded me, but my friends were there, in real life and across the wires, listening to me, holding my hand, sending sweet words of support and love, and making me see the future much brighter and liberating than I could have ever envisioned.

My gloom melted little by little while I sipped cool prosecco on an afternoon with a friend at a tapas bar… when the mailman handed me a big package filled with the most carefully chosen edibles that another friend’s children picked for mine… when I donned a silly glittery crown at a local Mexican restaurant and blew out the candles while everyone around me sang “Happy Birthday!”… when a friend from Canada sent me a fresh-from-the-printing-press copy of the book her husband just published… when a beautifully written card arrived in the mail hiding within its fold a gift certificate for Trader Joe’s… when I sipped a cappuccino at a localGifts mall with the first friend I made through my blog… when my girls handed me their meticulously crafted birthday cards while a candle burned in a flourless chocolate cake they baked for me… when a friend from the East Coast soothed me patiently for hours while I cried and another friend from the East Coast managed to shake me out of a moment of despair… when I opened a bag full of cosmetics sitting in the passenger seat after a high school play… when a Twitter friend generously offered her accommodations if I ever needed them… and when another invited me to a wonderful event as a guest…. all these things shined light into a darkness I couldn’t bear alone.

GiftsI am still using Skype as the umbilical cord that connects me to my family and friends overseas, but I know that I am not alone on the western edge of the American continent. My tribe is with me and my path seems to be illuminated by a thousand scintillas floating my way from all over the world. And I feel safe.

There is comfort food and there is safe food. Rice pudding always gave a smell and a taste that made me feel safe and I can taste it even without the recipe… the smell of it riding on the words of those who have proved to me that I am not so alone as I sometimes feel.

 

RICE PUDDING

Ingredients:

  • 250gr Arborio rice
  • 1 quart (1 l) water
  • 2-3 cups of milk
  • ¼ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup raisins (optional)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

Rinse the rice and place in the heavy pot. Cover with the water and heat to boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 12-15 minute, until almost done and water almost evaporates.

Add the milk little by little and cook on low heat, stirring frequently, for 20-25 minutes, until creamy and thickened (depending on the type and initial doneness of the rice, you might need between 2 and 3 cups of milk). Keep in mind that it will thicken more as it stands after it’s taken off the heat.

Stir in the raisins if using and sugar and pour into serving dishes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and let stand at room temperature. (You can also refrigerate it if you choose).

Jan 062012
 

Redondo Beach at sunset from bibberche.comI am sitting at our card table that’s pretending to be a desk surrounded by a pile of CDs waiting to be downloaded into the music library and liberated from their covers in order to make room. My black yoga pants are folded up three or four times and reach just beyond my knees. They are also a bit wet at the folds and I relish the feel of cold air gripping my shins and keeping me alert.

This is not a technique I employ for breaking a writer’s block or enticing inspiration or the free flow of creativity; we went to the beach and I walked in the surf of the majestic Pacific ocean. It was already dark for a few hours when Husband and I started our short trek downhill. We walked and jogged for half an hour on the strand, deciding to make our way back following the edge of the water. Shoes and socks came off and we ran across cold sand towards the ocean, wriggling our toes in the foam. I was squealing in delight every time a wave would break around my feet, excited to be playing chicken with the tide.

Husband kept at a higher ground, not willing to abandon his beloved iPhone to the touch of salty water, enjoying the feel of packed sand right at the point where the waves hug the sand, reaching further and further every second. I jumped in and out of the surf, trying to avoid the seaweed, ignoring the fact that water is definitely splashing well above the folds of my pants. I inhaled the briny ocean air while staring at the pale moon playing hide-and-go-seek with transparent, billowy clouds. We have lived in Southern California for more than three years, and we spent many leisurely hours visiting Laguna Beach; but it took less than a week of incessant crashing of the waves and salt in the air to wake me up and make me unbelievably happy.

Redondo Beach from bibberche.com

I like that I can walk to a major grocery store in about five minutes in one direction and Trader Joe’s in another, but I can’t describe the feeling that overwhelms me every time I catch a glimpse of the truly blue waters of the Pacific while I am pushing my cart through the entrance. Whenever we traveled to the seaside when we were children, the most exciting moment was spotting a wedge of blue behind a curve in the steep, serpentine road weaving through the mountains. Those moments were an annual happening, and therefore cherished and nurtured through the gloomy and gray months of Serbian winter. Every time the Pacific winks at me, it startles me and makes me catch my breath in awe.

