Sharing By The Shore Food Blogging Retreat in Northern Michigan
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in what I would effectively deem paradise: the shores of northern Michigan. Those #PureMichigan commercials? They are but a teaser to the beautiful scenery, great food, and relaxing environment I experienced with nine of my fellow food bloggers.
Eight months ago, Rachel of the blog Rachel Cooks and I decided that, seeing as we’d been friends for two years, it was about time for us to meet in real life. One of the (many) surprises of food blogging has been the close friendships I’ve formed with fellow bloggers all over the country. Though I’ve been fortunate to meet many of these wonderful individuals at conferences and on brand trips, Rachel and I had not yet spent time together in person, so when she suggested that we make it happen in 2015 by planning our own mini-blog conference, I thought, “why not?!”
Nearly seven months of constant emailing, texting, and Google-docing to plan our “Sharing By The Shore” retreat ensued. In the process, I became convinced that Rachel is actually four people (I’ve never met anyone so organized and efficient!), and the hours we spent organizing and agonizing over the retreat details were more than worth the rejuvenating, inspiring three days we spent in Michigan. Plus, Rachel and I finally got to meet.
As it turns out, there really is just one of her. And she’s awesome.
We were joined by an all-star group of women I feel incredibly blessed to learn from and call friends: Deborah of Taste and Tell; Kristen of Dine and Dish; Monique of Ambitious Kitchen; Katrina of In Katrina’s Kitchen; Aggie of Aggie’s Kitchen; Krista of Joyful Healthy Eats; Liz of The Lemon Bowl; and Brandy of Nutmeg Nanny.
If you followed the hashtag #SharingByTheShore on Instagram, you likely caught snapshots of our wonderful weekend, and because it was such a valuable experience, I wanted to take a moment to share some of the highlights here.
To host the retreat, we rented a beautiful home in Suttons Bay, MI, just steps from the Lake Michigan shore. The town was so cozy, and we were a short drive from charming Traverse City, which was bustling with the annual Cherry Festival. I’m a cherry fiend, so I was particularly excited about the timing, and it was even more fun seeing the town via limo. If you are even in northern Michigan with a group, I highly recommend it! And a special thanks to our driver—he was a saint for putting up with this gabby group.
Though we had an incredible time touring the Traverse City area (more on that soon), my favorite moments during the retreat were those spent in the house, cooking with learning from my fellow attendees. From hands-on photography demonstrations led by Brandy and Kristen, to panels on social media, to candid talks about time-management, I feel incredibly grateful to these women for sharing their expertise so openly.
This special weekend could not have been possible without the generosity of our retreat sponsor, Milk Means More, the umbrella organization for The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council of Michigan. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that dairy plays an integral role in my cooking (reference: the cheese and Greek yogurt sections of my recipe index), and it’s a primary source of protein in my diet too. We could not have asked for a better brand partner during the planning process, and thanks to Milk Means More, we were able to offer the retreat weekend to our attendees free of charge. You can learn more about and keep in touch with this wonderful organization on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.
A guaranteed method to eat well for a weekend is to spend it with nine other food bloggers. We rocked the kitchen and the grill with a quality selection of ingredients. Friday night kicked off with a restaurant-worthy fajita bar, provided by Door to Door Organics. Door to Door stocked our fridge to the brim, and we had so many tasty leftovers, we decided to skip lunch out the next afternoon to enjoy them again. For toppings, we dove into an assortment of Sabra guacamole and salsas, and layered on plenty of sour cream and cheese.
I should have still been too full from Friday’s fajita feast to be hungry for breakfast the next day, but when Bob’s Red Mill Buttermilk whipped up in my fabulous KitchenAid Waffle Baker are on the menu, somehow room in my stomach appears. Waffles might seem like an odd choice for serving a large group since they can be slow and labor intensive to prepare, but thanks to Bob’s whole grain mix and the waffle baker, which quickly makes two waffles at a time, our spread was ready in no time. We topped them off with a rainbow of Bonne Maman high-quality preserves, Greek yogurt, and Door to Door Organics fresh fruit.
In between meals at the house (because somehow, we could still eat), we munched a fantastic cheese spread and plenty of Sabra hummus with veggies. (I also needed to balance the homemade hot fudge sauce Rachel brought us for dessert the night before.)
We also managed to save room for eats and drinks in Traverse City and Sutton’s Bay. One of the biggest (and best!) surprises for me about our visit was the number and quality of wineries in Northern Michigan. Rachel, Krista, and I arrived a night early to set up and enjoyed a beautiful private tasting at Black Star Farms. We loved it so much, we just had to bring six bottles back to the house with us.
