Last weekend, I co-hosted a retreat for food creators/bloggers at Lost River Barn in West Virginia! Here’s a (long – settle in with a cup of something delicious!) recap.
The solo entrepreneur world can be a bit of a lonely one, so I’m always looking for creative ways to get together with others who “get it” in terms of the work that I do as a food blogger. I also find getting together with other bloggers always gives me a lot of energy and ideas for my own business, and helps to reinvigorate me in terms of excitement for the work.
This all started because about a year and a half ago I listened to an interview on the Food Blogger Pro podcast with Abbey Rodriguez, a food blogger + founder of Tastemaker Conference series.
I resonated with a lot of what she talked about in the interview, especially about craving more in person time with others in the food blogging world, and at the end of the interview she also mentioned she was in northern Virginia, so I decided to reach out and see if she’d be up for meeting for lunch to network and chat.
I had not heard of Tastemaker until that podcast episode, and after some research I saw they also hosted some smaller workshops in addition to their big annual conference, so I decided to see if Abbey was open to co-hosting an event together. I wanted it to be basically the best part of the conferences I had attended in the past: connection time with other bloggers for ideas to flow and foster, but with the addition of a relaxing environment and some group business coaching to help anyone who felt stuck or in a plateau in their business.
Abbey was excited about the idea, and brought on board her executive life coach, Rachel Gainer, to lead us in the group coaching sessions while at the retreat. We also brought in V Orban, a fantastic farm-to-table chef who lives in the area and cooked for one of Tastemaker’s previous workshops which was held at the same location.
We ended up having a fantastic group of women with us for the event. Here’s the whole gang!
Clockwise from top left: me, Rachel, Kari, Kelly, Renee, V, Daphne, Abbey, and Kathryn. Plus V’s sweet dog, who was facing us instead of the camera. 🙂
We all arrived at Lost River Barn in time for dinner on Thursday evening and left right after breakfast on Sunday morning.
The food was one of the big highlights of the weekend – it was incredibly delicious and mostly locally sourced and organic which I loved. Having someone else cook for us was SUCH a treat!
For dinner the first night, we enjoyed some delicious local sausage, pasta with spring veggies (asparagus and peas), and a side of local greens with a bright homemade vinaigrette.
Dessert was some AMAZING homemade lemon cookies that I neglected to get a picture of, plus s’mores at our sunset bonfire!
It was so gorgeous out and the stars were amazing – I’m not used to seeing stars as there is so much light pollution where we live just outside DC. Once the sun went down it was crazy dark out there in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia!
Friday morning started with this view:
Plus a delicious breakfast of strawberry mint smoothies, a sweet potato black bean veggie hash (similar to this sweet potato hash I’ve made before but with black beans instead of peas), and some cheesy eggs with sautéed peppers.
Everything was incredibly delicious.
After breakfast, we got right into the morning work. I led the group in an icebreaker/getting to know you session for the first hour, and then Rachel led a session on determining our core values, which would then guide some of our work in later sessions.
Lunch was ham, cheese, honey mustard, and local greens on homemade biscuits with a savory and nutrient-packed nettle, spinach, and mint soup.
After lunch, we had a break built into the calendar for anyone who wanted to to go out on a hike at nearby Lost River State Park. It was a beautiful day to be out in nature!
Views like this never get old.
We did the Cranny Crow Overlook trail and were rewarded for our steep uphill walking efforts with a gorgeous view at the top:
There were tons of hawks flying around up there and it was so peaceful. All the trails close to DC get crowded on beautiful days but this one we practically had to ourselves! West Virginia win.
After our hike, we came back together at the house for another working session guided by Rachel – this time focused on refining our visions for our lives + businesses as related to our core values and whether we were feeling in alignment with them or not.
Our post-session dinner was amazing: Asian-themed pork and beef meatballs with a rice and quinoa blend and a simple vinegar-y cucumber salad.
Dessert was flourless chocolate cake with strawberries! Mmmmm.
On Saturday morning, we kicked off our days with another delicious breakfast of coconut milk quinoa porridge with fruit, granola and yogurt. It reminded a bit of my Berry Lemon Bake with Quinoa recipe!
We dove back into the group work with Rachel after breakfast, this time focused on quieting the inner critic, and determining if we were making decisions based on our core values or based on fear/limiting beliefs.