I know that long walks will strengthen the tired muscles in my legs; the sun will bring out the rare golden strands in my hair and attempt to hide more numerous silver ones; the warm air will caress my skin and make it shiny; and gorgeous blue skies that run to meet the ocean somewhere behind the horizon line will clear my mind of worrying thoughts. I don’t have to make New Year resolutions; I only have to surrender to the beauty that meets my eye behind every corner.

***

CourtyardI enjoy cooking in my spacious, bright, new kitchen. The floor is set in Spanish tiles and the cupboards are painted white. There is a lot of storage room, but I have to keep a stool behind the fridge to reach the higher shelves. I baked some cookies for our managers, an older couple who live on the first floor and received a nice, big jar of strawberry butter as a “thank you”. Our next-door neighbor is a feisty widow in her seventies who waves to me through my kitchen window every time she passes by with her bike and tells me that the smells of my cooking are making her constantly hungry. I know I am going to like it here. And I know that many plates will leave my kitchen destined for our neighbors’ tables, because we need to make friends.

One of the lightest and tastiest desserts that I know is also unbelievably simple and fast to make. It was not a sweet that Mother would make for guests, but rather a spur-of-the moment kids-need-an-after-school-snack thing. It is light, with very little fat, studded with dried fruit and nuts, very similar to angel food cake as it uses only egg whites. In Serbia we call it Komisbrot, the name I am certain originated somewhere in the German-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I made Eggs Benedict for my family a few days ago and had leftover egg whites. I usually freeze my egg whites and write the number on the baggie as I keep on adding them, but this time I decided to make Komisbrot instead.

komisbrot from bibberche.com

KOMISBROT (ANGEL FOOD CAKE WITH NUTS AND DRIED FRUIT)

The recipe does not ask for specific number of egg whites, as they are measured by volume, along with the other ingredients. I happened to have 6 egg whites, which amounted to about 1 cup.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chilled egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup various dried fruit and nuts, chopped (I used cranberries, white raisins, pecans, and walnuts)
  • zest of 1 lemon

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease and flour a bread pan.

Beat your egg whites with salt on high speed until stiff peaks form. Add the sugar and mix to combine. Stir in the flour, fruit, nuts, and lemon zest. Pour into the prepared pan and flatten the surface. Bake for thirty minutes (if the knife pierced through the middle comes out clean, it is done).

Let it cool in pan for 10 minutes and turn over to the bakers rack to cool completely. Cut into slices and serve.

 

Jul 142011
 

wax beans from bibberche.com

Several years before Bibberche was even a germ of an idea, I stumbled upon my first food blog while reading eGullet, a fascinating site aimed at exploring every possible facet of food preparation, consumption, and production. The first time I clicked on a URL of a blog, I felt like Aladdin entering the cave filled with gold, pearls, and jewels, blinking in surprise and amazement. Another world opened up for me, and its pull was like a strong current leading into an unknown and unexplored territory promising immeasurable treasures.

I started on my adventure innocently, completely unaware of the impact of my Open, Sesame! Every click of my mouse led me to another beautifully written sentence and another gorgeous photograph. The people hiding behind these blogs were not residing between the covers of a book proudly displayed on a bookstore shelf. They were people like me who reveled in the written word, who were challenged by metaphors, who giggled in delight after every successfully managed alliteration, and patted themselves on the shoulder after triumphantly changing a cliche into a witty segment.

These were the people who could also whip up a souffle after working for eight hours and commuting for two, who were able to deposit a quivering, perfectly poached egg on top of wilted spinach and consistently grill a ribeye with the skill of an Old World butcher. Some of them wielded a digital camera as skillfully as a chef’s knife, and I would wait with breathless anticipation for my page to load, to be seduced by their photographs.

One of the first blogs I started reading was The Well Seasoned Cook. I am Serbian. Beans form a considerable part of my blood. I was instantly drawn to Susan’s My Legume Love Affair. For a few years I just lurked, feeling inadequate and not able to contribute as I was not a blogger. When I finally launched Bibberche, I held back again, painfully aware that my photographs of brown legumes are not only boring and colorless, but also out of focus most of the time.

