Sweet Escape Retreat 2013: A Recap with Pictures!

As you may know, this past weekend I brought a group of 20 food bloggers and other food lovers up to Vermont for a 3-day culinary retreat.

The retreat, which I named A Sweet Escape, was a dream that I'd been thinking about for a long time, and was excited to finally see come to life. The idea, at it's root, was to create a real-life version of my blog. An event where I could bring together some of my readers, friends, and fellow bloggers for a few days of cooking, eating, exploring, and learning about food.

Over the course of three days, we cooked, made crafts, visited farms and cool small shops, and shared incredible meals and drinks over a long wooden farmtable. The evenings were spent toasting marshmallows around a bonfire, or curled up in pajamas sipping cocktails. And thanks to Rosalie, our amazing in-house massage therapist, Maegan's morning yoga classes, and the hot tub outside, there was also plenty of time for relaxation.

Throughout this week, I'll be sharing posts with detailed recipes, tips, and tutorials of the events described below, but for now, I just want to share a quick overview of our weekend with you:

Bus Trip + Day 1
The retreat started on Thursday evening in NYC, where we all met up in midtown to hop on The Good Bus, a 24-passenger jitney that was our ride up to Vermont. 

I had prepared a dinner of Grilled Chipotle Chicken Sandwiches with Roasted Veggies and Cilantro Crema, Tortilla Chips with Black Bean & Corn Salsa, Espresso Mint Brownies, and Fresh Strawberries.

To drink, we enjoyed Minty Tequila Limeade (or "mojitoritas" as Sara nicknamed them), Vodka Orange Coolers, and Red Citrus Sangria served from my improvised little "bus bar." 

The next morning, I prepared a light self-serve breakfast of freshly baked cream scones, banana bread, blueberry banana muffins, hard boiled eggs, berries, and freshly squeezed orange juice.

The first workshop of the weekend was a craft workshop featuring Mod Podge, where the attendees learned how to make glass collage plates and tissue paper baskets.

I was so impressed with the creativity of the group--the plates they made were absolutely gorgeous!

We then gathered in the kitchen for a demo about cooking with maple syrup, using syrups from our sponsor Tonewood Maple.

I taught the group how to make Candied Maple Bacon, Massaged Kale Salads with Maple Lime Ginger Dressing, and Maple Butter.

The maple bacon was definitely a hit!

After lunch, the attendees piled back onto The Good Bus, and headed to Jersey Girls Dairy where they learned about the milk industry, and met some adorable baby cows.

This was followed by a stop in the small town of Ludlow for a little bit of shopping.

I was so thrilled that Nancy Warner, the blogger behind Potlicker Kitchen agreed to join us to lead a demo on wine jelly making.

She was really wonderful, and completely demystified the process--so much so that many of the ladies were talking about ordering cans and trying it out themselves at home!
After Nancy's demo, Bridget Jones from Boyden Valley Winery paid us a visit to host a wine tasting of five of their local Vermont wines and cream liqueurs, which the attendees enjoyed along with a selection of cheeses from Vermont Creamery.

Dinner that night was Middle Eastern themed.

The attendees enjoyed a spread of lamb kofte, spicy roasted eggplant, citrus carrot salad with hazelnut vinaigrette, and Greek cucumber salad.

The evening ended with a Bonfire and DIY S'Mores Bar (!!!) that I set up in the kitchen, featuring an assortment of artisan marshmallows from 240 Sweet, chocolates from Green & Black's, and a variety of toppings for the Sweet Escapers to create their own unique s'mores combinations.

(There will definitely be more about THIS later!)

Day 2
The second day started with yoga classes taught by Maegan Walton of Soglia Studios, followed by another low-key self-serve breakfast of freshly baked breads, fruit, and Vermont Creamery butter.

Our first workshop of the day was the DIY Pantry class, during which I taught the retreaters how to make homemade strawberry jam, homemade ketchup, and homemade nutella.

After the class, everyone gathered on the porch for a picnic lunch in the sunshine.

I wanted to keep it pretty light for this meal so I made cold peanut soba noodles, roasted ginger lime cilantro shrimp, and salad.

I also toasted up another batch of La Briola pretzel rolls and served them alongside my freshly made homemade jam and Nutella.

They then loaded back onto The Good Bus for a trip to the Calvin Coolidge Estate and Plymouth Artisan Cheese--the second oldest working cheese factory in the US (and makers of Julia Child's very favorite cheese).

We also brought the group to The Vermont Country Store and The Green Mountain Sugar House for Maple Creemees (local maple-flavored soft serve).

I stayed back to cook this massive 17lb hunk of beef:

And to wait for the arrival of Max Overstrom-Coleman, a bartender and brand ambassador for Vermont Spirits, a local spirit maker that distills vodka from local whey and maple syrup.

Max led an AMAZING cocktail demo during which he shared about cocktail history, gave tips on how to make a cocktail, and mixed up drinks for the attendees to taste.

The combo of cute barman + alcohol made for a very fun and rowdy evening!

Max then joined us for dinner, which was Latin-themed that night.
I prepared a taco bar featuring pomegranate and coffee braised chuck roll, seasonal roasted chipotle vegetables, guacamole, chips, and lime cumin creme fraiche. La Tortilla Factory (my favorite tortilla maker) generously donated their delicious new Soft-Wrap Minis to use as our tortillas.

After dinner, folks changed into their pajamas and cuddled up in the living room to watch the foodie classic Chocolat, while enjoying an array of chocolate sweets, brownies, candies, and dessert cocktails featuring RumChata liqueur.

Day 3
Our final day at the retreat once again started with relaxing yoga classes by Maegan, followed by a lavish brunch of Berry RumChata Pretzel Bread Pudding, Roasted Veggie & Cheese Frittata, Andoille and Potato Frittata, Curried Tofu Veggie Scramble, Sauteed Broccoli Rabe, and (of course!) those incredible warm toasted La Briola Pretzel Rolls topped off with my homemade strawberry jam and Nutella.

Each attendee then got a gift bag filled with all kinds of goodies from our sponsors, and I also gave out a few fun raffle prizes including a bottle of Vermont Spirits Gold Vodka, a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, a Weber BBQ Grill Set, a S'Mores Gift Bag, and a Crafting Gift Bag.

After a quick group photo, we all got back on the bus for a quiet (read: sleepy) ride back to New York City.

It was, indeed, a very sweet escape!
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