Lunch featured one of my favorites: watermelon! My friends at the Watermelon Board sponsored the retreat and sent some cool swag for the attendees, and it was fun to work with V to incorporate some watermelon into the weekend menu.
We enjoyed a variation of my Watermelon Rind Salad with Feta & Arugula, which incorporates both the watermelon flesh as well as the rind (did you know you can eat the white part of a watermelon? It’s like cucumber but a little more crunchy!):
Plus homemade falafel, homemade bread with honey butter, and a savory root veggie mash that was really good with the falafel!
After lunch we took another break!
Some people wanted to stay at the house and relax; I could have gone either way but kind of wanted to go hiking again, and was lucky 2 of the others also really wanting to hit the trails again, so off we went!
Kelly, Renee, and I went back to Lost River State Park and did a different loop involving a beautiful creek and another steep hike through the woods.
We had a great time and even managed to not get lost thanks to a paper map I brought with us (we had no cell service in the park area). We did slightly underestimate the length of the hike, but we made it back just as the afternoon session was about to start – whew!
As for the closing session of the weekend from Rachel, we focused on learning the power of no and setting boundaries in our businesses to avoid burning out. Great way to close out the working part of the retreat!
For our last dinner of the trip, we enjoyed another watermelon-infused dish: chicken enchiladas featuring a homemade watermelon salsa recipe from my blog, plus guacamole and roasted brussels sprouts. I went back for seconds!
Dessert was homemade lemon cake with buttercream frosting and blueberries. It was so good!
Our final breakfast of the trip on Sunday morning before saying goodbye was some incredible homemade strawberry scones (similar to the vegan strawberry scones recipe on my site!) along with a veggie-packed frittata.
I was so sad to say goodbye to everyone after breakfast on Sunday morning! We had such a great group and I’m really looking forward to staying in touch and seeing what changes everyone implements based on the work we did together.
A huge thank you to Abbey for partnering with me to host this event, V for the amazing food, and Rachel for leading us in such helpful working sessions.
I decided to pack myself a lunch with some of the leftovers we had on hand and stop at a trail for a quick hike at Wolf Gap Recreation Area (right on the WV/VA border) on the way home to break up the drive.
I really wanted to do the Big Schloss Overlook hike, but it was going to take me a bit too long and I needed to get home, so I decided to just do a little bit of the Tibbet Knob hike instead. I had misread the info about the hike, though – I thought it was 1.6 miles round trip/total, but when I got to the trail I saw it was 1.6 miles one way out and back, so 3 miles total.
Darn – didn’t have enough time to do that. I decided I’d still just do a short hike on the trail, but knew I wouldn’t make it to the overlook. Oh well!
I did find a nice small offshoot from the trail that led to a beautiful overlook, though, and sat there while enjoying my packed ham, avocado, and mustard sandwich with some cucumber and orange slices.
On the hike back to the car after eating lunch, I had a super scary experience – I was walking along and thankfully was paying attention and watching my feet (the trail was a bit rocky and there were some roots, so I didn’t want to trip), when all of a sudden I screamed and jumped backwards because I had come about 1 foot away from stepping on a massive snake.
I backed up until I was standing quite far away (the picture below is zoomed in a ton) and was trying to figure out what kind of snake it was/if I should completely or just kind of freak out because the snake was between me and my car (which was about a 15/20 minute walk) and I was alone and had no cell service, when the snake lifted its head, looked at me, and rattled its tail and I was like OH SH!T it’s a rattlesnake!!!
Y’all, I was so incredibly lucky I did not step on it by accident! I did some research later once I got home and I believe it was a timber rattlesnake, which are the only kind that live in the western Virginia/West Virginia area.
Timber rattlesnakes are actually endangered – lucky me?! Apparently they are super poisonous but are not overly aggressive by nature and will only bite you if you step on them or really scare them – and they warn you with a rattle well before doing anything.
It was tricky area to get around the snake as the side of the trail farther from it was really wooded/rocky and then was basically a cliff, but clearly that was my only option because there was no way I was going to risk jumping over him.
So, I grabbed an enormous stick just in case and took a route as far into the woods as I could go safely without basically being on the side of the mountain, and then as soon as I got back to the trail I ran like hell for good measure. Gah! Really hoping that’s my first and last rattlesnake encounter…
And that’s that! Minus the rattlesnake situation, it was a nice weekend with some really great people and absolutely delicious food. Until next time, friends!