Susan, an accomplished photographer, managed to look beyond my unsuccessful pictures and recognize me as a fellow wordsmith. She has been constantly encouraging me, offering tips and advice, and giving me hope. When she asked me to be one of the guest writers to launch the 4th year of My Legume Love Affair, I was flattered and excited, my mind swirling with ideas.

To read about Mother’s Creamy Wax Beans recipe and  a story accompanying it, visit Susan’s blog The Well Seasoned Cook. While you are there, browse around and allow yourself to be seduced by her images and her words.

Thank you, Susan, for counting me among your friends and allowing me to write a post for your blog. I hope that our friendship continues to grow and that one day we meet, in New Jersey, Southern California, or anywhere in between.

May 272011
 

The view of Atlanta from our room

Early Thursday morning, the birds were barely awake, sending their tentative chirps out into the air when Husband rolled my suitcases out of the house, while I followed, checking off for the tenth time the items written on the list I held firmly in my hand. Excited and anxious, I could not stop talking all the way to Los Angeles International airport, eagerly anticipating the BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta.

We departed right at 7.00am, and after valiantly trying to read Water for Elephants I brought along, I succumbed and took a nap, my head resting against the window, the book clutched firmly in my hands. I finished packing really late the previous night, and a few hours of restless sleep were not enough to keep me afloat.

The plane arrived about thirty minutes ahead of schedule, and as I made plans days ahead to meet my roommate Beth from OMG!YUMMY and several other bloggers arriving from the Bay Area at the airport, I was biding my time, walking through the Atlanta airport, and enjoying the Exhibit of African art rather then taking the speedy train. I needed to stretch my legs anyway. But at one point I decided to check my messages, and there were several informing me that the Delta flight everybody was on had been delayed for several hours.

Suddenly deflated, I gathered my luggage and sat down despondently. Sure, I had my reservation and I  could find my way to the Westin Peachtree Hotel, but roaming the streets of Atlanta by myself was not the most exhilarating thought. I send a text message into the ether, and seconds later, Sabrina of The Tomato Tart responded, informing me that she was a few meters away wearing a leopard head band. My spirits rose, my heart accelerated, and I rushed towards the baggage claim area to embrace my new friend.

And this pattern followed me throughout the conference: a few moments of an awkward silence were annihilated by hours  of laughs with new friends. The anxiety of approaching strangers and engaging them in conversation was immediately soothed by friendly smiles and words of support. Whenever I felt lost, I encountered a kindred spirit, and the world seemed at peace.

Beth and me at Sweet Auburn Market

At moments, I felt as if I did not belong, and the ghosts of middle school appeared, mocking and leering, threatening to bring me down and make me hide, cowering in the corner. But in no time I would be overwhelmed by a glint in someone’s eye, an unequivocal invitation to share a meal, a tentative “hello”, and the anxiety demons would retreat, defeated and vanquished by the forces of good that rule the community of food bloggers.

Most of the time I felt as if were flickering from person to person, trying to meet as many people as I could that I recognized from Twitter, leaving my seat in the middle of breakfast to hug a virtual friend, gathering courage to approach a veteran blogger whose posts inspired me to start my own blog, and shake hands with people as panic-stricken as I was.

I kept in mind the directive of Patti Londre from Camp Blogaway and tried to mingle and meet new people at every meal, every break, and every session. It was challenging and exciting at the same time, made easier by a glass of wine once the afternoon rolled slowly into the night. I felt empowered, and I felt brave, completely immersed in the Cinderella world of glitter and parties.

I barely took any photos, finding my Canon Rebel too cumbersome to tote around, and definitely not matching any of my Bohemian outfits. I decided not to let my blood pressure rise after not receiving any signal on my iPhone, and deserted my Twitter friends for the duration of the conference ( I only connected to my family at night in my room, after battling the inconsistent WiFi). I used my laptop only to get in touch with my new buddies, to get the right address of the restaurant we were meeting at, or to get the right time for our after-party soiree at the hotel lounge.

I have to admit that my escapades into the adventurous world of food blogging were made much smoother by my friend Beth, who graciously shared her room with me, after I promised I did not snore. We did not meet at the airport as we planned because her Delta flight was delayed by several hours. We met at Terrace Restaurant on Thursday night, along with a dozen other bloggers. We shared cocktails, appetizers, and dinners, gluttonous in our desire to taste as much as we could, satisfied in the end by the quality of food and sense of community.