After dinner, we followed up with even more wine (oops) and some of the best wood-fired pizza I’ve had outside of Italy at Black Star’s restaurant Hearth and Vine.
The rest of the group arrived on Friday afternoon, and we kicked off the weekend’s official start in sparkling style at L. Mawby Winery. L. Mawby makes all sparkling wines, and I was struck by how different each tasted, from light and fruity to buttery and complex. The setting was stunning, and I was honored that our tasting was presented by none other than Larry Mawby (the “L” in L. Mawby) himself!
On Saturday, we headed into Traverse City, where our first stop was Cherry Republic. I was blown away.
Northern Michigan is known for its cherries, and I cannot imagine a better way to experience them than at Cherry Republic. Whether you like your cherries baked into a fresh cherry chocolate chunk cookie, stirred into an addictive snack mix, jarred into salsa (my favorite) or barbecue sauce, or fizzing in your soda pop, Cherry Republic has a product to match. The store is absolutely charming.
Try not to ruin your appetite on chocolate covered cherries when you stop in, because the café also serves up some amazing fare. We were fortunate to be hosted by Chef Tony, who gave us a store tour and fed us a spread that included this pizza (pictured above) and some of the best black bean cakes I’ve ever tried.
As much as I could have eaten myself silly at Cherry Republic, I wisely saved room for our crowning retreat event: dinner at stunning Aerie restaurant, atop the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. In addition to the breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Michigan, Aerie hosted us with one of the most special and beautifully presented dinners I’ve experienced. If you are looking for the perfect place to share a memorable meal, Aerie is it. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this place, from the views, to the service, to the food.
While I truly don’t think that you could pick a bad dish on the Aerie menu, if you are looking for a little guidance, I tried and loved every one of these dishes:
- Steamed clams with house made chorizo, white beans, grape tomato, basil, garlic, olive oil, and grilled focaccia — my fave
- Seared ahi tuna with watermelon salad, pickled rind, black garlic puree, soy tonnato sauce, basil, and mint — my other fave
- Spice-crusted artichokes with toasted pine nuts, Michigan honeycomb, mint, and fennel
- Fried five spice pork belly with grape jelly, candied peanuts, brioche puree, and crispy spam <—Yes, you read that right. Spam has been redeemed.
Salad and Main:
- Tomato and watermelon “consomme” (which I learned is a chilled soup) with cucumber, basil, olive oil, and mint — light, refreshing and exactly what I needed after all of those appetizers
- The mahi mahi special with crispy soy and rice — if you love seafood, Aerie is pardise, and they have excellent meat and vegetarian selections too.
- Dark chocolate sorbet with dried raspberries. — it was soooooo intense, almost like ganache. Chocolate lovers, rejoice!
Because I’m Thirsty:
- The cilantro grapefruit — Bombay (though I swapped Hendrick’s because I’m fussy like that), grapefruit juice, simple syrup, cilantro, lime, soda — dangerously light and easy to drink
Our dinner stretched into three hours, but honestly, they felt like mere minutes! Dear Aerie, I hope to visit you again soon.
In addition to a heart filled with joy, a head with new ideas, and a stomach with the best eats in northern Michigan, I also departed our retreat with a bag filled with goodies! Rachel and I wanted to ensure that each attendee received something special for coming, so we partnered with some of our favorite brands and a few quality Etsy shops to send every one home with:
- Le Creuset pieces of their choice
- KitchenAid Waffle Baker
- Goodies from Milk Means More
- Gourmet products from Cherry Republic
- Fair Trade USA products
- Specialty Sharing by the Shore mug designed by Printable Wisdom
- Paper Straws from More Sprinkled Joy
- Cherry Printed Tea Towels from Counter Couture Design
- Products from Bob’s Red Mill
- 5 jar set of Bonne Maman Jam
- Zester from KitchenIQ
- Goodies from Door to Door Organics
- And a few of Rachel and my favorite finds
Thanks so much for following along with our #SharingByTheShore adventure! Again, I’m deeply grateful to Milk Means More for sponsoring this special weekend, to our brand partners and the Traverse City food and wine destinations who helped make the experience memorable, to Rachel for being such a fantastic co-organizer, and to every one of our attendees, who shared of themselves generously and made the weekend one I’ll never forget.
Our retreat was sponsored by Milk Means More and all funds went to cover retreat costs for attendees. Rachel and I received no compensation beyond the products and activities mentioned for planning the retreat. Each of the brands involved are ones with whom Rachel and I have existing relationships and whose products we already use, love, and were excited to share with our attendees and readers. As always, all opinions are my own. Thanks for reading!