Jane from Always Ravenous and me at Sweet Auburn Market

Beth and I talked about our families, our jobs, our blogs, and every day we delved further and deeper, comparing our experiences, questioning out motives, trying to figure out the best approach. We connected from the beginning and we stayed together for many hours of the conference, finding solace in each other’s company. I introduced my friends to her, she in turn shared her friends with me. We both enjoyed wine and organized a little get-together on Friday night.

I bought the ticket for BlogHer Food conference way back in January. I don’t know what I exactly expected from the conference, but I know what I received: a Eureka! moment from Sabrina and Irvin during their Design and Branding panel on Friday morning; an inspiration from Aran, Tami, and Stephanie after their insightful presentation; a boost of energy following funny and informational Photography on the Cheap session by Sarah and Alice. I felt motivated, energetic, and empowered.

I learned something about myself, too. I assumed a lot, I projected a lot, and I lost a lot. My middle school ghosts emerged and I averted my eyes on many occasions, avoiding contact, afraid that any attempt I made would be met with ridicule and a cold shoulder. But any time I engaged in the conversation, I realized that my assumptions were wrong, and that most of the cool kids were as introverted and shy as I was. I am usually a fast learner, but in this instance it took some time for me to realize that it was only my perception that prevented me from meeting anyone and everyone at the conference.

I can continue to kick myself in the butt for ages, but the truth is that I benefited immensely from BlogHer Food conference. I know that Beth and I are going to make our friendship stronger. I know that I have a wonderful connection with Jane and Sabrina. I am happy to count among my friends Lydia and Kelly, Megan and Susan, Pam and Andrew, Christianna and Rene. Some of them are veteran bloggers, some are journalists, and some are fairly new, just like I am. Even if I did not learn anything at the sessions organized by the women of BlogHer Food, I would have departed satisfied, smiling all the way to the airport, basking in the afterglow of the energy, love, and support I received in Atlanta.

My roommate had to leave really early on Sunday morning, and I stayed in the room until checkout time. Unable to connect with anyone, I left my suitcases at the hotel and took MARTA to the High Museum. I spent hours entranced by history, art, and stories, interrupted only by my lunch at Table 1280, a fabulous little restaurant just across the museum. That was truly an unforgettable day.

Our flight left the Atlanta airport around 8.00 p.m. I was comfortably seated against the window in the crowded airplane when a women and her three year old child appeared, their seats separated, one of them sitting next to me, another in a row across the aisle and ahead. While everybody was looking away, consciously hiding their glance, I volunteered to switch places and moved into the middle seat a row ahead. I did not expect a reward for being a good Samaritan – I travel every summer with three girls and being separated on a Transatlantic flight is major downer – but the steward brought me not one, but two bottles of Caberenet Sauvignon as soon as the plane gained velocity.

I did not do it for the wine. I did it because I could relate to the mother’s plight. The wine was a welcome bonus, though:) In  retrospect, everything worth saving and savoring from BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta could be summed up in a few words: pay it forward.

I think that this post could be useful to future blog conference atendees and I am linking it to Feed Me, Tweet Me, Follow Me Home blog hop, hosted by Alex of A Moderate Life and April of 21st Century Housewife.

May 152011
 

chicken and andouille sausage from bibberche.com

I loved the rhythm, the melody, and soul-wrenching whine of the fiddle in Jambalaya long before I had a clue who Hank Williams was. I tried in vain to get a grasp of the lyrics, but the only thing I could understand, after rewinding the tape deck on our family Grundig again and again, were the lines “son of a gun we’ll have big fun…”. And jambalaya. Except that I had no idea what a jambalaya could be. At thirteen, I was obsessed with deciphering the lyrics of many foreign songs, failing miserably most of the time. But as an incorrigible romantic, I really wanted the song to be about love, unrequited if possible, to coincide with my melodramatic view of the world at the time.

My crystal ball did not inform me that twenty years later I would marry a Southerner who loves Hank Williams and thinks Willie Nelson is a minor deity. He considers the food south of the Mason-Dixon line true American. If he had a choice, he would make a big detour to avoid for eternity his home state of Georgia, which is not on his mind, but he cannot get detangled from the strong emotional ties that hold him bound to Brunswick stew (whatever that is), stewed okra, and anything deep-fried. He lived all over the south from Georgia to Texas, but his tongue is true to Louisiana and Cajun cooking.

I had solved the mystery of Jambalaya long before I met Husband, while I worked at Key Largo Restaurant in Walled Lake, Michigan. As I was getting acquainted with the menu, which was a combination of Louisiana, Florida, and the Caribbean cuisines, it dawned on me that Hank was singing about food. And I liked him and his song even more.

We served crayfish ettouffe, jerk chicken, conch chowder, Key lime pie, coconut shrimp, jambalaya, and gumbo. I was slowly adapting to new tastes, eager to discover unfamiliar ingredients and cherishing the challenges of the palate. And whenever Shawn Riley, our regular one-man-band, would start unpacking his equipment on the deck overlooking the lake and pretending to be somewhere tropical, I would ask him to sing Jambalaya at some point during the night.

Husband moved into my Ohio apartment dragging in a great collection of well-used books, an old, battered, but heavy cooking pan, and a lot of clothes that I disposed of on the sly, little by little. One of the first things he searched for at Cleveland’s West Side Market was filé powder. Once he secured it, he scurried home, stopping to purchase fish, shrimp, and sausage. He had been promising to make a pot of gumbo from the second or third e-mail we exchanged, and I was intrigued by his enthusiasm.

I stood dutifully by his side while he made it, and it was a long, time-consuming dish. Hank was crooning in the background, and Husband was pulling out every quote, fact, and anecdote from his Southern hat. He was not satisfied with being only the cook. He had to be the entertainer, too, and he fancies himself a comedian. The only thing he did not do was break into the Louisiana shuffle, for which I was eternally grateful, as Husband is completely devoid of any sense of rhythm.

After hours of chopping, and stirring, and simmering, he scooped a small pile of rice into each of our bowls, and ladled a hefty amount of wonderfully spiced, flavorful, dark stew on top of it. I wanted more rice, but Husband assured me that in gumbo, rice is considered almost a garnish, its neutral taste perfectly complementing the spiciness of gumbo. From that day on, the big pot and a huge wooden spoon with a leather attachment were his to keep.

When Daring Cooks announced that we are supposed to prepare gumbo for May Challenge, I was thrilled. For years I have been listening to Husband drone on about the importance of stirring roux for at leas forty minutes, the necessity of “holy trinity” to be chopped in equally small pieces, and the superiority of andouille sausage. But this time the big pot and wooden spoon belonged to me. He was at work when I was researching innumerable recipes on Internet, figuring out in the end that his method was a good one.

I had all the ingredients lined up on the kitchen counter, eager to cross into the unfamiliar territory by myself. I reverently stirred the roux until it was the color of chocolate, loose and shiny, its aroma moving away from lard and flour and ascending to another level. I cooked the chicken leg quarters with a carrot or two, a stalk of celery, and a wedge of onion for about one hour, trying to extract all the goodness those bones hide within before pulling the meat off. I wanted the flavorful broth to bring an additional layer of flavor to the stew.

gumbo ingredients from bibberche.com

I cut the aromatics evenly into small cubes, replacing the green pepper with red, preferring the sweet undertones to bitter, and added them to the roux to sweat and get soft and glossy. Spices and herbs went in next, stirred around for a minute, just before I added the stock and the chicken, already pulled off the bone. The stew simmered and bubbled until all the layers reached perfect harmony.

This was a dish simple and complex at the same time. I spooned a small pile of rice in each bowl and ladled the gumbo on top, eagerly awaiting Husband’s reaction. When I saw a smile on his face, I knew that I managed to cross the intimidating Mason-Dixon culinary line, and join the multitudes of Beulahs and Ednas who wielded the power in Old Dixie.

Husband and I might fight over the proprietorship of the gumbo pot, but I know that despite our competitive personalities, we will enjoy a delicious bowl of Southern goodness every time we move away from the stove, proudly carrying the steaming pot to the table. And you can bet that Hank’s version of Jambalaya will be playing in the background.

I hope you will take a trip South with me, stirring the roux and chopping the vegetables for “holy trinity”. I provided the lyrics to that crazy song just in case you decide to hum along and not think about definitions and sense.

Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

The Thibodeaux and the Fontainneaux, the place is buzzin’
Kinfolk come to see Yvonne by the dozen
Dress in style, go hog wild, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

gumbo roux from bibberche.com

HUSBAND’S MEAN GUMBO

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken, cut up in 8 pieces
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • ¼ large yellow onion
  • ½ cup lard (or butter)
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • I large onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper (red, yellow, or orange can be substituted), diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (less or more, depending on taste)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 basil leaves
  • 1 tsp file powder
  • ¾ lb andouille sausage, cur in circles

Directions:

Put the chicken and vegetables in a stock pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil on high heat. Immediately lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes, until meat is done. Let it cool, strain, take the meat off the bones, and reserve the broth.

In the meantime, heat the heavy skillet to medium and add lard. As soon as it melts, add flour and lower the heat to medium-low. Stir until incorporated. Keep on stirring frequently for 40 minutes, until the roux turns the color of chocolate. As it cooks, the roux will become looser.

Add vegetables and stir for 5 minutes, until softened and transparent. Add the spices and herbs and mix for a couple of minutes to release the flavors. Add the broth, chicken, and sausage, and simmer for another 30 minutes. In the end mix in file powder.

Taste for seasonings and adjust to taste. Serve with plain white rice.

May 132011
 

I never experienced hunger as a child unless I got so distracted playing that I forgot to return home for the midday meal, or when I insisted on skipping supper, determined to lose that stubborn pound or two that puberty can lovingly bestow. That was the golden age of Yugoslavia, and none of the kids I knew lacked food on a daily basis. The social programs were firmly established and well organized, with free and subsidized school meals.

We ate breakfast every morning, and I am not talking pop tarts or cold cereal. We had sauteed chicken livers accompanied by fresh bread from the bakery around the corner and a glass of milk heated just enough to kill the undesirable germs; thick, golden pieces of French toast slathered with Mother’s homemade apricot jam and mild, barely salty farmers’ cheese; roasted peppers warmed in kajmak served with sweet, plump, summer tomatoes; garlicky sausages hanging off the beam in the pantry quickly fried in lard until their skin crackled and we would dunk them in sharp German mustard, polishing the plate with the last bit of bread crust; pastries, and croissants, and milky yeasted rolls, soft and yielding, followed by a glass of tangy yogurt.

And still, we were silently jealous of the kids who ate their breakfast at school, feeling left out and kept away from this secret club with special treats and perks allowed only to its members. We griped at home, and even though we had a full meal awaiting us at home after school, Mother gave up and let us buy lunches at school for a while. In the beginning, we were elated as we stood in line gripping vouchers firmly, ogling the goods behind the counter, feeling empowered by the right to choose. But we were usually still full from the hearty breakfast, and the food we bought started loosing its appeal after a week or two.

Pretty soon we were overcome with guilt, taught at an early age not to have hungry eyes. We knew better than to waste the leftovers. We offered them to our classmates, sometimes untouched. The novelty wore off, and we eventually realized that Mother was right. Contrite, we decided to skip the school lunch, not willing for a second to take food away from the kids who really needed it.

This recent recession has hit our family hard. As is always the case when life adheres strictly to Murphy’s law, we arrived in California with no disposable income. We had to swallow our pride and get free lunches at school for the Beasties, unable to provide any food until our paychecks started arriving some three or four weeks later. Our youngest has Type 1 Diabetes and it was torture for us when she had to eat inferior school food, instead of my home-prepared fresh lunches to which she was accustomed. But we had no choice. As guilty as we felt, we knew that they were getting some sustenance. The thought of our second and fourth graders going hungry in twenty-first century America was a terrifying thought, exacerbated by the never-ending reports of growing unemployment, foreclosures, and bankruptcies.

As soon as the first money started trickling into our coffers, I took control of our food situation and reverted to the habits that were familiar and comfortable for me. I shopped at cheap ethnic stores, making friends with butchers and produce guys. I cooked every meal painstakingly, recording the expenditures on a dry-erase board, trying to keep the grocery bill to a bare minimum. In time we recovered enough that the girls could stop eating school lunches. The relief was unanimous.

My daughters are as spoiled as I was back then, growing up protected by an overall sense of stability with Father’s job secure and Mother’s ingenuity and creativity at its peak. But the cloud of hopelessness, fear, and despair that we lived under for a while is still too fresh for me to become complacent. I am driven by the feeling of guilt I felt when I could not make a sandwich for the first time in my life, because we could not scrape .99c for a loaf of the worst white bread. I do not care what demons I have to fight at my odious job, as long as my little girls do not go hungry.

When the bake sales for Share Our Strength were going on last year, we were barely making it. I felt that I made a tiny difference when I fed neighbor’s children several times a week, realizing that they had even less then we did. This year, I decided to join the efforts of so many devoted, kind, and giving people all over the country who are trying to end hunger amongst American children one day at a time. It does not matter how little we have, there is always someone who has less.

My kitchen counters are piled high with baking ingredients eagerly waiting to be chopped, mixed, softened, creamed, beaten, and rolled. As I do not see any job offers flying my way for the position of a pastry chef, I have curbed my ambition and chosen to make several varieties of petit-fours from Mother’s and Njanja’s recipe collections.

I will join more than forty food bloggers in the Los Angeles area tomorrow with trays of cute bite-sized morsels wrapped in cellophane and tied with pretty bows. I am excited and a bit nervous, hoping that the event will be successful. I know that not every child will have the chance to experience Mother’s lovingly prepared food, but a bowl of cereal and a glass of cold milk can put a smile on a hungry face.

Thank you, Gaby for organizing the LA Food Blogger Bake Sale. I admire your endless energy and that big heart of yours. To read more about this event and for the list of the participating bloggers, go to What’s Gaby Cooking. I hope to see at least some of you tomorrow!

May 042011
 
Camp Blogaway from Patti Londre

Thanks, Patti (and Ray) for the photo!

We moved from Ohio to Southern California in August of 2008, arriving at our new apartment complex in a rented white Ford SUV, with pink and a purple Barbie bikes strapped securely to the roof. While we were unpacking the meager belongings that made the first cut, the Beasties were shyly making friends with their new neighbors, Yesenia, Noemi, and Vanessa, who were hovering around, having been told new kids were moving in. I was grateful to the three Sanchez sisters who took my girls away for hours at a time and make them completely oblivious to our state of depressing, albeit temporary, destitution.

While they were climbing the hills and running down the sidewalks in ever growing crowds, I lacked the necessary anchor. I followed my routine, walking downhill and across the street, making really good time through the parking garage, and speeding up through the mall, trying to avoid the smells and sights of the forbidden goods, feeling stronger with my 99 cent sunglasses covering half of my face. Coming back from work, I walked the same path, this time up the hill, weaving between BMWs and Lexuses, hiding the stains on my shirt clutching my purse against it, counting the steps as I tiredly put one foot in front of another, relieved only once I reached our front door.

Even if my friends were not so far away, I would not have reached out to them, afraid they would detect a faint note of desperation in my make-believe voice colored the brightest hue of California sky. I carried my daily burden with stoic resignation, unable to shrug it off, my aching body finding relief only when I curled up on the couch after a hot shower, laptop resting on my thighs, a cocktail within easy reach.

The sugar-plum visions of our previous life danced behind my closed eyelids: plump tomatoes from my August garden, hand-in-hand morning walks with Husband through our subdivision, the sparkling wake a family of ducks left in the lake, two pairs of pink ballet shoes, the immaculate ebony shine of a car in the garage, a color wheel of paint samples on top of the shelf,  silly jello shots at the neighborhood Clam Bake party, a telephone number of a trendy restaurant scribbled on a post-it note and affixed to the desk, an un-opened 100 CD pack behind the computer, an Amazon box just freed from several books fresh off the printing press, a gift certificate for a much needed facial…

I moved the cruel traspassers away in a blink or two, calling forth the images of the Beasties with their scratched knees and sunburned cheeks, their English slowly absorbing the melodic and highly exaggerated drama of Mexican Spanish. I dispersed the ghosts of the summers past Skyping with the College Kritter, satisfied in the knowledge that she was making friends at Berkeley and slowly weaving the ties that would keep her afloat for the rest of her life.

Husband and I found ourselves painfully alone, and while he endured, used to solitude, I suffered, going back and forth from the tiny apartment to mindless work, unable to find someone to call a friend. In silent desperation I kept on writing, spilling my sentiments into a faceless Word document, baring my soul to an invisible friend.

I reached out into the vast expanse surrounding me, and slowly, some amazing people emerged offering the gifts of their friendship smile by smile, and word by word. All of a sudden the hills became less steep, and my steps gained a vigor that I thought had disappeared forever. I felt energized and immune to the poisonous darts of malice, stupidity, and ignorance that used to make me cry for hours at night. My shoulders straightened, my eyes glistened once again, and I started to feel tiny roots taking hold, binding me to the arid hills and rosemary bushes of Southern California.

I spent the last weekend in the San Gabriel Mountains, just on the other side of Big Bear where the Technicolor blue sky meets majestic peaks enveloped in snow. I would have been happy gazing at the blue expanse through the pine branches alone, breathing in the crisp and sharp mountain air, listening to the gurgling of streams and feeling the strain in my leg muscles as I climbed yet another hill covered with pine needles.

But I was not alone. I shared this beautiful spot with more than 90 fellow food bloggers attending Camp Blogaway, a brainchild of our own Patti Londre (and yes, I am calling this beautiful piece of Californian real estate mine!) who orchestrated every little detail perfectly, blaming her inner Virgo for making her stay focused and organized. Yes, some girls had to sleep on upper bunks (do not get me started on the VIP treatment of our five token boys!), the beds squeaked, we had to leave the water in the sinks dripping to avoid freezing, and they warned us that there are real bears roaming the property. But this was the best all-inclusive vacation I have had in a long time.

What was included? Clumsy and not so clumsy attempts at making fondant roses; marketing table displays that challenged each one of us to come up with the theme that represented us the best; wine tasting by Wente vineyards that continued barely interrupted throughout the weekend; cutting tiny parallel slits into some gorgeous Idaho potatoes with a really sharp Cutco knife we got to keep; standing in line waiting for meals and gabbing happily to people in front and behind; leaning back on the couch by the fire, browsing through a pile of cooking magazines, ripping the best ones without feeling guilty; tasting refreshing and tangy watermelon limeade that could have been improved only by a shot of Patrón; getting up at 6:30 to make it to the walk around Jenks Lake, cutting through the forested hills and standing in awe at the indomitable beauty of  the calm sparkling surface of the mountain lake, surrounded by silence, interrupted only by pebbles that rolled under our feet; uncontrollable giggling while making our way to the cabin, warmed by pinot noir, our cheeks hot from the fireplace, reliving long-gone and carefree teenage days.

I had to curb my euphoria and sit still during the discussions. Curious and eager to learn, I devoured every word uttered by the panelists, from SEO and tips for increasing blog traffic, to a tutorial on making successful videos, to the solutions of dealing with time management and the stress induced by blogging, to forming lasting relationships in the community and staying true to your own style of writing, to opening up to the corporate and public relations worlds, to the ideas that lead toward succeeding in having your favorite photos accepted by the most coveted photography site.

Swag Bag from bibberche.com

Patti did not have to crack the whip to make me listen. I recognized the voice of reason and fought my own introverted and shy demons when I joined the Round Robin every time another meal was served, or another demonstration scheduled. She wanted us to mingle, and we mingled. She forced us to talk to strangers, and we discovered that most of the strangers are genuinely warm, nice, and sincere people, eager to open up and share their lives and experiences. There wasn’t one of us who did not lament the lack of time and wished for another couple of hours devoted to forming friendships. We laughed, we giggled, we screeched, and we cried.

We recognized our similarities and praised the differences. We shared, learned, discussed, and questioned every aspect of our blogging lives. And as the afternoon on Sunday approached, we said our hasty goodbyes, hugged each other, waved through the car windows, and promised to keep in touch. The weekend was magnificent. The farewells were emotional, with a tear or two hidden between the smiles.

As we were driving down the mountain, the reality was slowly coming toward the horizon. The routine was looming in all its ugliness, but life all of a sudden had a different meaning. I have found again the tie that keeps me afloat. And no matter how many hills I have to climb and descend, I know that I can do it, propped by the smiles and kind words of my friends.

Camp Blogaway

Several other campers have written about our little retreat (some of them have even taken photographs, while my camera sat behind my bed all the time, rightly feeling ignored and forgotten:

Family Spice

5 second rule

Satisfied (I so wanted that title, but Louise was faster!)

painperdu

In Erika’s Kitchen

La Fuji Mama

Lamb Around

Created by Diane

Showfood Chef

Adventures with Nancy Rose

Out A Thyme

Jolly Tomato

Sippity Sup – the best video, Greg!

Rustic Garden Bistro

Food Blogga

Amuse Bouche (this is Betty’s newsletter, but she is starting a blog soon!)

Zest